“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)





24 November 2016



The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has just announced that in 2017 they will be cutting nearly all music programming from Radio National (The ABC is Australia's publicly owned broadcaster, our equivalent to the BBC, and the jewel in her crown is ABC Radio National).

Four great and eclectic shows, The Inside Sleeve, The Daily Planet, The Rhythm Divine and The Live Set are to be axed, so that only a single one-hour program per week, The Music Show, will remain.

These programs are invaluable to the Australian independent music community - they're not the only music channel from the ABC, but they're the only shows that play much our music and the music of many visiting independent artists. For many of us they are the only way to reach a national audience, and taking them off the air will be devastating.

For Australia, this is akin to the BBC taking Jools Holland off the air. ABC RN's broadcasts reach into every nook and cranny of this country, and play an integral part in informing and reflecting our cultural and national identity while providing an unparalleled window on international news and culture.

It's fair to say that I probably wouldn't be doing what I do if it weren't for Radio National's music programming. RN has given me two great gifts; firstly a window throughout my life to the music that has inspired me to be who I am and to do what I do, and secondly, a platform, and actual support, to help deliver my own work to the world.

I grew up out here in what many city folk would call the boonies, 15km down a dirt road outside a village of around three or four hundred souls in a far flung corner of rural New South Wales. It's about seven hours drive North or South to Sydney or to Melbourne, and I don't mind at all - I'm still proud to call this place my home.

Back then, as a teenage boy in the bush, pre-internet, the only window I had to a wider musical world beyond the mainstream (the so-called "alternative" guitar-pop of the day) was Lucky Oceans' show The Daily Planet. Lucky's show was eclectic and amazing. He would play an unknown kora player from Mali one minute, an obscure and mind-blowing songwriter from Nashville, Newtown or Northcote the next, and his passion for the music and the human story of it was contagious.

I tuned in every afternoon and listened with intent. We are porous creatures, and we absorb everything that we open ourselves up to.

In Lucky's show, I found a daily dose of new inspiration and discovered much of the music that would become a tangible part of who I am as an artist, as a human. There was nothing in the world like the Daily Planet, and I believe that is still true today. I was saddened when the show was shortened several years ago and relegated to a lonely late night time spot, but I continued to tune in.

The recent news that the ABC will be cutting the show altogether is heartbreaking to me.

Since I began my work as a recording artist, the support provided by ABC Radio National's fantastic music programs (The Planet, The Live Set, Music Deli, The Inside Sleeve et al) and their respective program producers and presenters has been invaluable to me as an artist.

In a country as vast as ours, reaching out to an audience and building a market beyond your home town is an endless, thankless job of hard work, and much of the time that work doesn't even pay off.

This situation is not specific to regional artists like myself - I'm sure that every one of my city-based peers will tell you the same.

Enter Radio National. Our national broadcaster's charter requires it "to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia" and Radio National has, up until now, always done it well.

My work takes me all over the country, and wherever I go, RN has played a major part in connecting me with my audience - there are always people who have discovered my work on an ABC RN program, so they come along to a show.

The ABC's announcement that it will cut music programming from Radio National is devastating news, not only for Australian musicians and music lovers, but for cultural venues and festivals, publicists, promoters, agents, record labels, recording studios, and international artists traveling to our country to perform.

The decision to cut nearly all of this treasured music programming from RN's schedule is the wrong decision, and it must be reversed immediately. 

Please show your support by adding your voice here.

With love and thanks,
Heath Cullen
Candelo, November 2016

photos of Heath Cullen at Lazy Ballerina by Philip White


That's George Grainger Aldridge's ear rising above the horizon of his busy head. It continually confounds me to see what that tireless brain conjures. 

It listens as well as watches.

He just sent me this snap of his his latest sculpture: God Is With You:

... taking a malt break in the studio:

... and one of his precious crayon boxes:

God is with you by George, other photos by Philip White


Hearty congratulations are due to Sarah Holloway, waiter at McLaren Vale's scrumptious Salopian Inn: Sarah's won the Best Service certificate in The Advertiser's 2016 South Australia Food Awards!

