It was the worst of times

March 2009

n addition to the devastating cost in human life and wildlife, as well as the loss of untold numbers of cattle, sheep and poultry, the fires in southern Australia have been devastating for wine grape growers and farmers generally. In the second week of February, I rang grape growers in South Australia and Victoria and a beef cattle farmer in northeastern Victoria. Those who hadn’t lost their vineyards were looking at grapes on the vine that looked like dried peas. Then there’ll be smoke taint in a lot of cases, meaning entire crops will have to be discarded.

Jan Waddington, beef cattle farmer, succulent gardener and co-owner with husband Rod of the rural restaurant Waddington’s at Kergunyah (1059 Kiewa Valley Highway, Ph 6027 5393) in the Kiewa Valley told me she was nervously eyeing a plume of smoke and also keeping watch on Gundowring up the road, where the multi-award-winning icecream is made, for owner Sarah Crooke who was out of the country. Luckily, both properties were saved by a wind shift. Others were not so fortunate.

I spoke also during the week to the Milawa Cheese Company’s David Brown, who had been driving to Melbourne and was asked to pull over while a fire crossed the highway. The temperature was 50ºC, the wind speed 100km/h. How could anything withstand that? David didn’t — he went to the pub.

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