The first About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom landed in Bermagui this week, based out of Julie Rutherford Real Estate we uncovered some of the untold stories of this town.
Kelly Eastwood from River Cottage Australia dropped in to share her plans for a deli and cooking school…
The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom is in #Bermagui upstairs at the harbour at Julie Rutherford Real Estate.This time chatting to Kelly Eastwood about her new deli and cooking school.Drop by with your story between now and 2pm.CheersIan
Longtime Bermagui fisherman Allan Broadhurst talked about his life on the ocean…
Can't come to #Bermagui and not talk to a real fisherman! Here's one – Allan Broadhurst.The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom at Julie Rutherford Real Estate.Drop by with your story before 2pm.Thanks for tuning in.Ian
And then there’s Bruce Frost, a life of volunteering, beekeeping and managing MS, one of the region’s great men…
The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom is at Julie Rutherford Real Estate, upstairs at #Bermagui Harbour until 2ish. Drop by and share your story.Chatting to Bruce Frost right now talking volunteering, beekeeping, life with MS, and who knows!Thanks for tuning in.Ian
A simple campaign to rid Bega’s Littleton Gardens of dirty cigarette butts is working, as spring takes hold and new growth claims its place.
Volunteer Gardener’s Geoffrey Grigg and Marshall Campbell erected handmade “Bin Your Butt” signs throughout the garden three weeks ago.
“We’ve seen an 80% reduction in the amount of cigarette butts littering the lawn and garden areas,” Geoffrey says.
“The number of cigarette butts being dropped or left behind was starting to get people down and make it hard to use and love this space, and cleaning it all up was a big part of our work.”
The recent addition of the Aboriginal ‘Biggah Garden’ prompted the action.
“This is Yuin Country and we need to treat it with respect,” Geoffrey says.
“The response from smokers has been very positive, no one has raised a concern or issue, once you point it out to people you start to see a change.”
The volunteer green thumbs would love to see the same response spread across the town.
“Everywhere you go you find cigarette butts, we just need to be more mindful of our actions,” Geoffrey says.
New signs will be displayed in the Garden shortly to update the message and maintain the momentum, and Council will soon add designated ‘but out’ bins to existing garbage bins.
With one problem solved the next is being tackled – bindies!
“It’s a big job, but we’ve been pulling them out by hand and trying to avoid the use of chemicals, this is a food garden after all,” he says.
A big crop of various edible greens are thriving in the spring sunshine throughout Littleton’s garden beds – lettuce, spinach, warrigal greens, lemon balm, and coriander, a donation from Bega Valley Seed Savers.
“People are invited to take a few leaves for lunch or dinner, that’s why the plants are here, just carefully pull leaves off from the base or stem so that the plant can keep growing,” Geoffrey says.
“As the weather warms up people will start to notice tomatoes and basil come through, and it won’t be long before we are eating strawberries.”
Geoffrey and Marshall tend to the garden each Wednesday and Thursday and invite people to stop for a chat.
“If you have any questions about the plants, how to pick them, how to cook with them, or if you have plants and time to donate, let us know,” Geoffrey says.
*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council
Wednesday dawns, I’ve woken early to the deep throated chanting from the nearby mosque that melds into early morning prayer and song from the Catholic Sisters at Fatuhada.
Ahead lies the 150 kilometres to Natarbora, it doesn’t sound far, but from Dave’s experience, it will be a long and painful trip. This morning though we are feeling somewhat reassured that conditions have improved.
Last evenings conversation with Ego had intimated that the road was now “really good” and our journey would take far less time than in the past.
I have visions of smooth tar and an easy run to Natarbora.
First task of the day though is to collect two sewing/overlocker machines that Augus and I will share company with in the back of the Toyota. The machines are for the sewing group at Uma Boco and had been requested by Nikolas Klau, the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste coordinator in Natarbora.
With the machines, our bags, guitar and other instrument cases, it’s a tight squeeze for Augus and me in the Land Cruiser troop wagon, but hey, the road ahead will be smoother than a …!
With Jose at the helm we head out of Dili east along the coast towards Manatuto, the road is mostly good, but well before our lunch break, it deteriorates.
As we climb over the coastal hills the road can only be described as appalling.
We stop for lunch at one of the seaside food stalls, delicious small redfish with a chili basting, rice ice in banana leaves and a thermos of black coffee. I could get very used to this!
Ego Lemos had invited us to check out the Permaculture school garden at Manatuto primary, so we take a minor detour to have a look at their progress and to take some photos. And it is impressive, despite being winter and the dry season.
From Manatuto we head over the mountain and the interior to the south coast, the vegetation changes along the way.
It is the dry season and everywhere on the north side of the island, it is dry, very, very dry. Vegetation is sparse, the steep hills brown, the rocky soil exposed by the predation of goats and the never-ending cycle of firewood collection, only to be further eroded by the torrential downpours of the wet season.
The transformation southwards through the mountains is dramatic, increasingly lush and tropical.