That's Sarah and Annika Berlingieri  at Fino Willunga. Sarah worked there before Salopian. (I trust both wonderful women forgive my sneaky tablecam shot.)

Her citation pretty well nailed Sarah's excellent manner: " The skills of one of the state’s best teams are epitomised by a waiter who is warm, enthusiastic and, critically, can read a group of customers and recognise how they should be approached. It’s a talent that, along with her engaging personality, makes everyone feel at ease."

One memorable night at Salopian: artistic types!

Long-time readers will appreciate my love of The Advertiser is not too thick, having been summarily fired without warning just short of my twentieth year slaving away over that paper's Drinks column, but they sure got it right with this recognition! 

Any visitor to McLaren Vale would be very silly to miss dining at The Salopian. It's there behind the almond blossom on the corner of Main Road and McMurtrie Road, one kay south of McLaren Vale township. (PS: Love them chillies!)

The entire staff at The Salopian obviously relish their work: brilliant proprietor/chef Karina Armstrong fires her crew with confident enthusiasm for their district and its delicious produce, including brilliantly fresh stuff from her own garden.

Observant rock doctors will notice much of the region's geological history in its structure, from the Willunga slatey siltstone pavers , complete with their ripples of 700 million year old seabed, to the 34-56 million-year-old ironstone in the walls. 

When Kerry and Zannie Flannagan began their restoration of the decaying structure in August 1984, they sure learned about the tough nature of these stones as they got the crowbars, shovels and picks out and lowered the slate cellar floor sufficiently to admit fully grown people. That cellar's always stacked with wonders from abroad as much as local lovelies. 

Sarah sure knows her way around that killer collection 

Here's Kerry with yours truly just as the renovation commenced ... the old joint was full of pigeons!

So congratulations Sarah, and thankyou for years of memorable assistance as you worked away, and we just sat there and soaked it all up. More, please. Ka-chink!

1984 shot by Steve Richardson (sorry for murky rendition, Steve - I can't find the original); all others by Philip White


The Mablab's been back in town: this is Ben Searcy's photograph of Professor David Mabberly when he came to Marble Hill a few years back to launch Tony Kanellos' beautiful, provocative book, Imitation of Life - A Visual Catalogue (Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, 2013) .

The book explains the Adelaide Museum of Economic Botany's priceless collection of nineteenth-century lifesize papier-mâché type-models of  fruits, most of which no longer exist as living plants.

Here's a selection of some of the fungi in the collection; the rest are mainly pome fruits:

That's Tony Kanellos, below, explaining the remarkable collection in his care.

Every couple of years, Professor Mabberly comes to the Botanic Gardens' Noel Lothian lecture hall to present a series of six confronting lectures: 'Economic Botany Today - Exploring the relationship between plants and people.' He returned a few weeks back.

Over two jam-packed, brain-dazzling days, Mabberly takes a full house of plant freaks and boffins through 1. Plant-animal interactions and a balanced diet for humans, 2.Oils and fats, 3. Fibres and latex, 4. Drinks, sweets and tobacco, 5. Drugs, spices and herbs, and 6. Ornamentals and perfumes.

Each visit, he has carefully updated these lectures to describe recent changes in the climate, the markets, the politics, the prices, fashions and fads, and the current influence of the multi-nationals which continually compete to control these things.

Like compare those apples - there are 225 different types on display, and 161 pears - to the four of five you'll find in your supermarket: two red, two green, all sweet.

I found it particularly telling that when he covered the current state of the tobacco business, he was permitted to show us a type sample of the plant and its products, but when it came to cannabis and hemp, some luny interferist bastard way up in the smoke-free rooms somewhere had disallowed the display of a cannabis specimen.  A laminated photograph had to do. Do they really imagine this mob would want to knock off an old pot leaf?

