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Published: March 14th 2006
On the Riesling Trail
The Clare and Barossa Valleys
Quirky Facts No 5! If fatalities are used as an indicator, the deadliest animal in Australia, apart from the human, is the horse: in one year an average of 21 people die in riding-related accidents. The deadliest venomous animal is the introduced honeybee, responsible for up to 10 deaths a year. The deadliest snake (though not the most venomous) in Oz is the Brown Snake, believed to be responsible for 22 out of the 38 snake-bite fatalities recorded over the last 25 years. Male snakes (and lizards) have two penises which are stored, inside out, within sheaths at the base of the tail. Only one, usually the one on the appropriate side, is used at a time. Each species has a different design, with various ornaments, spines and hooks, the latter used to ‘lock’ the pair together during mating. Sperm can be stored in special parts of the female’s reproductive system and not used until the eggs are released into the uterus, sometimes months or years after mating. Venom is modified saliva which is designed, in carnivores, to break down body tissue. Snake venom often causes blood pressure to drop and
God bless the Jesuits!
extracts from cobra venom are used to treat stroke victims
Australia is surely the only country that not only condones gambling, but even creates public holidays to enable punters to go down the nags and flutter away their hard-earned cash! Not being too interested in horse-racing myself, I took advantage of the Adelaide Cup long-weekend to tick off another wine-producing area on my list; the Clare Valley. The valley is an easy 2 hour drive north of Adelaide, so I fired up the Charade (see pic) after work on Friday and arrived in time to pitch my tent at Clare caravan park before sunset.
Clare is known for its fine Riesling wines, and a 25 km cycling trail has been created through the valley, mostly following the old Auburn - Clare railway line. After an unusually cool February here, March has seen the thermometer climb to the high 30Cs again, and I awoke to a bright cloudless sky and blazing sun. The trail was really quiet, and, apart from the first couple of kms, I didn’t see another person on it. There was lots going on in Adelaide, with the Fringe, Festival, International Busking Competition and Greek
Festival, and I guess those who weren’t at these events had headed to the beach. I realised the possible foolhardiness of my cycle trip when I emerged from the cool air-conditioned comfort of my lunch stop at Auburn (the end of the trail) to the full assault of a 36C day! I had reached Auburn in good time, but the 25km trip back to Clare was mostly uphill, to make things more challenging, and I worked my way through at least 2 litres of water; people at the wineries were amused to see someone drinking more of their water than their wines! Some of the world-renowned wineries I passed included Sevenhill (the oldest), Annie’s Lane, O’Learys, Pauletts, Grossets…The Sevenhill winery was established by Jesuit priests, initially to produce fortified altar wines, and is still run by a Jesuit brother today. Sevenhill was named after the seven hills of Rome, the Eternal City.
I also saw my first wild snakes: while freewheeling down a section of trail, a rather startled looking brown snake darted across my path and into the undergrowth, and another one slithered into a hole outside the patio door at lunch. Surprisingly, they didn’t look particularly threatening
John Horrocks' Cottage
An early explorer and settler in Clare
and were much smaller than I thought they’d be. They seemed very timid, though I’m told that if they’re cornered they will inflict a highly venomous bite in self-defence.
The Clare scenery is a mixture of rolling vine-covered hillsides and flat grazing pasture. Some of Australia’s most successful Merino sheep farms were established here. Prior to wool and wine, mining was the biggest industry, and the discovery of a rich copper seam at Burra is credited with saving the fledgling state of SA from bankruptcy in the mid-19th century. I explored Burra on the Sunday, obtaining a guidebook and key, to let me in to various historical sites, from the local tourist info. The key unlocks the gate to Redruth Gaol, which was established as the town’s prosperity grew on the back of mining success. With prosperity comes lawlessness, it seems. The prison was turned into a correctional facility for unruly girls (although pregnancy was one of the "offences" a girl could be locked up for). The facility had to close in the 1920s after one riot too many. There is a list of the former inmates of the prison and their crimes in one of the cells, and
Turning something good for you into alcohol!
it is ironic to note that the most common crime committed was “drunkenness”, considering the area’s current dependency on wine consumers!
