Paul West has become a favourite son of the Far South Coast of New South Wales. The time and energy he brought to the region and its people as host of River Cottage Australia made him so.
Filming on the TV series based at Tilba ended four years ago, having moved away Paul and his young family are back in the region and putting down roots at Bermagui, just 24 km south of the old River Cottage farm.
“The whole time we were away we mythologised the South Coast, it served as our North Star to where we wanted to be,” Paul explains while holding a cup of tea in his Bermagui kitchen.
“After River Cottage finished my wife and I were a little bit uncertain about our future – as tends to be the case when you become unemployed.
“And we weren’t sure if this was genuinely where we wanted to be or because River Cottage had brought us here.”
Paul, Alica, Otto, Bowie and their famous dog Digger stuck around for a little while after filming ended but the need to chase work lead them to Newcastle and Melbourne.
“We were trying on other areas that had been significant in our adult lives,” Paul says.
“About a year after leaving here we both [Paul and Alica] had the conversation and said – no we definitely want to go back.”
Following the release of Paul’s cookbook and a three-month family camping trip to “shake off the city dust” the Wests are back in a house they bought during their River Cottage days just a stone throw from Bermagui’s main street.
“This morning, I woke up and went outside to see the sun rising, I could hear the ocean and there’s a Whip Bird that comes and says ‘good morning’, then we fed the kids breakfast, walked one block to drop Otto at daycare, then went for a swim at the beach, chatted to some people, saw some whales breaching, and was back home by 9:30 – that’s the lifestyle on offer here!” Paul chuckles.
Having come from a country childhood himself, Paul wants his boys to experience the same, something that wasn’t on offer in busy Melbourne.
As is the case for many regional families – earning a living is the challenge now. Paul’s new book ‘The Edible Garden’ is part of that fix, with a second book on the way, as well as regular freelance work with the ABC, and appearances at food and lifestyle festivals and events around the country.
“But I don’t want to be a FIFO worker – I don’t want to be absent from my family and leave my wife holding the bundle and I don’t want to be the absentee community member. My family will be here for a long time and I want to be able to contribute to the community in a meaningful and constructive way,” Paul says.
“How that looks yet – I just don’t know. The dust is still settling for us.”
Having gardened in rental properties for the last two years, Paul’s focus at the moment is getting his own garden going again and producing the food he was famous for growing in the rich soils of Tilba with the nation watching on.
Click play to hear more from Paul, including his sadness at the end of River Cottage Australia…
“River Cottage was the most amazing experience. The program has found such a strong home in the mind of the Australian viewer. The message of that program was so positive and fundamentally human,” Paul reflects.
“To have played a small part in that – I couldn’t be happier.”
The other ‘stars’ of the show all still live locally – butcher Matt Christison, baker Nelleke Gorton, cheesemaker Erica Dibden and chef Kelly Eastwood. Paul sees the potential in “getting the band back together” and doesn’t rule out having some fun with the RCA gang in the future.
The River Cottage property was sold in July 2017 when TV production ended and is now available on AirBnB for $350 a night.
“People send me pictures of it all the time,” Paul laughs.
“Which I kinda like, but it also feels like someone sending you pictures of your ex-girlfriend.
“There is a morbid curiosity for me to get back out there but for me the focus now is reconnecting with all the wonderful people.
“But I don’t want to be Paul from the TV in the community I just want to be Paul from Bermagui. If you see me, come and say g’day, I am always up for a chat.”
Stay in touch with Paul via his website mrpaulwest.com
Kelly Eastwood who was a producer on River Cottage Australia now runs Eastwood’s Deli and Cooking School on Bunga Street, Bermagui.
Erica Dibden is following and building her food and farming ambitions through her family business Tilba Real Dairy.