“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





29 December 2010



Kennedy's Ingenious Solution

Unaipon Gongster Drinksterises

Whitefullas Are Not The Enemy

DRINKSTER’s abiding concern for the damage caused by the ethanol, or drinking alcohol industry is at its most intense in the ravaged communities of original Australians.

This discussion triggers a predictable, repetitive range of responses, from dead silence (on behalf of the ethanol peddlers), through overt racism (from whites living in proximity to drinking black communities, and from black communities who claim their drinking habits are no worse than the whites’), to the pious and useless sanctimony of prohibitionist dries, whatever their hue.

To throw some fresh light on how some of these issues might be addressed, DRINKSTER is delighted to publish an esteemed guest author, Gayle Kennedy.

While she has lived mainly in Sydney since 1973, Gayle is a Wongaiibon woman of the Ngiyaampaa speaking nation of south-western New South Wales, in outback Australia. With members of the Barkindji and Mutthi Mutthi nations, she and members of her family are traditional owners and co-guardians of the Lake Mungo area, where 40,000 year-old human remains lie, along with archeological evidence of at least 50,000 years of human inhabition. A much more recent part of her bloodline is from the Pictish/Norse influence of the outer Hebridean isle of Harris.

Gayle is an important writer, celebrated broadcaster and commentator, and partly through her experience of suffering polio as a girl, is internationally-respected for her understanding of disability and culture. She was for years the indigenous affairs contributor and researcher at Streetwise Comics, the Australian non-profit communications agency responsible for “communicating social issues to young people, indigenous communities and people of a culturally and linguistically diverse background and other hard to reach groups ... on a range of issues including health, education, employment, the law and indigenous-specific issues”.


Gayle won the David Unaipon Award for indigenous Australian literature with her essential work of fiction, Me, Antman and Fleabag (University of Queensland Press, 2007).

She is also a formidable expert on country music. Her Sydney Morning Herald tribute to Australian country hero, Slim Dusty, is a profound piece of reflective grief, unequalled in Slim’s vast canon of obituaries for its feeling, depth of understanding and simplicity.

This is the first chapter of Me, Antman and Fleabag.

How ta drink in the park 

Me, Antman and our mongrel, Fleabag, like partying outside. We both come from the bush. Me, I’m a NSW desert girl and Antman’s mob are river people. Cos we ain’t got no river or desert here in the city, we like sittin in the park yarnin, havin a charge, playin country music. We don’t cause no harm. Try telling that to the coppers. Soon as they see us they start growlin. They say, ‘No drinkin here’, ‘No music’ and ‘Git that dog registered’. Stuff like that. Then ya git sick of it and stay home and party in a yard the size of an old hanky with trains roarin by every time ya favourite song comes on.

We whinged bout it one day to Antman’s cuz, Damien. He’s a lawyer. Travelled round the world. He reckons we go about things the wrong way. Reckons we give up too easy. Says whitefullas aren’t the enemy. Says they love drinkin and partying outside too. He says they got it worked out so coppers don’t bother em. He showed us.

First he shouts Fleabag twelve months rego and a new collar in the Koori colours. Too deadly! Then he says the dog has to have a bath. Gawd Fleabag bunged on. Had to drag him out from under the house. He carried on like we was murderin him. Wouldn’t come near us for hours after. His guts got the better of him though and he come in for a feed. He got over it. Smelt good too.

Then we got an esky and a couple of fancy bottles of wine. Damien reckons no casks or flagons. Besides, the bottles got twist tops now, so once ya finished, ya fill em up with cheap stuff for next time. We pack a nice blanket and a picnic. Nothin fancy; bread, cold meat, tomatoes, a big ol lamb bone for Fleabag. We pile in Damien’s car and head to Balmain. Damien lives there.

We pull up at this deadly park right on the harbour. Antman and me are a bit nervous, but Fleabag’s outta the car and beltin cross the grass like there’s no tomorrow. There’s heaps of other dogs there, but that’s okay coz he got his nuts cut out a couple a years ago so he don’t go bluin no more.

We git the stuff outta the car, spread the blanket with the tucker, glasses and wine on the grass and sit down, still nervous. Then we see all these whitefullas. They’re all sittin round with wine, beer and tucker too! They’re havin a laugh. Kids and dogs are runnin around. There’s no trains, the harbour’s shinin, boats everywhere. We pour drinks; make sandwiches. People smile at us. They pat old Flea and fuss over his fancy collar. He laps it up.

And there’s no coppers in sight!

Antman grins. ‘Makes ya wanna sing, aye tidda?’

‘Sure does,’ I say, and whack old Slim in the CD player.

We know the drill and go every week now. Flea’s used to havin a tub too. Knows he’s goin to the park afterwards. Anyway, when we get sick of city life we go out bush, sometimes to visit my mob or sometimes Antman’s. Ant’s a builder so he goes whenever one job finishes. I do bar work or waitressin so I ain’t tied down either. Fleabag just comes along for the ride.

© 2006 Gayle Kennedy
To hear Gayle read selections from Me, Antman and Fleabag, download this segment from the ABC radio program, AWAYE.

27 December 2010


Ten Easy Steps To Paradise
First Select A Mighty Knife
An Island With Limes


This piece was written about twenty years ago, when Bombay gin wore a white label and resided in a squat bottle. It was a more viscous, rounded style of gin than the Sapphire which suddenly and brutally replaced it. The old model had less overt juniper, and was probably closer in style to some of the truly traditional gins of yore, like the lovely Plymouth gin still made in that sailors’ town. I preferred the old white label to the Sapphire, which seems tohave been designed to suit the American martini market.
The story was published in The Advertiser and The Sydney Review.

Over twenty years of studious application has finally seen your correspondent on things moist discover the recipe for the perfect gin and tonic. In ten easy steps, here lies the key to total gustatory and spiritual satisfaction and perhaps even to eternal life. It will take more time for me to prove the latter.

1. Find Max’s Island

Somewhere off the Northern territory coast, lapped by the impish Arafura Sea, lies Max’s Island. Here among the palms, the mangroves, and the giant man-eating lizards, live Max, Marie, Little Max and Croc Baumber, sans footwear. During the past 26 years, this family has created the ideal environment for the building of the perfect gin and tonic. You will need first to get there, by hardy sea craft or air, then spend three or four days preparing your thirst.

2. Sharpen The Knife

On the morning of the fourth day, you will be ready to slip into the routine. First, sharpen your knife. I have a monster blade recommended by the great Adelaide chef, Cheong Liew, which is most suitable for a place like this.
Whatever your choice, hone it fine and deadly, for once you have sliced your lime, you will need the weapon for bashing big fish on the head to discourage them from biting your feet on the boat, later for slitting their guts agape, and later still for more baroque forms of self-defence. I recommend a pocket diamond sharpener, fine grade. In the rough tropical conditions, it will hold together better than a stone, which may give you a more showy edge, but that’s not required on Max’s Island. A diamond sharpener will not let you down.

