The high country

The high country

By
Lyndey Milan
Contains
17 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742707846
Photographer
Stuart Scott

Of all the mountainous regions in Australia, the Great Dividing Range is the most impressive, running down the eastern side of Australia from the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, 3700 kilometres south to the Grampians in Victoria. Along its way the Australian Alps have their highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, 2228 metres above sea level. This is part of the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, affectionately known as the Snowies. Here you feel like you’re on the top of the world, or at least the roof of Australia. While snow bunnies love the skiing and snowboarding, there’s plenty to do when the snow melts. It is a miraculous place to visit in summer, driving through the dramatic landscape with the ghostly snowgums, or the more adventurous bike ride down the mountains. There’s something incredibly pure and fresh about the air and the intense flavour it gives the produce.

At Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery, raspberry schnapps is made from estate-grown raspberries, with bugs kept away by a companion planting of tansy, horseradish and garlic. Brad Spalding was a ski school instructor for many years and he and his Austrian wife, Monika, run an immaculate café complete with distillery on site, as well as making a wide range of schnapps, ideal for the alpine lifestyle.

The area is perhaps best known internationally for the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, largely built post Second World War by the many migrants who came to Australia. Thirty-seven different nationalities built this great engineering feat. There are plenty of lakes and water courses in the Snowies, but fishing is always a challenge on camera. I was really keen to catch my own Murray cod, as I have long been a fan of this meaty native Australian fish. However, this was not to be, but fishing is not only about catching fish; it’s about peacefulness and relaxing in nature.

By contrast, Hobbitt Farm, at 1350 metres, Australia’s highest dairy, is all action. The inquisitive goats greet you warmly, trying to jump into cars, eat equipment and generally get in the way. Despite the belief that they are ideally suited to the rocky mountainside, they generally inhabit that terrain as cows get the best land. I found the goats endearing and remarkably fearless and had my first go at milking one by hand before trying a sensational array of goat’s cheese.

Wild brumbies are the stuff of myth and legend in Australia, immortalised in poems and films. A brumby is a wild horse and Snowy Mountains brumbies are descended from the horses which came out on the First Fleet and, with cross-breeding, could now be almost anything. I’m always up for a challenge, so at Snowy Wilderness resort I found myself riding one, the first time I’d been in a saddle since I was a teenager. Although owner Justin MacIntosh offered me a five-day ride, I preferred to try out his cooking in a camp oven.

Then I boot scooted my way up to the Northern Tablelands to Tamworth, Armidale and Nundle for Australia Day and, of course, the internationally renowned Tamworth Country Music Festival. Multiculturalism is celebrated in Australia and I was thrilled to cook with Frenchman Phillippe Kanyaro. Not only had he raised the free-range goose we ate, but he built the wood-fired oven we cooked it in, too.

Australia Day on 26 January is always a highlight, because I have been an Australia Day ambassador for over a decade. This is when we celebrate how far we have come as a nation, our people, our land, our diversity, a ‘fair go’, our different cultures and freedom of speech. No matter how large or small the community, everyone gets into the spirit of the day. Nundle may be one of the area’s smaller communities, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to community spirit.

Tamworth is about celebrating all things country, from camp drafting with the ladies champion Simone Harvey, to learning how to crack a whip or line dance with the locals in the street. The Tamworth Country Music Festival is the biggest in the southern hemisphere and has been wowing both Australian and international guests for an amazing 41 years. It’s not only about concerts and big events but music in pubs, clubs and the streets. It was great fun and I caught up with festival old-timer and fiddler, Pixie Jenkins.

Just over 100 kilometres away, Armidale is home to Peter and Sally Strelitz and their four beautiful children, the people behind the highly acclaimed Milly Hill Lamb. It’s all about the quality of the grazing land, the genetics and the feeding regime that produces a consistent end result. There is a growing number of wineries in the area and it’s also a university town, the University of New England being the first regional university established in Australia.

The World Heritage listed Blue Mountains is quite a different area. The mountains only range from 200 to 1100 metres, but are just one and a half hours from Sydney so it’s perfect for a quick overnight getaway. The area is as famous for culture as it is for astonishing views. The Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum in Faulconbridge utilises the talented artist’s old home and studio as a gallery to showcase his etchings, drawings, paintings, books and sculptures. The Blue Mountains is also home to historic treasures like the Carrington Hotel (1883) and Everglades Historic House & Gardens. In nearby picturesque Leura, Jodie Van Der Velden weaves her chocolate magic at Josophan’s.

However, it is also a region for a surprising range of fresh produce. Autumn is wild mushroom time and further west the eerily quiet Oberon forest is a great location to forage for exotic saffron milk caps (pine mushrooms) and slippery Jack mushrooms. Bella Hyde from FinSki’s was a wonderful guide. In partnership with her best friend, Katriina (aka Blondie), they draw on their Finnish and Polish heritages, but like to keep the exact location in the forest secret.

There’s even an orchard, Logan Brae Orchard, dating from 1919, which celebrates old apple varieties and ways of working, and with a sensational flavour result. This was only one of the times I got to drive a tractor!

Down in the Megalong Valley Takao Suzuki – who came to Australia ‘because he wanted to be a cowboy’ – raises and feeds wagyu beef along traditional Japanese lines. The end result is a moist, melt-in-the-mouth, high-quality beef. Above all it is a sense of community which binds this region together.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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