“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)





06 February 2011


Planning & Devt. Minister Quits
Big Head Rolls In Vignobles War
But The Battle's Only Half Fought


To resounding cheers from wine-loving conservationists and conservatives alike, Hon Paul Holloway MLC (above) has hung up his trowel.

DRINKSTER has spent more time battling this character than any other. He was Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister Assisting the Premier in Public Sector Management.

He was the fluffiest of the macho pro-development gang that surrounds Labor Premier Mike Rann (right). While even his detractors in the Labor Party acknowledge that he’s a good bloke who tried to do the right thing, it’s obvious the staff his hard right colleagues packed around him have done nothing to cover him while they crawl obsequiously up the bums of developers and miners.

This government is plagued by the sorts of Laborites who fall prey to the strange belief that they are as good at the business of doing business as the businessmen they are merely supposed to govern. If they were any good at business, you’d think they’d be out making their own money. DRINKSTER wishes to Bacchus that they would at least give that a try. But while they love the smell of other people’s money, they strut about like bantam roosters, oblivious to the fact that the entire state budget of South Australia, the driest state in the driest continent on Earth, is smaller than the Brisbane City Council’s.

That budget must be spread over 983,482 square kilometers and a total population of 1.6 million. Texas, in comparison, is only 696,200 square kilometers and has 25 million people.

In spite of this sad dust-and-tumbleweeds reality, and whatever his personal opinions were, Holloway projected a public determination to splatter ghettoes on the tiny bits of the very best farming land: the only bits with significant history, good rainfall, clean soil, unique geology and attractive locations.

Before the last election, he promised a halt to housing developments in the vignobles.

“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,” he said. “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."

Partly due to such re-assurances, government was re-elected, and Holloway was straight into his supervision of the housing development of Seaford Heights, spot on the entrance to McLaren Vale, and again on some spectacular farmland at Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills.

The Barossa, too, has lost vast grounds to a nasty confusion of new housing estate under his watch.

But McLaren Vale first: half of this gazetted vignoble – perhaps the best half - has been built over. The remaining half, the Willunga Embayment (above), is still rural, and largely vineyards. Seaford Heights is on the only exposed geology of its type in the entire Willunga Embayment – the Brachina and Wilmington Formations from the 600 to 650 million years old Wilpena and Umberatana Groups, adjoining the Reynella siltstones on which Paxton’s Gateway vineyard sits. The quality of Gateway fruit would guarantee great and unique flavours from the Seaford land, and the site provides the only opportunity to plant in those old Flinders Ranges rocks.

Stuff of similar age from these same groups - ancient water-retentive siltstones and sandstones - reappears around Greenock Creek in the Barossa, the Eden Ridge in the Barossa Ranges, and the Polish Valley near Clare, all sources of wines with incredible world-wide respect.

Holloway refused to address these issues, and leaves the Vales spitting with rage as his villa rash marches on across the Main South Road – the long-accepted limit of such developments – and into McLaren Vale proper.

The only thing which will stop it may be the huge new overpass the same government is about to build at the end of the main street of the McLaren Vale township.

As the new regional tourism campaign explains: “McLaren Vale: one thing leads to another”.

The 1,300 ha dormitory suburb development at Mount Barker is also in priceless vineyard and gardening country, with particularly generous rainfall. When the organic and biodynamic herbal cosmetics company, Jurlique, went looking for perfect ground for their herb farm, this land was the best they could locate in southern Australia for its cleanliness, and lack of petrochemical pollutants. Ngeringa, the pioneering biodynamic vineyards pictured, are adjacent.

But critical to this development site is the Kanmantoo copper mine, in the rough rain shadow country just a few kilometres over the ridge to the east. Upon his resignation Holloway was lauded by Rann as “the greatest Mining Minister this state has ever had” which those of us who worked under Hugh Hudson find, well, breathtaking.

Perhaps Holloway’s greatest achievement was first approving the Kanmantoo super pit open cut copper mine then approving the Mount Barker ghetto to supply the mine with grey water as nobody would stomach a mine taking water fresh from the end of the Murray, which no longer flows when it’s not in flood. The houses are actually a water-dirtying mechanism - a sort of reverse filter to create politically-correct water for the mine. The new ghetto's location is really handy to the mine: the pipe won't have to be so long.

Mine owner: Hillgrove. Hillgrove chairman: Dean Brown. Dean Brown: Rann's maverick unofficial minister for water issues and drought.


Luckily for Hillgrove, the new suburb is in country of extremely high rainfall for South Australia, so the street run-off alone will be nice.

It's an environmental triumph!

Once the mine is finished with the water, Hillgrove expects to retain it in a tailings dam, but those of us who worked in the original Kanmantoo Mine in the ’seventies know too well how much tailings leaked into the Bremer, which carried it, with all its reagents, surfactants, acids, arsenic and whatever, to the vineyards and butchered aquifers of Langhorne Creek.

