Waikerie’s silo art shares the wonder of majestic River Murray

South Australian artist Garry Duncan has been living off his brush since the age of 16. He has spent the past four decades using his work to draw attention around the world to water issues, in particular the Murray Darling Basin and the environment.

Garry has many clients in the corporate sector across Australia and overseas in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

“I have artwork in places as obscure as the Bacardi Rum boardroom in Puerto Rico,” he says.

Therefore, it only seems fitting, that he was one of two artists chosen by a Melbourne based street art consultant to decorate two empty silos owned by grain handling company, Viterra, at Waikerie in the Riverland.

The silo art by Garry features native river creatures such as pelicans, ducks, frogs and rain moths. Photo by Bruce Mouatt.

The SA Government funded project was selected based on community votes and $150,000 was awarded to the project after Waikerie resident and author, Liz Frankel, applied for funding in 2017.

Nature Foundation SA also sponsored the project, which was based on the theme, Healthy River, Healthy Community. The paintings on the silos can be seen from several kilometres away and complements the beauty of the majestic River Murray.

Garry has painted semi-abstract river landscapes and characterised native river creatures such as pelicans, ducks, frogs and rain moths. He used a brush and a roller and did it all freehand, without using graphs to map out his images.

The second artist, Jimmy Dvate from Melbourne, who is well known for his street art, painted a majestic regent parrot, a yabby and the endangered Murray Hardyhead fish.

The artists’ two different styles complement each other.

Melbourne street artist, Jimmy Dvate was also involved in the project and painted this eye-catching regent parrot. Photo by David Sickerdick Photography.

To paint the almost 30m tall silos over a combined period of 16 weeks, the two artists used elevated work platforms. They used nearly 500 litres of paint to complete the works of art, which cover 360 degrees of both silos.

Garry says the silos are the perfect canvas to educate the public about the need to care for the River Murray.

“The river is not a commodity, it is an entity, and that entity is water, sky, the land, the vegetation, all the birds, fish and mammals and the people as well,” he says.

Liz Frankel says the murals, which were completed in March, are already attracting more tourists to Waikerie.

“It is unique because the entire silos are painted all the way around and to my knowledge there is no other silo art project in Australia that has used two artists, it has only been individual artists,” she says.

The Waikerie Silo Art project is unique because the silos are painted all the way around and can be viewed from the land and river.

Garry now lives in the Adelaide Hills with his wife Lou, but the Riverland has been his backdrop since the 1970s. He worked as a sign writer apprentice in Ferntree Gully in Victoria after he left school, but his talent also led to him working on public art murals.

At the age of 18, he moved to Berri in the SA Riverland and set up a sign writing business. Garry also creates sculptures using materials as diverse as glass, timber, steel and stone.

In 1997, he worked with Riverland indigenous artists to complete a mural underneath the Berri Bridge.

After it was damaged by termites in 2017, he was involved in painting a new mural under the bridge and creating a new steel installation based on the Ngurunderi Dreaming Story.

Garry’s iconic art work can also be found on Goolwa’s Hindmarsh Island Bridge, the Brindabella Aerospace Centre at Canberra Airport and on Renmark’s Twenty Third Street Distillery’s Prime 5 Brandy label.

He believes he is fortunate to make a living as an artist who can inform and educate.

Garry Duncan’s Karoonda Shuffle sculptures portray the rhythm of the grain crops grown in the Murray Mallee. Photo by Dave Hartley.

Interested in other silo murals across regional SA? Check out our story on Tumby Bay here!

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Farmer organisation key to sustainable ag in the Mallee

Mallee Sustainable Farming (MSF) is helping farmers in South Australia’s Mallee remain optimistic as they anxiously wait for a break in the drought.

The not-for-profit organisation services an area of more than four million hectares in SA, Victoria and NSW, stretching from Balranald in NSW to Murray Bridge in SA.

Allen Buckley from Waikerie in SA’s Riverland is one of the founders of the MSF, which began nearly 22 years ago.

He was one of the first Mallee grain growers to use no-till techniques, which reduced soil erosion and significantly increased yields of crops such as wheat and barley.

No-till means crops are placed in the ground without turning over the soil and keeping the previous crop stubble standing.

The word spread about Allen’s success and other farmers in the Mallee region in SA, Victoria and NSW were eager to follow suit.

Waikerie farmer Allen Buckley was one of the founders of MSF and one of first grain growers to use no-till techniques.

