“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)





12 October 2018


Looking east from Johnston's Pirramimma gate along Johnston's Road, McLaren Vale. Developers want to extend the town boundary to this road, and replace those vineyards and the barley field with housing, all the way down to the Salopian Inn.

Pitchforks sharpened as developers move on McLaren Vale vineyards

It was a sea of dignified silver hair at Leon Bignell's meeting last night. 

The local MP had called the citizens together to explain the situation where developers plan to have the McLaren Vale township boundaries extended so they can spread some nice lucrative villa rash into the vineyards on its south side. 

Like right from Johnston's Pirramimma along to the Salopian Inn. 

Next time there's a big rock show at Richard Hamilton's, there'll be houses next door, not vineyards. And a giant Karidis Corporation old folks' home. Maybe Leonard Cohen coulda made a joke about that when he played there, chortling straight into his setting sun.

Day on the green.

Further along, just past the Salopian Inn, Richard Hamilton plans a huge luxury resort on his famous Hut Block Cabernet Vineyard, which is also zoned agricultural

In the question section, a schoolteacher politely suggested that as most of us present would obviously be dead soon, it would be good to be involving the young in these important discussions of their region's future, as they'd be the recipients of whatever such gatherings could decide and achieve. 

There was a heavy sense of moment. Uniform sage nods. 

Those seniors began arriving an hour before starting time. To a public meeting. Younger folks listened politely from outside, where they mingled with about as many as the elders crammed within. 

Don't trust me, but I reckon what, about 450 souls? 

As far as veterans go McLaren Vale is ahead of most of Australian vignobles in its ability to get angry, organised and fight to save its own blessed beauty. 

Its true worth. 

In practical conservation, McLaren Vale has form. 

Alex and Mary Johnston, Joe Petrucci, d'Arry Osborn and Colin Kay were prominent earlybirds from the local noblesse to settle at the front. Then came many growers and great grizzled vineyard experts among other townsfolk. There was a noticeable scarcity of the more narcissistic rockstarry winemakers, and those who simply wish they could flog some vineyards for houses and build themselves glittering glass and steel palaces on the escarpment, which I believe would be better put to investigating the best potential vineyard land in the district. 

As the climate warms, those cooler uplands will provide invaluable farming, but principally premium vineyard land, while the black cracking clay lowlands will become increasingly difficult. If it wants to retain its fine winemaking image, McLaren Vale will have to start thinking on that higher level

Bignell - everyone calls him Biggles - ran the show. He took us through the history of the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley Preservation Acts 2012 and how long and hard and persistent had been the  battle to get those legislations pushed through. He talked about the intensive community discussions that went into it - lots of butcher's paper planning in one town after another - and how proud and protective of it the citizens should be. 

This lot didn't need to be told. The rage and determination of the gathering was immediately palpable. There was a concentration of very smart people in that room, and strong. You wouldn't want that mob coming over your ramparts with their pikes. And books. Their great gathered knowledge. Their tractors. Everybody's got tractors.

To ensure fledgeling errors in the Preservation Acts could be fixed should they emerge, the laws from the start included a safeguard review after five years, after public input, suggestion and complaint. This first review is now complete and was tabled by the new Liberal government some weeks back. 

Against all odds and pundit calls, Bignell, a heavy-hitting cabinet minister in the previous Labor government, held his seat.

"During this review there were a couple of proponents who asked whether the town boundary here could be changed to accomodate their projects," he explained, "and knowing as well as I do the local community, the first thing I did was to go and see the new planning minister, Stephan Knoll, who comes from the Barossa, which is good, because he knows what wine country's all about and I explained these things then wrote to him and said 'We don't want any more reviews, ever'." 

Bignell said that if Colonel Light had planned the parklands of Adelaide with reviews every five years that precious green belt would have been "gone a hundred years ago." 

He reminded us that these legislations are brave achievements, "the best in Australia; legislations that can only be changed with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. So we came up with those safeguards. We thought we'd locked it in. But we left a key there. And now we must convince this [new] government to throw that key away." 

The floor erupted in applause and cheers. Fierce suggestions of more overt public protest. An energetic whoosh of anger and outrage that repeated in waves as the evening went quickly by. 

It wasn't all anti-development. There was a whiff of "well I have a vineyard and I grow food but you can't stop growth and all these people have gotta have somewhere to live" sort-of thing, regarded with derisive sighs and groans. 

And then the local conservative Family First bloke, Robert Brokenshire (above), who lost his parliamentary seat at the last election, made a bit of a sermon about his, well, I dunno really, which Bignell skilfully amputated after a few rambling minutes. 

A session of bright two-and-fro of question and answer, suggestion and theorising followed, during which Bignell committed to a series of town-to-town meetings like those that went into the Preservation Acts, to give citizens a chance to begin a serious constructive discussion about how they now want their townships to evolve within their legislated boundaries. Their look, style and feel. Their amenity.

Black Poles ... this is the current gubmt notion of the most appropriate entry to the main street of McLaren Vale. The wreck theme intensifies as you go up the hill.

There's a lot of pressure on. Bignell suggested the Karidis Corporation should buy some of the land currently on sale within the township boundary. 

As the planning laws are an arcane web that traverses various layers of government and more of bureaucracy, the idea is to wait til the new Onkaparinga Council and mayor is elected and installed in November, then proceed with some dead serious interface. Local, state, Liberal, Labor, Green and obviously lots of sage silver hair. 

"Doesn't matter" was the word, "it's time to work together." More honest talk, big work, and nail it. Democracy is never easy or cheap. Get on with running the joint with some intelligence, a new sensitivity, and some seriously measured urgency. 

Not to mention some hard work on getting the kids involved. Or the Kaurna people, whose land it is. That'd be a change. 

It's eight years since hundreds of locals washed and polished their tractors, got on their Sunday best farmer kit and blocked the main southern roads for a few midday hours in protest at the housing development proposed on the best malting barley block in the south: a rise of precious rare siltstone like that Morphett Vale outcrop whose bush vine Shiraz Max Schubert chose to blend 50-50 with Magill fruit when planning his radical Penfolds Granges. 

All of that geology is now under torrid eave-to-eave dormitoria; including that special siltstone hill on the gateway to McLaren Vale. 

That was the last bit. 

As it angrily lost that battle, McLaren Vale seemed to be expected by John Rau, then Attorney General and Planning Minister, to regard it as some kind of downpayment for the Protection Act, which we would have to trust to stop any more of it.

Every time one of those tractor folks gets in their car or ute to drive out of the Vale toward Adelaide or the coast, they have a good five minutes to grit and grind their teeth while they pass that hill, with its ill-planned, intensely sub-urbane malignancy now called Seaford Heights. 

In letting that suburb invade the open country on McLaren Vale's gateway, both political parties worked with the Onkaparinga Council to erect a vivid and permanent example of the craft of contemporary developers and planners. You can't miss it.

Seaford Heights, which state and local governments promised would be an exemplary development, is built on a precious rise of siltstone. With due respect of its residents, they all got nice heritagy siltstone-coloured roofs, see, just to meld in to the environment. 

Guinness prized the malting barley which grew here. It was considered the best in the state.

When architecture and civic planning is an assault on the landscape, you've lost. I wouldn't want to be the first to try another one of those on. Not down this way.

The Tractor Action photographs are by Leo Davis and James Hook. All others by Philip White. Except the Clydesdales.

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