August has been a month of burrowing down and settling into a semi-routine; something else I didn’t expect 2020 was going to deliver. Working 2 days back with Maggie, taking an online travel writing course, developing some new recipes for WA Potatoes and some much needed balancing out physical graft with a personal trainer has offered indoor adventures of their own.
As an aside, I know many of you are Maggie Beer fans and would like to know more about what those 2 days have been about but I’m going to save separate space and time this needs and deserves. It doesn’t feel quite right slotting this serendipitous experience in a scroll-down monthly episode of travel encounters when Maggie’s impact and legacy on my life has been so great.
So despite the extra weekly activity and frequent showery cold weather resulting in the bike being mostly parked-up in the carport, I have, care of the generosity of friends’ loan vehicle, still managed some nearby pootling about. From the very familiar copper-mining town of Kapunda that was home to Australia’s cattle king, I ventured back to a favourite Adelaide museum, which once unlocked a new understanding about compatible flavours.
Not yet at museum status and thankfully still very active the CWA’s (Country Women’s Association) history of providing support for women and children also includes short-stay accommodation. As a new member of the Angaston branch I experienced a very homely night stay in Adelaide. Not sure arriving on the 1200 would’ve received quite the same welcome, I traveled on 4 wheels instead. Perhaps next time when not so rainy.
Lastly and when the sun returned for a teasingly beautiful pre-Spring day, I visited a small sheep dairy on the outskirts of Lyndoch. A property that’s stayed in the family since it was settled in the 1840’s and is in very capable current hands.
I hope you enjoy this month’s diary entry minus the motorcycle. She’ll be back, hopefully with some red dust attached next month.
There are few country towns that can claim to have saved a state. The 1842 discovery of copper in Kapunda, situated between the Barossa and Clare Valleys in South Australia by the Bagot and Dutton families rapidly attracted mining investment. This created Australia’s first commercial metal mine, saving the state from bankruptcy. Having spent my childhood visiting Grandparents and other members from both sides of the family here, the interesting history of this town was completely lost on me until now. I expect it still is on many of the kids that walk those same streets today. It seems an irony that you need to create a bit of your own history before you’re interested in what occurred prior.
The original mine chimney, now the town icon, was built by Cornish masons in 1850 using stone from nearby quarries. It was connected by an underground stone-lined flue to the boiler house, which supplied steam to a pumping engine. The mine was initially developed as two distinct workings, Wheal Dutton on Dutton Hill and Wheal Charles on the plain to the south that quickly became joined. (‘Wheal’ is from the Cornish language which means a place of work.) There’s a 1.5 km mine trail walk well signposted with historical information and interesting views across both sections of the original mine.
Copper mining ceased in 1879 but news released in 2017 showed promise that copper mining may yet return to Kapunda. Terramin Mining and Environmental Copper Recovery have entered into an agreement regarding the possible development of an ore recovery project at the site. If the field tests are successful, it could be possible that an in-situ recovery (ISR) production at the mine site could commence within a few years.
Copper wasn’t the only predominant feature of the past in this now agricultural town lined with buildings of historical significance. Australia’s largest landholder, ‘Cattle King’ Sir Sidney Kidman, met and married local schoolteacher Isobel Brown Wright here in 1885. Kapunda was their base from which they conducted their extensive business interests until leaving for Adelaide in 1921, gifting their home ‘Eringa’ (above) to the education department for use as a high school.
An exhibition celebrating Sir Sidney Kidman’s life by his great grandson, Christo Reid is on show on the first floor of the Kapunda Visitor Information Centre. The exhibition comprises of up to 50 photographic prints, artwork, digital displays and 16mm films that document the life and times of Sidney Kidman, including the above photo of Sir Sidney and his wife ‘Bel’ who as is evident in the exhibition he adored. The other photo is of native wisteria taken at the nearby Pines Reserve.
With a surprisingly drinkable coffee in hand from a new café across from the visitor centre where I’d collected a map of the 10km Kapunda Heritage Trail Drive, I ventured a few steps along Hill Street to the Kapunda Museum. Volunteers Mick and Michael were keen for a friendly chat after I’d spent some time looking at the many themed and detailed collections, including this lovely butter mould and other domestic items that caught my interest. “We’re lucky many local families have decided to donate rather than chuck away what now makes up all these various displays of Kapunda’s 150 plus year history” offered Mick.
