Enlightened Vision For Roxby
Bold New Vignobles In Outback Innovation Minister Must Move
by PHILIP WHITE
News addicts may have noticed the Greeks attracting considerable press lately: something to do with a cultural tendency to avoid paying bills. But the current squabble over their petty cash tin is nothing compared to the international crisis triggered in 1997 by one of DRINKSTER’s favourite writers on issues gastronomic, Jeffrey Steingarten, food editor at US Vogue.
In his delicious tome, The Man Who Ate Everything, Steingarten isolated the whole of Hellenism by suggesting Greek cuisine was an oxymoron.
“The British go to Greece just for the food,” he wrote, “which says volumes to me. You would probably think twice before buying an Algerian or Russian television set. I thought for ten years before buying my last Greek meal.”
To paraphrase, he suggested that any race that pickles its national cheese in seawater and adulterates its national wine with pine resin should stick to the pursuit of pre-Socratic philosophy and carving the big white statues.
Which leads me to the matter of the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis M.P., South Australia’s greatest Greek since Dean Lukin (who won top bling once for lifting something really heavy), or perhaps that stalwart friend of Labor, the developer Gerry Karidis (who made even the pages of the Australian Women’s Weekly for his 1975 introduction of the Pakistani financier, Tirath Khemlani, to the Federal Minister for Minerals and Energy of the day, R. F. X. Connor, a handshake which ensured Gough Whitlam’s government hit the shell grit).
“Kouts” (pictured with breathalyser), the former cab-driving Shoppie , is Minister for ALP-Billiton, digger of the world’s biggest hole in the ground. His CV on the Premier and Cabinet website suggests he “enjoys cooking”, highlighting his dedication to the Greek Orthodox church and other things unique to its culture. After some nonsense about football, the blurb goes so far as to claim him to be “very active in the local community as proud Member and Patriot [sic] of organisations and associations such as the St. George Orthodox Church [and the] Messinian Association.”
Since he contentiously lost his position of Minister for Road Safety when the little matter of some 58 traffic offences and over $10,000 of unpaid fines came to light, Kouts's career has bloomed. As well as being Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, he is now Minister for Innovation, which is a key part of the Very Big Suggestion I am about to make. It is indeed a suggestion of Olympian proportion, but it’s right up Kouts’s portfolio, whichever way you look at it. And who knows? It may even help him establish a new school of Austro-Greek cuisine and fine Grocker retsina.
I speak of BHP-Billiton's proposed uranium mine at Olympic Dam, on the old Roxby Downs Station in South Australia's far north.
One of the problems associated with digging a hole over 4.1 kilometres long, 3.5 kilometres wide and at least a kilometre deep is the little matter of where to put the waste rock. You could, say, simply stack it up in a pile of that proportion, creating a mountain twice the height of Mount Lofty. This is impractical, as the footprint of a pile of such weight, say about 13 billion tones, would destabilise the highly inconvenient Masher’s Fault, which dissects the precious orebody. We don’t want tremors on top of all those magnificent explosions in the pit.
So, to an extent, the pile will have to be spread out. The diggers propose a footprint of 6,720 hectares: twice the size of Coonawarra’s famous Terra Rosa strip. But for “environmental” reasons, including amenity, and the potential destabilising of the local weather patterns as much as earthquake zones, they’re limiting its height to only 150 metres. This is typically bureaucratic anal retentive thinking.
BHP-BILLITON'S ESCODIDA MINE IN CHILE IS FAIRLY BIG, BUT IT WILL LOOK SMALL COMPARED TO THE NEW HOLE AT ROXBY ... THOSE TINY SPECKS ON THE PIT RIM IN THE FORGROUND ARE 4OO-TONNE DUMP TRUCKS
We need to think on a more lofty but less lateral scale for our astonishing hybrid. We could call it Mount Olympus, but I foresee something more Babylonic than Greek: a new Wonder of the World: not so much a Tower of Babel; more your spectacular hanging gardens.
As a highly unpaid Thinker In Residence, I dare suggest Kouts calls in the services of his colleague, the Hon. Gail Gago MLC, Minister for Agriculture, whose Ministerial portfolios also include Food and Fisheries, Forests, Regional Development, and Tourism. Having had the pleasure of sharing the odd gastronomic adventure with my good friends Ms. Gago and her winemaking husband, Peter, I can assure you she knows her way around a proper bottle of wine, which is entirely appropriate for a woman of her standing.