The air is moist and cooler, the humidity bearable. The sheer beauty of the mountains as they rise and fall into beautiful valleys is simply breathtaking.
Since we arrived in Timor it has been overcast, thick and humid and always a smoky haze – everywhere the acrid smell of wood fired cooking.
Here through in the interior, it feels like a different world.
One thing that can be said about the roads in Timor Leste is that they will one day be very good.
But not now. Across the country, all the major roads are being rebuilt, and not just a kilometre at a time.
All the way along the coast, thru the interior to Natarbora on the south side of the island, construction workers are doing major drainage works – massive drains with concrete and stone retaining walls the entire length of the road.
I lose count of the new bridges, there must be thousands of metres of concrete being poured.
It is labour intensive, backbreaking work. The Chinese have the contacts for the road reconstruction program in Timor Leste, some hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are Timorese amongst the road gangs but it seems there are mostly Chinese workers and I have little doubt that this is a cause of tension for the unemployed here.
I’m told the Timorese working as concrete labourers are paid five dollars a day!
While this work continues, the road surfaces have yet to be prepared. In the Toyota it’s like traveling on bumpy, corrugated, vibrating roller coaster. My body and the two sewing machine/overlockers will be requiring some restorative adjustment when we reach Natarbora.
About twenty kilometres or so out of Natarbora as we pass yet another construction crew we get a heart warming surprise.
Several of the young construction workers are Timorese, and as we pass they recognise Jose and the white Toyota.
“Hey…Bega Valley…Bega Valley,” they yell, waving and smiling.
After almost nine hours traveling on what must come close to being one of the worst roads in the world, nothing could have raised my spirits more.
It speaks volumes to the vision and dedication of Jim and Moira Collins and the Bega Valley Advocates. It’s a humbling moment for me to appreciate just what that ongoing commitment and friendship means for the people here in Natarbora.
Late afternoon and the storm clouds are gathering if it’s at all possible the road deteriorates even further.
The several kilometres before the Uma Boco intersection was fantastic, but the road into Uma Boca is still the worst bit of the worst road in the world!
When we arrive at the Franciscan Convent, Nikolas Klau and his son Brian are there to meet us.
Brian had spent a year in the Bega Valley, attending the Sapphire Coast Anglican College and he was keen to catch up and reminisce with Dave.
We’re not the only guests at the convent and over another typically delicious Timorese dinner prepared for us by the Sisters, we meet several health workers – Basilio Martens and Jose de Costa, who are visiting several of the communities in and around Natarbora.
After dinner, Jose and Augus head off to spend the night with friends in Uma Boco, Dave and I retire to our rooms. I fall to sleep to the sound of rain.
Thursday and it’s wet, and it’s a fuller load in the Toyota this morning, Nikolas has joined us for the school visits, so there are five of us in the wagon plus the two overlockers. The first task of the day is to unload the machines at the resource centre for the sewing group.
Today we visit three schools, Uma Boco Kindergarten, Junior High School and Ametalaren Primary. The musical experience with the children at all the schools we visit over the two days is an absolute delight, so enthusiastic and joyful.
Experiencing the conditions, the paucity of resources and the challenges the teachers face is sobering. There are no computer rooms, or libraries, the classrooms are basic and in need of repair. The teachers share one staff room. The only books in the “library” we saw are textbooks for the students and teachers.
Despite this, the teachers and students are just so enthusiastic. As Jose says, “Education is number one for the future of the Timorese,” and this is where the Advocates have put all their emphasis.
Several years ago the Advocates set up a resource and training centre for the professional development of teachers and the community.
The advocates also support trainee teachers thru scholarships that enable them to study a Bachelor of Education at the Baucau Institute, East Timor’s main teacher education facility.
So far 43 teachers have graduated from the professional development program, another five are doing their teacher training now and a further four graduated at the beginning of this year (2017), they are now completing internships in Natarbora.
The significance of the support the Advocates are giving in this area cannot be understated. It is a huge contribution and deserving of far more support, both financially and on the ground.
Mid-afternoon we pay a visit to Carlos to see if he can be persuaded to play a leadership role in the choir project I mentioned in postcard three.
Carlos was a member of Koro Loriko, the Timorese choir formed by Ego Lemos that came to Australia in 2012 to perform at the Melbourne Millennium Chorus and Boite Schools’ Chorus concerts.
Carlos is now married with a small family and making a living as a builder.
We while away an hour or so with Carlos singing and playing a few tunes.
Music does not pay the bills for his family in Timor, despite Carlos being a prodigious talent. It seems a great shame that his tunes are unlikely to ever reach a wider audience.
It’s around four in the afternoon now as we make our way back to the Uma Boco Resource Centre, where the sewing group is in action.
There are patterns from the Advocates and quite some excitement with the delivery of the overlockers.
Dave and I are warmly welcomed by the group and presented with some beautiful examples of their work to bring back to Bega.
It’s also an opportunity the setup and test the PA, mixer, and amp that were donated by the Advocates for concerts and performances.