3. Walk To The Lime Tree

Taking care to avoid the nest of giant tropical tiger lice, head toward the lime tree. You will need to circumnavigate Max’s shed, easily recognised by life-saving rings hanging upon its southern wall, as if it were a ship. Having noticed these, do not fall prey to the usual puzzlement over just how high the tide rises here – that is a waste of concentration. Instead, be aware that within this building resides one of the grandest collections of gadgets, tools and trophies any connoisseur could hope to acquire, and that many of these hard, irregular objects have begun their escape from the shed, and have indeed established a significant beach-head out here in the world at large. Collision can be fatal. Avoid too treading in swarf – it takes ages to retrieve from the feet and leads quickly to tropical ulcers.
I recommend the smaller, harder, greener limes. Because this year’s dry has been particularly so, Max’s limes are of the finest, lowest-yielding quality. The smallest ones offer the most concentrated flavour.

4. Walk To The Ice Box

Having pocketed your lime, move carefully to the ice box. This is still in the south-eastern wing of Max’s shed. Smash off a few larger lumps, about golf ball size, with the handle of your knife. Do not waste any ice – it costs fuel money to feed the generators, and you have the choice of either making ice or freezing fish, because the gennies can only produce as much power as they can produce. Remember to shut the ice box tight.

5. Walk To The Wash House

It’s an easy stroll from the ice box to the wash house. You steer past the dead tree with the kitchen sink bolted to it, on past the beer fridge (from which you select a tin of tonic), past the new washing-machine (yet to be installed, but working perfectly well out here in the open), and make a left into the wash house. Here is where the gin lies, almost frozen, in the food freezer. It’s in here, with the chops and bread and snags, because it is neither ice nor fish. It is sort of special. I’ve been using Bombay, because not only is it one of the last gins made with full respect paid to the true Spirit of the Empire, even bearing a lovely likeness of Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, but it also incorporates only the finest ingredients, such as Moroccan coriander seeds, Indo-Chinese licorice root, Spanish lemon peel, angelica root from Saxony, and orris root and juniper berries from Italy. Most gins today use cheap essences, added after the base spirit distillation. Bombay incorporates these real ingredients in the distillation – in the traditional, expensive, most thorough, but gentle way. Between the still and the condenser the gin’s vapour passes through these herbs on racks. Remember to shut the freezer tight.

6. Slicing The Lime

If, like mine, your lime is about the size of a tom-bowler, you will be able to take three neat slices from its centre, keeping the ends to squeeze into your potage during assemblage. You will find a convenient bench for this operation bolted to the back of the same dead tree which bears the sink.

7. Preparing Your Container

Take a stubby cooler, the wetsuit rubber sponge type, wet it thoroughly, and select a tumbler which fits it quite snugly. The tumblers will be upside-down, on the sink. The evaporation of the water from the stubby holder will keep your ice frozen for much longer, and your drink colder and fresher overall.

8. Assemblage

Put your tumbler in your stubby holder, and your ice in the tumbler. Add a nip and a half of Bombay. It will be oily, because it is nearly frozen. If it has frozen, you know somebody has been adding water to it, in which case you’ll need your knife. Fill your tumbler to the brim with Schweppes Indian Tonic Water (a bit sweet, but still the best), and add your three slices of lime. Squeeze the juice from the ends of your lime into the tumbler, too.
Now you are ready for the intense, calming, and eventually soporific bit.

9. Select A Chair With A View

You may choose here to eye the mangroves, scanning their strange dank greenness for other eyes, looking back. They’re always in there, waiting.
You may prefer to gaze into the blue across the beach on the other side, and the deadly tidal flats, off into the wildness of the Arafura, a water chock-a-block with giant turtles, rays, sharks, stinging devices of all kinds, and millions of disco-hued fish. Hungry, vivacious, desperate fish. You may look across the hammock through the coconut palms to the crocodile graveyard, to where the troops are digging in for their big war games with Singapore and the Yanks. You may contemplate them, but you mustn’t be seen noticing them. Or the vertical view of the tropical canopy, taken from the hammock, may be your favourite, especially when the resident Brahminy kite sits there on the warm breeze, jealously eyeing your gin and tonic.

10. Drink The Bastard

After the first delicate sip, you will need no further instruction.
You may find it difficult to adopt a mildly temperate attitude, but such attitudes are best kept to temperate zones, and Max’s Island is not one of those. Max’s Island is tropical, especially cut out by Max and Marie and their boys, Little Max and Croc, and God, and possibly the Devil, for the consumption of the world’s best, The Perfect Gin And Tonic. Three or four days of this, and a person begins to understand why The Empire was built, why it collapsed, and why mad dogs and Englishmen are absolutely content to gather their news from seven-week-old copies of The Times.

23 December 2010


Rivers Of Booze Flood The Alice  
Horrifying Efficiencies In Pubs Grog-floggers Boost Coffin Trade

Katrina Bolton reported this story on ABC's Lateline on 18/08/2010.

The national emergency in the Northern Territory is still a reality in Alice Springs, where 'rivers of grog' still flow.

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: If there's one issue that hasn't had much attention in this election campaign, it's Indigenous affairs.

Five years ago the troubled lives and horrific deaths of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory were described as a national emergency, but the rivers of grog are still flowing in Alice Springs.

Now the man who buries the victims of alcohol is demanding change from businesses he says are making a killing and says governments haven't done enough to stop them.

Katrina Bolton reports.

KATRINA BOLTON, REPORTER: Basil Schild is a pastor in Alice Springs. He's speaking out because he's tired of burying his friends.

BASIL SCHILD, LUTHERAN PASTOR: A mother was burying her son number five. All her sons, she'd buried. All of them were alcohol-related deaths.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says he's done nearly 80 funerals because of alcohol and it's not just the drinkers who are dying.

BASIL SCHILD: Some of the coffins that have travelled through this room in which we sit, a 13-year-old girl whose stepfather would come home and get drunk and touch her up; she took her own life. A 26-year-old young woman whose partner would come home and get drunk and smash her up; she took her own life.

KATRINA BOLTON: The rivers of grog are still flowing in Alice Springs, four years after a report on child sex abuse called for urgent action. The Territory Government has cut the availability of cask wine and banned takeaway alcohol before 2pm, but it still allows some of the town's bars to open at 10 in the morning and behind darkened windows, hundreds of people hit the grog before lunch.

BASIL SCHILD: It will be totally crowded, it's full. There are elderly people, some of them frail, sitting on the floor. There's hardly any air-conditioning. The air is thick, it's hard to breathe.

JOHN BOFFA, PEOPLE'S ALCOHOL ACTION COALITION: The bar in the Todd Tavern, which is well-known throughout the community as the Animal Bar, is that bar that's only open from 10 o'clock in the morning till 2 o'clock. It closes as soon as the takeaways open.

KATRINA BOLTON: So busy is the Todd's riverside bar that the Licensing Commission last month suspended it for a week after CCTV footage showed 236 people inside when it was licensed for 100.

GP and alcohol campaigner Dr John Boffa thinks bars like the Todd are targeting alcoholics.

JOHN BOFFA: The sort of people that need to start drinking at 10 o'clock in the morning in a public bar are likely to be alcohol dependent.

KATRINA BOLTON: The other two bars are hidden. The Heavitree Tavern is tucked behind the supermarket on the outskirts of town. It's allowed to serve close to 150 people. And at the Gap View Hotel, their bar is completely unmarked, but the drinkers know it's there.

