‘We get along quite well, but the thing was we all knew what we were in for and the fact we were all going to be in close quarters. No one really pushed anyone’s buttons. We know we can wind each other up, but the fact is, being on a boat, you just can’t walk away, you’re stuck there.’ Thus relayed Ross in a recent interview piece for the Fairfax Press. In fact, it turns out, after watching the series, small of stature Ross was often the on the receiving end of good-natured joshing from his bigger crew mates – barrel-chested Nick and tall, gangly Matthew. He had a thick skin – the jovial jibes flew off his hide. The only tense moment was when Ross announced on Cape Barren he was off to shoot the game they would be devouring that evening for tea. Paddock to plate is one thing, but going out into the scrub and actually slaughtering it is another. But this was only a minor divergence of opinion, the other two scoffing down his bag of wild duck, goose and wallaby readily enough.
SBS has described the trio of seasons of ‘Gourmet Farmer’ as a developing diary of the bromance between the three foodies, but in the fourth, where the word ‘Afloat’ is added, Ross is correct, there was no escape from each other. Ross (O’Meara) and Nick (Haddow) reside on Bruny Island, up to their necks in pork (Ross) and cheese (Nick). The latter’s product is excellent – if you ever have cause to cross on the ferry to their domain, get to his cheesery and try some. Their island off an island, for decades, remained undiscovered by non-Taswegians, but these days its reputation is spreading. The two ferries crossing the Channel during the summer months have trouble keeping up with demand.
Matthew Evans lives on the mainland within sight of his two mates just across the water. He is a former Sydney restaurant critic turned gentleman farmer just outside the idyllic village of Cygnet. Up to this point he has been the face of the popular, as SBS goes, programme – but his two cobbers are television naturals and are quickly catching up. ‘Gournet Farmer Afloat’ is definitely a three-hander – or even four, if skipper Garth Wigston is counted. He’s the master of the Solquest, the vessel bringing the premise of an anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Tasmania to fruition. The resulting six hour-long episodes are an eye-opener as the lads retrace the sailing steps of the early explorers – Tasman, Baudin, Flinders, Freycinet, Kelly et al. It’s great boys-own stuff.
These episodes delve heavily into the history, indigenous and non-indigenous. It also looks at the produce of the island, both from the briny and the soil. After all, it is pretty special with our isle having the world’s freshest rainwater and purest air, I actually thought I knew the back story fairly well and I did, although I enjoyed their fresh take on it all. There were a few gems that surprised me, including the nugget that there is strong evidence that Bass and Flinders became lovers, possibly due to those extra-close quarters they had to endure, in the process of proving there was a Strait separating us from our Victorian neighbours. There is no evidence that any of this sort of thing occurred on the Solquest though.
Eggs. I’ve often wondered about the eggs. Out front of our abode on the river are hundreds, maybe even a thousand or two, of black swan. Come spring it’s a joy to see their numbers multiply by an equivalent number of cygnets. As lovely as that image is, there is the thought that all that new life must have emerged from eggs. So there is a possibility of a wonderful food source in the reed banks all along the Derwent – explaining the number of copperheads and raptors that thrive hereabouts. The three gourmands on Solquest possibly had a similar idea, probably lubricated by one or two of the couple of hundred bottles of wine they had on board with them. When they reached Moulting Lagoon up on the East Coast – a place with a similar abundance of aquatic avifauna – they put that notion to the test when Ross was presented with a swan egg. He made a pork omelette with it and the trio pronounced the result most flavoursome tucker. Swan eggs for brekky? Why on earth not?
The series is choc full of culinary treats that the lads prepared on board, on beaches or, occasionally, in the restaurants of ports they tied up in. At the final destination, Hobs, this all culminated in a grand feast at Government House for all those who participated in the project. It featured the best of Tassie produce, influenced by what they discovered during their epic adventure. It was hilarious watching the boys get lost in the vice-royal pile as they tried to find the shortest route from kitchen to a dining room that has seated royalty. This last episode is dedicated to our island’s beloved and gregarious former Governor who passed away soon after that event.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my beguiling island from the perspective of the sea that surrounds it. It all reminded me how lucky I am to be an inhabitant of such a place. You would be mesmerised too, dear reader. With Matthew, Ross and Nick as your guide, be taken to such magic locales as Bruny’s Adventure Bay, Stanley’s Cable Station Restaurant, the indigenously owned Cape Barren Island and on to the wild and rugged West Coast, with its Macquarie Harbour and Port Davey. Feel the tension as the Solquest attempts to surf the notorious bar at St Helens or squeeze its way in through Hells Gates. A highlight for me was seeing our crew visit the first vegie patch established by Europeans on our shores well before white settlement – the French Garden at Recherche Bay. One of our hosts suggested that the island’s history may have been entirely different had this nationality established colonisation first with their more benign view of the native population. Another high point was when Ross and co tried their luck trawling deep for arguably the most flavoursome of all piscatorial delights, the mighty stripy trumpeter. All in all the boys had a ball and entertained us mightily. It is all available on DVD now.
Associated with this is a new cookbook on the market. Although it contains photos from the expedition, the recipes featured are not those from the circumnavigation. They can be discovered on-line. No, ‘The Gourmet farmer Goes Fishing’ features more the means to cook the species of fish caught recreationally around our coast. I traipsed off to its launch at Fullers a few weeks back, thoroughly relishing the bonhomie that these three, when they get together, create. Some of their culinary fare was available to sample and the large crowd gathered were regaled with tales – some true, some tall – of their adventurings. Fullers pronounced it their most popular event ever, saying something for how these guys are working their way into the consciousness of all of us who love our paradise in the southern seas. They do our assets proud by bringing them to the attention of a wide audience through their offerings on the small screen.