The Dawesley Creek, which flows across the mine site’s western boundary, is too poisonous for stock, as it carries more toxic pollutants to Langhorne Creek from the defunct Brukunga mine.

So what else does Holloway leave us? Back to McLaren Vale. He never forgave DRINKSTER for battling him so determinedly over the Glenthorne Farm issue.


With the help of Senator Robert Hill, then Federal Minister for the Environment, the late Greg Trott, visionary conservationist and proprietor of Wirra Wirra Wines, convinced the CSIRO to sell the 208 ha research farm to the government of South Australia for only $7 million eleven years ago. Then, for the grand price of $1, the farm passed to the University of Adelaide for viticulture research.

Although a deed was signed to very specifically prohibit housing – Glenthorne is surrounded by the suburbia which ate through half the McLaren Vale vignoble - the University waited a few years, then attempted to plant a thousand houses there for a quick $100 million.

After a bitter media battle led by DRINKSTER, Holloway and Rann disallowed the development in March 2009, finally insisting that the University should conform to the solemn Deed it signed.

When he was Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Mr. Hill (left) was again instrumental in saving Glenthorne when he insisted “The land was sold to the State Goverment so that it would be preserved from urban development. They nominated Adelaide University ... Part of the farm was to be planted with grapes for research and as a repository of genetic material. The balance was to be conserved as open space and ultimately rehabilitated.”

Eventually Holloway had to agree.

“The State Government's view remains that the land was transferred to the University on the basis that there would be no housing on the site and that it would become a teaching and research centre for the wine industry,” he admitted.

But the University still fails to conform to the Deed it signed to ensure Glenthorne would be “preserved, conserved and used for Agriculture, Horticulture, Oenology, Viticulture, Buffer Zones and as Community Recreation Area, and is available for Project Research Activities, University Research Activities, Education Activities and operating a Wine Making Facility.”

Upon his recent return from the UN, Mr. Hill was appointed Chancellor of the same University, which is now lobbying wine industry groups to release it from its promises on Glenthorne Farm. Whoever replaces Holloway will soon be deciding, once again, whether the University should be permitted to breach its Deed.

What really pisses DRINKSTER is that we fought this battle eleven years ago. Then we fought it again for eighteen months two years ago. And now it’s on again, right at a time when Bacchus knows the Australian wine industry needs the very best viticulture research it can possibly mount.

So, how many of Holloway’s battles can we win? DRINKSTER believes Seaford Heights can be saved, if Fairmont Homes, the contracted developer, can be afforded land somewhere else. Holloway was finally talking about a compromise, offering 500 metre buffer zones between the new ghetto and the road, a buffer which surely indicates the abject appearance of the proposed development.

In Champagne, there’s a medieval village called Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. It’s a walled village, with a stone set there indicating the wall was built in 1698. It’s smack in the middle of the very best Chardonnay country, and its geology produces grapes which make wines of incredible quality and longevity. The locals appreciate this, so the houses of the village are all outside the wall. Inside the wall there’s a Chardonnay vineyard of just 1.8 ha (below). You can taste its fruit in the legendary Champagne Krug Clos du Mesnil, which you can find at around AU$800-$1000 per bottle.


CL said...

That's a good read & a good fight. Hope it gets plenty of support.

Lauren said...

A great bit of writing. I love a not-so-gentle history lesson on political decisions by people who know their stuff. Political decision making tries to make it seem that the long term future has been carefully considered. However, with so much future star-gazing, they often forget to look to the past, where sometimes the best advice lies.

TK said...

Does this mean we get a good looking media savvy right wing drone to tell us the land is needed for a ghetto now

Philip White said...

Dunno. Caucus is meeting right now. Heresay is Kenyon gets Mining, Finnegan Planning. We may not know til tomorrow.

Sandra Kanck said...

Excellent article PW, except that your'e too kind to Holloway when you say that he's a "good bloke" with the excuse of poor staff. Having dealt with him face to face across the chamber I assure you he is a rusted-on member of ALP tribalism and he defended whatever he was asked to defend, and he did it viciously! Nothing nice there I can tell you. I'm hopeful that, if it's Tom Kenyon replacing him, Tom's degree in Environmental Studies might see a little bit more sense introduced to the arguments.

Ian Hickman said...

Yet another pledge, this time from the biggest spinner of them all:

"The Barossa and McLaren Vale food and wine are key icons of South Australia. We've got to protect them not just for now but for all time."

Are they serious this time, or is it just another hollow promise? Given their form, probably the latter.

Grant said...

1.8ha at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Don't tell Devine, they'll want to build a yuppy ghetto.They won't even have to build a fence around it.

Ian Hickman said...

A few months down the track after the Government waited for the heat to settle down, there's a new face as Minister (John Rau) but it still appears to be full steam ahead to develop Seaford Heights. You have to automatically think that when Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg gets excited you just know the rows of wall-to-wall housing and colourbond isn't too far away...