It doesn’t take long before one of the lads pulls out a guitar. We turn on the mics, while Dave fiddles with settings on the amp and mixer and before you know it there’s plenty of voices singing a few of Ego’s songs and a Bob Marley tune or two.
You can never have too much fun here with a guitar and some willing voices, but it’s time to let the sewing group do their thing, so we pack up the gear and head back to the convent for the evening.
Our evening meal is shared with Basilio and Jose from the health team.
After dinner, I fall into a long conversation with Basilio about the health teams work.
Basilio is the team leader and their focus is on a disease that he describes as the “forgotten disease.” Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as Elephantiasis.
It is a parasitic infection caused by worms transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes.
Basilio is confident the disease will be eradicated in Timor Leste by 2020.
In ASEAN countries only Indonesia and Timor Leste are reporting cases, but it is here in the south and around Natarbora that the disease remains prevalent.
Ironically it is the wet and lush conditions that favour the district’s agriculture that also provides ideal conditions for both the nematode worms and mosquitos.
The eradication program is being funded thru an aid program being sponsored by the government of South Korea.
Friday morning and there’s early rain, but it clears before breakfast to reveal bright blue skies as the heat builds.
Today, Nikolas will visit Abet Oen Primary and Junior Secondary School. The school gardens are impressive.
Our final school visit is to St Francis School, also with a fabulous school garden.
The beauty of these gardens is that they are adjacent to the classrooms, so they become very much part of everyday activities.
The music session with senior students was particularly enjoyable with Brian Klau, a student here, playing Dave’s guitar and leading the students in song.
The music continued into the night with an invitation to dinner with Nikolas and his family. Sitting around with Jose, Angus, Nikolas and his sons – listening to them laugh, play and sing together you just know that this country has an enormous future.
Saturday dawns and it’s time to say farewell to this wonderful community and the Franciscan Sisters. Each morning I have watched as several of the Sisters head out for their early morning errands on their Honda motor scooters, in full habit with helmet and thongs. Wish I had a photo for you!
Dave and I bid farewell to the wonderful Sisters who have fed us so well, we say our goodbyes to Nikolas, Brian with the promise of a return next year, our luggage stowed aboard the Land Cruiser, along with bags of local produce that Jose is taking back to stock the family larder for the months ahead.
Three bags of the local specialty – Natarbora popping corn and a surprise passenger that I don’t discover until we are halfway to Dili – more about that next time.
Today we will take a different route from the way we came, heading along the coast to Betano, then travel thru the interior via Same and Maubisse.
We will stop at Betano. A significant site in the history between both our nations – more in postcard 5.
Are you set to get into spring and all that it entails – making your garden ready for the next few months of warming conditions? In some gardens on the south coast, plants (as well as animals and birds!) have already begun their explosion of flowers, perfume, and accelerated growth.
What to do?
Well, hopefully you’ve survived the challenge of a very dry winter. Some of the crops I planted were very slow to grow, but since the last good drop of rain a few weeks ago, my garden has started to pump again. I have broccoli, parsley, three types of lettuce and mizuna really taking off, keeping me in greens.
A little slow to start at first, the peas have finally come in and the broadbeans are also flowering and fruiting fast.
But I’m contemplating what to do to get my beds ready for even more food.
I’ve got some horses that have moved in next door and my chickens are making an excellent pile of poo for me too. So it’s out in the paddock with a couple of big buckets and a shovel for the horse manure then I am raking up the chicken debris under the roost to help my garden along.
Usually, I would put both manures through my composting system – which I did throughout winter – but I am also going to put it straight onto the beds and lightly dig them in. This will give the micro-life in the beds a real boost, plus I am going to add some potash and dolomite and to top it off a healthy dose of mulch.
Choose your mulches wisely, if you are buying from a produce store make sure you enquire where the bales have come from. Organically grown or chemical free is the best to get – or slash your own if you can – as long as seed heads have not appeared, most grasses are good for mulching. I am lashing out and have bought a couple of organic sugar cane bales.
But rice straw, lucerne (horse food grade), wheat and oat straw work well too. Lucerne has more goodies in it because it is a nitrogen fixing plant. I steer away from pea straw as I have heard that it is sprayed with herbicide to make it easier for baling. It’s good to always check.
I’m making up seed trays out of old styrofoam vege boxes (free at the back of most supermarkets – goes straight to landfill otherwise).
My soil mix for planting seeds is two parts old sawdust, one part old manure, one part compost.
I’ve already got tomatoes going and springing into life! I placed a couple of old glass louvres on top to make a simple greenhouse – keeping the moisture and warmth in. As the weather warms overnight I will take the glass off.
Next to go in the boxes with be all my summer lovers – zucchini, cucumber, more lettuce, and maybe some extra different heritage tomatoes. I plant beans, corn, carrot and beetroot straight into the soil.
This year I am also experimenting with more subtropical plants – two types of sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and choko.
