by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 17 October 2008
The ghost of Greg Trott is this minute glowering angrily over Glenthorne Farm and the University of Adelaide.
Trott, the founder of Wirra Wirra, and Spiritual Guidance Counsellor of the southern Vales, loved recalling his youthful journeys across vineyard and pasture in the back of the ute, en route to Hackney High. He fought to keep the old CSIRO research station free of housing, like all those rolling farmlands before they were devoured by malignant villa rash.
With the aid of Robert Hill, then a Senator, Trott had the 208 ha O’Halloran Hill property passed from the CSIRO to the University of Adelaide. A solemn deed was signed, prohibiting housing, but deeming compulsory the use of the land for viticultural research, experimentation and education. Trott wanted the testing of organic and biodynamic grape framing techniques; the trialling of new drought resistant varieties, providing the winemaking and viticulture students at the University with a king-sized opportunity to test their skills and climb new heights of environmentally responsible viticulture.
He dreamed of revegetating the headlands and creeklines with native plants, providing lungs for the south, walkways for human recreation, and homes for the native birds that would move in. He knew these birds would eat the grapes, providing more room for research in the tricky field of birdlife and vineyards co-existing without shotguns.
Dryland viti research became more essential when the Roseworthy winemaking campus was closed, meaning the loss of that full-sized winery, and its vineyards, for trials and education. Alan Hickinbotham kindly shouted the Uni a kindergarten winery at the Waite, but there was no room there for serious industrial-scale winemaking or vineyards and students were suddenly expected to gain their practical winemaking experience out in the industry they aimed to eventually work in.
This supplied the wine refineries with guaranteed cheap subservient labour at vintage, and the students would be trained in status quo industrial winemaking, limiting the free-thinking, ground-breaking experimentation which makes universities special and harvests the fruits of young minds set free to fly within the study of their choice.
Ironically the refineries most of these students would work in are retreating from this drought-stricken country and the river they helped to kill. If more free-thinking and enlightened experimentation had been encouraged all along, these transnationals would be better off right now, and our River would be in better nick.
The University says it has consulted intensely with the wine industry, that the land is not suited to viticulture, that there’s not enough water. Who, for Bacchus’s sake? Brian Croser? Alan Hickinbotham? The transnationals? They don’t seem to realise that McLaren Vale is almost 100% drought-proof since its enlightened move to using recycled water from the villa rash that surrounds it, or that the Glenthorne vineyards would test new techniques in dry-ground viticulture. This is even more critical since Rudd parsimoniously budgeted to close the existing CSIRO dryland viti research station at Mildura.
As for consulting with the wine industry? I recall Ian Sutton, Chief Executive of the Winemakers’ Federation, Wine Australia Pty. Ltd., Australian Wine Foundation and the Australian Wine and Brandy Producers' Association, saying accusations of a lack of consultation with the wine industry in his planning of the National Wine Center was simply balderdash. "My job's not to consult the wine industry -- my job is to represent the wine industry", he said.
The same university which now intends to break its deed of trust on Glenthorne Farm soon had the National Wine Centre as its own, at a peppercorn rent that draws puke from the average wine student struggling for digs.
If consulting had occurred, you’d think they’d talk to Jock Harvey, grapegrower, winemaker, and Chairman of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism association.
“Consultation?” he growled. “I haven’t heard a word! Of course it’s viable for vineyards. It’s ideal for vineyards. Not enough water? Where are they going to get the water for the housing? The reservoir across the road! And what sort of housing? We’ve got the cheapest, dumbest housing along this coast. It’s built to make money for the developer, the tradesmen, the council and the government. All short-term. Nothing green about it.
“If they’re interested in regreening” he stormed on, “they should take a look at what this community has done on the Willunga escarpment. This Greening of the Range has been one of the most extensive projects of its kind in Australia, and it’s all been a voluntary community project.”
Harvey got angrier. “What about low-impact food production? Community vegetable gardens? Trying to re-establish the native foods that once grew there? Getting the local unemployed and handicapped in to learn something wholesome?”
That’s the sort of talking that would have Trott smiling that inimitably curious smile of his, with its puzzled mixture of disbelief and delight.
“Dear Boy”, he would say.