One of the key questions is this: at what point does any contemporary expression – whether it is language; art; product or faith – become so far removed from its origin that it is no longer derivative, but rather something completely new and discreet in itself?
I was recently struck by the strong cultural inheritance of the Barossa, one that clearly borrows from Silesian; German; English; Scottish and Australian influence. Standing in the kitchen at the Apex Bakery in Tanunda, and learning how the fiercely-held local traditions now eclipse even those of their country of origin, left me pondering what it means to be ‘modern Australian’.
Later on I moved from the valley floor to the bigger skies of high Eden, and I noticed that many of the larger gum trees were scarred with black on the windward sides of their trunks. It was explained to me that well before the presence of Europeans, the local Aborigines would set a clutch of embers next to sheltering trees in order to provide light, heat and a signal of return whenever they were in the area. Unlike the still living traditions of European influence, this seemed a poignant, almost unremembered, inheritance that we would do well to try and recapture.
Today, our landscape displays the punctuation marks of agriculture very clearly, while in contrast, Australia’s indigenous and nomadic culture has left little or no trace by way of footprint. The native Australians created a practical intimacy with the land that was best defined by a sense of belonging and witness quite at odds with European notions of property, ownership and legacy. Unfortunately, the subsequent story of disavowal and dishonour is now irrecoverable.
However, as Australia now strives for an improved identity in the world of wine, I hope that our new-found respect for nourishing inheritance and land – rather than exhausting them both – might be the beginning of a long and careful reconnection.
Ultimately, do we define our land and inheritance, or do they define us?