I did plant some yacon one year, but it doesn’t agree with my belly! (A bit like Jerusalem artichoke). I’ve also planted more tamarillo and passionfruit as my older plants are on their way out now after 4 years of growth – both plants usually only last 5 years.
So get out there and get started!
Fruit trees have already started flowering, the soil is receptive for more planting after the good rain we’ve had so it’s an ideal time to get into it!
I wake before 6am to the sounds of the Sisters and the congregation singing during early morning prayers. The beauty of their voices and harmonies is mesmerising, an absolute joy to experience…
The day dawns overcast, hot & sticky. The temperature hovers around 34 degrees during the day dipping to just 24 overnight. So I have no complaint about the cold shower on offer, it provides much-needed relief.
Breakfast is just after seven (corn flakes, egg, bread rolls, sliced cheese, jam and those delicious sweet little local bananas) and as we gather with the Sisters and the young acolytes something special is brewing.
One of the Sisters has a guitar and they launch into a joyful song. It is the birthday of one of the young trainees and she is moved to tears by the singing, a gift of flowers and a small present. The realisation that this young woman has grown up in poverty, that this little birthday celebration is one that she has probably never experienced before, is very moving. As she stands we all file by to greet and hug her, the tears are rolling down my cheeks.
Tonight Dave has arranged for us to meet up with Ego Lemos, permaculturist, singer, songwriter of renown in Timor Leste. If you’ve seen the 2009 film Balibo you’ve heard his haunting song of the same name, or perhaps you were in the audience in the Candelo Town Hall in 2012 when Ego performed there.
This morning though, Balibo itself beckons.
There are four of us in the Toyota for the journey – Jose, Dave, Augus, and me.
The 130 kilometres is about a four-hour drive from Dili mostly along the coast towards the border with Indonesian West Timor.
We take to the chaotic early morning Dili traffic fueling up at one of the local service stations. Diesel is around 79 cents a litre. That I think equates to about $1 Aus. There’s a steady stream of motor scooters lined up at the petrol bowsers, out on the roads it often seems there are more motor scooters than people in Dili.
What is so striking here in Dili and across Timor is the youth. Everywhere you see the vibrancy of young people, children, young families. Imagine a country where 42% of the population is under 15 years, 62% under 25, more than 90% under 55! You ask, why so young? Where are the older people?
You ask, why so young? Where are the older people?
Well there’s the life expectancy of 65 years for men, 69 for women. Then there’s the Indonesian occupation from 1975-1999, during which time the lives of up to a quarter or more of the population were lost.
Timor Leste is one humongous lump of rock, and there is no shortage of the stuff. Rocks are used in just about every construction, for house footings, roadside drainage, and retaining walls, even the pots that Jose makes.
On this the northern coast of the island the steep hills rise rapidly to the mountainous interior. Those steep hillsides are much denuded and eroded, the soils seemingly very poor. No doubt firewood collection for cooking has decimated much of that vegetation. Along the roadsides are bundles of crisscrosses dried sticks of firewood waiting for collection and sale in Dili or other towns.
We pass several salt farms along the coast, small household farms that produce salt using traditional methods. A series of ponds allows the seawater to evaporate, the salt brine is collected and dried using firewood and boilers. The salt is then bagged and sold by the roadside.
We stop at a roadside stall at Tibar for water, then Loes for coffee. Rich black coffee from one of the roadside kiosks.
Next stop is Balibo.
Just out of Loes, Jose stops to pick up one of the students he has been encouraging, so now we are five.
It’s early afternoon when we arrive at Balibo, just ten kilometres from the border with Indonesian West Timor, we pull up on the road leading up to the Fort.
I have mixed emotions as we walk up the driveway towards the entrance. The Fort is some four hundred years old, and it is the site the Balibo Five were filming from when the Indonesian forces landed in Balibo.
The Fort and surrounds have been transformed into a restaurant and tourist destination with accommodation.
We order lunch – pumpkin soup at five dollars U.S a bowl for Dave and myself, Nasi Goreng for Jose, Augus and Nicolaij at ten U.S dollars per serve. Jose is not impressed. And with good reason. These are not prices the average Timorese can afford. Wages here typically three to five dollars a day. Certainly there are higher wages for government and corporate workers but that is not the norm.
Jose sees the Fort as part of Timor Leste’s history, a place for all Timorese and not a place exclusively for tourists and wealthy locals.
From the Fort, we wander down the hill to Balibo House and Museum where we meet Michele Rankin.
I’m humbled by the commitment of people like Michele and those from the Balibo House Trust. They are truly inspiring people. Michele has her two daughters visiting from Brisbane during the school holidays.
Balibo House was the last refuge of the five Australian-based journalists, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters who were murdered by Indonesian troops in 1975. Fellow newsman Roger East was murdered seven weeks later as he investigated the deaths of his five colleagues.
Balibo House Trust was established by the Victorian Government in October 2002, it has since been handed back to to the people of the Balibo district for use as a community learning centre.
As we prepare to leave Balibo there is one site I don’t have the stomach to visit.
Amongst the Timorese it is known as the ‘Kissing House’.
