Food, glorious food - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

Food and tourism are the cornerstones of many regional economies, so it makes sense to chase development opportunities where the two sectors intersect.

The French and Italians are arguably the world leaders at this, because regional food and wines are embedded in their tourism offering. Closer to home it’s a mixed bag, and last week two well-travelled mates and I ruminated on this over coffee. We decided to independently rank our Top 10 regional food/beverage locations in terms of what we’d recommend to a visiting international tourist.

Things like proximity to airports, product quality, price and uniqueness were subsumed within the question. And the location could be a region, locality or a specific pub, restaurant, vineyard etc. The results were interesting.

Denis led off with the Mornington Peninsular, followed by the Barossa, Sunshine Coast (including Fraser Island), Canberra region, Sapphire Coast (especially Tilba), South Gippsland, Yarra Valley, Cairns, NSW Southern Highlands and Tasmania.

Peter’s Top 10 were Yarra Valley (Chandon, Yering Station, de Bortoli), Rutherglen, Tasmania (especially MONA’s restaurant), Barossa-Fleurieu combined, Sydney, Canberra (fine dining), Sapphire Coast, Orange and Bass Coast (particularly Loch).

My nominations were Barossa (and Hahndorf in Adelaide Hills), Hunter Valley, Mornington Peninsular, Tasmania, Orange, Bondi-Coogee-Manly, Adelaide, Margaret River, Cairns, Breakfast Creek Pub (Brisbane), Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, and the Jugiong Pub (near Yass).

What to make of this?
Well the Barossa and Hunter food-wine regions didn’t happen overnight, and have had a succession of champions e.g. Maggie Beer, Jan Angas, Margaret Lehmann, Wolf Blass.

The wine regions of Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, Margaret River, Mornington Peninsular have been centre stage in state tourism campaigns.

Jugiong and Dunkeld are small towns with iconic pubs, due to visionary family owners. Jugiong also has a separately owned restaurant. The Murrumbidgee at the doorstep. Although word-of-mouth is the key, some road signage about Richie Benaud’s hometown would lure British tourists.

Loch is a booming little town surrounded by Bass Strait and vivid green farmland and quality wineries. These factors have triggered residential development and tourist growth.   

Cairns and other communities must get SERIOUS about signature drinks to match their seafood and tropical fruit, because it’s crazy drinking wine in tropical climates. Think about Bundy Rum and fruit juice, Bowen mango liqueur, Buderim ginger wine and soda.

Denis (above) says well-placed regional towns could develop the great Aussie BBQ to a unique level. The South Africans have their world-famous braai. Our version could include lamb, beef, Murray cod, barramundi, crocodile and camel. Locations connected to Australian wildlife would be ideal.  

In conclusion, there is a ‘public good’ argument to assist regional food tourism offerings where they’re below par. This is a tricky area, and local councils can’t be identifying laggard businesses. One way around this would be a Gordon Ramsay-like character swinging in to provide advice to restaurants on how they can lift their performance.

Another option would be state-based programs that help develop signature foods for a network of restaurants based on the local food resource viz. Robe lobsters, Coffs prawns, Broken Hill saltbush lamb.

And how about a Rick Stein series that features food tourism offerings of small Aussie towns? Rick owns restaurants in Mollymook and Port Stephens, his cooking adventures entertain legions of fans worldwide, and he is a collaborative person. His son Jack is in the same mould, and could possibly join him in his Aussie travels. This would be an enormous boost for regional Australia. I’ve
commenced enquiries.

Shorten step back?
A Sydney-based Cockatoo member suggests that a failed leader needs to step right back for the benefit of their party. In the same way that Whitlam was looked after by the Coalition (Ambassador to UNESCO) and Fraser was looked after by the ALP (Head of Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group on South Africa), the present-day Coalition might have looked after Bill Shorten with an overseas appointment.

For the moment Bill is a shadow Minister for Government Services (NDIS etc), but it’s going to be tough. The International Labor Organisation in Geneva might be increasingly attractive, and his union mates can fix that surely.

Newcastle is a crucible
Professor Roy Green, Chair – Port of Newcastle, says the Hunter Region “Should respond to a polarising election by acknowledging the Hunter’s strong connection to coal mining while planning for global headwinds…ours may be the highest quality coal in the market, but this won’t protect us from the day it is no longer needed…the region is a kind of crucible for the whole country” he said in a recent opinion piece.

He says that AGL is now preparing for renewable energy. The University of Newcastle has switched to solar power. Liberty OneSteel has a ‘green steel’ model, and the CSIRO Energy Hub is working on industrial-scale hydrogen for export. Other regions could usefully track the Hunter’s efforts to create new industries and industrial applications. Details on the web.

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo[@]