Farmers in the Mallee realised they needed to be represented by a permanent organisation to help them become more sustainable.

Their determination attracted funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and support from the CSIRO to establish MSF in 1997 and it became an incorporated body in 1998. This collaboration is still strong in 2019.

The first core sites to demonstrate no-till farming practices were established on three properties, at Waikerie on Allen’s farm and at Gol Gol and Balranald in NSW.

More than two decades later, the Mallee cropping region once seen as a dust bowl has been transformed into a lucrative grain and legume producing area.

But Allen says one thing MSF can’t control is the weather.

The 67-year-old says last year was the second driest season he knows of around the Waikerie area since the 1982 drought when SA recorded its lowest rainfall on record.

“On our property we received only 88mm of rain in 1982 and in 2018 we received just 94mm,” he says.

MSF program manager and Jabuk farmer Tanja Morgan says the organisation tries to provide Mallee farmers with the resources they need to manage tough times.

MSF program manager Tanja Morgan who has a farm at Jabuk in the southern Mallee in SA says bringing farmers together is the key to helping them through the tough times.

The organisation’s 2019 research updates, which were held at Waikerie in SA and Murrayville and Manangatang in Victoria last month, were well supported by farmers. They also featured a session on handling stress.

“We try and provide them with the resources they need and we also run a lot of field days, where we get farmers together,” Tanja says.

Growing legumes has also become a way of reducing soil erosion and increasing farmers’ viability.

“Between 2012-2016, the prices for lentils and chickpeas were strong, ” Tanja says.

Participants at a MSF Field Day at Lameroo in SA’s Mallee last year learn about spade and sow soil amelioration treatment to improve production in sandy soils.

Fourth-generation grain grower Wade Nickolls from Pinnaroo says his family has been growing legumes such as lentils since the late 1980s.

However, Wade made most of his profit last season from hay, which he exports to Asia and receives about $300 a tonne. He has also been involved in faba bean trials, which performed well despite the drought and frost.

Australia’s faba beans are presently attracting about $800 a tonne, with strong demand from the Middle East due to a global shortage.

Wade, who is 40, says the future of farming in Pinnaroo looks bright and the MSF has contributed to this.

“In Pinnaroo, the average age of farmers would be 35, which is rare, as in most places it would probably be about 60,” he adds.

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Bowhill Engineering constructing a strong future for Murray Mallee

A small family business on the banks of the Murray River in the small town of Bowhill has been a major source of employment for the area for decades.

In the past 40 years, Bowhill Engineering, located 65km from Murray Bridge, has grown from a small local steel fabrication and construction business to a leading specialist in heavy and complex structural steel fabrication.

It’s worked on some of the biggest infrastructure projects in South Australia, including the construction of steel bridge girders for the Darlington Upgrade, a stage within Adelaide’s major North-South Corridor road project.

In 2014 and 2016 Bowhill was also contracted by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to construct a series of steel hull ferries for the River Murray vehicular crossings.

Bowhill constructed steel bridge girders for the Darlington Upgrade.

Managing director Jeremy Hawkes says together these two projects were a turning point for the business, significantly boosting revenue and workforce numbers.

“Within 12 months we doubled our revenue … admittedly, we were coming off a lower base because the industry was so depressed,” he says.

“It was still a massive jump for us to make in a relatively short period of time and it put a lot of pressure on our existing staff.

“We had to try and find new staff, get them onboard, skill them up and also make sure they fit in with our unique culture. Now we have a highly skilled and really engaged workforce of 30-plus that I’m really proud of.”

After winning the contract in 2017 for the Darlington Upgrade, Bowhill Engineering constructed the steelwork for two 3000-tonne bridges, built entirely off their permanent site, in what was an Australian first for civil engineering.

Other past projects include the Wayville Pedestrian Bridge in Adelaide’s inner southern suburbs, a complex, three-dimensional bridge that was met with a tricky design requirements and a tight deadline.

Bowhill Engineering managing director Jeremy Hawkes.

Bowhill’s clients include major players, McConnell Dowell, Lendlease, LEED, and Laing O’Rourke, while the business prides itself on also supporting small local businesses through its supply chain.

“There is a local company at Mannum, TR Male Transport, who we have been using as our supplier loyally for about 40 years,” Jeremy says.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to support them for a really long period of time, consistently all the way through. We have drafting people at Monarto who operate with us almost exclusively and that relationship has existed for about 25 years and spans two generations.