Heather from the Balibo House Trust explains to us that it was the place where the bodies of the Balibo Five were dragged to and burnt after they were shot.
Heather says she has heard two explanations about the origins of the name ‘Kissing House’ – both equally brutal and point to the depraved actions of the Indonesian forces over many years.
The souls who have been murdered here still move in this space and perhaps guide the good work that now takes place in their memory.
Promoting early childhood education through the Balibo Five Kindergarten.
Developing skills through the Balibo Community Learning Centre.
Creating employment and income through tourism at the historic Balibo Fort and Balibo Fort Hotel.
Fostering awareness of the relationships between Australia, Timor-Leste, and Indonesia.
Maintaining a permanent memorial to the five journalists murdered at Balibo in 1975 and to the Balibo people murdered during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.
From Balibo back to the border town of Batugade is about a 40-minute drive and we decide to take a closer look at the border crossing into Indonesian controlled West Timor.
The border crossing at Batugade is busy with trucks, buses, SUV’s, motorbikes and even the TNI – Indonesian Special Forces, who are taking advantage of the shops selling drinks and food on the Timor side.
After a short break at the border, it’s time for the long drive back to Dili for our much-anticipated meeting with Ego Lemos.
Apart from a few sections, the roads back to Dili are pretty good.
The late afternoon is hot and despite this being the dry season, storm clouds have been building. As we near Liquica the storm breaks, a fierce torrential downpour makes the winding sections of road more treacherous.
Back in Dili, Dave and I have time for a quick change of clothes and another application of DEET. The Mosquitos here carry malaria and dengue fever, so the daily ritual of the DEET spray is an essential precaution.
For us, long shirts, pants, and footwear, particularly in the evening guarantees the nasties have little-exposed flesh to attack. But they’re sneaky little buggers. Back home in Bega, I’m used to a tiger moth buzzing sound as a warning, but not here, these critters attack in silence. Thankfully the spray seems to work.
It is now after 7.30pm but it’s a fairly short drive to Ego’s home in the Comoro district of Dili, where we have been invited to share a meal with his family.
What an evening it is – food, wine, conversation, and song. The evening meal of traditional dishes is delicious. A soup of local corn and meat, rice, steamed greens and spicy dried small fish as an entree. And don’t forget the chili!
The evening meal of traditional dishes is delicious. A soup of local corn and meat, rice, steamed greens and spicy dried small fish as an entree. And don’t forget the chili!
With food, wine, and song, the conversation turns to the possibility of pulling together a Timorese choir to come to the Bega Valley and beyond in 2020.
Bringing a choir from Timor Leste to Australia is not new for Ego Lemos.
2012 saw the debut of Koro Loriko, a Timor-Leste choir formed by Ego Lemos and Victorian based arts advocate group – The Boite.
Ego also tells us about a school permaculture camp he’s leading in Maubisse towards the end of next year.
It is to be five days of workshops for around two thousand local students. The conversation suggests that perhaps there could be a choir workshop as well, with the choir that’s formed coming together with community singers from Melbourne and the Bega Valley for a tour of Australia. Perhaps in 2020!
Dave and Ego also get talking about Ego’s appearance at the Cobargo Folk Festival next year.
Ego Lemos is an inspirational singer, song writer, and performer, perhaps best described as the Paul Kelly of Timor Leste. He talks of plans to spend two months in Australia around the time of the 2018 Cobargo Folk Festival – exciting plans indeed.
It’s getting late, Jose takes a call from the Sisters at Fatuhada who are wondering when he will return us to the convent!
Time though for a few more songs with Egos’ 72-year-old mum on the harmonica, and some conversation about permaculture.
A dedicated permaculturist, Ego founded the country’s first permaculture centre, Permatil.
He also founded a highly successful sustainable agriculture network, HASATIL, both of which still flourish today.
At the beginning of this year, Permatil signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to take over the schools garden program.
Inspired by Australian’s Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, permaculture is now part of the school curriculum and a compulsory subject in all schools nationwide! A remarkable achievement and another bond to Australia.
With plans for next year and the formation of a choir still bubbling, it’s time to head for home.
For now, it’s back to Fatuhada, my head swimming with Timorese songs and the friendships formed with these wonderful people.
Words and photos by Tim Holt
Catch up on Postcard 1 and Postcard 2, thanks to About Regional Members – Kelly Murray, Shane O’Leary, Olwen Morris, and Oh’Allmhurain Films for supporting local story telling.
Major investment at Tilba Milk is underway as the artisan dairy company steps up to meet demand for its products, including a new contract with Woolworths supermarkets.
Bottling and labeling machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars has just arrived from the United States and is waiting to be installed at the historic ABC Cheese Factory on Bate Street, Central Tilba.
The site has been a hub for the local dairy industry since 1891 but under the ownership of Nic and Erica Dibden new life and opportunity has been injected into the building, the industry, and the community.
Another chapter is unfolding.
