More than a Wine Region
The Margaret River Region has many sides. “It’s not just a wine region,” I’m continually telling people when they assume I came here for the wine. Given its international renown for premium wine, and my work as a food and drink writer, it's a fair assumption, but this is far more than just another wine region.
Discovery is never far away in this diverse corner of Australia and while that can often mean food and drink for me it’s also experiences that are a lot deeper and far back than my next meal or glass of wine.
It’s a striking fact that the oldest continuous culture can be found here in Australia, and while you cannot hope to fully understand the intricacies of Aboriginal society and history in one visit, you can glimpse an insight with people like Josh Whiteland of Koomal Dreaming. Well known for his passion for sharing his culture and the region in which he lives, Josh is an educator, custodian and Wardandi man. Time spent with Josh is an education in food, seasonality, culture and the importance of a connection to country that so many of us have lost; wherever we call home.
In introducing me to his six seasons: Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang, Josh shares the structure of the year that has been passed down for over 40,000 years in this part of Australia. Here on the coast Josh is at ease taking food from the land and the ocean, be it mussels, abalone or marron from the river. As we sit around a campfire by the Ngilgi Cave, he lightly cooks mussels in a tin smoker, talking with passion and clarity about the land around us. This inherited knowledge is the experience of generations of his people. Living by the six seasons, understanding the land and the ocean, determining what food was available, was all key to survival.
“We know that when the bay is all stirred up or the river’s full, the marron will go deeper into the mud so we won’t even bother trying to catch it,” Josh says. His ancestors by necessity had to be custodians of the natural world, not just consumers of it. “They lived and died to ensure the health and prosperity of the land. Because if you take too much today, how will you eat tomorrow?” He tells me.
Helping visitors appreciate the natural aspects of the region is the mission of Sean Blocksidge of Margaret River Discovery Company. He has made his name by unlocking the best of the region for his guests; a fervent advocate for getting out and enjoying more than just the wineries. “The big one for me is how can you come to Margaret River and not actually canoe the Margaret River?” Sean says with a laugh. “How can you not experience the full beauty of the river? We go in the river in the morning and barely see anyone.” This is a constant surprise to me here, that the pristine beaches and awe inspiring walking paths are for much of the time your own to enjoy; a private paradise, which I feel privileged to call home.
Sean talks about the cycling experiences that range from adventurous and challenging mountain bike trails in the Boranup Forest to those that are suitable for families in the trails close to Margaret River township, around Wharncliffe Mill. Back on two feet his enthusiasm for the Cape to Cape track is boundless, describing it as, “one of the world’s great walking trails.” Walking sections of it everyday he finishes tours high up on the Wilyabrup Cliffs, with a glass of wine. Looking westward over the Indian Ocean it’s the “wow moment, when everything clicks into place.” Margaret River Region is about more than just wine, but it’s certainly best enjoyed with a glass.