Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Welcome Stranger

On 5th February, 1869, near the town of Moliagul in Victoria, two gold miners John Deason and Richard Oates dug up from under the roots of a tree, buried about 5cm (2ins) deep, the biggest alluvial gold nugget ever found. It weighed 69kg (155lbs or 2220 troy oz).
It was called "The Welcome Stranger".
They were paid ₤9,563 by the bank for it. In today's terms that's around $1.5 million which must have been a fantastic amount of money in those days. At today's gold price it would be worth $3.5 million.
No wonder both men quit mining, bought land, and retired to the easy life.
They had been, the day before the find, refused credit by the local store for a bag of flour they needed to supplement their meagre rations.
No picture or cast was ever taken of the nugget and the replica below is based on a couple of sketches made at the time.

Why my interest in all this?
There had been a photo of the event in the possession of my family as long as I can remember and I spent some time to seek it out.
It appears that the picture, taken by a local photographer at the time, William Parker of Dunoly, is a re-enactment.

The little boy standing behind the lady kneeling between the two miners with their crowbar and pick is my maternal grandfather.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

South Coast Wine Show 2009

All three judges praised the entrants in this year’s South Coast Wine Show. Chief Judge, David Morris, said that while the number of medals was on par with last year, the standard was actually better. He said even the entries that missed out on medals were sound, well-made and were good, solid, commercial wines.
The whites continued to dominate with more than 50% considered worthy of a medal. While the number of medals awarded in the red classes was lower, David said the standard of reds being produced in the local region continued to improve, particularly the Merlots, Cabernets and Chambourcins.

He said the Semillon class, in particular, had been a "pleasure" to judge and the entries in this class were ‘superb’ and of world class standard.
The judges enjoyed the opportunity to meet with exhibitors and to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of individual entries at the Public Wine Tasting.
David said local winemakers were all very professional in their approach . It was particularly pleasing that there was an extremely low level of wine faults seen in entries; far lower than in many other shows.
Results Summary:
144 entries from 21 Vineyards & Wineries.
7 Southern Highlands Wine Region, 10 Shoalhaven Coast Wine Region, 4 South Coast Zone.
Medals awarded: Gold - 7, Silver – 21, Bronze – 44.

Special Awards:
Best Wine of Show
Best White Wine
Best Wine Made from Grapes Grown in Shoalhaven Coast
Coolangatta Estate 2005 Semillon (Gold medal)
Best Red Wine
SHW 2006 Merlot (Gold medal)
Best Wine Made from Grapes Grown in Southern Highlands
Cuttaway Hill 2006 Chardonnay (Gold medal)
Best Wine Made in a Shoalhaven Coast Winery
Crooked River 2007 Arneis (Bronze medal)
Best in Class [at judge’s discretion & at least 10 entries]
Chardonnay - Cuttaway Hill 2006 (Gold medal)
Dry Red Wine - Blends & Other Varieties - SHW 2006 Merlot (Gold medal)

The outstanding class performance had to be:
Class 24.5 DRY WHITE WINE – SEMILLON (any vintage)
1. Coolangatta Estate 2000 Silver
2. Coolangatta Estate 2001 Gold
3. Coolangatta Estate 2002 Bronze
4. Coolangatta Estate 2003 Gold
5. Coolangatta Estate 2004 Bronze
6. Coolangatta Estate 2005 Gold and 3 Trophies
7. Coolangatta Estate 2006 Silver
8. Coolangatta Estate 2007 Bronze
9. Coolangatta Estate 2008 Gold
The Presentation Wine Dinner, where medals and awards were handed out, was held at the Vineyard Kitchen Restaurant at Cupitts Winery, Milton and was as usual a sellout.
The menu together with its accompanying medal winning wines was:
Canapes on arrival
Oysters with Lime & Chilli Granita
Sweet Corn & Pea Cakes with Crab Salad
Fig Tartlet with Prosciutto & Gorgonzola Cream
Centennial Vineyards – Non Vintage Brut Rose`
Prawn & Scallop Ravioli with Buerre Blanc Ciboulette
Coolangatta Estate – 2004 Verdelho & 2005 Semillon
Cuttaway Hill – 2006 Chardonnay
Blue Metal Vineyard – 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
Main Course
Rack of Tableland Lamb with Potato Puree, Flat Beans & Green Olive Vinaigrette
Southern Highland Wines – 2006 Merlot & 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Cambewarra Estate – 2005 ‘Simon’ Cabernet Sauvignon
Coolangatta Estate – 2007 Chambourcin & 2007 Tannat
Passionfruit Curd with Clyde River Berry Farm Blueberries & Almond Sable
Cambewarra Estate – 2005 ‘Louise’ Late Harvest Chardonnay
Unicorn Brie served with Marinated Figs & Lavosh
Tea & Coffee

So all in all, this year's show was extremely successful. The committee now takes a few months off to rest before the organization of next year's show starts.
More detailed show results can be found by clicking on the South Coast Wine Show link on the side bar.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


When you have been down the beach for a swim or a walk, done all your domestic jobs and it's really too hot outside to get stuck into hard farm work what can you do?
Read, watch TV, surf the net, talk to your partner OR you can go Egosurfing (also called vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling) or simply Googling yourself.
This did not turn up anything particularly interesting so I decided to "do" my father and mother.
And there they were!
But not how I had expected.