Inside, the bar is open, but you can't buy food, even at lunch, and like the Heavitree and the Todd, even though it's allowed to stay open, it closes at 2pm right when the takeaways open.

JOHN BOFFA: It seems as if the publican only wants to make space available for very heavy drinkers until they can sell them takeaway and basically get rid of them.

KATRINA BOLTON: While drinkers are on site, licencees are obliged to make sure people don't get too drunk, but the businesses have no legal responsibility for what happens after the drinkers go on to buy large quantities of alcohol at the bottle shops.

BASIL SCHILD: If you do the figures, those major hotels must be making an absolute killing.

KATRINA BOLTON: Fosters acknowledges the Todd and the Gap View are among their biggest individual beer customers in the country. Lawyer Russell Goldflam says they also feature heavily in court. [read his report: Damming The Rivers Of Grog - it takes some time to download]

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM, DEFENCE LAWYER: The horrible fact is that in the majority of the homicide cases in which I've been involved, cases where a killing was literally made, the perpetrator, the victim, the witnesses, they all bought their grog at these pubs.

KATRINA BOLTON: Alcohol keeps Alice Springs police extremely busy with assaults, rapes and untimely deaths. The town's Indigenous people are 14 times more likely than other Australians to die from alcohol. Figures obtained by the ABC show that in 2008-'09 the hospital treated nearly a stabbing a day.

Russell Goldflam says the violence almost always involves enormous amounts of takeaway alcohol.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: The standard killing: the victim was very drunk, the person who did it was very drunk and the witnesses were all very drunk. The standard serious harm, the standard rape: also, victim, perpetrator, witnesses - everyone's drunk.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says the scientific literature is very clear about how alcohol consumption can be cut, but the solutions are politically unpopular.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: Higher prices, shorter trading hours, a grog free welfare pay day, less outlets, a volumetric tax. It's not rocket science.

MARGARET KAMERRE TURNER, EASTERN ARRERNTE WOMAN: A lot of people are getting sick, a lot of people are dying. All my family have died from alcohol. The place where they buy alcohol, they wouldn't care. They like their money.

KATRINA BOLTON: Senior Eastern Arrernte woman M K Turner says it's time the Government drastically cut the number of alcohol outlets.

MARGARET KAMERRE TURNER: Well in my family they just drank so much ... because alcohol was there.

KATRINA BOLTON: Basil Schild says all the companies selling alcohol in Alice Springs need to take a hard look at the damage their product is causing. He's calling on the supermarket bosses and the CEOs of the companies that make the alcohol to come and meet the people on the flipside of their profits.

BASIL SCHILD: They would surely begin a conversation regarding their corporate social responsibility to ensure that their products are not reaping such total chaos.

KATRINA BOLTON: The pubs we've mentioned all declined to be interviewed for this program, as did Coles and the two major liquor suppliers, Fosters and Lion Nathan.

Fosters said in a statement that it's extremely committed to promoting a culture of responsible alcohol consumption and Lion Nathan said in a statement that no responsible player in the industry wants to make a dollar from alcohol dependency.

The Territory's Alcohol Policy Minister was also unavailable for interview. The Government has announced it'll buy back three of the town's takeaway licences, but the Todd and the Gap View are not being touched.

The Government is preparing to make more changes to alcohol laws. Basil Schild and M K Turner hope it happens soon before the cemetery gets any fuller.

BASIL SCHILD: Over here we buried another dear friend of mine. Very recently was lying drunk on the road just outside Alice Springs, hit by a car. Over here, another dear friend of mine - renal failure at the age of 39.

Many still-born deaths just here behind the tractor. Recently, this side, two suicides. Over there further, a dear friend of mine, I said to him, "If you don't stop drinking, I'll bury you next year." We buried him next year.

MARGARET KAMERRE TURNER: You know, people have stopped - old people have stopped crying now. They got no more tears to cry.


TONY JONES: Katrina Bolton with that report.

The World Today on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 12:30:00

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Hello I'm Elizabeth Jackson and this is a current affairs special.

Alice Springs is famous around the world. But the town in the very middle of Australia has a darker side. It has the nation's highest rate of alcohol-related death.

A few years ago the abuse and dysfunction that alcohol helped generate were thought to be so serious that a national emergency was declared.

But the rivers of grog are still flowing in Alice Springs.

Katrina Bolton reports.

KATRINA BOLTON: Basil Schild is a pastor of a small church in a town he says is drowning in grog.

He wants to stop burying his friends.

BASIL SCHILD: I was involved with a funeral for the fifth son, a mother was burying her son number five. All her sons she'd buried. All of them were alcohol related deaths.

KATRINA BOLTON: A recent Menzies School of Health report found Indigenous people in Alice Springs are 31 times more likely than other Australians to die of alcohol related causes.

Pastor Basil Schild say he's done more than 80 funerals for people who've died because of alcohol; in car crashes, being run over by road trains, murders and still births.

BASIL SCHILD: In one year we had three members of the parish were murdered, three women, all of them by their partners who were drunk.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says it's not just drinkers who are dying.

BASIL SCHILD: The bodies of people who have travelled though this room include a 13 year old girl whose stepfather would come home and get drunk and touch her up - she took her own life. A 26 year old young woman whose partner would come home and get drunk and smash her up - she took her own life.

KATRINA BOLTON: A landmark report on child sex abuse nearly four years ago described what it called "rivers of grog" in the Northern Territory and called for urgent action.

The Territory Government has cut the availability of cask wine in Alice Springs and banned takeaway alcohol before 2pm - moves it credits with reducing total alcohol sales and the murder rate.

But behind blackened windows places like the Todd Tavern are still allowed to run bars where hundreds of people hit the grog from 10 in the morning.

Inside it's packed. The Todd's liquor licence is valuable enough that it's held by six small companies.

Alice Springs GP and alcohol campaigner Dr John Boffa thinks this type of bar targets alcoholics.

JOHN BOFFA: The bar in the Todd Tavern which is well known throughout the community as the animal bar, is a bar that's only open from 10 o'clock in the morning till 2 o'clock. It closes as soon as the takeaway is open.

KATRINA BOLTON: At the Todd Tavern people passing by in the morning can sometimes see drinkers queuing outside.

But two other similar venues in Alice Springs are far more hidden.

The Heavitree Tavern is behind a small supermarket on the outskirts of town. Its widows are tinted almost black. It's impossible to see how many people are inside.

And at the Gap View Hotel at the foot of the town's famous mountain range the bar is completely unmarked. There is only a dirt track to the door. But inside it's licensed to serve close to 150 people.

Like the other two bars the clientele is almost exclusively Indigenous. Most of the drinkers will tell you they're unemployed.

The Gap View's bar is open over lunch but it doesn't serve food - only grog. And like the other two bars it closes at 2pm, right when the takeaway bottle shops open.

Dr John Boffa says while licensees are responsible for people while they're on site they have no legal responsibility for what happens after the drinkers go on to buy alcohol at the bottle shops.