Building on the success they’d had at a smaller site in Bodalla over the six years prior, in 2012 Nic and Erica set out to expand their mostly cheese and yogurt business on the Tilba site using milk from their Jersey herd down the road.
However the buzz around their fresh, unhomogenised, cream on the top, Jersey milk has flipped the equation, 80% of the business is now milk.
“When we first set up the Tilba factory we put in a very small, very labour intensive milk filling machine which requires five or six people to stand around filling, capping, and carting milk,” Nic explains.
“That has worked fine, but our sales have continued to grow, this new machine will fill, cap, and label one bottle each second, with two to three staff.”
Between the factory and their lush farm, 22 people are employed and Nic believes more jobs will be created.
The new bottling machine will activate a different part of the factory, freeing up space for increased cheese production.
“Staff that have been bottling milk will move across to cheese, in fact we might need more staff,” Nic says.
A relationship with Woolworths has also been building. The supermarket giant has stocked Tilba Milk at its Bermagui outlet for the last two years, but in recent weeks the Dibdens have started supplying the Narooma and Bega supermarkets as well.
Butcher shops, small independent supermarkets, cafes, fruit shops, and delis have been the only go to place for Tilba Milk customers up until now.
“We supply about 200 stores from Eden to Nowra, and then Bowral, Mittagong, and into Canberra,” Nic says.
“60% of our business is in Canberra.
“We’ve never really gone out chasing stores, it has been consumer driven, consumers go in and ask stores to stock our products,” he says.
The new deal with Woolies was a long time in the making and adds an extra 1000 litres of milk each week to the business.
Nic says Woolies approached them and have been great to deal with.
“Woolworths like everybody else that sells food, wants safe food. So although we are audited by NSW Safe Foods, Woolies have their own independent auditing system which we had to pass, and that takes time,” he says.
The door is open for further growth with Woolworths but sustainable, manageable growth is important to the way the Dibdens approach their business.
“We have no intention of trying to conquer the world, we want to continue to produce a very good product and look after our staff and look after our community,” Nic says.
The financial security that comes with supplying a business like Woolworths is a key part of the Dibden’s drive but they are also mindful of the existing commercial arrangements that have been apart of their development.
“When we go into new stores we have tended to get new customers, it has made very little difference to existing suppliers in the same town, they have their loyal customers who support them,” Nic says.
“In any town that we go into we have a non-exclusive supply arrangement, for us to supply to one store in one town is uneconomic.”
In doing a deal with Woolworths, the Dibdens had to consider the controversy around $1 a litre supermarket milk.
“We have always gone into our stores at the price point that we are at, with no thought of competing against dollar milk,” Nic says.
“Dollar milk is a disaster for the dairy industry ultimately and you get what you pay for, dollar milk has been stripped, but I fully understand people buying dollar milk.
“But if you want to buy our milk it will be at the correct price point, that’s the way we operate,” he says.
Most of the core ingredient at the centre of the Tilba Real Dairy business comes from a Jersey herd approaching 300 at the Dibden’s farm, which sits in the shadow of Gulaga on the Princes Highway.
“We continuously grow our cow numbers to stay ahead of the production curve, but at some point we will have to take on more farms if we want to grow the business,” Nic explains.
“I am very much hoping we can find people who might start up a new operation, it has to be 100% Jersey milk of course, that is our brand.”
With spring creeping into the air and the busy tourist season approaching Nic is hoping specialist technicians from New Zealand will have the new bottling and labeling machines installed and working at the factory in the coming weeks.
“This has been a steep learning curve,” Nic says with a smile.
The ‘Festival of Daring Possibilities’ at the Funhouse in Bega has asked people to think big and solicited ideas that lead to new solutions and attitudes.
In stimulating the discussion, Funhouse founder, Cayce Hill said, “It’s the people not like us that make us grow.”
Cayce urging her audience of 30 people or more to inspire each other with their differences and unique perspectives.
“We’ve stopped telling the story of who we are and why, our identity gets weaker,” Cayce said.
The Festival was held as part of first birthday celebrations for the Funhouse, which over the last 12 months has become a hub for a range of artistic, sporting, social, and youth interests.
This old video shop come ‘community centre’ is itself a result of the big picture thinking the ‘Festival of Daring Possibilities’ looks to encourage.
“I started this place looking for a community, creating a space where not only I felt comfortable but also a place that welcomes and values strangers,” Cayce said.
Bega Valley Shire Councillor, Jo Dodds was also one of those planting seeds in the discussion.
“I love that random encounter and the challenge of finding common ground,” she said.
“We need to help the people in our community who are scared or afraid of difference.”
Offering an indigenous insight was Djiringanj and Ngarigo women, Tamika Townsend, who grew up in the Bega Valley but now works in Canberra across Aboriginal employment initiatives and more broadly – reconciliation.
“What if we could just start again?” Tamika pondered.
“What if the Djiringanj culture was more visible in this community?”
With family adding weight to Tamika’s message, Aunty Colleen Dixon spoke with strength to a captivated room about her experience growing up in Bega.