“We’re SA-based so 99% of what we purchase is definitely from SA and we’re very proud of that. We also have a very strong focus towards Australian steel and making sure we’re contributing to a sustainable steel industry.”

Bowhill Engineering is renowned for providing significant employment for the town, including young apprentices. It takes on at least one apprentice a year, and at the moment has six metal fabrication apprentices and one business administration trainee.

The Oaklands Crossing is also one of Bowhill Engineering’s big projects.

“We had some research undertaken recently which found that Bowhill Engineering employs the same percentage of people in manufacturing within the Mid Murray Council area as Holden did in Adelaide’s northern suburbs at the time of the closure announcement,” Jeremy says.

“That’s a pretty impressive stat when you think about it because Bowhill is such a tiny place. It doesn’t make logical sense (for the business to be located at Bowhill) because there are no support industries around us and we’re somewhat isolated. But we’ve made it work by focusing on our strengths.”

With Bowhill going from strength to strength in recent years, an expansion is on the horizon. The business is planning to underground powerlines that run through the property to give it the space and capacity for a physical expansion that could spur 20 new jobs.

The undergrounding project is a large and expensive feat costed at about $1 million and will be made possible with a $350,000 grant from the State Government’s Regional Growth Fund, in addition to Federal Government support through the Building Better Regions Fund for a similar amount.

Bowhill Engineering’s future expansion will mark a new chapter for the business which dates back to the 1970s, with Jeremy’s parents Brendon and Averil.

The Bowhill Engineering team.

Brendon was a farmer with a knack for repairing and modifying farm machinery and equipment and so the mechanic workshop Bowhill Motors was born. Brendon turned the focus away from mechanics and towards local steel fabrication and construction in the 1990s, building on strong foundations of community, reputation and a positive attitude.

These values were instilled in his two sons, Jeremy and Simon, who both went on to play instrumental parts in the business’s success as they grew older.

But tragically in 2002, Simon was killed in a car accident at the age of 30. He left behind a legacy of bold thinking, strong work ethic and a dogged determination which has helped shape the business into what it now has become.

Family is still at the core of Bowhill, with Brendon and Averil still involved in the business alongside Jeremy and his wife Jodie, who have four children.

“I am genuinely excited for the future,” Jeremy says.

“The government support both directly through funding assistance and indirectly through a buoyant economy and infrastructure building creates an excellent opportunity for us to continue to foster growth in our people.”

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Riverland butcher snags country’s best bratwurst

Riverland butcher Nigel Rollbusch says snagging the title of best bratwurst in the nation is “a bit like winning the lotto”.

Waikerie butcher shop Rollbusch Quality Meats took top gong at the national Sausage King Awards in the continental category for its bratwurst sausage.

Rollbusch Quality Meats was the only South Australian finalist to pick up an award at the Australian Meat Industry Council event in Perth earlier this month, a big win for a small business that’s only been running for almost three years.

The winning snag is a German-style sausage made from pork and beef, and Nigel says it’s popular with in-store customers as well as local pubs and a bakery which include the bratwurst on their menus.

The Rollbusch family, from left, Jess, Toni, Nigel and Erin.

“It’s a bit like a mettwurst flavour, we make it from scratch using garlic and a few herbs and spices,” Nigel says.

“To get through to the national awards was great, so when I heard our name being called (as the winner) it was like winning the lotto.”

Nigel has been a butcher for about 20 years, but spent two years prior to taking over the Waikerie butcher shop as a stock agent for Elders.

“This area is a gold mine for quality stock,” he says. “I’ve been a butcher for 20 years, my history is there and my passion is definitely there.

“We source our beef from three local feedlots, the Fogdens, Fisher Brothers and Shannon Brothers, and the pork is from Riverhaven at Taylorville.”

Nigel also entered a turkey and Riverland cumquat sausage in the poultry category of the national awards, but didn’t quite reach the same success as the bratwurst.

Rollbusch Quality Meats is also home to a small fresh fruit and vegetable store, which also sells local cheeses, milk and condiments.

Rollbusch Quality Meats has about eight staff on the books including two apprentices, one of them Nigel’s son, a third-year apprentice.

Nigel’s wife Toni is also involved in the business which supplies a number of local establishments, including the New Land Bakery, the Waikerie and Loxton hotels and the View Point Café at Waikerie.

Recently, Rollbusch Quality Meats expanded its shop to include a small selection of local fruit and vegetables, milk, cheeses and condiments.