JOHN BOFFA: For me it's a very cynical exercise. It seems as if the publican only wants to make space available for very heavy drinkers until they can sell them takeaway and basically get rid of them, get them off site.

KATRINA BOLTON: Lawyer Russell Goldflam has spent 15 years dealing with the assaults, rapes and murders that sometimes follow.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: The standard killing: the victim was very drunk, the person who did it was very drunk and the witnesses were all very drunk.

The standard serious harm the same, everyone was very drunk.

The standard rape also victim, perpetrator, witnesses, everyone's drunk. And when I say drunk I mean very drunk.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says anyone seeing the volume of alcohol sales that get described in court should be able to realise that harm is likely to come from it.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: It's not uncommon to say, well we bought one carton of VB and then we had a carton of Tooheys Extra Dry and then we had a carton of something else and then we drank a bottle of rum.

How many people are you talking about?

Oh, four or five.

KATRINA BOLTON: Outside the bars the 2pm rush is intense.

People aren't allowed to walk through the bottle shop so they pour out of the pub and battle for seats in the taxis and mini vans that appear to whisk them the few metres to the drive-through.

Lawyer Russell Goldflam says most of the Indigenous people buying the takeaway alcohol don't have a place where they can legally drink it.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: They're entitled to buy alcohol but they're not allowed to drink it either in a public place or in the privacy of their own home because the town camps in Alice Springs are all prescribed areas under the Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation of the Commonwealth.

So unless they've got a mate who lives in some other form of accommodation where it is legal to drink there is nowhere that they're allowed to legally drink within the town boundaries of Alice Springs.

KATRINA BOLTON: But at the Gap View Hotel with the bar closed the surge on the bottle shop is so intense it even creates a traffic jam.

Pastor Basil Schild believes this set-up fuels problem drinking because the bars allow people to start drinking early and then just before they're legally drunk kick them out and sell them large amounts of takeaway alcohol.

BASIL SCHILD: Dr Philip Nitschke the euthanasia advocate gets in trouble for supplying an elderly woman with a bottle of tablets that she might use to kill herself. But here we have like a mass euthanasia happening with people making huge profits, retailing to people substances that are killing them. So where's the outcry about that?

KATRINA BOLTON: Alice Springs is a small place and while the venues' profits are secret the liquor supplier Fosters acknowledges the Gap View Hotel and the Todd Tavern have been among its biggest individual beer customers in Australia.

BASIL SCHILD: If you do the figures those major hotels must be making an absolute killing.

KATRINA BOLTON: Lawyer Russell Goldflam agrees.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: It's a horribly apt expression. The horrible fact is that in the majority of the homicide cases in which I've been involved, cases where a killing was literally made, the perpetrator, the victim, the witnesses, they all bought their grog at these pubs.

KATRINA BOLTON: The ABC did approach the three pubs for interview but they declined.

So did the liquor suppliers Fosters and Lion Nathan although they issued statements saying they don't want to make money from alcohol dependency.

But Pastor Basil Schild believes that if the companies aren't happy with the way their products are being sold they could pressure the pubs and retailers to change.

BASIL SCHILD: Perhaps the company directors are just unaware of what a devastating and terrible impact their products are having in Central Australia. Because I think if they were aware they would surely begin a conversation regarding their corporate social responsibility to ensure that their products are not reaping such total chaos.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says companies should factor in the impact drinking has on children.

BASIL SCHILD: An Aboriginal child, on average they're attending 10 funerals a year. By the time they're 10 they've been to 100 funerals.

A 10 year old child is totally enmeshed and engaged with a never ending cycle of grief even though they are not yet consumers of alcohol.

KATRINA BOLTON: The only player in the alcohol industry willing to talk publicly was the organisation that represents the Territory's pubs - the Australian Hotels Association.

Its president is Mick Burns.

He says for the three Alice Springs pubs there is no easy solution.

MICK BURNS: I see that there are a large number of that clientele that would be problem drinkers.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says because they're problem drinkers they'd leave anyway as soon as cheaper takeaway drinks were available.

MICK BURNS: Those hotels don't choose to close at two o'clock. There's no good keeping a hotel open when you've got no clients inside.

KATRINA BOLTON: And he says all three bars operate within their licences.

MICK BURNS: And I think if people turn up to our pubs and they're sober, they're properly attired and there's no reason to exclude them from licensed premises. Unless there's a particular reason it opens up a Pandora's box of problems for licensees if we don't serve those people.

KATRINA BOLTON: Some of Alice Spring's Indigenous residents including drinkers think the pubs' licences need to change.

Kevin Wirri lives at Abbotts' Camp, a cluster of Aboriginal homes just opposite the town's dry Todd River bed.

In the 90s he and his wife fought to have alcohol banned from the camp despite opposition including from the police.

Today there's a big "no alcohol" sign at the entrance but the ground sparkles with empty cans. One house has more than 80 in the front yard.

Kevin Wirri tried to stay off the grog but he says so many people drink and there's a cultural obligation to share so the social pressure was overwhelming.

KEVIN WIRRI: Aboriginal people well you know they really want to drink you know more, more, more, just keep on drinking.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says when he refused to drink friends and relatives told him they'd never visit or speak to him again.

KEVIN WIRRI: Well they'll turn around and say you know he trying to be like a white man. They'll say he's a white man. He doesn't want to live with us you know, our way.

KATRINA BOLTON: Grandmother Christobel Swan feels like she's fighting a losing battle trying to stop her relatives from drinking themselves to death.

CHRISTOBEL SWAN: I try, I talk to people, "Hey come on lass," you know. I talk to my families, "You've got to stop drinking you know? Stop drinking!"

KATRINA BOLTON: She says she's already lost a lot of her family to alcohol in suicides, car crashes and stabbings.

But she says while the pubs open at 10 every morning the drinkers keep rolling out of bed and heading straight there, leaving children behind.

CHRISTOBEL SWAN: They got no food you know, kids they're walking round asking somebody else for $2 or something like that you know.

KATRINA BOLTON: Fellow grandmother and Eastern Arrernte woman MK Turner says the all-day drinking culture needs to be broken.

MK TURNER: All my family have died from alcohol and I'm just talking from my heart.

KATRINA BOLTON: She says the non-drinkers want to help people get off the grog. But it's impossible while there are so many takeaway outlets in town.

MK TURNER: In my family they just drank so much because alcohol was there. Why is the Government letting people to have so many outlets? The place where they buy alcohol, they wouldn't care. They like their money. People like money. They follow money.

KATRINA BOLTON: Lawyer Russell Goldflam has spent years researching alcohol policy.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: What's popular generally doesn't work very well and what works very well generally isn't popular when it comes to alcohol harm reduction.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says the scientific literature is very clear about what works and it requires measures that affect the whole population.

RUSSELL GOLDFLAM: We need to make grog less readily available. It may not be popular but it'll work. Higher prices, shorter trading hours, a grog free welfare payday, less outlets, a volumetric tax - it's not rocket science.

KATRINA BOLTON: It's an assessment backed up by alcohol policy researchers in other states.

But the Northern Territory's Alcohol Policy Minister Delia Lawrie is planning something quite different.