Cannabis aside, Mabberly continually refers to beautiful type specimens from the Gardens' archive, some of them even bearing the signature of Dr Richard Schomburgk (1811-1891) the Gardens' second director. Schomburgk ordered the import of the model fruits.

Upon greeting Mabberly this year, I was confronted to see a horrid wound smack in the middle of his forehead. He looked like he'd been bashed - his forensic presentations are so confronting and scary I thought somebody must have belted the messenger. But no, it was an embarrassing bite from a deadly spider he'd encountered, poking his head in a bush in a jungle somewhere. Always immaculately presented in an avuncular, professorial manner, the good fellow always has a whiff of recent jungle somewhere about him. He's spent his incredibly productive investigative life in field excursions all over the world.

Mabberly also refers constantly to exhibits in the Museum of Economic Botany, an institution he regards as a rare historical jewel in the world of botanical science.

Make an effort to visit the Museum next time you're in the Gardens, and buy your best green thumb mates a copy of Kanellos' beautiful, dumbfounding book for Exmess.

Also on my hot list of such yuletide giving is Mabberly's Plant Book, a field guide to over 24,000 plants, with botanical descriptors and explanations of their uses.

I can't live without it.

Both these special books are available in the Digger's shop behind the Museum building, right in the centre of the Garden.


Hahndorf Hill Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Nouveau 2016 
($33; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Now we're talking. The bridge between rosé and more conventional red wine is not attempted by many Australian winemakers: bad experience with dodgy Beaujolais Nouveau in the early 1980s seemed to deter most for life.

And their children.

Only Stephen Hickinbotham had it nailed with his delicious, easy-drinking Cab Mac, which he invented out of irritation at the rubbish Nouveaus the French stacked into Australia in those years when the currency exchange rates made that sort of business possible. But Stephen was killed in a plane crash before that decade ended, and while his Cab Mac brand still hangs about, nobody's really captured the idea as deftly as he did.. 

Zweitgelt is an Austrian variety grown now by Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson at Hahndorf Hill. To make this lovely flirt of a schlück Larry waits till the stalks have lost their greenness, picks by hand, puts the whole bunches in a tank, covers them with CO2 and lets the whole bunches ferment within their intact skins. Once the ferment was slowing the must was pressed and the wine finished its job during fourteen weeks in old French barrels. 

The wine is cheeky, but it never smells pink and whilst translucent, is not typically rosey in hue. Even its bouquet has plentry of dark tones: it smells a little like black tea leaves and tomato leaf: maybe an entire blackberry bush. It has that lovely nutty, cherry pit flavour typical of wines made by this carbonic maceration technique, and is almost free of tannin: it's that nuttiness that tangles with the acid in the tail that tantalises - if there's fruit apart from cherry, think along the lines of tamarillo, feijoa and pomegranate, but it's never too plump or gushy, dollink. 

You could have this wine in an ice bucket if you wanted. I can imagine it doing heavenly business with spaghetti vongole. Very cool.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Blueblood Blaufrankisch 2015 
 ($46; 14% alcohol; screw cap) 

Blaufrankisch, another Austrian red, has grown at Hahndorf Hill for 25 years! (Where'd they go???) While a few other makers are beginning to play with it, the HHW blokes are the grand masters. Their take on it often reminds me of a particularly fruity borscht. 
This bouquet is more complex than earlier ones I recall: it has more dark leaf - laurel/black tea/tomato leaves atop the plums and borscht - giving its aroma a velvety feel. It's not shiny. It's deep and sultry. The more I sniff it, the more I detect faint hints of curry, like turmeric, cumin and maybe even the curry tree. It's a tantalising, highly individual wine to inhale.

But it's a drink. And yes, like the bouquet, the drinking is distinctive and individual, and I think, without showing any more weight, it's a little more complex than most other vintages. Call it complex and lithe. Those dark leaves frolic here in the background of the flavour and the fruit: a bacchanale that reminds me of Syd Long's Pan, that early rare Australian art nouveau work in the ArtGallery of New South Wales, which shows the old boy's cloven hairy gang dancing to his pipes with the sylphs: before them is a deep pond of violets and purples and the earthy, swampy, simmering hues of decay.
This Blau's a bewdy right now, but it'll really swing in two or three more years. If you're not careful, it'll swing you right into that dark pool, as deep and alluring as beautiful badness itself.

