When I saw Venice and remarked to several of my travelling companions that the only town I knew of with more water flowing around it was Wee Waa there was a stunned silence. I blame modern communications for this sort of anxiety — after all, mine was a simple and innocent observation.
Six study tours ago we didn’t have mobiles with us — and particularly not these wonderful satellite facilities we had with us this time in Europe. Jeff Carolan, our Cottongrower of the Year Award winner, was able to take and make calls from Westminster Abbey (London), Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris), St Peters (Rome), The Blue Mosque (Istanbul) and from the ancient oracle site at Delphi in Greece.
You may note that there is a certain religious theme running through this list. Unfortunately Jeff’s calls seeking divine intervention went unheeded — it just kept on raining in Wee Waa.
Jeff and Trish joined us on the tour as their prize for winning the Cotton Grower of the Year award in 1998. I didn’t actually see much of them during the travelling stages — Jeff was nursing an injury and needed extra room in Business Class. Apparently he strained himself carrying all the awards he received this year. Jeff was not only number one Cottongrower, he was also the premier cotton achiever.
While the team back on the farm were practicing treading water, Jeff took the opportunity to investigate how Romans bathed at Bath, how undergraduates punt at Cambridge and how Gondoleers gondole in Venice. The latter exercise involved a particularly protracted negotiation and I believe a currency hedge. I didn’t touch the water in Venice but the gin and tonics cost $27.
Water management was only a small part of the learning experiences on offer in Europe. Jeff was certainly taken by His Grace, The Duke of Grafton’s value adding approach — just turn a third of the estate over to the pheasants and don’t do anything on the balance of the country that might interfere with the shoot.
Mind you Edward Painter’s operation at Chilbolton on the Salisbury Plain brought water back into value adding. He has a variety of cash crops including a nice trout aquaculture sideline. The trout stream is outside his back door and the fishing rights are about the same price as a prawn trawler.
If the trout aren’t biting Edward can fall back on his straw for thatch option — a thatched roof is considerably prettier than red clay tiles or corrugated iron but you might have a volunteer crop problem in a big wet.
Jeff’s now a little wary of the Australian olive tree value adding option — it seems those hillsides in Italy, Turkey and Greece that weren’t covered in castle ruins were covered in olive trees. And as most of these trees were planted by the people that lived in the castles before they became ruins — they are well and truly of fruit bearing age.
The broadening of cultural horizons has lead Jeffrey to an answer for Australia’s rural unemployment crisis. All we have to do is stage a series of regional productions of AIDA. This opera was staged in the ancient Roman Theatre in Verona. Only slightly smaller than the MCG, it’s in pretty good shape towards the end of its second millennium.
And size is important when it comes to staging AIDA. There was a cast of thousands and several horses. It’s the sort of ensemble that any country town could provide, and it runs forever. I think Jeffrey has a winter production in mind for the Wee Waa Showground — it would certainly keep all the chippers in town.
Jeff’s enthusiasm for the project was evident on the night. From where I was sitting on a cheap rock one could hear the rapturous applause echoing up from the front row centre — the cries of Encore! Encore! were accompanied by a lonely call of Gwabegar! Gwabegar! It had certainly moved Jeff.
Actually, this Cottongrower of the Year business works very well for us. Sure, together with our sponsors we provide an extremely valuable and prestigious award — but we also get to travel with the winners. In South America we had a great time with the Glennies and in Europe we did it again with the Carolans. So to Jeff and Trish many thanks for your company — and for the reassurance that this is a great industry driven by some wonderful people.
For the other 40 or so people who may think they have escaped lightly as we concentrate on the Carolans in this issue — think again. The next issue of Australian Grain will have a candid, wide ranging account of the tour.