DELIA LAWRIE: The biggest thing we're going to do, the thing that hasn't been tried anywhere in Australia or indeed the world is automatic banning on the problem drinker.

What the health lobby is saying to me is that that, that is going to be the most crucial change that hasn't occurred because no-one's legislated in that way in the past.

KATRINA BOLTON: Delia Lawrie says problem drinkers who breach the bans could be forced into rehabilitation.

DELIA LAWRIE: We also want to bring in a tribunal where people who've got serious drinking problems can be referred to the tribunal, clinically assessed, mandating treatment.

(Extract from government campaign ad):

MALE VOICEOVER: Enough is enough. Alcohol abuse causes crime. That's why the Territory Government is taking tough action to turn off the tap for...

KATRINA BOLTON: While the Territory Government rolls out an advertising campaign about the new measures the conservative Country Liberal Opposition is also drawing up its own policy, one that relies almost exclusively on the rehabilitation of problem drunks.

The party's alcohol spokesman Peter Styles says his party would allow Alice Springs' takeaway bottle shops to open earlier, at 10am instead of 2pm.

The rationale is that people who want to drink are going to. They may as well get drunk early so the violence starts before dark.

PETER STYLES: When five o'clock comes police officers are dealing with other issues. There's statements to be taken. There's meal breaks that police officers have to have.

KATRINA BOLTON: Peter Styles used to be a policeman and he says officers hate hearing screams and not being able to see what's happening.

PETER STYLES: Now I've had police officers tell me that at night time they can hear women wailing in the Todd but they can't find them because once they go looking for them there are people there who are obviously perpetrating the violence who then threaten if they open their mouth they will suffer.

So everything goes quiet for a while and the police officers don't find them. So when the police officers leave the violence starts again.

Then what happens is we find someone's got to go to a telephone box, call an ambulance and then we go through those entire health issues because police officers can't look down the Todd in the day time for 300 or 400 metres and say there's a problem, let's go and fix it.

KATRINA BOLTON: The prospect of increased takeaway hours and the reliance of both parties on rehabilitating individual drinkers concerns Blair McFarland who's worked for years to stop petrol sniffing in Central Australia.

He says that experience shows that even with intensive rehabilitation people rarely stop unless the environment around them changes.

BLAIR MCFARLAND: They'd seem to be on top of their habits and they'd talk the right way and want to stop sniffing. But as soon as they went back to the environment that was full of sniffable substances they'd inevitably relapse.

It was only once the supply reduction side kicked in that rehab made any sense at all.

KATRINA BOLTON: He says alcohol rehabilitation is a very blunt tool to rely on given the rate that people are dying.

BLAIR MCFARLAND: Ninety-five per cent of people don't stop once they've gone to rehab. On their first entrance to rehab they've got a 95 per cent chance of relapsing. You know it takes multiple, multiple, multiple goes to go into rehab.

You multiply that factor like three months rehab times four or five, times the number of people in Alice Springs who have got drinking problems and you factor into that population growth and basically you're looking at a sort of perpetual motion machine.

KATRINA BOLTON: Alice Springs GP Dr John Boffa also doubts whether individual drunks can be expected to change if the hours of alcohol availability don't.

JOHN BOFFA: There are changes occurring in the brains of people who are dependent on alcohol. And new neural circuits open up in the brain which means the impulse that these people have to drink is incredibly powerful and very difficult to resist once those changes have taken place. It is very difficult to walk past an alcohol outlet and not have a drink.

KATRINA BOLTON: But politicians are acutely aware that in some parts of Alice Springs the idea of restricting alcohol availability or opening hours doesn't go down too well.

VOX POP 1: Yeah the price of beer will go up and then you know we come in and we have to spend more money on grog. And like yeah, why should we get disadvantaged because some people don't know how to drink?

VOX POP 2: I think they're punishing us very badly just to try and sort out the alcohol problem with the Indigenous species. But the people that haven't really got a problem are the ones that are suffering and I think it's wrong.

KATRINA BOLTON: It's not just Indigenous Territorians who drink too much. Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia found non-Indigenous Territorians are twice as likely as other Australians to die of alcohol-related causes.

But the liquor industry is an important player. Pubs and clubs were among the largest donors to the Territory Government before the last election.

And the hotels association president Mick Burns doesn't think pub opening hours should change.

MICK BURNS: Fundamentally we're after any initiatives and we're supportive of any initiatives that we see as specifically targeting the problem.

KATRINA BOLTON: He thinks measures that affect all drinkers would be unfair.

MICK BURNS: The problem is all the unintended consequences. You know like if we want to make Alice Springs a less attractive place to live, a less attractive place to visit, a less attractive place to work, we're going down the right path.

Rivers of grog flow on in Alice Springs

Katrina Bolton reported this story on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 12:30:00

KATRINA BOLTON: The Government is in the process of buying back three of Alice Springs' 32 takeaway alcohol licences although the Todd Tavern and the Gap View Hotel are not being touched.

The Government has also decided to review the way the town's bars operate and it's considering requiring them to only sell light beer before two unless it's with a meal.

The Minister Delia Lawrie says decisions should be made by February.

DELIA LAWRIE: That's something that's in front of the Licensing Commission. You know it's on the table with all the other matters that have been put into the mix in terms of that hearing. And I don't want to pre-empt the outcome of the commission's work.

KATRINA BOLTON: Back at the town's Lutheran Church, Alice Springs Pastor Basil Schild and grandmother Christobel Swan hope any changes will be meaningful.

They say they don't want to bury so many people.

BASIL SCHILD: This town has an alcohol nightmare happening and Government and leaders, captains of industry have to have both the compassion and the courage now to throw everything at this.

Now is the time. We cannot wait any more for this. We may as well sit down in front of the church yard and build coffins.

CHRISTOBEL SWAN: I hope with all my heart this grog thing changes. We have lost so many of our family, young and old. Please listen to us when we ask for this like morning time you know to keep the pubs shut.

KATRINA BOLTON: Until decisions are made there's every sign Alice Springs' river of grog will keep on flowing.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Katrina Bolton with that report.

You've been listening to a current affairs special.

Some of the following comments have been redirected to DRINKSTER from a discussion of this article on FaceBook.

18 December 2010



 The Long Voyage Of Grenache
From Cape St Vincent, Oporto
To Gulf St Vincent, South Oz



The first International Grenache Day passed in September.

While this may be a novel notion, it seems to make more sense than International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which slipped by on the 19th of that month, or the World Sports Journalists Day (July 2nd) which did little but make me wonder about Michaelangelo Rucci, a genius who writes about football in The Advertiser.

South Australia seems finally to be appreciating that many of the cold-region European varieties, like the Burgundian Pinot noir and Chardonnay, don’t much like this climate, which is more akin to the sands of North Africa than snowy continental Europe.

We should marvel more intensely on how the enlightened gentlemen who established the colony of South Australia were immediately savvy to the advantages of its Mediterranean climate in wine-making.

Some brash modernists now suggest that South Australia has the best Mediterranean climate in the world.

But those early householders needed fine wine on their tables, so they brought grape varieties from the western Mediterranean: from the Spanish and French coasts of that sea, and from around the corner into the Atlantic, to the Cape St Vincent and Portugal’s Vincentine Coast.