23 November 2016


Here's a man with hardly any gizzards and another with only bits of functioning brain. 

When Richard Neville died in September, I dearly wanted to get to Sydney for his funeral to catch up with people I've not seen for thirty or forty years and to bid a long sad farewell to my mate Tony Bilson, who was  virtually dead of cancer of the everything. 

That grand pioneer of modern Australian cuisine had suffered the step-by-step removal of nearly every organ south of his navel - they got up as far as one kidney. Bilson was cactus. But so was I, with a battered brain and chronic PTSD ... too crook to fly. Couldn't go to say goodbye.

Back when we were alive, Bilson posed for me at Kangarilla, doing his best Charles Bronson with a Walther P38. 

In those days, I played guitar in Paul Kelly's first band, the Debutantes, and looked like this:

Which may begin to explain my shredded brain: far too much biffo.

So it was a miraculous relief to have the resurrected KillBil hit old Addle Aid yesterday: against all odds, the dear boy's clear of the cancerous death bug, so we had a quiet tea.

What a weird old life we lead.

We were both capable of taking a quiet lie down in those crazy days. We'd get  tired. 

Note lifelong habit of keeping a check on one's pulse whilst unconscious.
Top and bottom photos by Dr Sundance Thompson-Bilson; Tony  and me at breakfast by Kay Hannaford; Bronson by me; me in the lane by John Peachey; Bilson in the Berowra Waters Inn days by Paul Lloyd ...  and me in recline is allegedly by James Halliday ... it emerged from my camera when I got home and had the film developed.

You take it easy folks. If I knew I was gonna last this long I woulda been a lot more careful.

Or so I'm trying to convince myself.

And to put some sperkective into this, here's theoretical particle physicist Dr Sundance Osland Thompson-Bilson with his mum, Tony's half-sister,  my friend of many happy years, LeeAnne 'Tiger' Bilson, by me:


After 27 years learning to fly, Steve Pannell lands on his feet, back where McLaren Vale began

Since Stephen Pannell graduated from Roseworthy in 1989, he has made wine at Seppelt, Andrew Garrett, Wirra Wirra, and Knappstein. He usually heads north between Australian vintages. He's made wine at numerous great houses in Bordeaux and Burgundy. He loves working in Barolo in Italy and has done three vintages in Spain. He worked at Hardy's Tintara from 1995 to 2003, becoming Hardy's chief red wine maker before leaving to begin his S. C. Pannell line with his wife and partner, the former prosecuting lawyer Fiona Lindquist.

He made the first of these S. C. Pannells at Warren Randall's Tinlins on McLaren Flat until Fiona and him bought the Tapestry winery and vineyards from Rob Gerard a few years back. Since then, he has won the McLaren Vale Bushing King crown twice - 2015 and '16, both with audacious reds containing the Portuguese vintage port variety Touriga nacional. Oh yes, he'd also won the Bushing previously in 2011. Not to mention the Jimmy Watson Trophy. Twice. But that was years back.

The Bushing crown goes to the best red wine in the annual McLaren Vale wine show. While contentious, the Big Jim, still Australia's most envied gong, goes to the best one-year-old red in the Royal Melbourne Wine Show.

None of those Touriga-based or influenced reds are anything like vintage port, by the way. They're more along the lines of what we used to call "drinking wine." Since then, they've been through what the trade called the "bistro wine" and "brasserie wine" phases and seem now free of fad nomenclature to be back to honest, easy, entertaining, hunger-provoking things you can just sit back and drink.

They will, as he says, help the dinner table conversation but never dominate it.

I like that. In fact, a vast proportion of the most talkative winetards, hipstercrites, chefwits and skronky presstitutes from this wine column/blogging racket flounder when they hit S. C. Pannell.