She spoke of not feeling welcome in town and an ever present racist attitude across every aspect of life.
“I was the eldest, and I remember walking along the river at Jellet one night with my brothers and sisters and bullets flying over our head, I just told them to get down,” Aunty Colleen said.
“There is a lot of trauma in this community,” Tamika said.
“Our history is very recent, there are people still traumatised.”
When asked to answer the question – What if? Aunty Colleen responded, “What if we had a cultural centre?”
The Djiringanj Elder suggesting such a space would bring all cultures together and create opportunities for connection and understanding, and build pride and purpose in her people.
Two more nights of discussion will roll out as part of the Festival of Daring Possibilities at the Funhouse – August 18 and September 15.
With a dinner of curry and spices infused in the air last Saturday night, festival goers were asked to add ideas to a wall of what if’s?
Click on each photo for a bigger view, and feel free to add your own ‘What if?’ in the comments box below…
Thanks to About Regional members Phil Martin, Gabrielle Powell, and Deborah Dixon for empowering local stories.
The new owner of the River Cottage Australia property at Central Tilba on the New South Wales Far South Coast is a 36-year-old single builder from Sydney looking for a place to put roots down and call home.
Tristan Diethelm says he is comfortable with the price he paid for the famous TV set but wouldn’t reveal the final figure.
“Considering it was River Cottage, I am sure I paid a bit more, but opportunities like this are rare,” Tristan says.
Reportedly listed for $895,000 in late April, Tristen told About Regional that the 9-hectare property was a dream come true.
Host Paul West has also moved on, his young family settling into Newcastle in recent months.
“We’re keen to get back to the South Coast in the next couple of years, especially as Otto gets ready to start school,” Paul says.
“I was so busy with the show, I needed to reconnect with family and take some time out and keep a low profile.”
The new owner of the property says he is keen to carry on the principles Paul put in place.
“I want to tap into local food and the community, that’s part of what attracted me in the first place,” Tristan says.
Currently living in and renovating a terrace house in Paddington, Tristan has plans for the Punkalla Tilba Road property.
River Cottage will be open for holiday rentals in time for spring 2017.
“It will be a place where family, friends and I can escape to, but I will be listing it for holiday rentals on Airbnb soon,” Tristen says.
All the animals that starred in the show alongside Paul were sold off late last year, the veggie beds remain and have continued to produce under their own steam, indeed a carrot from the River Cottage garden has become somewhat of a trophy for locals.
“I’ve pretty much bought the place as is,” Tristan says.
“Most of the furniture and what people saw on TV comes with the property, so it will feel like a River Cottage experience to fans of the show who want to stay.”
Being handy on the tools, the new owner also sees great potential in some of the property’s other buildings.
“The bedrooms in the house need a little bit of work, and the old dairy and silos could perhaps be turned into further accommodation,” Tristan says.
The vendor in the sale wasn’t Paul West, the property was owned by British TV production house Keo Films.
David Galloway, Executive Producer and Director of Programmes at Keo says, “After several seasons making the show and watching Paul grow the property it was a hard decision to sell.”
“Unfortunately without a TV commission, it was a business decision in the end.”
Up until tonight (July 3) the show was only available on pay TV and DVD, but SBS will screen all 64 episodes weeknights at 6pm, opening the show and the South East of New South Walse to a whole new audience.
“Who knows where that may lead to in terms of future programming,” the Keo TV boss says.
“For Keo, River Cottage Australia was a hugely successful venture, with four seasons airing on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.
“It also gave the company a production base in Australia from which other highly successful Keo formats – like Struggle Street’ (SBS) and ‘War on Waste’ (ABC) have been produced,” Mr Galloway says.
As the new owner of the property, Tristan Diethelm chuckles as he confesses to only watching the first series of River Cottage Australia.
“But I’ve been looking for a property outside of Sydney for a while, there’s a buzz about the South Coast at the moment and I’ve been scanning the area for about a year,” he says.
“I am keen to nurture the property and would love to be working in the area down the track.
“There’s the beach nearby, a rural lifestyle, and a beautiful little town, it ticks so many boxes.”
While he lives in Sydney Tristan says he doesn’t feel like he has a hometown.
“My Dad is a yachtsman and we spent a lot of time sailing the world when I was young, so I am looking for a place to put down some roots,” Tristan says.
“And if Keo wants to film another series one day, I’d open up the property again for River Cottage.”
*Photos supplied by Julie Rutherford Real Estate, with photography by Kit Goldsworthy from Tathra (internal and some external photos) and Josh McHugh from Bermagui (drone aerial shots).
TEDx Sydney is the leading platform for promoting Australian ideas, creativity, and innovation to the rest of the world, and this year Bega gets a front row seat.
TED is a not for profit organisation devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, you might be familiar with TED Talks – a global video and podcast sensation. These talks of between 5 and 20 minutes spark deep discussion and connection, TEDx Sydney is an extension of that.
People expert in their field, people you might not have never heard of stand up with something to say and usually stand up ‘for’ something.