St Vincent is the patron of viticulturers; around his Cabo sailed wine shippers for centuries, taking wine to England. Outnumbered two-to-one, John “Old Jarvie” Jarvis (below right), a patron of Lord Nelson and Matthew Flinders, thrashed the Spanish navy off its waters in 1797, and was so awarded the title Earl St Vincent. Flinders named our Gulf St Vincent and Cape Jarvis after him.

While some of the early vignerons (Gilbert, Duffield, Reynell) struggled to succeed with the cooler climate varieties, like Cabernet, Semillon, and Riesling, most preferred the western Mediterranean types. Foremost amongst these was Grenache, the tough, wild red most prolific across north Africa, Italy, southern France and Spain, and around into Portugal.

My precursor in the wine column at The Advertiser, the rakish Ebenezer Ward, wrote in 1861 that Grenache was popularly being grafted widely onto roots of failed Cabernet, and thrived here on its own roots. He reports it doing well at Felixstowe, Clarendon, Beaumont, Auldana, Glen Osmond, Magill, Belair, Craigburn, and Keyneton. He associates no German names with its introduction.

When the big English wine families began to turn their home table habit into a booming intoxicant industry, it soon became apparent that fortified wine was much easier to make and store, and provided significantly louder bang for the buck than effete table wines. Grenache was handy, as it made fine port for the mob as well as lighter, drier table wine for the odd posh table.

After World War Two, the fortified industry was roaring, as men shattered by battle and misplacement found consolation in strong sweet cheap ports; their womenfolk kept up with the hidden flagon sherry. But this was a classic case of a market that would obviously disappear through its own terminally addictive nature; by the late ’sixties the fashion was turning to lighter, less destructive wine.

It was in this transition that winemakers who could barely remember dry table Grenache seemed to completely forget its faithful nature, and far too many of the priceless old vineyards were uprooted to make way for Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.

With remarkable success, the Barossa and McLaren Vale are currently locked in a dainty race to re-establish Grenache as a fine gastronomic tincture. Tim Smith, Charlie Melton, and Greenock Creek lead the Barossa pack in sheer shimmering quality. Smiffy this year won Best Single Vineyard or Estate Grenache in the world at the London International Wine and Spirit Challenge with his Chateau Tanunda The Everest Barossa Grenache 2008. Kaesler, Langmeil, Kalleske, Murray Street, John Duval and Teusner also make lovely Grenache wines. Many of these are austere regardless of their alcohol, akin to wines made from the drier uplands of Spain.


McLaren Vale, with its more Mediterranean levels of humidity, seems to make a softer, more silky and soulful type of Grenache along the lines of the sunny south of France. These are perhaps best studied through the new set of Cadenzia wines, which are Grenache, or Grenache-based, and made by six rival producers who work together in this scheme.

Named after the cadenza, a passage of music where the soloist in an orchestra is given a chance to improvise, these wines offer a very handy spectrum of Grenache styles, from the simpler south of France maraschino and marello cherry-bombs, through to the overt black leather and kalamata Spanishness of the blends, tasted most extremely in the d’Arenberg.

I must take some blame for the Cadenzia project. In a 2003-2004 attempt to raise the image of Grenache in McLaren Vale, where much of it was in danger of being replaced with other, well, Bacchus only knows what varieties, I convinced Walter Clappis to kindly hand his ownership of the name, which I had suggested to him but he had not used, to the McLaren Vale winemakers, thirteen of whom agreed to participate and make Grenache-based wines, sharing the common Cadenza appellation. It was soon discovered that two wine companies elsewhere in the world were already using the word, so an I was jammed in before the ultimate A, the new name was registered, and off it went.

This was a successful exercise, as within a few years Grenache prices went from around $300 per tonne to more than $3000 for the better selections, and the uprooting ceased. But many producers missed the point of the improvisation: the original idea was that the wines should be jazzy blends, with Grenache being the principal ingredient. This would open the doors for a wider range of flavours, make a more interesting suite of products, and permit the total volume of the wines to be much larger.

Since then, various makers who purchased the fruit for their Cadenzias have dropped out of the project, perhaps because the McLaren vale Grenache prices had gone so high. There is little difficulty now in selling straight Grenache from McLaren Vale, so my belief is that more focus should now be put on the development of Grenache-based blends, which some of the members of the movement are now beginning to appreciate.

It's time to play that saxaphone.


If you prefer a cheeky, Pinot-style fruit wine, commence with the Dog Ridge 2008 (88 points), which has more dusty terroir tones than past efforts, in a veritable puddle of those two cherry types. Samuel’s Gorge 2008 (85 points) is a more autumnal wine, with vegetal tones and alluring orange chocolate. Of the three straight Grenache Cadenzias, the Oliver’s Taranga 2008 (91 points) is the most feistily complex and bristly, with its carbide, cordite and blackpepper edge.

The three blended Cadenzias are similarly varied. Maximus is a 2008 Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (80 points) that opens with maraschino simplicity, but builds in complexity and darkens and glowers with air and consideration. The Yangarra 2008 Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (90++ points) has more bright fruit and vivid acidity, with prickly white pepper topnotes in perhaps the most bright modern Chateauneuf style.

Then comes d’Arenberg 2008 (90 points) with an unabashedly Spanish mood forged from Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Cinsault. It’s the Zorro of the litter.

You don’t need a specially-approved day to drink any of these beauties.

Nor with Grenache of any fine sort. As part of International Grenache Day, a group of mates organized a blind tasting of this stalwart at Yangarra, and after a few great aged wines from Mediterranean France, suddenly hitting the first Australians in our line-up reminded me of the smell of Australia.



A friend, Davy Dowie, had recently returned by ship from Macquarie Island, where he’d worked for eighteen months, way down on the edge of the Antarctic. They were still some hundred kays off the south coast of Tasmania when they suddenly realized they could smell Australia: that sweet, minty whiff of eucalyptus.

After a year and a half of smelling little more than dimethyl sulphide (the smell of the ocean, produced by phytoplankton), and penguin cack, the highly aromatic eucalypt bouquet of Australia, extending for so many nautical miles across the Great Southern Ocean, brought tears to the travellers’ eyes.

Starting with the oldest wines, the 1990 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve (94 points), and the Domaine Les Goubert Cuvée Florence Gigondas 1990 (89 points) and slurping through Brunel Les Cailloux Chateauneuf 1998 (87 points) provided a brief but enlightening tour of the Old World Grenache flavour spectrum.


The jujubes, sweet fresh leather and caramel of the Rayas, with its silky polished sheen and bright acidity, led to the coal tar, peppery spice, cedar and leather of the Gigondas, followed by the simpler raspberry and charcuterie porkfat of the fading Les Cailloux … all supple, teasing wines of considerable finesse and gastronomic delight.

Then, bang: suddenly we hit the unmistakable summery dust of Australia in the Hardy’s Tintara McLaren Vale Grenache 1998 (80 points), where my notes took a lurch into the carpentry vocab: “spicy oak quite dominant, oak toast dominates fruit … made more from a Shiraz mentality than a Pinot”. This raised the question: apart from this big ol' country's unmistakable eucalypt and summer dust terroir, which infest many of its wines for better or worse, it is a sad truth that much of our regional distinction comes from raw oak from France and America.