Nigel says the small deli has gone “gang busters” since its establishment, increasing business trade by 35%.

“Waikerie is a fantastic area, we have so much local produce here from potatoes, pears and apples to watermelon, rockmelon and coriander,” he says.

“There’s a need for it, it’s what the locals want.”

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Riverland Youth Theatre inspiring communities through the arts

For more than three decades, theatrical productions, workshops and visual arts performances have been played out in Riverland theatres and institutes.

The Riverland Youth Theatre (RYT) is the organisation behind many of the region’s creative and artistic activities, helping to boost confidence in young people and create a more culturally inclusive community.

Based out of the Renmark Institute, the professional youth arts organisation is one of only two in regional South Australia.

RYT general manager Danyon De Buell says the organisation runs an annual program of workshops and major projects and also plays a part in a number of community events.

The Tackerz group are part of Cirkidz, a circus arts class run at RYT.

“Each year more than 4000 people participate in arts projects and activities that RYT is engaged with,” she says.

“RYT participants are aged between 5–26 and come from as far as Blanchetown. We also have a number of young people who come over from the Mallee.

“We offer a number of creative opportunities including styling, makeup, technical support, so it’s not just about acting. We’re constantly amazed at the confidence building that happens.”

RYT was born in 1985 as a participatory organisation for young people, putting on drama productions and hosting workshops and performances by visiting artists in Renmark’s Chaffey Theatre.

In 1995, it became independently incorporated and since then has consistently built its reputation for promoting inclusivity and presenting opportunities for Indigenous and multicultural groups to celebrate culture through the arts.

RYT is involved in Riverland Harmony Day, an annual event celebrating cultural diversity.

RYT relies heavily on philanthropic support and receives donations from local businesses as well as funds raised through the annual RYT gala dinner.

Last year’s gala dinner was attended by well-known ABC radio personality Peter Goers as well as jazz act and former RYT performers, The Casey Brothers.

Danyon says RYT offers a non-competitive and non-threatening environment for young people to build on or develop their skills in creative arts.

“All our work with young people isn’t competitive, although team work is implicit in what we do,” she says. “At no time is any child or young person given negative feedback either. We see friendships form and it breaks down barriers between towns.”

Danyon has been in her current role at RYT since 2014 but was involved with the organisation for some years prior.

RYT’s artistic director is Christopher Bond, a Flinders University and National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) graduate who has directed and workshoped theatre performances at a number of arts education institutions.

A group of Nunga Rhythms young performers and tutors.

Highlights of the 2019 program include TECHDesign, a nighttime light and sound show enabling youth to learn about lighting design and projection.

Professional Indigenous dancer and choreographer Michael Harris will work with young people on Nunga Rhythms, a performance of traditional Indigenous dance and movement.

Six RYT participants will be selected to travel to the Melbourne Fringe and take part in Standby Cue 1: GO!, which involves a behind-the-scenes experience at the major arts festival.

Back at home, RYT will bring colour and culture to the community through its performances and creative presences at annual local events including Riverland Harmony Day, Riverland Field Days, National Youth Week, NAIDOC Week, Renmark Rose Festival and local Christmas pageants.

“RYT gives young people confidence and we make sure all programs and projects are inclusive for all young people including young people with disabilities,” Danyon says.

“RYT isn’t just for Renmark, it’s for the whole of the region.”

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‘Chook’ Letton an egg-cellent example of community generosity

Riverland poultry farmer, Darren ‘Chook’ Letton’s passion for eggs began at an early age.

“From around the age of one or two, I was carted around in an egg basket and stopped the chooks from walking out of their chook pens,” he says.

Upon reaching school age, his mates started calling him ‘Chook’, and the nickname stuck as he became more active in the poultry farm and the Riverland community.

Darren’s parents, John and Kaylene, started the egg producing business, which is now known as Glenview Poultry Farm at Pike River, south east of Renmark, 53 years ago.

Darren became the farm’s manager in 2007 and decided to market their eggs under their own brand, Glenview Poultry Farm, and focus mainly on servicing the Riverland.

Darren ‘Chook’ Letton on the farm at Pike River. Photo by Grant Schwartzkopff.

They now have 28,000 laying hens, 16,000 of them are caged and 12,000 are free range. Each day the hens lay about 2000 dozen eggs, which are distributed to the Riverland and Mallee and over the Victorian border into the Sunraysia region.