On Friday, June 16, the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre (BVCCC) will plug into the exclusive live video stream from TEDx Sydney at the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour.
About Regional will host local discussion around the program from Sydney.
“Full of brilliant ideas and extraordinary stories that bring heart and mind together.” – TEDx Sydney 2016 attendee
The program is packed with people and ideas that will be new, people and ideas that will build on your own thoughts, and people and ideas that will challenge your way of thinking.
The live stream program on the big screen at the BVCCC is non-stop from 9am on Friday, June 16:
9:00am – 10:30am
Airling, fast becoming one of the most talked about young artists in Australia.
Option 1: The live stream from TEDx Sydney will run all day, come and go as you please. An all-day pass, including gourmet finger food and a drink for the evening session, is $30.
Business people, entrepreneurs, students – anyone! Is invited to work from the BVCCC all day on June 16 with wifi and desk space provided. A chance to ‘get the job done’ and network with like-minded locals, all while being able to take part in TEDx Sydney. An all-day work pass costs $30, which gives you access to the BVCCC co-working space from 9am, as well as entry to the evening session with nibbls and a complimentary drink from 4:30.
Option 2: The lunch session runs 11:30 – 2:30 and costs just $10. Taking some inspiration from this year’s TEDx Sydney theme of ‘Unconventional’ you are encouraged to bring your own unconventional lunch along to the BVCCC, find a spot with friends in front of the big screen upstairs and take in the experience.
Option 3: The after work/evening session runs 4:30 till 7:00ish, come and enjoy TEDx Sydney with gourmet finger food and a drink, tickets are $25.
Bring your Friday drinks to the BVCCC, the bar will be open!
The colder months are here and our region really feels it.
Life retreats only planning to stir with the first rays of spring, but don’t you retreat from your vegepatch or orchard, there are things to be done and still food to grow.
First a bit of observance – with a cuppa and sitting in the sun in the middle of the garden to peruse some of the issues that came up last season.
Some thought starters…
Do you need to rearrange the beds? What beds worked well last season and what didn’t? Do you need to put in a green manure crop to reinvigorate a bed where plants didn’t really thrive?
Take the time to really see what went well and what didn’t.
Start to make a list of some of those jobs you’ve been putting off in the garden…
Clean up the old summer beds and compost all that you can. You have been feeding and improving your garden for a while now so it’s good to keep what you’ve grown in the system.
Remember to collect fully grown seedheads from the best plants, dry them out and store in airtight containers.
Fork and aerate beds, reinvigorate with dolomite, potash and your favourite type of fertilizer, mine is my compost with added chicken manure from my girls.
Mulch all the beds again, I use slashings from the farm, rotted bales from the produce store and sometimes grass clippings if they don’t contain seed heads.
Plant out winter crops – brassicas, rocket, parsley, peas, chives, onions, garlic, silverbeet, spinach, coriander, all the root crops and don’t forget the broad beans!
Have you thought about what flowers to plant around your patch?
I have lots of geraniums, nasturtiums, marigolds, chrysanthemums, salvias and daisy family around mine. Someone is guaranteed to be flowering all through the year. The good bugs will thank you and help you control the bad ones.
Keep on top of any pests – aphid, white moth, cabbage moth, snails, and slugs all appear around this time of year before the harsher temperatures make it difficult for them.
For the ‘slimers’ I put ash around my seedlings to protect them, for aphids and moths a small amount of mild eco-detergent mixed with water in a spray bottle helps. The key is to be consistent, once is usually never enough!
Feed the citrus – cow/chicken manure, some potash, and a little Epsom salt, and mulch them.
Rake up leaves from deciduous trees and compost them, or better still put them into the chicken yard and let them play around in the leaves and turn them into compost for spring. Most deciduous trees are ok, but research your trees toxicity to chickens first if you have any doubts.
Planting more fruit trees?
Bare-rooted stock is now in and autumn is a great time for planting out. Remember to plan where your trees will work best and how you’re going to manage them throughout their (and your) life.
Clean up under all your fruit trees.
If you’re growing stone fruit or any of the pomme (apples, pears, etc) family get some help from the chickens in cleaning up. It is fine to leave the ground bare under the trees for a couple of months.
Start to think about how you’re going to prune for next years crops. Plus how are your tools going? Maybe an afternoon of cleaning and sharpening is in order?
Look for dead or dying branches to remove. Your first prune of the year should be the apricots – June is the usual time for this group. Wait till it’s very cold and all leaves have dropped to prune the rest of your orchard, that’s mainly so you can easily see next year’s fruiting spurs.
If your fruit tree has wooly aphid, scale, or sooty mould then it is usually a sign the tree is not doing so well in its root system, or rot has set into the heart of the tree.
You’ll need to make a decision, whether to save the tree or cull and start again. Often the tree is failing because of an issue within itself – just like us!
Keep up the watering, this time in the afternoon, when it is a little warmer.
A lot to consider, you might need more than one cuppa!