Steve Pannell recognized his wine on the blind, and retorted immediately to my oak comment, suggesting that he had used only old oak in the wine, and that perhaps the fruit somehow develops some woody notes of its own. Which is quite possible, given that lignin, the major flavourant of oak, is the very scaffolding of all grapes, providing the wooden, stiffer parts of the skin, stalks and pips.

But of course the selection of oak is critical: the silky polish of the best Grenache seems to exaggerate the slightest hint of oak spice or toast.

The lumberjacks aside, two aspects of my note provided a basis for the discussions of the entire afternoon. One is my suspicion that Grenache is better treated like a Pinot noir by the winemaker, with whole bunches in the ferment, and much careful working of the skins. Steve, who made this wine when he was boss red winemaker for BRL-Hardy before it was devoured by the brutes at Constellation, agreed.

Part of my suggested approach is to aim for higher natural acidity, which means picking earlier than most Australians are game to risk, as they are generally more interested in higher alcohols and sweeter fruit than finesse, by some strange ignorant habit or and/or a simple gastronomically juvenile yearning for the alcoholic lolly shop.


We hit the eucalypt big time in the Greenock Creek Cornerstone Grenache 2008 (90 points), along with all those confectioners’ sugars and estery components typical of that tiny old vineyard on Roennfeldt’s Road. Tellingly, I had never noticed such eucalypt in the wine before. It also seemed very jujube sweet and silky, but with staunch, uncommonly natural acidity, before those dry velvet tannins rose.

From just a few kays over the ridge came the deeper, darker, Penfolds Cellar Reserve 2002 (75 points) once again showing quite prominent charcoal amongst all its violets and roses and blackcurrant gel. This wine made me think of Mataro, Mourvedre, Monastrell … whichever moniker you prefer.

And on we went through the great Australians. Torbreck Le Ames 2006 (88 points) coaltar, musk, cherries, raspberry jelly; Charlie Melton Richelieu 2006 (87 points) road kill, summer dust, rusty galvo; d’Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard 2006 (92 points) classic leather, berries and fudge; Clarendon Hills Old Vines Clarendon 2002 (83 points) rude blood, roses, blueberry jujubes, juniper tannins; and then the lithe and wild triumph of the S. C. Pannell 2006 (93 points) rich fruitcake and walnuts, marine limestone, steely acid. (Acid, see?)

Clare, most of whose Grenache was destroyed in the taxpayer-funded mid-eighties Vine Pull Scheme, offered two two tidy wines of distinction: Killikanoon's The Duke 2004 (89 points), which showed a delightful counterpoise of old world sweat, leather and tar against sweet, slender, mulberry and blackberry fruit; and Clos Clare's The Hayes Boy 2006 (90 points) which was open-hearted, if simple, but disarmingly clean and smooth.

The Jasper Hill Cornella Vineyard Heathcote (Victoria) 2009 (85 points) was confusing, if entertaining, with lemons, rocket, and watercress aromas mingling with a seaside whiff, over a squishy beetroot base.

Contini 'Inu Cannoneau di Sardegna Riserva 2005 (91 points) was similar to the Jasper, with its lemony whiff, and bracing aftershave-like witch hazel adding some cutting edge to its juicy, easy, fruitgum-like base.

The serious young insects of Australia’s new swarm of sommeliers came under some derision for their current obsession with listing a few freshly trendy French: their favourite highlights were faulty and shoddy, and not delightful. Domaine De Gramenon l‘Elementaire 2009 (40 points) smelled of seaweed (DMS?) and sulphidey rubber; Domaine Gramenon Ceps Centenaires Le Mémé Cõtes-du-Rhõne 2007 (55 points) smelled of seaweed (DMS?) and cold dripping; Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Cõtes-du-Rhõne 2008 (40 points) smelled powerfully of trichloranisole, and the Bosquet des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (60 points) was simply caramel, with little evidence of grapes.

Most of the Australians blew these recently, suddenly popular Frenchies away. I can see those bright young bullies recommending these to the unsuspecting seekers of the exotic foreigner as funky. Funky, just incidentally, means full of smoke. Blow some up my arse, there's a good fellow.

But it was the Spanish quartet that won the day. These showed more kalamata, satsuma, beetroot and Marello cherry: they were blacker, tighter, in a way a little more threatening and sinister in their polished leather manner.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia Rioja 2008 (83 points) smelt promisingly like Wendouree Mataro, but seemed a little simple and short in the palate. The Pegaso Granito Castilla Y León 2007 (93 points) was a great step up, with its fruit gums gradually building to its royally composed finish; the Artazuri Navarra 2008 (93 points) stacked with nutmeg, Satsuma, porkfat and black leather, and the Mas D’en Compte Priorat 2006 (94 points), which contained a fair dose of Carignan, and was better for it, with all its reek of sweet leather harness and old timber stables.


"It all supports my belief that Australians should put a bit more effort into acknowledging our own wines”, Pannell concluded. “We have a lot to learn from these lovely Spanish wines, but our obsession with drinking the French and stomaching their shortcomings is not getting us anywhere.

“I’m proposing that in the new year, Australians should lay off drinking the imports for a while, and celebrate our own beautiful wines. It’s just a pity that the sommeliers probably won’t take any notice.”



Urban Development v. Planning
Minister's Decision Will be Made
Under The Cover Of Christmas

While you are chug-a-lugging through your festive season, safely away from the drudgery of the daily news, Paul Holloway, the Minister for Urban Development and Planning, will quietly make a decision which will have a permanent and deep influence on the way our wine regions look and function.

In fact, he will be forced to face the bipolar nature of his responsibility: the issue festers away on the crossroads where development and planning collide.


As the development man, Mr. Holloway has been very keen to see Fairmont Homes get on with an intensive housing estate at the infamous Seaford Heights site, at the entry to McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula.

This is where his planning capacities will be sorely tested. Having repeatedly made public statements before the election, promising that there would be no more housing developments in our precious wine regions, he has since also uttered words of awkward frustration at the fact that the winemakers, grape growers, tourism operators, and ordinary citizens of McLaren Vale are in defiant opposition to his pet project on some of the most significant unplanted geology in the entire McLaren Vale region.


Since the publication of the official Primary Industries and Resources SA map, The Geology Of The McLaren Vale Wine Region, it is becoming evident that many of the region’s best wines come from the oldest (older than 500 million years) geology – as opposed to the recent (younger than 56 million years) marine sediments of the Willunga Embayment.

But the official Geographic Indicators boundary of the McLaren Vale wine region extends well beyond the Willunga Embayment, extending north of the Ochre Cove – Clarendon fault to include Happy Valley, and all the land from Hallet Cove south through Lonsdale, Christie’s Beach, and Port Noarlunga. This is all geology of the more ancient groups: perfect for super-premium vine growing. It is almost completely hidden beneath inexorable villa rash, and it will stay that way.

We came, we saw, we concreted. The vast majority of the region’s very best vineyard sites has already gone to housing: the development side of the equation has blitzed the good sense of reasoned planning, although the geology was known to PIRSA long before the map was published.