The eggs are especially popular among caterers in Sunraysia and more than half of the Letton’s eggs are sent there and served in cafés and restaurants.

It is not unusual to see the Glenview Poultry Farm van in Mildura, where many treat Riverlanders as local. Supermarkets in the Riverland, Mallee and Sunraysia also sell the eggs, which are usually on the shelves just one to three days after being laid.

Eggs sourced from wholesalers in Mildura can also be found in Broken Hill and Balranald in NSW and the Wimmera in Victoria.

Darren Letton has been involved in the poultry industry all his life. Photo by Grant Schwartzkopff.

The Letton’s egg cartons over the years have featured River Murray and gum tree scenes with photos of Darren’s children taking part in activities such as umpiring football or playing sport.

“My two youngest kids became my main marketing tools, when it first began Gemma was six and Cody was about two, ” Darren says. “Now he is 13 and she is 17.”

The egg producer donates about 15,000 eggs a year to community organisations for fundraisers such as supporting children with cancer, and sporting clubs.

“If they ask me for money, most of the times I will donate eggs,” he says. “I’m still paying off debt, but I can always donate eggs.”

The donated freshly laid eggs are also a tradition of Australia Day and Easter breakfasts in Berri, Loxton and Renmark.

Glenview Poultry Farm since 2003, has also participated in the Renmark Christmas Pageant and is well known for its Humpty Dumpty float. Its floats have also featured in the Barmera Christmas pageant and the Loxton Mardi Gras.

Glenview Poultry Farm regularly participates in local Christmas pageants.

The egg farms’ 15 employees and their family including children often take part in these events.

Over the years, Darren who is also fondly known as ‘the egg man’, has had regular commercial radio spots. This included ‘The Crack Up’, a joke competition on Magic 93.1FM and an egg recipe competition on Radio 5RM resulting in a recipe book titled, Chook’s Book.

Deregulation of SA’s egg industry in 1992 has caused some headaches for the Lettons. It has meant interstate eggs sometimes flood the market and supermarkets at times also increase the price of farmers’ brands without passing it on to them and then sell generic eggs at a cheaper price.

“If I wasn’t who I was, I think I would struggle,” Chook says. “I think all the hard work I have done over the last ten years has kept us going.”

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Community spirit fulfils Waikerie’s nature park dreams

A water and nature play park at Waikerie in South Australia’s Riverland demonstrates how a community can work together to achieve amazing results.

Local couple, Clive and Donna Matthews came up with the idea, after noticing how much their daughters, Evie, 9, and Arlee, 7, enjoyed visiting similar playgrounds in other towns during their caravan holidays.

The Waikerie Water and Nature Play Park blends in with the natural environment and the nearby River Murray.

“We were very specific about this, there is no blue or yellow,” Donna says.

The playground features a flying fox, a teepee, water play features, bench seats made from logs and stones, and a climbing wall. An old boat was donated by local car dealership, Sutton Ford and painted by the Waikerie Men’s Shed.

Waikerie couple Donna and Clive Matthews worked tirelessly to fulfil the community’s dream of a riverfront play park. Photo by Christine Webster

The playground has also been designed so it can be enjoyed when it is too cold for water play.

The park was officially opened on December 22, 2018, to coincide with the summer school holidays and it is already giving local families and tourists much joy.

Donna and Clive realised their dream of creating the park on the Waikerie riverfront had potential when they learned about the SA Government’s former Fund My Neighbourhood Grants (FMN) program.

The couple applied for funding from the program and were delighted to receive $150,000 for the park project.

The public also had to vote online for the project and the strong response from Waikerie residents resulted in the playground being one of the highest voted for projects back in 2017.

Clive says they thought they had hit an obstacle, when they learned they were unable to use the FMN money to apply for any further grants.

Zayn, 5, left, Rino, 4, and Lachlan 4, all of Waikerie try out the water pump for the first time at the official opening in December. Photo by Christine Webster

Parks with water elements require expensive underground works and more money was needed. But the town came to the rescue.

The Rotary Club of Waikerie donated $50,000, the Loxton Waikerie Council provided $30,000 of in-kind support in labour and the Waikerie Apex Club contributed $11,000 to shelters at the park.

Members of the Waikerie community and local businesses also donated a total of $15,000 after Donna set up a Go Fund Me campaign.

Clive, who runs a maintenance and installation business at Waikerie, also saved $30,000 by volunteering his time to project manage the park’s construction.

