Anyone who has ever flown into Sydney on an international flight has experienced what is probably one of the oddest experiences a first-time visitor can imagine: being sprayed by the Australian quarantine service. Yes, they spray you down; you and your carry-on luggage, while you sit quietly in your seat (don’t believe us? watch the video). They assure you that it is harmless, and it probably is. But still, being morteined (that must be what they use) before you get off the plane is pretty un-nerving the first time. After a couple of times…ah, whatever, it can’t be any worse than your seatmate’s cologne that you’ve been breathing since Vancouver!
This gassing is just one example of how the Australian government, and particularly AQIS – the people who were so wonderfully nice to let our cats in! – are very strict about what comes into Australia. There are also sniffer beagles at the airport, x-ray machines, and a lot of signs about not bringing in any food or other things that might contaminate the island.
This is, of course, a good thing – Australia has suffered a lot from the introduction of foreign species into the country, and though the average traveler probably doesn’t have a fox, a camel, or even a cane toad in their luggage they could have some organic material that might contaminate something here. Of course, Australia isn’t the only country that does this; Chile does, as we found out on our South American cruise in late 2010. There, you could bring nothing! Here, you can at least declare what you have and let AQIS look at it. But Chile is more strict, which might seem odd because they aren’t an island. But they are a long coastal nation, bordered on one side by an ocean and on the other by a mountain range so pests are kept at bay. Which is why Chilean grape growers are among the few in the world that have never had to deal with phylloxera.
Anyway, this experience of coming into Australia makes one realize that it is an island, a self-contained continent far away from much of the rest of the industrialized world. And so the combination of quarantine, protectionism (yes, the apple growers can complain all they want about New Zealand apples being brought on shore, but it is probably more of an economic fear than a true agricultural threat), and distance mean that most of the food we get here is Australian. Which is a good thing…and an annoying thing.
Good, in that we have always liked to support the farmers where we live. We buy ‘in season’, not giving in and buying (inferior) asparagus from another hemisphere. Easier to do here than in Edmonton, where food-growing season was about 100 days long! Admittedly, we have a hard time buying truly ‘local’ here in Wagga, because it is an area better suited to things like grain, canola, rice (a bit north of here is Australia’s rice bowl) and livestock.
But whenever possible, we buy as local as possible, such as shopping at Duffy Brothers Fruit and Vegetables, where we can, for instance buy berries and stonefruit from Young and Tumbalong as opposed to going to Coles or Woolies and buying fruit from an unknown source. We can also pick our own fruit in these towns, when in season! They might cost a bit more, but we don’t mind.
And as much as possible, we buy Australian. Right now, there is a lot of shit going down about Coles and Woolies and their price wars. Much of it is with with ‘homebrands’, the generic products that they sell. They are either cutting prices big time on Australian grown produce, or sourcing from off shore, and while both have the end result of a lower consumer price, they also hurt the Australian farmers. Even though the supermarkets say that they are treating these items as ‘loss leaders’ (don’t think they use that term here, but Canadians will understand), eventually it has to trickle down to the farmer. And it also affects farmers in that they often sell to smaller vendors (who also get hurt). Recently, there was a news story about how orchards in Young left almost 30 percent of their plums to rot on the trees this year because they normally sell them through independent markets in Sydney, which can’t compete with the big supermarkets.
So, we like to do our share in supporting Australian farmers – and it also means we get veggies fresher than we could often get in Edmonton! And it is kind of cool driving around the Riverina and seeing all the lambs in the paddocks knowing that we could be eating one of them soon (apologies to our ethically-vegetarian friends out there, but we LOVE lamb).
But, having said that, there are times when having limited access to non-Australian products can be annoying. No, we don’t want to start buying produce from China just because it is cheaper, but some things just seem better when coming from other continents. And sometimes we just want ‘the real thing’.
For example, we can buy French-style cheeses, such as brie, that are made in Australia. But there is something a bit…well, they aren’t French! Not sure how to explain it properly, but it isn’t just how it is made that makes a French cheese French – it is also the kind of cow, what they eat, where the cheese ages, etc. Same with British cheeses. There is something in stores here called Red Leicester, but it isn’t real Red Leicester – that only comes from a small part of England, and no one seems to be able to replicate it. We can’t figure out how they can even use the name here! Knight’s Meats does sell some French, Italian and English cheeses, and we do buy them frequently, but sometimes the extra cost isn’t justifiable over the Australian imitation. And we can buy ‘Italian style’ wine, made by people of Italian heritage in the King Valley, where the climate is similar to that of Italy. But it isn’t Italian wine. As for real Italian wines, there are one or two available in Wagga, along with a couple of French ones. In the bigger cities, there will be a better variety. We probably won’t be able to get Canadian ones anywhere though.
One thing we will never buy here though is maple syrup…they don’t make it here. But we could buy Canadian maple syrup; it is just a bit expensive here on the island.