Dad in his retirement became fascinated by Hibiscus, so much so he started hybridizing them from the hundreds of plants of this species that he had in his garden in Brisbane. He would take his small brush and collect pollen from the stamen of one and place it on the pistil of others, note book at the ready to document it all and little labels to hang around the stem of the receptor flowers.
Then if a seed did indeed develop, he would plant it and wait to see the result. Some were stunning, others not so much. He even stared hybridizing his own hybrids.
But when he got " a good one" he would register it with the Australian Hibiscus Society Inc.
And most were named after family members and some won prizes at Hibiscus shows.
So that's where I "found" him on the net. On the new data base on the AHS web site. And my mother was there too having had one bloom named after her.
After Dad died, I was approached by a few nurserymen who wanted any remaining seedlings and permission to take cuttings from the garden. I didn't know anything about PBR's (Plant Breeder's Rights) in those days so let them take what they wanted.

Who knows how many of my father's Hibiscus are in commercial production today!
But I also took a few seedlings and brought them home down south to plant out.
Being mostly tropical Hibiscus they struggle in our cool temperate climate and really have problems with the winter frosts. But I have them against a warm north facing wall and every now and again they produce a flower or two.
What they actually are will require a lot of research.
But the pics above are just two of them blooming in my garden yesterday.
And I still have huge volumes of photos my father took of his beloved flowers plus all the associated note books and journals.
So maybe one day when I have nothing to do I might just sort everything out and see what eventuates.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bush Fires

December was a relatively cool month.
But then in January things changed and we have had some brutal summer weather, particularly in the southern part of the country, since then. The states of South Australia and Victoria have had days on end of 40deg C plus (104deg F) temperatures.
On Saturday 7th February in Melbourne it was almost 47deg C (116 deg F ) with 100km/hr (60mph) winds.
This weather brought with it the inevitable bush fires.

It was a disastrous day in Victoria with 209 now confirmed dead with the number expected to rise, with some estimates as high as 300. Many others are critically injured and there has been a huge loss of property including over 1800 homes. Some towns have been completely razed.
455,000 hectares have been burnt with devastating affect on wildlife and livestock.
We have so far been bush fire free in our local area. Temperatures have been in the high 30's but we have so far been blessed with sea breezes to take the edge off things. But there is a huge fire a few hundred kilometers to the south west of us that has been burning in inaccessible country for some weeks now.
South Coast NSW Update (13/2/09): We had a mild southerly change around 6pm on Sunday 8th February. Temperatures dropped by 10C and humidity rose.
It's now cool and humid with quite heavy occasional showers tending to rain.
The fire to the south west of us at Belowra is still burning but conditions are benign and have slowed the spread of the fire. We are in no immediate danger.

(click on above pic for more bushfire photos)
Meanwhile in Queensland torrential rain over an extended period has caused disastrous flooding, the worst in 30 years. In some areas it has been raining 40 days and 40 nights. It is now estimated that 60% of the state, about six times the size of Texas, is under water.
Australia is certainly a country of extremes.
A History of Bushfires in Australia.
Dec 30, 2007 - Blaze kills three truckers on a highway near Coolgardie in WA.
Jan 2006 - Three deaths and multi-million-dollar stock and property losses in 10 days of bushfires in Victoria.
Jan 11, 2005 - Nine lives lost in South Australian Eyre Peninsula bushfires.
Dec 2003 - Two women die as they try to outrun flames near Tenterden, 350km south-east of Perth.
Jan 18, 2003 - Four people die and almost 500 homes are razed in a massive firestorm in Canberra.
Dec 2002 - Two men die and more than 20 homes lost in bushfires that spread from rural NSW to ring Sydney.
Dec 2, 1998 - Bushfire claims five firefighters at Linton in Victoria. Dec 2, 1997 - Two die in bushfires at Lithgow in NSW.
Jan 21, 1997 - Three people die and 33 homes destroyed in bushfires that ravaged the Dandenong Ranges on Melbourne's eastern outskirts.
Jan 1994 - Four die, 200 properties lost, several hundred people injured as bushfires from rural NSW descend on Sydney.
Feb 16, 1983 - Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria and South Australia claim 76 people.
Jan 8, 1969 - 23 people die in grassfires in Victoria across townships including Lara, Daylesford, Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit, Kangaroo Flat and Korongvale.
Feb 7, 1967 - Bushfires kill 59 people in southern Tasmania.
Jan 13, 1939 - Black Friday bushfires in Victoria kill 71 people and destroy several towns across 20,000 square kilometres of burnt land.
Multi Media:
Interview with a survivor (audio/slideshow):
Pictures in this entry come from the Sydney Morning Herald Newspaper (8/2/09 and 11/2/09 editions).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Australian Wine Industry Faces a Challenge

The Australian wine industry expanded at a rapid rate in the 1990's. But now if faces a great challenge ie. a 25% over supply of grapes.
To meet current demand and projected growth over the next few years the Winemakers Federation of Australia estimated that a 1.6 million tonne annual production is required.
In 2008 the industry produced 1.83million tonnes despite the drought, frost events and irrigation controls.
There have been significant plantings over the last few years which is continuing and it is estimated that the industry could produce up to 2.2 million tonnes.
This is an over supply of over 0.5 million tonnes.

(click map for enlargement)

But the situation is exacerbated by increased wine stocks. Due to the large 2008 harvest it is estimated that inventories are around 250 million cases.Total domestic and export demand is 125 million cases per annum and it is agreed that inventories should be around 1.5 times future sales ie. 195 million cases.So it could be that we only need a 1.2 million tonne harvest for each of the next 2 years.
This is highly unlikely!
And the result of all this?
Grape prices have collapsed and grape growing has been made uneconomic for a lot of growers in most regions.
Australian wine producers have been stuck at the bottom end of the market instead of moving up to the price scale to the premium end of the market. Competition at the bottom end is fierce and they are cutting each others' throats.
While all this is good for the consumer (prices are very low at the moment) it is not ideal situation for the industry.