Her party won government but not the seat of Eden-Monaro, leaving Fiona Kotvojs considering her future.
She isn’t ruling out another tilt at parliament, but for the time being, the Liberal candidate is exploring new opportunities on the family farm and continuing her aid work in the Pacific.
“Whilst truffle production is established in other parts of Australia, including on the Monaro, they hadn’t been established in Bega Valley or Eurobodalla,” Dr Kotvojs says.
Six years after establishing a one-hectare truffiere on the family’s Dignams Creek farm between Narooma and Cobargo, Dr Kotvojs and her husband, Alan Burdon had their first commercial crop of truffles following this year’s election.
“[Our] objective was to see if the Far South Coast could become a truffle centre which would also boost winter tourism,” Dr Kotvojs says.
“There remains a lot of mystery about growing truffles. Many people have established truffieres and not produced truffles.
“Others have good crops in areas where they theoretically should struggle. Growing truffles remains something of a mystery.
“We do know the conditions they require and a little about their formation; truffles form in February and March, so volume depends on late summer and early autumn rainfall. Ripening is dependent on frosts, so this explains why the truffle season is short – lasting about six weeks from the mid to late June to early August.
“Warm days during winter spoil truffles as they ripen, as do the ever present insects, snails and slugs. All this accounts for the high price of quality truffles.
“Fortunately, only a little is needed in each dish,” Dr Kotvojs says.
The future of Dignams Creek truffles is still up in the air.
“If this is something that proves viable then it might be something more farmers can introduce – a crop that could help farms in this area remain viable,” she says.
Another local workshop is a possibility to share the knowledge and perhaps develop another truffle hub in New South Wales as a winter attraction and income.
“We exported to America and Sydney this year, and we’re looking at the UK and Europe in their off-season,” Dr Kotvojs says.
Locally, Dr Kotvojs is supplying:
- Il Passaggo, Bermagui;
- The Waterfront Cafe, Merimbula;
- Wheelers, Pambula;
- The Whale, Narooma.
Outside of truffles, and with Labor’s Mike Kelly back on the job in Canberra for the communities of Eden-Monaro, Dr Kotvojs has resumed her volunteer work with Oxfam and earlier this month took part in meetings in Fiji.
“I’ve been a director since 2012, but Oxfam’s presence in the Pacific Islands region dates back to the 1980s,” she explains.
“Oxfam Australia and its supporters have been hugely important in providing emergency relief after devastating cyclones and in working through local NGOs to eradicate violence against women and support communities to emerge from poverty.”
Dr Kotvojs says there is a link to this far-flung work and her ambitions locally.
“Improving people’s ability to generate an income, so people can stay in rural communities and not have to move to urban areas.”
“What this work has taught me is that we need to address the causes of the problem, not just the symptoms, and taking a long term perspective on what we are doing.”
Since the election, Dr Kotvojs says politics has remained a focus for her.
“I follow it very closely, politics matters, I believe it’s really important and matters for our future and makes a huge difference.”
In terms of being a candidate again in the future, Dr Kotvjos says she’ll talk with her family.
“I really loved the experience, there are always things you’d do differently, but it was great to talk to people across the electorate and help them resolve issues.”
“Regardless of what I do in politics, there are a number of issues I’ll start to pick up next year and continue to pursue – aged care in rural areas is something I’d like to keep working on.”
Labor’s Mike Kelly won Eden-Monaro with 51 per cent of the vote, two-party preferred. Fiona Kotvjos claimed 49 per cent of the vote for the Liberals: 2,146 first preference votes separated the pair.