The geology of the Olympic Dam deposit has fascinated me since my days in the SA Geological Survey, away back when Don Dunstan’s Department of Mines was assisting Western Mining’s exploration of the region, and the consequent discovery of that humungous ore body. Five long years before the 24/7 remotely-controlled diggers hit anything like radioactivity, they’ll have to remove thirty metres of Aeolian sands and clays, and then about forty metres of Andamooka limestone. Next level down’s about 180 metres of shaley Arcoona quartzite, which is not much use to the prospective gardener, unless its silica could be ground and used to make the essential biodynamic 501 preparation.
GIVEN THE TERRA ROSA SANDY SOILS AND ANDAMOOKA LIMESTONE WHICH MUST BE REMOVED BEFORE THE OREBODY IS UNCOVERED, IT WILL BE DEAD EASY TO REPLICATE THE GEOLOGY OF COONAWARRA, BUT AT A CHOSEN ALTITUDE photo MILTON WORDLEY
But beneath the quartzite is a handy layer of ferruginous Corraberra sandstone, which brings to mind the Maslin sands which give that invaluable richness and complexity to the wines of Blewett Springs and Baker’s Gully at the north-western corner of the McLaren Vale vignoble.
A touch of sensible planning could see these priceless terranes put to one side until the rest of the mountain is built. This should be carefully designed from the start to take the form of a series of broad terraces, climbing, say, to a height of around 600 metres, or at least the altitude of the verdant Piccadilly Valley (400 – 550 metres). Given the appropriate meterological advice, a range could be established at an angle that would deflect the prevailing winds towards the south-east, increasing the rainfall all the way down across the Lake Torrens saltpan to Port Augusta.
Once your perfectly-terraced mountain is complete, a simple matter of spreading the clays, capping them with a layer of limestone, and/or the Aeloian sands or the ferruginous Corraberra sands, would have you a dial-up set of vignobles of ideal altitudes and micro-climates. Want Pinot? We’ll make you a perfect Burgundian terrane at the top, on the eastern side, sheltered from the destructive afternoon sun and westerlies by the Hon Gago’s new alpine forests. Some of this should be Flinders Ranges native pine, Callitris columellaris, which is naturally repulsive to all sorts of bugs and rots, and would make perfect vineyard trellis posts without any of the permanently toxic poisons of Perma-Pine, which cannot be burned or even buried in landfill without breaking the law, and must have a deleterious influence on grapeyard grounds everywhere else.
Want Cabernet country? Try Level Three, where we’ve replicated Coonawarra. Any of the hot new varieties which end in O? No worries. We’ve done 500 hectares of Alto Adige up there, some high Spanish country across there, and we could easily give you some Campania on the western slopes and some Champagne, come to think of it, up on the other side near the Burgundy bit.
OLYMPIC DAM: IDEAL SITE FOR ENORMOUS VIGNOBLE: THERE ARE NO MILDEWS OR BOTRYTIS MOULDS IN THIS REGION
As these new regions will be totally free of mildews and botrytis, poisonous sprays will be unnecessary: it can be certified organic and biodynamic from the start.
Given the beautiful forest lines, and all this new productive vegetation, you might just be able to slice off a big chunk of the mine’s most embarrassing vital stats, which seem certain to increase South Australia’s greenhouse emissions by an absolute minimum of twelve per cent.
As there’ll be nobody there to complain ’til it’s finished, a mutha of a wind farm could be built along the ridge tops, supplying electricity to the mine and residents.
Another leader with impeccable gastronomic credentials, the Hon Patrick Conlon MP, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, and Minister for Housing and Urban Development, will understand the perfect beauty of this plan. In the slopes separating these terraced vignobles, prefabricated concrete houses could be inserted as the mountain is built, to be finished and detailed once it’s complete. These would be naturally cooled in summer, and stable in winter, as only one of their sides would be exposed; the rest safely buried.
THERE WILL BE NO FLOODING PROBLEMS AT THE NEW MOUNTAIN
Along with the access roads and public amenities: all this could be prefabricated and buried within the mountain as it grows. As would the water recycling plant, where the skrillions of tonnes of water used in the pit and the mill processes can be cleaned up.
The ideal housing model is the stunning underground house the late Alan Hickinbothan built decades ago, to look out over his vineyard at Clarendon. There was much more than Hickinbothan Homes to that crafty old fox.
Oh, and the little matter of radiation? Radon emissions? Even without his direct genetic links to the powerful godheads of yore, Kouts already assures us this is well in hand, and that there’s absolutely nothing to be worried about.
When we develop his delicious hybrid retsina for the launch, we would of course include the sap of that native pine.
And just to prove one of the greatest international gastronomes wrong, we could invite Jeffrey Steingarten to open the thing and share in the big barbecue these three Ministers could prepare for us. Jeff may like to have his own personal Steingarten Vineyard there on some lofty slope with a view.
IN THE INTERIM, JEFF STEINGARTEN WAITS PATIENTLY IN NEW YORK