Donna, who has always been artistic and is a beauty therapist, also wanted to save money on having to engage a professional designer. She designed the play area after many hours of research, which included visiting play parks around Australia.

“Parents with young children worry all the time because the river can be dangerous, but at the park they can still get wet and it’s safe,” Donna says.

Adela Frankel, 8, of Berri, on the teepee, which is the park’s showpiece. Photo by Christine Webster.

Drought and downturns in the citrus and wine industries, which in recent years have begun to perform strongly again, have often left Waikerie struggling to maintain its population and town centre.

Clive and Donna believe the tide is gradually changing with several new businesses opening in recent weeks, with Clive saying tourism is the key.

Since the water and nature play park opened just before Christmas, about 3000 people have paused to enjoy the serenity of the riverfront and try out the playground.

“Waikerie is beginning to change and in the next few years I would love to see it boom,” Clive says.

Loxton Waikerie Mayor Leon Stasinowsky says the park is an example of what the community can achieve by working closely with the council.

“It is something I have always been passionate about,” he adds.

Header image: Photo by SkyTec Media.

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Jervois cheese factory makes its mark with mozzarella

Paul Connolly is living a cheese lover’s dream.

He is surrounded by high quality mozzarella every day in his role as operations manager and master cheesemaker at Beston Global Food Company (BFC’s) dairy factories in Jervois and Murray Bridge in the state’s Murraylands.

Paul has worked in the SA cheese industry since the 1980s, so his contribution to the dairy sector is longstanding.

Three years ago the veteran cheesemaker was working under the factories’ previous owner, Hong Kong-owned United Dairy Power Group, when it fell into receivership.

Along came the Adelaide-based ASX-listed BFC, which purchased the business including its disused and neglected dairy factory at Jervois and another plant in Murray Bridge.

A mural by leading local artist Adam Poole-Mottishaw was painted on the Jervois factory’s façade depicting the history of cheesemaking in the area.

More than 30 jobs were saved, including Paul’s, and the two sites restored to their former glory. Both of the factories had a rich history in the state’s dairy industry and contributed greatly to the economic welfare of the region over time.

“When we watched it (United Dairy) wind down and watched all the uncertainty of what was going to happen, we wondered whether the factory was going to be shut down and what would happen to the team of cheesemakers and staff that worked here,” Paul says.

“But then when we found out that an SA company had bought it, would start it up again and reemploy the workers … it was good times.”

Since 2015, BFC has invested $26.5 million to fit out the Jervois factory with state-of-the-art technology, sourced predominantly from Italy to produce Beston’s Edwards Crossing premium quality mozzarella cheese.

Member for Hammond Adrian Pederick, left, Premier Steven Marshall, BFC chairman Dr Roger Sexton, and Murray Bridge Mayor Brenton Lewis celebrates the unveiling of the mural, and the official opening of the mozzarella factory.

Paul has gone on to help BFC win 70 industry awards for its cheeses, and says the complete overhaul of the Jervois factory has ensured a more modern approach to cheesemaking and greater efficiency.

“We purchased a state-of-the-art mozzarella plant that uses esteemed technology from Italy and packaging equipment from Germany. Our mozzarella plant is fully automated,” Paul says. “Parts were also sourced from Holland and New Zealand.”

BFC also makes a number of by-products at Jervois, including whey powder, cream and butter. It has also restarted the production of lactoferrin, a protein in cow’s milk that goes into infant formula powder.

BFC’s support of the regional economy also extends to the resilient dairy industry, as local farmers supply their milk to Beston.

BFC operations manager and master cheesemaker Paul Connolly with some of the mozzarella.

Soon after the acquisition of the cheesemaking business, BFC contracted 38 dairy families across the state to supply milk for the Jervois and Murray Bridge factories. The company also put programs in place to assist farmers in dire need of financial help at the time.

“We still source our milk from across SA … we source from Meningie and Lower Lakes, from northern areas, the Fleurieu Peninsula and also down to the South East,” Paul says. BFC itself owns a number of dairy farms in the South East and Fleurieu regions.

While the Jervois factory is at the centre of mozzarella action, the Murray Bridge plant produces mature-style cheeses and was completely refurbished after BFC’s takeover.

“The hard cheese plant where they were making the parmesans and more artisan-style cheeses had been mothballed in about 2010 so we decided to get that up and running again too,” Paul says.

“The cheddar plant was really run down … we had to get it up to speed so we could make some really high-quality products reliably.”

Beston’s Edward’s Crossing Vintage Cheddar.

BFC employs about 300 people, directly and indirectly, including employees at other SA companies it has invested in, including third-generation seafood company Ferguson Australia. Beston also invests in premium quality bottled water producer AQUAEssence, which sources spring water from underground aquifers at Mt Gambier.

BFC chairman Dr Roger Sexton says the number of employees at Murray Bridge and Jervois is dynamic depending on production and customer demand.

“There is a mix of full-time, permanent part-time and casuals, needless to say as the company grows the need for more employees, especially in the Murrayland region, will occur,” he says.

BFC has become the seventh largest dairy company in Australia, and while its head office is in Adelaide, the company has offices in China, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Dr Sexton says BFC is well positioned to capitalise on the increase in pizza consumption in Asia with Beston’s Edwards Crossing mozzarella.

“The demand for mozzarella in China is forecast to increase over the next few years from around 175,000 tonnes to 248,000 tonnes in 2022,” he says.

Dr Sexton says BFC is also experiencing an expansion in the domestic market, with its products having an ever-growing presence in major retailers and shops across Australia.

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Casting carp as a prized fish cuisine

A Murray Mallee fishing and processing business is keen to transform the humble carp’s image from pest to prized eating fish after already successfully casting another runt of the seafood world as a culinary darling.

Tracy Hill, the joint owner of Coorong Wild Seafood with husband Glen, is renowned for her work around the Coorong yelloweye mullet and now believes it’s time to explore carp’s “great eating potential”.

She’s been busy turning the pest fish clogging the nation’s mighty Murray River into fish cakes, sausages and mince with positive feedback at their unique fish cellar door.

Even chefs are being won over, with The Olfactory Inn at Strathalbyn currently serving a char grilled carp belly with a crispy and zesty carp spring roll in its dining room.

“We believe it’s the next big thing, and we’ve formed a corporation with some other fishermen in New South Wales and Victoria calling it a solution for carp across the whole basin,” Tracy says from their Meningie business.

“Now we need to tackle the problem with people’s perception that a pest fish equates to bad taste.

“We’ve discovered carp is really nice to eat, it’s the most eaten farmed fish in the world.”

Tracy and Glen Hill are turning an infamous pest fish into a delicacy.

It’s yet another brave and environmentally friendly plan for the inspiring couple, this year named as one of three finalists in the sustainability category of the South Australian Food Industry Awards, announced on November 23.

Coorong Wild Seafood is also in the running for the Primary Produce Award.

Their business is well recognised for its low-impact approach to fishing for mullet, mulloway and carp in their beautiful coastal wilderness.

Tracy says it’s an honour to be up against two other great local businesses in the sustainability category also helping to contribute to the state’s food industry that generated $17.6 billion in revenue for SA in 2016/2017.

The other two finalists, Ashton Valley Fresh juices and Newman’s Horseradish are examples of food businesses playing a part in SA’s craft food industry.

Ashton Valley Fresh is a juice brand run by Ceravolo Orchards in the Adelaide Hills and is spearheading innovations to reduce its food waste to zero. The juice company is also up for the innovation in food and business excellence titles.

Newman’s Horseradish at Langhorne Creek is in the running for three accolades, the sustainability, business excellence and consumer awards. Brian and Anne Meakins grow their horseradish on the banks of the Bremer River, building their own processing plant in 1992 and now filling up to 4000 jars a week to supply 95% of the SA market.

Coorong Wild Seafood’s story also stretches back to 1990s when Glen bought his first fishing licence and soon realised he was better off processing the catch himself, setting up a facility two years later.

The business sells direct to restaurants, butcher shops and supermarkets while netting a host of awards.

Its world-first environmental management plan received national and international recognition in 1998, with its operations happening partly in the Coorong National Park – a RAMSAR listed wetland of international significance teeming with wildlife.

Then, a few years ago, the humble mullet that is the mainstay of the business turned food royalty.

The charred carp belly, carp spring roll, black sesame and soy, and tempura spring onion dish at The Olfactory Inn.

Coorong Wild Seafood won top prize in the prestigious delicious Produce Award with the judging panel including renowned chefs Matt Moran and Shannon Bennett along with SA kitchen star performer Maggie Beer.

Tracy’s name was also added to the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community roll of honour in October last year, and she’s just been voted onto the local Coorong council.

She’s particularly vocal about encouraging Australians to “read the labels” and ensure they are eating fish caught sustainably.

The company is keen to spread its wild catch message through running classes at the local school and launching tours and a fish cellar door in 2016.

It also shares its story at a weekly stall run by Trevor Bowden at the Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market at Wayville.

This week, Tracy is busy preparing for a coach filled with 48 tourists that Glen will first meet to share stories of fishing and managing the Coorong environment.

When tourists arrives at their Meningie business, they see a filleting demonstration before sampling tasty mullet, carp and mulloway morsels prepared by Tracy and served on their family home’s verandah.

Plans are underway to launch more bespoke tours, kicking off with a Tasting Australia event in SA next April.

“We’re taking people out to the Coorong and we’re going to set a net so they’ll be able to pull their own fish out, then fillet themselves so they can have a sashimi style tasting,” Tracy says.

“Then we’ll cook some up too and then head back to our place with a lunch with local wine.

“I’m just astounded at the opportunities that appear when you are proactive and you put yourself out there and give things a go, it’s amazing what can happen.”

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Renmark Irrigation Trust setting the standard for 125 years

The Renmark Irrigation Trust (RIT) in South Australia’s Riverland has been leading the way since 1893 in ensuring horticulturalists receive water as efficiently as possible.

The organisation oversees the management of River Murray irrigation water in Renmark and its infrastructure serves more than 600 irrigators throughout the area.

This month the RIT will celebrate its 125th anniversary, using the milestone to reflect back on more than a century of Riverland history.

RIT presiding member Peter Duggin, a wine grapegrower and third generation irrigator, says Renmark’s permanent plantings of citrus, almonds, avocados, persimmons and wine grapes depend on a reliable source of irrigation water.

Renmark irrigators were the first in Australia to replace their water channels with pipes in the 1970s.

Peter says during the early days of settlement, water as it still is today, was an important resource for the town’s growers.

RIT presiding member Peter Duggin.

By WWI, Renmark had two big wineries, a dried fruit packing co-operative and a cannery. Riverland towns were a major supplier of produce during the two world wars.

“For a soldier in a trench in France or Gallipoli it would have been like Christmas to receive a can of sweet peaches or some dried fruit, instead of just bully beef or biscuits,” Peter says.

Members of the RIT pay rates to access River Murray water in the Renmark irrigation settlement, which was established by Canadian born brothers William and George Chaffey in 1887.

The RIT was initially operated by the two brothers, but the collapse of Australia’s banks in 1893 made the organisation unviable.

On December 23, 1893, the RIT became Renmark’s first local government authority after the SA Parliament passed a statute giving it the authority to manage the irrigation settlement for its members.

The RIT has been leading the way in managing the resource of River Murray water since then.

In April, Renmark became the world’s first irrigation operator to receive global ‘gold’ certification against the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard.

The RIT has led the way in modernising irrigation in Australia with irrigation channels like this one, pictured in 1893, being replaced by pipes as early as the 1970s. Photo: RIT McIntosh Collection.

The award recognises world best practice in delivery efficiency, water quality, management of environmental water and water governance.

The RIT has almost completed two years of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to deliver environmental water to rejuvenate flood plains around Renmark, which had been cleared of their native trees and vegetation.

“Bird life is unbelievable in a couple of spots, we even have black swans breeding, lots of birds have been spotted, and the frogs are unbelievable,” Peter says.

The environmental watering is a Murray Darling Basin Plan initiative, which was legislated by the Federal Parliament in 2012.

Unlike some irrigators in the eastern states, the RIT sees the Basin Plan’s implementation by 2024 as an opportunity and a chance to work more closely with governments at a state and federal level.

Black swans are breeding and floodplains have been rejuvenated due to the RIT’s environmental watering program.

Peter says the organisation instigated the development of the SEE (Social, Economic Environmental) Renmark 2024 Alliance in 2013 to respond to the challenges of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

The alliance also has representatives from Renmark Paringa Council, Destination Riverland and Regional Development Australia.

Projects such as irrigation modernisation and a scoping study of the Renmark airport have been proposed.

“We have so far attracted $18.5 million into Renmark,” Peter says.

The 125th birthday celebrations begin later this month with guided walking tours of the Renmark Irrigation Trust’s historic building and pumping station.

Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr who grew up in Renmark, will also be the guest speaker at an event in the town on December 23 to mark the RIT’s milestone.

More information can be found here.

Header image: SATC/Adam Bruzzone.

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