Scenic Rim

This piece of ru­ral par­adise is home to some of Queens­land’s best pro­duce. Natascha Mirosch tours the re­gion and meets its farm­ers and grow­ers. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Kara Rosen­lund.

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Feast your eyes – and belly – in this emerg­ing food bowl

ATOUR bus has just dis­gorged pas­sen­gers onto the muddy drive out­side the milk­ing shed. In­side, the smell is, well, barn­yard – to put it kindly. Once the group is seated and set­tled, Greg Den­nis in­tro­duces him­self and wel­comes the group to his farm, Scenic Rim Ro­botic Dairy. “Be­fore dereg­u­la­tion [in 2000], there were 1600 dairy farms in Queens­land,” he says. “You know how many there are now? Four hun­dred!”

While Greg – known as Farmer Gregie – talks, there’s a gen­tle pneu­matic hiss be­hind him. He turns and waves his arm at a ma­chine. “And this is what saved our farm. Our Lely ro­bot.”

In a case of adapt or per­ish, the Den­nis fam­ily, who’ve been dairy farm­ing here since the 1930s, trans­formed the way they do things, re­plac­ing rotary milk­ing ma­chines with a ro­bot in 2010. They also started of­fer­ing tours of their farm in Tam­rookum, about 90 min­utes from Bris­bane.

These tours are one of many rea­sons why food-minded vis­i­tors are flock­ing to the Scenic Rim, a fer­tile ru­ral par­adise of im­mense nat­u­ral beauty west of the Gold Coast. Twenty-five mil­lion years ago, a cat­a­clysmic vol­canic erup­tion left a le­gacy of al­lu­vial soil that of­fers rich re­wards to those who farm here. The area is dot­ted with road­side stalls where you can buy any­thing from Kent pump­kins, her­itage toma­toes, onions and earth-dusted pota­toes to gar­lic, greens, herbs and honey – just slip your money into the hon­esty box.

As Farmer Gregie talks, one of his herd am­bles into the ma­chine’s wait­ing arms. “That’s Liz; she’s four. Right now, the ro­bot is scan­ning a tag on her col­lar, record­ing her name and weight.”

A brush cleans her teats and stim­u­lates the milk flow then the ro­bot at­taches pumps and be­gins the milk­ing process. Liz, un­per­turbed, snacks on a feed of hay and silage that drops into a feeder. Once she’s done, a brush de­scends and gives her a friendly head scratch. The dairy has four of these ro­bots, work­ing 24/7. Milk­ing is done on a vol­un­tary sys­tem, with the cows choos­ing what time of day or night they come to be milked and even, we’re told, which ro­bot they pre­fer.

Farmer Gregie has be­come what he de­scribes as an “ac­ci­den­tal ac­tivist”, speak­ing out on be­half of dairy farm­ers. In July, he drove his bright-green Deutz-Fahr trac­tor 2000 kilo­me­tres around Queens­land to high­light their plight.

As well as the un­sus­tain­able prices set for farm­ers’ milk, ho­mogeni­sa­tion is an­other sub­ject that fires him up. “Anyone know why we only do full-cream milk?” he asks the crowd. “No? I’ll tell you why. Most peo­ple think ho­mogenis­ing milk is just mix­ing the cream, the fat, through the milk, right? But it’s not. The process of ho­mogeni­sa­tion de­stroys the struc­ture and nu­tri­tion of the milk.”

So how does un­ho­mogenised, robot­i­cally har­vested milk taste? De­spite the sci-fi way it is col­lected, it’s just like old-school milk; the stuff that used to come in glass bot­tles, de­liv­ered to your door. And it’s de­li­cious.

Back on the road, I drive past graz­ing cat­tle and fields of deep green. And moun­tains. Wher­ever you are in the more than 4000 square kilo­me­tres that make up the Scenic Rim, you’ll see moun­tains – the an­cient rem­nants of those vol­ca­noes.

The town of Boonah, roughly equidis­tant from Bris­bane and the Gold Coast, is the re­gion’s ge­o­graphic heart. Lately there’s been an in­jec­tion of vi­tal­ity into the once-som­no­lent town, thanks to an in­fu­sion of new blood and younger gen­er­a­tions re­turn­ing to their roots.

Andy Ken­drick and Erin Tal­bot, who own Poppi’s Health Food Store and Whole­food Cafe (pop­ in Boonah’s main street, moved here from Mel­bourne four years ago. They opened Poppi’s in April this year. “I grew up in Tassie and the mo­ment we had kids, I knew I wanted to move back to the coun­try,” says Andy.

The gre­gar­i­ous café pro­pri­etor is also a li­ai­son of­fi­cer with the lo­cal tourism board and a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate of his adopted home. “There’s been such a huge shift in Boonah and the older gen­er­a­tion have been in­stru­men­tal in em­brac­ing it,” he says. “It’s awe­some.”

Poppi’s is in the town’s old­est build­ing, which was orig­i­nally a bank. It would prob­a­bly be clas­si­fied “hip­ster” if it were in Syd­ney or Mel­bourne but here it just feels au­then­tic and wel­com­ing. Lo­cals con­stantly pop in for big break­fasts served in cast-iron pans, take­away raw slices and gluten-free, dairy-free or Pa­leo treats. Even the turmeric lat­tes have been a hit. “Our driv­ing pas­sion is to en­cour­age ev­ery­one to eat well and eat lo­cal,” says Andy.

From Poppi’s, it’s a short stroll down High Street to Arthur Clive’s Fam­ily Bake­house (07 5463 2519). The be­spec­ta­cled Arthur, de­picted in the bak­ery’s logo, opened his first bak­ery in the 1930s. This is the third and most re­cent open­ing for the Pen­nell fam­ily, who also have bak­eries in the nearby towns of Arat­ula and Kal­bar.

Three gen­er­a­tions later, it is still very much a fam­ily af­fair, with Arthur’s grand­sons, Ai­dan and Jared, a driv­ing force, along with their fa­ther, Rus­sell. Slowly, the broth­ers are mor­ph­ing the busi­nesses, ex­pand­ing the tra­di­tional lam­ing­ton and sliced-bread of­fer­ings to in­clude ar­ti­san loaves and con­tem­po­rary pas­tries.

Greg Den­nis, of the Scenic Rim Ro­botic Dairy, is evan­gel­i­cal about farm­ing in­no­va­tion

(Below left) Boonah res­i­dents Andy Ken­drick and Erin Tal­bot; their whole­food café, Poppi’s, is about “eat­ing well and eat­ing lo­cal”

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