After being educated at private schools in suburban Norwood, Sidney Kidman left home with five shillings in his pocket riding a one-eyed horse called Cyclops. His first visit to Kapunda was when, as a lad of 13, he stayed for one night on his way north. He went on with a natural gift for business acumen to become one of the largest private land owner’s the world had ever seen. Over the course of its history Kapunda had a strong Catholic community and Saint Mary MacKillop visited and established a convent there. The above St Rose’s Catholic Church hall was built in 1909 replacing an earlier hall from the 1860s.
Half way around the Kapunda Mine Walk the trail takes you down into a section where there’s a partial tunnel entrance signposted with the story of Tommyknockers – the spirit creatures of the underground. Mines provide fertile ground for the imagination. One example of folklore about underground mining is the Cornish people’s belief of underground spirit creatures called Tommyknockers. No one knows exactly when or where these tales began but were present by medieval times in Germany and Australia. Germans called Berggeister or Bergmannlien. Some believed the knocking noises they made would lead miners to a rich ore body. Others believed that the knocking was a warning of danger and that the miner who heard it first would die. Later, miners believed that the knockings were dead miners giving warnings of danger to the living. Working miners left clay dolls of these spirits at mine entrances. They also left offerings of food, tallow and other items in order to secure their good graces and protection.
Given we’re living through a pandemic, this fun-fact about copper seems rather relevant: Copper is a natural antibacterial agent. It is common to use brass door handles in public buildings (brass being a copper alloy) because they help prevent disease transmission.
About 7 kms out of Kapunda on the Clare Road is a conservation reserve called The Pines. It was so named because of the Forestry Plantation on the site in the 1880’s. Two rows of pines were left standing after the last harvest which occurred in 1931. An area within the reserve was used for much of Kapunda’s early social activity with many picnics and other town festivities and gatherings enjoyed there for many years.
The Pines also incorporates the former Taylor’s Run Reservoir which was the first country reservoir built in South Australia that supplied water to the town by gravitational flow from 1879 to 1957. Turncock House (above) was built in the same year as the reservoir (1879) to house the large wheel operated tap (a turncock) that would control the flow of water from the reservoir into the town.
The Water Tower was where the water was drawn from the reservoir. An 80 metre long tunnel runs under the southern bank from the Turncock House to the water tower. The former Caretaker’s Cottage is located near the spillway which was constructed to allow the water to flow out through a channel instead of eroding the top of the reservoir wall. There are two Taylors Run walking trails through the reserve that have many ‘open woodland’ native species including giant Sugar Gums, acacias, lilies, daisies and native peas.
From the bush back to the city. The last of its kind in the world the Santos Museum of Economic Botany (MEB) in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens has been operating continuously since 1881 and is home to an amazing permanent collection showing the significant relationships between people and plants for food, medicine, shelter and fuel, for the arts and crafts and within religious beliefs. I have visited this museum several times over the past few years. Each visit revealing another fascinating interconnecting and dependent relationship humans have with the natural world.
As part of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens master plan, the MEB was the Government’s first significant investment in a type of theatre to engage colonists with new opportunities to exploit food, fibre, timber and medicinal plants for their own wealth, the wealth of the Colony and the wealth of Britain as the colonising power. ‘When we consider that vegetable substances constitutes nine-tenths of the whole commerce in raw products, and that they furnish us with the bulk of our food and clothes, our medicine and our building material with many other necessaries and luxuries, and that no doubt hundreds of people eat and drink, use, and admire the various manufactured articles but have no idea of the plants from which they are derived, it is the more essential to direct attention the the vast importance of a museum of botanic economy’ Richard Schomburgk 1881 (the second Director of the Botanic Garden)
On one of my first visits, when I was designing weekly set menus for our Saturday Seasonal Dinners at Foragers using as many local fresh products as possible, this display of the buckwheat family struck a literal chord on flavour compatibility. I was often using buckwheat on the menu as it was grown 2km away and combining it with rhubarb in dessert recipes as it flourished in the garden as did buckwheat on our Italian neighbours farm. These flavours seemed to sing together and here I was seeing why. They’re directly related. As I looked further along in the glass cabinet, more parings leapt up from their botanical groupings. It was a kind of culinary epiphany that is a wonderful relived memory every time I visit.
A collection of artificial fungi in different stages of growth were first collected in 1872. The papier-mache models were made in Germany. Schomburgk labelled the models in three categories – edible species in blue, poisonous in red and harmless in green.
Another exquisite display of papier-mache artistry is of 350 apples, pears, plums, a few peaches, figs and a pomegranate. They were made to preserve the likeness of the real heritage varieties many of which journeyed to South Australia with the Lutheran settlers who brought seeds and plant materials with them. Economic botany that contributed greatly to their new lives and those many generations to follow.
