“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)





21 June 2011


Small Smiting Of The Mighty ... Senator Xenophon Joins The Fray ... Vales Folk Plant Good Thing

“Never underestimate the force of people power”, Senator Nick Xenophon told the press assembled to film a small demonstration at Seaford Heights last week. Fifty or sixty souls had quietly invaded a corner of the Fairmont Homes/Labor government’s proposed ghetto on the last piece of the best unplanted vineyard land in the McLaren Vale wine region. Pushing the Guerilla Gardening barrow of Groundswell SA, a new lobbying group formed to save such prime agricultural land from villa rash, wherever it is, Mr. X had donned his gumboots and was there in that rich chocolaty dirt, determinedly planting broad beans with the littlies.

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference,” he paraphrased Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, “try going to sleep with a mosquito. Here you have a group of very strongly-spirited community individuals who want to make a difference. You have all four networks here today. Hundreds of thousands of people around the state will see this from their living rooms tonight.

“These people are making a powerful point. In a democracy, it’s never too late to turn a stupid decision around. We should not be developing prime agricultural land. We should be putting more people in the square mile of the City of Adelaide.

“People come from all over Australia, from all over the world, to look at our wine regions. They don’t come here to look at more and more urban sprawl. So this stupid decision doesn’t make sense economically. It doesn’t make sense as far as food production goes. It doesn’t make sense to put more and more houses in these wine regions. I really believe there’s a tipping point happening here. If enough people get together, I believe we can force the government to reverse this stupid, stupid plan.


“Eighty years ago, in the square mile of Adelaide, bounded by East, North, West and South Terraces, there were 46,000 residents living there. That was before high rise. Now, even with all the high rise apartments that we have, we’re down to 21,000. Imagine if there were 100,000 residents there. Five times as many as there are now. Imagine the buzz. But that’s sustainable. That’s less greenhouse gases. That’s people walking to work.

“Put people in Adelaide. In the city. And leave these regions to do what they should be doing: growing the best quality agricultural produce in Australia.”

Two days earlier, the Deputy Premier-Attorney-General Minister of Planning, Tourism and Food Marketing, John Rau, and Leon Bignell, the member for Mawson, presented the latter’s new plan to restrict housing in the Barossa to some of that region’s key residents, some business people and Mayor Brian Hurn. People left that meeting feeling up-beat and co-operative. While they have fought to stop the odd fastfood chain from daring to sell burghers to their kiddies, they have seen, in recent years, Nuriootpa become an industrial centre, huge quarries and factories booming along the Stockwell escarpment, and vast, ugly malignancies of McMansions creeping across vital vineyard country from one village to the next. It looks, sounds and feels like the most industrial sections of the Rhone: the only things missing are the nuclear reactors. The stakeholders seem pleased to co-operate with the government to stop this.

But the Barossa is Liberal country: Ivan Venning, the Liberal Member for Schubert, will be re-elected automatically; the votes never change. It’s a different story in Bignell’s home patch at McLaren Vale, where the seaside ghettos inexorably push its vines further and further away from the very Gulf whose water moderates the air and makes its wines special. Bignell is a Labor man, and one who managed through very hard work to increase his narrow margin at the last election and hold his seat. Venning’s seat is secure; Mawson, the seat held by Bignell, is precarious.

As far as housing and industry goes, McLaren Vale is in much worse condition than the Barossa. Over half the vineyard region has already been lost to houses. All the best old geology, the spread from the Onkaparinga Gorge north to O’Halloran Hill and the Eden-Burnside escarpment, has gone.

Apart, of course, from this rare spot at Seaford Heights. That, and the tiny bit remaining of John Reynell’s old estate at the ghetto that now bears his name, and the 206 ha of Glenthorne Farm, the old CSIRO research station that was given to the University of Adelaide a decade back for agricultural, vinicultural, and horticultural research which it has never attempted to conduct. University would give anything to trash the deed it signed and subdivide this land.

The citizens who narrowly re-elected Bignell (below, helping with pruning) to his southern seat are gradually digesting his discussion paper, now blessed by Rau and the Barossa, called Protecting The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. What they are confronted with is a complete re-drawing of their region’s boundary. Government’s draft proposal now extends McLaren Vale north and east, across the Mount Bold Water Catchment and the hilly bushfire country to the freeway at Stirling and Crafers.

An idiot may see this as particularly generous gift. But most of that country cannot be used for vineyard or farming: it’s covered with protected native vegetation, it’s too hilly, and everywhere housing can be built, like outside the national parks and catchment areas, is already pretty much covered with, well, housing.

On the other hand, Glenthorne Farm and the remains of Chateau Reynella are NOT in the proposed McLaren Vale region.

When Minister Rau was in the south, pronouncing his big plan to concrete over the priceless ancient geology of Seaford Heights, he seemed unaware that the McLaren Vale region has a boundary, a Geographic Indicator, which took years of research and planning, and countless thousands of man hours, but is now recognized in international law. This includes all the land once covered by McLaren Vale vineyards, right up to, and including the unplanted spread at Glenthorne Farm.

When I confronted the Minister about the lack of community consultation promised by the law in the matter of the Seaford Heights horror, he curtly stated that the opportunity to consult was now upon us: we would have to consult government over the proposed boundaries of the region, and anybody who cares enough would have five weeks to do it: submissions close on 22 July.

It was helpful members of Bignell’s electorate who suggested a plan to him, advising him to go to the Napa Valley in California, where the protective legislation is secure, popular, and ongoing. They suggested he should work together with the Barossa, and bring the two major vignobles under the one plan. He has diligently and determinedly taken this advice, and that of key Barossa folks, and has acted upon it.

Now Bignell has put in the effort and thrown these ideas to the legal draughtsmen in the legislation halls, produced a fairly flimsy discussion paper, and given us five weeks to tell government what we as citizens want. This advice will be minced and reformed by the bureaucracy and the caucus and its developer mates, and late in December at three or four o’clock in the morning, at the end of a record parliamentary sitting, a bill which will change forever the nature and the boundaries of Australia’s two most important vignobles will be squeezed into law, and be there forever.

The seat of Schubert, in the Barossa, will remain securely in Liberal hands. And unless they learn to listen to their dissatisfied electors, to Nick Xenophon, to the Guerilla Gardeners, and to angry, burgeoning movements like GroundswellSA, Labor and Bignell will lose Mawson.

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