I mean they'll rave about him with lugubrious weasel words, but I reckon those types just don't really get it. Like they'll sit there playing their mouth, scouring their plonkous vocab for words that glorify much more expensive standards from much futher away while their thirstier, less loquacious company ploughs into the next bottle of something from Pannell's funky second line.

Since he hoisted his name on that old Tapestry winery on Oliver's Road in The Vales, Pannell's been making exquisite wine from Shiraz (of course), Touriga nacional, Tempranillo, Cabernet sauvignon, Nero d'Avolo, Aglianico, Mataro, Nebbiolo (best one in Australia forthcoming), Barbera, Montepulciano, Gewurztraminer, Pinot grigio ... you name anything distinctive or noble or brave, it'll be in there somewhere, often in an unusual but always intelligently-constructed blend.

He's now planning the importation and establishment of varieties unknown here, which he's found in Greece, and more recently, Croatia. Stuff he thinks will work in Shiraz-choked McLaren Vale. Or the adjoining Adelaide Hills. Which is not to suggest he's forgotten where this all started: he showed me, for example, a barrel sample of the most distinguished and individualistic Shiraz I can remember drinking anywhere. From Echunga.

That's where John Hagen planted one of the first vineyards in the state: his 1845 "hock" was probably the first wine to be exported from South Australia. It went to the table of Queen Victoria, just to prove the new colony was indeed a worthy extension of her empire.

Intelligence is in everything Pannell does. Not just intelligence gathered, but intrinsic brightness. Like DNA. He's one of the very few winemakers in the country I would include in my privately-nominated oenological/gastronomic Mensa.

Like great departed wine heros I've known, and loved, personally - think Grange god Max Schubert and the genius Dr Ray Beckwith from Penfolds - Pannell seems bouyed as much as driven by his innate, unwavering faith in his own curiosity. That powers his tireless engine. Endless, persistent, feverish questioning. The pursuit of more. Of further.

But you know what? It's not that rare vinous IQ that really sets him apart. What sets Pannell apart, and to extreme effect, is that intellectual rigour seasoned with is his very simple, pure passion.

On the other hand, he's a bit like, say Andrés Segovia, but a Segovia who, having played brilliant concert-hall classical and flamenco guitar for one lifetime, suddenly sheds a million ornate, hard-learned and rehearsed trills and arpeggios and counterpoints to switch to good old twelve bar blues and starts again.

With about 95 per cent fewer tricks and flourishes. Fewer dots. Back to three chords.

This is what confounds those pretenders and winey blatherskiters.

The wines Pannell regards as his best never seem to win a gong.

Like, I really enjoy schlücking away at his latest Bushing winner, but he has much more brilliance in his arsenal.

"That's just a bit of fun that winner," he says when I ask him of such stuff. "My Shirazes get nothing. And like check the stunning Grenache wines now coming out of this district. They're brilliant wines. But no straight Grenache has ever won the Bushing. Wine shows are all fashion and politics  ... 

"My new Grenache is always far too tightly-wound for them to get it. Like, I know what happens judging shows. You listen to the chairman's urging to go for new things with elegance and balance and whatever, you know, approachability, intensity, elegance, whatever it is they want, but you always seem to end up going for the gloopy-doopy."

Which his Touriga Cabernet Mataro 2015 blend, the current Bushing Trophy holder, most certainly is not. It's a dry, almost dusty, bistro-buster. A veranda wine. One can imagine the chairman of judges instructing his or her teams of gun tasters to look for things out of the ordinary and approachable and fun, which in this case they have tried to do, but in so doing missed the beauty of more subtle and carefully-poised wonders elsewhere in the arsenal.

Pannell's a whizzer in the blending bullring, with all those exotic wonders, often co-fermented, but his heart is in our history.

