River Cottage Australia at Central Tilba has been mothballed as backers of the TV show press ‘hold’ on further filming.
Host, Paul West says the future of the series is up in the air but he’s hopeful the show might return to TV screens one day.
“We don’t have a commission for the 2017 viewing year,” Paul says.
“For the last four years we have filmed a season every year continuously and this will be the first time we have had a break.”
The lush property, come TV set at the foot of Gulaga Mountain has been de-stocked, the cast of animals have all gone to good homes, their celebrity status attracting interest but not higher prices.
“We have stripped the high maintenance livestock out, like the chickens, the pigs and a lot of the cattle,” Paul explains.
“We just left a couple of the cows to keep the grass down, the property will still tick away but it won’t thrive like it has in past seasons.”
Digger the dog stays with Paul as part of his growing family.
“He’s not for sale…although that depends on how he’s behaving,” Paul laughs.
Having moved their life from Tasmania to the South Coast of NSW to film the show, Paul and his wife Alicia are now exploring new income options.
“It’s [River Cottage] not my property, I didn’t own it,” Paul says.
“As much as I do love going up there, I’ve got a family to feed, so I need to generate income, I can’t just do it for the love.”
According to Paul, the decision to rest the series is a commercial one that relates to the modern media landscape.
“The TV environment has changed rapidly in the last couple of years with the proliferation of on-demand streaming services and that caught our broadcaster on the hop a little bit,” Paul believes.
“They [Foxtel] had a restructure and River Cottage didn’t meet the criteria.”
Based on the long-running UK series hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Tilba version of the show reached into communities right around South East NSW.
The skill, passion, and beauty of these small communities was showcased to 17 countries across Asia and Eastern Europe.
Local people and their flair for food, the environment and each other became the star of the show – and generated terrific goodwill and prosperity beyond the TV production houses.
“There is no doubt the filming of 32 episodes of this national and international show has had a positive impact on the region in many ways,” says Sarah Cooper, Business Assistance Manager, Eurobodalla Shire Council.
“Aside from the immediate economic benefit that comes with a full TV crew filming for 3 months each year, there will be long-lasting effects,” Sarah says.
“The increased tourism in and around Tilba with visitors wanting to sample the ‘River Cottage Australia’ life has been a huge economic boost for the region and will be for some time.
“It’s been a four-year partnership with Council and the community, we will miss the show.” she says.
Paul West speaks with Ian Campbell about his plans for the future:
Paul West laughs as he remembers meeting viewers from Hungary on the main street of Central Tilba.
“If you have an eye for natural beauty, great communities, and that true regional character, then this is the best part of Australia,” Paul says.
The cooking and gardening program has also made a number of skilled locals ‘famous.’
As the show moved along Paul needed to call on expert advice, drawing on CWA cook Nelleke Gorton, farmer and felter Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins, Erica and Nic Dibden from South Coast Cheese and Tilba Milk, and mobile butcher Matt Christison, among many others.
Matt says the show has changed him.
“It’s been a huge buzz, the crew made me feel so welcome – they are great people.
“I was gutted when I heard the news, I will miss it. The Cooking School especially has been very satisfying,” he says.
Matt’s profile on the show has been good for his own business, which he’s very grateful for.
“Other’s have been inspired too, there are a lot more mobile butchers out there now,” Matt says.
While the show featured the recipes and gardening tips you’d expect, it was also known for showing regional life in all its colours, including the slaughter of farm animals.
As the one firing the gun and often cutting the throat of an animal, Matt says the reaction of viewers was interesting.
“I am very proud of that work,” Matt says.
“We showed how it can be done naturally and humanely.”
On the flipside, Matt says he’s disappointed his butcher jokes were cut from the show.
“I cracked every ‘meat’ joke there is, none of them made it to air,” he laughs.
Kelly Eastwood is another of the names tied to show reflecting on the positive impact it’s had and making new plans for the future.
Kelly was the TV Food Producer and as a qualified chef was Manager of the River Cottage Australia Cooking School, which ran in conjunction with the TV series.
Kelly says the region has left its mark on her and she’ll be staying.
“With all the travelling I’ve done, this is the first place I’ve had an affiliation with, it feels like home,” she says.
Just like Paul West, Kelly has built a connection with the local community that has moved beyond the TV screen and into the fabric of what regional living is about.
Kelly has become a key member of the Tilba Chamber of Commerce and has just been appointed president of the 2017 Tilba Easter Festival committee.
“I got involved to say ‘thank you’ to this community for its support of the show and the cooking school,” Kelly says.
“Moving here for River Cottage Australia has been life changing, there are lots of reasons to stick around.”
Kelly says she’ll take the next month off and rest before jumping into anything new.
“There are lots of opportunities for good food here and I’ll be writing my cookbook over summer,” Kelly says.
“I believe so much in this region and I just want to show it off to the world.”
For Paul West, his wife Alicia, their 2-year-old boy and baby due early next year, River Cottage Australia lives on in many respects.
While the show might be hibernating, Paul’s passion for food is awake and kicking under the banner of Triangle Farm Tilba.
Over the last couple of months, Paul has been turning a grassy paddock on the Princes Highway, opposite the Dibden’s dairy farm, into a market garden.
“When you are making a TV show you do more TV making than you do food growing,” Paul says.
“Now that the TV show isn’t on the horizon, I want to do more food growing.
“I’ll be growing a variety of chemical free vegetables that I hope to sell into the Bermagui and Tilba farmers markets, and maybe I’ll get down to Bega as well, and supply a few hospitality businesses,” Paul says.
A pop-up food stall is also part of Paul’s thinking, but he’s keen to get the garden producing first.
“Tilba sits atop a region that is colloquially known as the triangle,” Paul explains.
“It’s the trio of villages – Bermagui, Cobargo, and Tilba, they make a triangle on the map.”
Paul says the name Triangle Farm is also a nod to the triangle being the strongest shape.
“And the three points [of a triangle] also symbolise produce, place and people – the three most important elements in food,” Paul says.
Over the last four years, River Cottage Australia has been nominated for a number of TV industry awards, including best lifestyle show at the recent Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, it has attracted weekly audiences of up to 132,000 people and sold thousands of cookbooks, but perhaps its greatest achievement is the mark the show leaves on the community that took it on.
Farewell River Cottage Australia – fingers crossed you come back one day.
#Stay up to date with Paul West and his life after River Cottage Australia, Paul has made a new home in Melbourne and is working for the ABC – find out more. (June 2018)