GROUNDED. REAL. STORIED.
Do the people make the place or does the place make the people?
Cape Grim Water
What makes an island? Countless words have been written over the years in an attempt to answer that question, but the geographers, philosophers and poets have come to no agreement.
In Tasmania, we know exactly what defines us: our people.
The spirit makers
Start with our distillers. The quality of whisky being produced by Tasmania’s distilleries is now acknowledged around the world. What’s not so widely known are the stories of human innovation and invention that gave rise to those spirits.
If you book a tour of Belgrove Distillery at Kempton, about 45 minutes north of Hobart, the first thing you’ll notice upon arrival is the aroma: as the first rye whisky distillery in Australia, the drink produced on the estate is spicier and more complex than traditional malts.
The next thing that will capture your attention is the enormous repurposed tumble dryer used to dry the grain – it symbolises perfectly Peter Bignell’s sustainable approach to his craft.
Bignell, a sixth-generation Tasmanian farmer, came to whisky making almost by accident. In 2008, keen to avoid wasting the bumper crop of rye that his farm had yielded, he bought a welder, built a copper pot still from leftover materials, and distilled his first batch of rye whisky.
Since then, Bignell has expanded Belgrove Distillery in a unique paddock-to-bottle way. The roadhouse next door to the farm supplies waste cooking oil to power the whole operation, and every ingredient in the whisky is grown or collected onsite. The only exception is when Belgrove uses surplus products from other local producers – beer for hop whisky and wine and cider for brandy – that would otherwise be thrown out.
Elsewhere in the state, Southern Wild Distillery’s distiller George Burgess is influenced by French perfumery and uses those techniques to layer flavours in his Dasher + Fisher gin – named after the two rivers which deliver Cradle Mountain snowmelt through the region.
With a background in food science, Burgess used to focus on erasing variations from food and beverage products; now, he embraces those regional, seasonal quirks, many of which are made possible thanks to his valued supplier relationships. In addition to the trio of Tasmanian ingredients that are included in the core Dasher + Fisher gins – native pepperberry, lavender and wakame – Burgess enjoys playing around with the botanicals that local farmers and gardeners bring to the distillery.
Special edition gins have featured saffron and sloe, but it was strawberries that led to Dasher + Fisher’s Best Australian Gin award at the 2019 World Liqueur Awards. When export restrictions were placed on Tasmanian strawberry farmers in 2018, the distillery bought the excess produce that would otherwise have gone to waste.
The rain man
Supplied Courtesy of Cape Grim Water
While the Dasher + Fisher name gives a respectful nod to the nearby rivers, there’s one Tasmanian who takes his dedication to quality water even further.
Mike Buckby is the rain farmer.
In an area of spectacular beauty in far northwest Tasmania, Mike collects and filters raindrops before they even hit the earth. The Cape Grim Rainwater is then bottled and sold in fine dining establishments around the world.
It’s a rewarding job, although one that requires Mike to carefully monitor the weather. He’s always watching for cold fronts coming off the Southern Ocean – bringing rain that began its journey in Antarctica.
The only people that Mike shares his pristine corner of the world with are scientists from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. The winds that roar through have travelled more than 16,000 kilometres without passing land, meaning that Cape Grim has some of the cleanest, purest air in the world. Just as the water is bottled and sent around the world, so too is the air, used internationally as a baseline measurement for air quality.
It is that magic trifecta – pure wind, air, and rain – that makes Cape Grim Water unique and will keep Mike’s eyes on the skies for years to come.
The wood workers
Supplied Courtesy of Hydrowood
A couple of hundred kilometres south of Cape Grim, you’ll find another trailblazing operation with water at its heart: Hydrowood.
Back in 1986, the Pieman River on Tasmania’s West Coast was dammed for hydroelectricity production, and vast areas of forest were covered in water. The trees – which include in-demand species like myrtle, blackwood, and sassafras – would have remained there indefinitely, were it not for the revolutionary approach of Hydrowood’s David Wise and Andrew Morgan.
Supplied Courtesy of Hydrowood
Hydrowood is the only underwater forestry operation in the Southern Hemisphere, sustainably salvaging timber from the depths of Lake Pieman. The striking, high-quality timber is used by woodworkers and craftsmen across the state: take a moment to notice the benches in Hobart’s Franklin Square, the furniture at the recently renovated Freycinet Lodge, or the fittings on the RACT vessel Spirit of the Wild.
Like many great ideas, Hydrowood was conceived over a beer. David had flown over Lake Pieman in a Cessna and imagined the lost forests beneath. He sat down with Andrew in a local pub to consider what might be possible.
“We kept being told we couldn’t do it, that it wouldn’t work,” says Andrew. “The fact that we had to push against adversity the whole way is one of the things I’m really proud of.”
Here’s some advice: never tell a Tasmanian they can’t do something. A combination of creative thinking, deep connections to the land, and healthy disregard for societal expectations mean that in the island state, anything is possible.
The truffle hunters
Supplied Courtesy of Tasmanian Truffles
A prime example is the story of Tasmanian Truffles: a family-run business in Deloraine which has spent the last 10 years growing black truffles when it was believed that couldn’t be done in Australia.
Siblings Anna and Henry Terry, along with chief truffle hunter Doug the Golden Labrador, manage the business started by their father Tim back in the 1990s. Tasmania’s cool climate and fertile soil – along with some experimentation from Tim – have turned the company into Australia’s premier producer of black truffles and truffle products.
Slowly nurtured among the deep roots of hazelnut and oak trees on the Terrys’ farm, the exquisite black truffles are carefully harvested by hand before being exported across the country: some in their untouched state, but the majority as products like oil and honey which have a much longer shelf life.
The business has grown significantly as amateur chefs have become more open to using truffles – influenced in part by Henry and Anna’s appearance on the cooking show My Kitchen Rules – and the Australian market has blossomed. The Terrys can often be found chatting with customers at local events and offering tastings of their truffle products.
“We always get a fantastic response on the stall at Salamanca Market,” says Henry. “The opportunity to speak directly with people is one of the great things about Tasmania, and the quality of produce we have here is unlike anywhere else in the world.”
Perhaps that in itself is the best thing about Tasmania. You don’t have to settle for reading our stories or imagining our characters; you can visit the island and experience them yourself.
Share this article