During the height of the mining rush, there wasn’t enough above-ground accommodation for the miners and their families, so they dug underground houses into the banks of the river. At one point, 1500 were living in this “Creek St”. However, a flood swept through one year, forcing the families to flee. Today, only two dugouts survive. The majority of the miners in Burra, and surrounding towns, were Cornish, as Cornwall had the biggest output from heavy metal mining in the world at the time and the miners were regarded as the world’s best. Cornish names can still be seen on street signs and the local café does “authentic” Cornish pasties. “Authentic” has to be one of the most misused words in the English language! On the outskirts of Burra is a winery specialising in all things apple-related: cider, apple champagne, apple liqueurs…the apple champagne was particularly good, and I took a bottle away with me for a special occasion. One of the last, slightly morbid, sites I visited was the graveyard. It was interesting to see the early
pioneer headstones, and I found one for a couple from Ayrshire, Scotland. A relative has obviously done some family research, and there was a lead plate above the stone with the family history etched on in neat copperplate writing. Apparently the couple were from Kirkmichael and Maybole in Ayrshire, and had married there before emigrating on the Duke of Devonshire ship in the 1890s. It caused me to reflect on how easy the modern journey is compared to then. I guess their families would probably have thought they’d never see them again, perhaps even wondering if they would survive the journey. Now I can talk to my parents using my mobile phone and return home in 24 hours in an emergency.
On my return to Clare, I passed through Mintaro, and my guidebook recommended the Stump and Magpie for meals. However, it appears to have gone downhill seriously since the guide was written, as it was almost deserted, the food took a long time to come out, and wasn’t great, the menu was limited, and the service almost non-existent. Talking to other guests at the campsite, all had similar poor experiences there - a place to miss if you’re
passing through. The next morning, I stopped for breakfast at Swans though: the food and coffee were delicious and the service very friendly. I then took a walk around Martindale hall, a grand folly established by the 21 year old Edmund Bowman Jnr, a member of the landed gentry and sheep farmer with serious pretensions of grandeur. Even the coach stables were over-the-top, and became a very elaborate garage when the Mortlock family took over (Bowman lost all his money). Interestingly, the blurb described the building as an “authentic” 19th century Georgian mansion…was the Georgian period not 18th century?! Those with a bit more cash to splash than I had can actually stay in the mansion for dinner, bed and breakfast packages.
During my last night in the caravan park, forgetting about my car’s dodgy driver’s door lock, I managed to lock my keys inside. Cursing my stupidity, I traipsed down to the main campsite looking for someone who looked like they might know how to break into a car - luckily the car has no fancy modern theft deterrents like electronic locks and immobilisers so I reckoned it couldn’t be too hard to do. Also luckily for me,
The miner's mascot
Australian men seem to be much handier with cars than their British counterparts (and perhaps have more criminal ability?! Joking!) and I found three guys clustered round the barbie who were willing to help. Quick as a flash, they had got a wire coat hanger and were prodding it through the door seal. After a few modifications to the end of the wire, they had popped up the lock. Perhaps I should be worried about how easy it was to break into…! Their kindness to me didn’t stop there, and they invited me to join their group for some food and a few glasses of wine and we chatted into the late evening. One of the couples there had been “£10 Poms” - they had married in Stockport in the ‘60s and had emigrated to SA, despite never having been to Australia. They said they’d never looked back, and, in the space of a few years, the lady’s mother, sister, brother and their families had joined them out here. I joined them for breakfast the next day before hitting the road back to Adelaide.
One of the popular soaps here, which seems to be in the vein of “High
At the old brewery
Road” in Scotland, is “McLeod’s daughters”. Fans can visit the set at the village of Freeling, which I passed through on the way back. I also passed through Kapunda and Gawler in the Barossa valley. I’ve passed through the Barossa a few times now; many of the top-class wineries here were originally established by German Lutherans escaping persecution in their home country. Wine and religion is obviously a good combination! There are still lots of Lutheran churches everywhere you look. Hahndorf is an “authentic” German village, and has an “authentic” oompa band and bratwurst stall set up most weekends! At Kapunda, I said hello to “Map the Miner” (after Map Kernow, which means “son of Cornwall”, in Cornish). This country likes big things…I’ve seen “The Big Rocking Horse”, “The Big Merino”, The Big Green Gum Boot” and now the “Big Miner”. Having something big is enough to put any village on the tourist map!
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