Ξ February 14th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |
Phillip Noyce’s 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence, based on Doris Pilkington Garimara’s book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, follows the true story of Doris’ mother, Molly Kelly, Molly’s sister, Daisy Burungu, and cousin Gracie Fields who, together, in 1931, were kidnapped from their home in Jigalong. They were placed in an institution at Moore River 1500 miles away, an institution, one of many, designed and maintained for decades as a matter of official Govt. policy to break Aboriginal familial and social bonds, ‘assimilate’ them into the dominant white culture, and thereby promote the erasure of Aboriginal memory itself. But Molly, Daisy and Gracie escape. And the film details their harrowing 9 week walk home, across an inhospitable landscape, made possible by their discovery of the Rabbit-Proof Fence which passed near Jigalong. Molly and Daisy succeed. Gracie allows herself to be retaken by the authorities. But perhaps the most moving moment in the film was not an image at all but a bit of text just before the credits roll. We learn that Molly was again taken to Moore River. Again she escapes.
Again she makes the journey home.
As has been widely reported, the Australian government just this Wednesday issued an extraordinary apology to all Aborigines for the laws and policies that, in Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s words “inflicted profound grief, suffering, and loss”. He made special mention of what is called the Stolen Generations, the thousands of children forcibly removed from their families. Children like Molly, Daisy and Gracie, and Doris herself.
I leave it to the reader to click the links above for more about this important development. I want now to add more good swords to plowshares news. There is one entirely Aboriginal community-owned vineyard in Australia, Murrin Bridge Vineyard. Murrin Bridge itself is “a small Aboriginal community located on the banks of the Lachlan river, a few kilometres north of Lake Cargelligo right in the heart of New South Wales.” It is a day’s drive from Sydney, so to see a movie or eat at a restaurant requires hours of travel time. It was originally founded in 1947 as a mission, and was for years entirely surrounded by barbed wire. Home to around 300 souls, the community began looking for more profitable alternatives to vegetable crops grown for several years. It was suggested by a local grape-grower and educator that they experiment with wine grapes. In 1999, under the direction of community leader Craig Cromelin, himself an Aboriginal, there began an experimental 5 acre parcel of shiraz.
Their initial idea was to grow grapes to sell to local winemakers. But the first viable crop of a few tons would have netted them a pittance for all their hard work. Instead it was decided to make wine under their own Murrin Bridge label. An additional 20 acres were immediately dedicated not only to shiraz vines but also chardonnay. The accomplished winemaker Dom Piromit of Piromit Wines loved the idea of a Murrin Bridge wine and the promise of the community’s prosperity, and he offered to make their first vintage. And in 2001, 1400 bottles of shiraz were produced of which 800 were used for promotion.
And it worked! The press was favorable, if spotty. Craig Cromelin and other members of the community understood the lure of the novelty of an Aboriginal wine. Novelty is passing. So, if they were to have a successful product they would have to maintain a high, competitive quality year after year. Indeed, in addition to Dom Piromit’s generousity, winemaker Andrew Birks of Bidgeebong made for Murrin their 2004 Shiraz and 2005 Chardonnay.
Production now is well over 1000 cases of shiraz and 600 cases of chardonnay, and is growing. There is plenty of willing, qualified help. The community boasts of around 17 Aboriginal graduates of the rigorous Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Viticulture Program taught on their nearby Riverina campus, one of many throughout Australia.
As a final note, Craig Cromelin recalls overhearing a conversation at a rugby match when the idea for making wines in Murrin Bridge was first being kicked around, “These blokes were talking about the vineyard and one of them said: ‘It’s not going to work, the Aborigines will drink all the wine themselves.’ I said to my lot: ‘Let’s prove these people wrong.’ “
And they have.