“Because they’re wine regions, also significant tourism regions, it would not make sense to have urban encroachment to a significant extent into those areas,” Holloway had wisely promised of the Barossa and McLaren Vale before the election. “So we’ll avoid those ... areas and the areas that we’ll be looking at for future expansion are those areas where there’ll be less impact on the important tourism and economic areas ... why would you want to encroach on areas that are important to the economy because of the significant contribution that they make to the state’s economy through the wine industry and the tourism industry? Clearly that would be put at threat if we allowed rampant urban development within those areas."

Hardly had Mr. Holloway’s government been re-elected than it became evident that he was determined to proceed with the Seaford Heights development, on the grounds that his government “has not added any land in the southern parts of Adelaide to the urban boundary other than Bowering Hill and as Leon [Bignell, Member for Mawson] has just mentioned to you we we we’ve changed our policy on that in relation to uh keeping that for for tourism purposes … This particular land at Seaford Heights has been zoned residential for twenty years and it was er in the urban boundary for, ever since we’ve had an urban boundary.”

Both these statements were made on ABC radio. There has been constant rebellion in the Vales, huge letter-writing campaigns, intense internet activism on the We Oppose Seaford Heights Facebook site, a huge tractor rally which blocked McLaren Vale for an hour, and two blistering speeches at the Onkaparinga Council, by Dudley Brown, chairman of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association until just a week back, when he stood down as he’d always promised to do, having completed his two-year term.

“It’s a key point if you’re talking about saving the McLaren Vale wine district, um, you know we’re very concerned about the entrance to McLaren Vale and Leon’s made that point strongly and we we agree with him and there does need to be a proper buffer on that road, that once you get out of Noarlunga and you head up into the top of the hill and then down into the the Willunga Basin there into McLaren Vale, you do need to have some protection from urban growth and that’s, I believe it was part of the original plan and we’re certainly we’re certainly we’ll certainly be looking at that … ” the Minister said on ABC Mornings on November 1st.

In the Barossa, at Mount Barker, and in McLaren Vale, the Labor government had almost perfected a mechanism that was extremely difficult for concerned residents to deal with. It was dependent on the state government and the relevant local council engaging in a Punch and Judy biffo session, in which both blamed the other for the nature of distasteful development, giving angry citizens an unfathomable, whizzing tangle to fight.

This is precisely how both tiers of government worked with Constellation wines to uproot John Reynell’s heritage-listed 162 year old vineyard at Reynella to make way for intensive units earlier this year.


“Labor people fluff and bluster about the 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide sorting all this,” I wrote in The Independent Weekly in October, “whilst rural Councils get on building ghettoes to guarantee a good supply of rate-paying Labor voters. They don’t consult until the original locals are seething with rage, by which time there’s a whirlwind of planning technicalities, with both echelons of government blaming the other for the very existence of the plan, or its lack of taste and sensitivity ... When opponents finally feel that they’ve landed a winning blow on this spinning genie, poof! It disappears, and there’s a new ghetto in its place.”

But once the McLaren Vale winemakers, led by Brown (left), belatedly realized the imminence of the Seaford Heights development, they geared up very quickly to voice their anger. After a very prickly and packed Council meeting, and an enraged speech by Brown wound to an end, the Onkaparinga Council washed its naïve hands of the hot project, as it had envisaged it.

By convincing council to vote its version of the project down, the protesters had cut their enemy by half: it was only the Labor government left to fight. Blows could be properly aimed.

This led the snookered and obviously piqued Holloway to announce that he would be taking the development over. He accused the council of “flip-flopping,” and told parliament “If every council were to do this, there would be virtually no land left ... there would be absolutely no land available for any future growth for the city.”

While determinedly pro-development Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg (left) survived the recent council election, the composition of her council changed, much to the delight of the protestors. The new council was not obliged to follow the ruling of the old, so last week, the new council met, and Dudley Brown gave it another shot.

“The grape industry of McLaren Vale contributes average annual revenues of approximately $80 million to the local economy,” he said. “It employs sustainably managed and renewable water for over 95% of its irrigation needs while employing over 700 people on a full-time basis. Another 300-500 people are engaged as a second source of income and many more on a contract or part time basis.

“The wine industry of McLaren Vale accounts for over 10% of the national wine output by value, employs over 2000 people full time and contributes $700 million per year in revenues,” Brown continued.

“The tourism industry of the McLaren Vale area just within the Willunga Basin contributes $160 million per year to the local economy comprising over 240 different tourism businesses in accommodation, food, wine, arts, transportation and other areas. Any conservative multiplier would suggest that our industries support another 3000 jobs locally and another 3000 across the state. We provide the single largest source of employment, rates and tourism of any sector of the city of Onkaparinga’s economy.

“Moreover, as McLaren Vale is the highest cost region in SA for wine production, the economy is increasingly dependent on tourism and cellar door visitation as a path to profitability. Evidence of this is that cellar door numbers in the region have expanded from about thirty ten years ago to over eighty at present. This success story has evolved despite major wine companies withdrawing over 50% of their grape consumption and production from our high cost region over the past decade.”

And on he went, presenting fact after fact - you can read the full speech below.

Brown accused both council and state of totally missing the importance of the site’s soil and geology, and referred to my writings on the issue, pointing out that “an article in The Independent Weekly critical of Seaford Heights citing the evidence of this map” led Minister Holloway to “cancel the planned public launch of the map because of the embarrassment caused by this article and overwhelming evidence of this map.”


After making some positive and creative suggestions about what should be done with the site, he finally demanded that council

1) protect as much of the Seaford Heights site as possible for agriculture by any means necessary including requesting the Development Plan be returned to Council

2) impress on the Minister the importance of the location and geology of Seaford Heights

3) include Seaford Heights in the process for the protection of the region’s agricultural lands

4) delay any development at Seaford Heights until legislation can be considered and adopted to protect the agriculture of this region

5) take the position that residents want the highest and best use of this site for the future of the region for all of its residents to be the point for consideration, not what is easiest for the developer to build

6) To send a message to staff that “business is usual development and consultation” in the region is a thing of the past and that it now wants the best for its residents, not the easiest for developers.

Council reacted accordingly, acknowledging Minister Holloway’s letter advising that he would continue the process for the Seaford Heights Development Plan Amendment, but requesting “that the Minister consult with council and the community prior to proceeding further with the Seaford Heights DPA, particularly in relation to any changes he proposes to make to the consultation version of the Seaford Heights DPA,” and listing the bodies, groups and individuals who now should be involved in the new process, and concluding “that in the absence of a commitment from the Minister to consult further with the council and the community on the DPA, the Minister is advised that council objects to his intent to continue the process for the Seaford Heights Development Plan Amendment.”

This became a motion which was put and carried: another of the distasteful morsels Minister Holloway will be chewing with his turkey. Expecting him to need further convincing of their rage, McLaren Vale residents, meanwhile, escalate their angry lobbying.

While they hold their collective breath once all the journalists and news writers have taken their Christmas leave, these citizens will be watching the Minister with forensic scrutiny. The next Tractor Action may not be quite so polite.