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PacificEdge | February 26, 2017

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In Hobart, food in the hills

In Hobart, food in the hills
Russ Grayson

A Tasmanian journey…

SOMETIMES, Fiona can’t help herself.

“Do you mind if I thin out these vegetable seedlings?”, she asked Catriona Macmillan when we visited the house and garden Catriona is minding.

“Oh… just go ahead”, responded Catriona (at right in photo), at which Fiona started to pluck the unfortunate seedlings chosen for removal from the seedling tray, leaving only the better specimens.

The house Catriona is house minding is situated among the ridges of the Mt Wellington foothills in Hobart’s southern suburban uplands. Here over the ages the plentiful waters draining from the 1250m block of Jurassic dolerite that dominates Hobart have incised deep, steep, forested gullies and valleys into the foothills. Now, they have become home sites for those who like this semi-vertical sort of terrain.

You’re better thinking of Catriona’s house-mind less as a suburban home and more as a small urban farmlet. There’s a flock of chooks including a fluffy red silkie, what looks like a couple isabrowns and a noble looking grey-toned creature. There’s a cat and there’s a dog (though I understand they will not be on the menu) that sleeps under a large wormwood bush and a large, grey and white-spotted pig that makes monotonal grunting sounds and likes to wallow in a dust hollow. Then there’s some fruit trees and a neat vegetable garden. A productive little place, really.

The vegetable seeding trays thinned, Fiona attempted interspecies communication with the pig though it soon became clear that its understanding of English and human gestures was somewhat limited. All it did was look at her with its dark, beady eyes and grunt.

Despite this, visiting that home in the foothills demonstrated that keeping productive animals is quite a feasible thing to do in the city. It reminded me of another home, not far away as Hobart goes, that hosts its own fluffy flock of clucking birds including a barnevelder which, according to the ever-helpful Wikipedia, “… is a medium heavy breed of chicken named after the Dutch town of Barneveld. It is a cross of 19th century Dutch landrace chickens with Asian breeds imported to Europe in the mid-late 19th century…” and some large red orphingtons.

This is the home of Hannah Maloney and Anton, a somewhat steep piece of land that the couple have started to carve into terraces and plant with fruit trees, the berry fruits Tasmania is noted for and an assortment of organic vegetables. There’s even a small and new flock of ducklings, tiny grey things that we could see clustered together in the far corner of the pen.

“You’re so fortunate not to have foxes here”, Fiona told Hannah, mindful of the fate of chickens in Sydney and elsewhere. Those volpine predators would make a fast food of those ducks.

Catriona’s house-sit and Hannah’s sloping land home garden demonstrate that home food production is alive and very well here in these southern parts. It confirmed that the Australian tradition of home food gardening is being passed on to a younger generation that, hopefully, will continue to nurture what has been learned and add new findings of its own to it.

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