Forming new friendships since returning to the Barossa after 30 years during a socially-isolating pandemic has not been the easiest of circumstances. Having written about the CWA many years ago, I’ve long had an admiration for this institution that despite its appearances of being lost in a past era has continued to work tirelessly for the welfare of Australian country women and the linking of country and city. So in an effort to meet local older women with hopefully interesting stories I joined the Angaston branch.
The South Australian Country Women’s Association Incorporated was formed in 1929. 30 Dequetteville Terrace (known somewhat unfortunately as ‘The Club’ – above), which is in the Adelaide CBD was purchased by the SACWA in 1951 to use as a residential club, craft centre and headquarters. In 1963 a new State Administration Office, which was named ‘Mary Walker House’ in honour of Mrs Walker who was Honorary State Secretary for 16 years. The provision of accommodation facilities for women and their families who have to visit the metropolitan centre for social, business and medical reasons is offered in several locations around the state, including ‘The Club’.
After experiencing a night stay in a basic but comfortable and clean unit behind the main buildings, I took a wander through the main old building which was originally known as ‘Frogmore House’.
In 1959, the master bedroom became the members ‘club room’ and named the Mary Warnes Room to honour the founder of the SACWA. I walked into this room and felt the generation of my grandmother close. A room that unsurprisingly has a title.
After nearly a century, the CWA is purported to still be the largest, most influential women’s organisation in Australia today. It’s continued to be a self-funded, non-profit, non-party political and a non sectarian association with membership open to women of all ages from from both the city and country. Despite its inherently conservative appearances there is a great deal more than meets a presumptive eye. Tea and scones has certainly not been the only service on offer to the community.
Haloumi is a brined cheese and one of those go-to delicious proteins I often keep in the fridge as a back-up that can be easily built on and prepared for a quick meal or served as a snack with drinks. Via Instagram I stumbled on a haloumi produced in the Barossa Valley under the Riverside Dairy label, which is located on Riverside Farm near Lyndoch where I recently made an early visit on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Sprawling over a thousand acres and spanning six generations since 1848, Riverside Farm was established when Joseph Barritt, an early South Australian settler, acquired a land grant of 100 hectares on the bank of the North Para river near Lyndoch. Sheep have always been a part of this early settlement property’s history and today runs around 60 Awassi and East Friesian milking sheep and 500 head of Merino.
Sixth generation siblings Ellen and Richard are working to take Riverside in a new direction, diversifying the farm’s produce to include a sheep milk dairy, pastured egg production, wine grapes, prime lamb, garlic and wool. Growing up working with animals on Riverside, Ellen has always had a special love for sheep. This led her to a decision to start up a small dairy on the property to highlight the diversity of the humble sheep.
As are cows, sheep are also generally milked twice a day offering around a litre per sheep per day. By comparison a Holstein Fresian dairy cow produces an average of 28 litres of milk a day. Being offered a calm and quiet regular routine, as was clearly evident at Riverside, Ellen’s sheep gave no resistance and happily took their place in the queue to be milked.
Sheep are commonly milked on an elevated ramp, here with an entry on one side of the dairy with the exit on the other. As I watched on, Ellen spoke fondly of the individual characteristics and histories of many of the sheep coming through.
Ellen believes ‘small’ is the key to having happy sheep giving amazing milk to be crafted into rich, pot set yoghurt, haloumi, ricotta, labneh and other products which can be purchased at the Adelaide Showgrounds Market at Wayville every second Sunday. Given the economies of small scale production and the substantially smaller volume of milk produced to make dairy products it’s important for the sustainability of small producers like Ellen that consumers understand the seasonal variables and cost of production differences. That we place greater value on these unique products for their eating enjoyment quality, be prepared to pay more for them and the contribution they offer to a diverse regional brand.
Farming at Riverside has always been about low stress life for animals and a low impact on the land leading to very contented sheep.
After leaving Riverside Farm I made an early lunch with some of Ellen’s delicious haloumi: Fried Haloumi with Orange, Chilli, Capers and Sumac. If you’re keen to try this you can find the recipe here
And so I leave you here for another month from the top of the Whispering Wall at the Barossa Reservoir. This retaining wall has unique acoustic effects. Words whispered at one side can be clearly heard at the other, more than 100 metres away. There seems so many analogies and comparisons from such a view that could illustrate what I’ve felt in recent times but what predominately stands out is the walkway above. Not great with heights I felt terrified to cross it. Not sure if I could get to the other side let alone back I spent considerable time deliberating but in the end after a ferocious self talking to decided to feel the fear and do it anyway.
As the great Carl Jung said, “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
See you on the other side of another month that will lead to who knows where.