Looking east over the Upper Tintara gullies from Rick Allert's hilltop vineyard. The new S. C. Pannell property is hidden in a nest down there in the scrub ... this is Kaurna country ... those original inhabitants must have had a rich life before the white mob invaded ... behind the camera to the west lies the old Seaview property of Edwards & Chaffey, overlooking the Gulf St Vincent, patron of  wine and vinegar makers, vine-dressers, lost things and schoolgirls ... all photos by Philip White

Which is why he's bought land just over the rise from the revered vineyards the late Bob Hardy owned and nurtured at the oldest winery site in the McLaren Vale embayment at Bob's home at what is called Upper Tintara, pushed in against the wild Hardy's scrub off Whiting's Road to the north-east of the McLaren Vale township.

It's in a nest, that new purchase: a precious hollow hidden over the hills to the east of Seaview/Rosemount and Kays. Very few know it's in there. It carries remnants of the old vineyards Dr A. C. Kelly sold to Thomas Hardy in 1876, bits of old buildings and the remnants of an orchard with long-forgotten strains of quince, pear and even a mulberry tree I recognised immediately as the same type as the famous one on Kangaroo Island - the first European tree planted in the colony. I recognised its shape and leaf, having grown up playing in another one surviving in Kanmantoo since the miners there propagated a cutting taken from that same original KI pioneer a century-and-a-half ago.

"You're spot on Whitey," he said. "That's from a cutting from that same tree."


The messy geology of Upper Tintara assists my theory that the McLaren Vale winemakers' insistence on dividing their district into sub-regions is premature - so far, it's a Quixotian tilt at some impossible marketing delusion. Not really related, but fascinating: halfway up Pannell's scraggy hill, the clays hold standing water like this, long after any real rain, while the creek below is as dry as a chip.

Pannell is ruthlessly renovating and customising the old vines, repairing the damage done by thirty years of mindless industrialisation and brutal mechanical/petrochemical management during the years of economic rationalisation that eventually brought Hardy's undone and helped lose its penultimate owner, the USA-based Constellation Wines, a cool $1.6 billion over a few short years.

Pannell's planting heaps of Touriga in there now, and bits and pieces of many of those exotic names listed. This last wet winter, he spent seven weeks in there alone in the rain, pruning the old ones. Thinking.

Which brings us back to the twelve bar blues. What this remarkable man is committed to, above all else, beyond all that experimentation, is to re-establish the sort of winemaking that same rank industrialisation and lazy fall to turbocharged alcoholic gloop removed from the Australian wineglass in the last twenty years.

"I'm picking everything now at thirteen or thirteen-and-a-half per cent," he says cheerfully.

"That's all the alcohol I need. It's all anybody needs, if they think about it. They've all forgotten. Or they never knew. And every year my profits go into these really big oak vats. It's like buying a few new cars or a new wooden boat each year. The ratio of exposed wood to wine volume is diminished. This cuts out the sap and caramel and soot everybody seems to like getting from new small French barrels - toasted oak.

"That's not an Australian flavour.

"And you know what Whitey," he continued with a chuckle, cutting me an exquisite sample of red from the vat, "eventually I'll no longer have to buy a truckload of new barriques every year. These big beauties will outlast my kids. Initially they're more expensive per litre than new conventional barrels, but once I have enough of them that's it. Forever, as far as my life goes.

"I'm using them to make nearly all my straight varieties and blends, but most significantly Shiraz and Cabernet blends like I found in the Hardy's cellars when I started there. Beautiful, elegant Australian wines ... and guess what? Nobody understands them."

I certainly do. It's what I've written about, begging for, over the last two decades. Comrades, enjoy the new wave of "drinking wines" from S. C. Pannell while you prepare to learn our forgotten past.

"I'm not making wine for export," he said. "I'm making wines for Australia. I want to get us back to our own reality."

Polish a glass, put some John Lee Hooker in the speakers, take a seat, strap yourself in and watch this space. 

Welcome to the S. C. Pannell time machine.

Sky hatch open: requesting permission to land: looking west over the Gulf St Vincent from the veranda of the S. C. Pannell winery on Oliver's Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia