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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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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Riverland nature the inspiration behind Jax and Co

The Riverland’s native flora and prime horticulture crops including pistachios, citrus and olives are often the inspiration behind handcrafted contemporary jewellery label Jax and Co.

Maker Jax Isaacson doesn’t have to wander far to gather materials used to make the durable and sustainable pieces made predominantly from resin and reclaimed Australian Mallee wood.

“I use all local reclaimed Australian wood, and my signature wood is white Mallee, which is indigenous to this region,” she says from her home studio in Waikerie.

“It’s all reclaimed from naturally fallen trees or agricultural clearings, and I use a bit of orange, pistachio and olive (trees) that people might be pulling out.”

Jax and Co spheres encase botanicals sourced from Jax’s garden. Photo by Rosina Possingham.

Living on a pistachio farm, Jax can forage around the property to collect the fallen bits of wood, while she also sources botanicals from her garden and those of family and friends.

The botanicals are preserved and set in resin – a glass like material – and made into decorative spheres and ring holders.

“I am originally from Waikerie and the environment and area is very special to me,” Jax says. “I want to share the beauty of Waikerie and the natives which a lot of people don’t get to see.”

For jewellery pieces such as earrings, pendants, rings, bangles and cuff links, Jax predominantly uses resin and the sustainably reclaimed Mallee wood.

She will set about to collect the burl – a knot or lump that grows on a tree and often sought after by artists and furniture makers – before cleaning the bark off and naturally drying out the wood for 12 months.

Mallee burl. Photo by Rosina Possingham.

The wood, once dried and cut, is mixed in with the resin and set before the product is carved, shaped and polished into finished statement pieces.

Jax has a background in graphic design, but decided to experiment with resin kits as a bit of a hobby while at home with her small children.

“I always loved the bright colours in the resin and the durability of it. At one point I put wood into the resin and the outcome was spectacular,” she says.

“I was wearing one of the pieces of jewellery I had made when somebody saw it and wanted to buy it, so I let them, and I made another one and sold that too. I got all this interest just through word of mouth and it was really quite full on, I wasn’t expecting that.”

In 2016 Jax decided to officially start her own label, giving it a name and using her graphic design skills to launch the brand.

Aside from online, Jax and Co now sells in four stores in Adelaide, a handful of shops in the Riverland, and also interstate.

Jax says there is growing demand for sustainable and handmade goods in the marketplace.

“In the last couple of years I think there has been a real shift in consumer attitude towards sustainability. People are starting to see that the outcome of our throwaway culture isn’t positive,” she says.

“A lot of people are happy to pay more for a quality product that offers a difference, and is handmade locally and they can appreciate that time and effort has been put into it.

“I like the way we’re heading.”

The Jax and Co workshop. Photo by Rosina Possingham.

Header photo features Jax Isaacson with a Mallee burl. Photo by Rosina Possingham.

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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Barmera’s Crossfield Cottage a lingering love story

Visitors to a Barmera bed and breakfast in South Australia’s Riverland can step back into the days of post-WWI settlement as well as learn about a 1970s love story, which lasted almost four decades.

Owners of Crossfield Cottage Mark and Carolyn Huckel purchased the tired old 1920s property in January 2015 and spent two years renovating the humble abode.

“We had always wanted to create a B&B, but we had never found the right place or location,” Carolyn says.

This dream became a reality when Mark discovered the old Barmera cottage, which was the childhood home of his friend, David Crossfield.

David’s parents, John and Margaret, bought the property in 1976 and was the first and only home the couple ever owned. Margaret died in 2006 and John in 2013.

The renovated cottage provides old world character and charm and showcases local produce.

The Huckels first expressed interest in buying the property from David and his sister Emma, when they were helping them sort through things in the home, after their father’s death.

“Two years later they came back to us and said we are going to be ready to sell in six months, are you interested?” Mark says.

The Huckels saw great potential in the property, set among a picturesque country landscape surrounded by vineyards, fruit orchards and natural bush.

The house was originally built to accommodate WWI veteran Thomas Bawden and his wife Rachel.

Its original stove has been saved and used by the Huckels in the outdoor area, while the white baltic pine floorboards inside the home were also spared.

A coal heater and Margaret Crossfield’s dressing table are key features in the front bedroom.

Items dating back to the 1920s such as vintage telephones, farming tools, kitchen scales and replica war medals are also on display in the lounge room, presenting a glimpse at a bygone era.

Thomas died in 1964 and the house was then purchased by its second owners, another WW1 veteran Albert Jones and his wife, Alice.

The Crossfields were then the third owners of the property and lived there for four decades, so the B&B still features a number of items which belonged to them.

Much of the Crossfield’s original kitchen and cupboards have also been preserved.

A coal heater and wooden dressing table are prominent features in the front bedroom and the triangle she used to summon her family to meals hangs proudly in the entertaining area outside.

Many of the flowers Margaret Crossfield loved are still grown in the garden and some older residents who are familiar with the species have also given bulbs for the Huckels to plant.

The original wood stove has been placed in the outdoor area as a show piece.

It is evident the couples’ love for each other was strong, for example in the lounge room where the Crossfield’s favourite courting song, The Seven Daffodils is recognised with a painting by Jamahl Pollard, a talented Riverland artist with impaired vision.

Guests can read the words of the song in the Crossfield Cottage history book inside the B&B.

Many Barmera locals who knew the Crossfields have embraced the renovation of the cottage and property.

The B&B was finally opened by the Huckels in March 2017, after many months of hard work, with Mark Huckel saying the encouragement they received from friends and locals kept them committed to the project.

The Huckels endeavour to ensure the products at their B&B are from the Riverland or other parts of SA if they aren’t available locally.

This includes Riverland wine, dried fruit, nuts, fresh fruit and meat from a local butcher.

“Our aim is to enable guests to stay in a cottage featuring character, charm and a dash of luxury and enjoy our beautiful region,” Carolyn Huckel adds.

Header photo features Crossfield Cottage owners Mark and Carolyn Huckel.

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Riverland almonds – but not as we know them

Jarrad and Jackie Casaretto realised it would take a special product to radically rethink their approach to almond farming in South Australia’s Riverland.

They think they’ve found it with almond butter – a full-flavoured paste that is quickly winning favour in the United States and around the world as a nutritious health food.

Jarrad was quick to spot this emerging trend and thought they should act fast to get on board now. It meant seizing control of their commercial destiny by becoming a secondary producer – launching and controlling their own brand called The Almond Farmer, rather than just being a bulk provider of the primary ingredient.

The Almond Farmer range now comprises jars filled with three types of almond butter (plain, chocolate, and date with chia), along with packets of raw and roasted almonds, ground almond meal, and pure almond oil as a skin care product. And despite launching the brand with scant resources, it has quickly gained traction in the market through direct sales.

Chocolate almond butter on bruschetta, topped with fig, banana and raspberries.

“The first thing I did was start up a Facebook page, and that got the word out to consumers that we were doing something different,” Jackie says. “We’ve approached this from the point of figuring out what the market wants, and then re-shaping what we do to make our almonds connect with those interests.”

This represented a big shift in how almond farmers have traditionally operated in Australia, but the Casarettos felt it was a necessary step.

Having originally come from urban jobs in Queensland, Jarrad and Jackie embraced the idea of joining Jarrad’s parents, Pam and Dennis Casaretto at Taylorville (near Waikerie) in the Riverland, to expand on their retirement hobby farm by harvesting more almonds.

When a second almond property became available in the region during 2012, Jarrad and Jackie agreed to buy it and shifted from QLD.

“We said yes because we wanted a life outdoors rather than being in the city,” says Jackie. “We love food and thought this would be a great way of getting involved in the best produce.”

The almond orchard in blossom.

However, the envisaged idyllic rural lifestyle didn’t unfold as easily as they planned, so they re-thought how to best run their combined almond farms, drawing on their previous employment skills in business management and marketing. They focused on producing specialised items that could fill a high-revenue niche.

“It was a case of looking at other businesses seizing opportunities with niche products in other markets, and thinking ‘why aren’t we doing that?’ We had to look at our farm and its produce through a different business prism,” Jackie says.

“We saw an opportunity to take a unique niche product to market through direct sales – which is not how things are usually done in Australian farms.”

It took a lot of trial and error for The Almond Farmer products to take shape – after planting and nurturing a host of different almond varieties, then figuring what is the best application for each variety according to its oil content. But perseverance has paid off in the case of perfecting almond butter.

Jackie Casaretto and her husband Jarrad swapped their urban careers in Queensland for life on the land in the Murray and Mallee region.

“All nut spreads are now growing in popularity, and we’re seeing that in the emerging health food scene, a product such as pure almond butter makes clear sense to consumers,” Jackie says.

“It makes good sense among the health-conscious mums, in particular. We’ve had so many enquiries from mums with kids suffering allergies, looking for almond products that have not been in contact with any other nuts. Because we process all our almonds on our farm and there’s no risk of cross-contamination with other nuts, they’re relieved to find a product that’s reliable.”

Some food market pundits are wondering whether this product can explode into the public consciousness and enjoy a similar commercial boon as Nutella. The Casarettos hope so but know the mainstream market now has to embrace the quality and purity of what they are providing.

Every almond orchard needs a four-legged helper.

“It is more expensive because of the cost of using only highest-quality ingredients, and not bulking it up with cheap fillers. Therefore, almond butter is a treat full of nutrients and not just packed with sugar,” Jackie says.

“Our products plug into a lot of what we believe. Our family is passionate about sustainability, the authenticity of Australian-grown food, and promoting a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle. Our Almond Farmer goods are a perfect fit.”

While The Almond Farmer’s strength is through its website sales, the Casarettos are in discussion with distributors, and some products are already being stocked by Adelaide food specialty stores such as Tony & Mark’s.

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