Art and Appetite

An article about A Day on the Green, including a very positive article about Mark Seymour performing in Mudgee.

Author: Michelle Rowe, The Australian.

Date: 11 December 2010.

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“ARE you going to A Day on the Green?” the woman at the retro milk bar in Gulgong asks as she hands us two milkshakes in old-style metal containers. We are greeted with the question so often this weekend that we begin to refer to it as the Mudgee Hello.

It soon becomes clear that we could be the only two people in this central-western NSW region, 3 1/2 hours’ drive from Sydney, who aren’t heading to the outdoor music festival at Robert Oatley Vineyards to watch John Farnham make another comeback.

But we are not in the least perturbed. We’ve already caught the hottest gig in town and, far from a big day out in a vineyard with 5500 people, it was a simple two-man acoustic set in a corrugated-iron shed out the back of an old wine bar.

That the intimate session, featuring former Hunters & Collectors lead singer Mark Seymour, is the best live act we have ever seen is just one of many pleasant Mudgee surprises.

We have clearly arrived at the right time. After extended dry spells, Mudgee has finally seen some rain and is looking lush and green. It’s Friday evening and we are tucking into rustic woodfired chorizo and mushroom pizzas at Roth’s Wine Bar as we chat to Kirsty Stokes who, with partner Jason Gaff, took over the venue – Australia’s oldest continually operating wine bar – in December last year.

Seymour is just one of a string of high-profile acts – including Tim Finn, James Reyne and Richard Clapton – the determined Stokes has attracted to the venue since taking charge and she is always coming up with new ideas, such as trivia nights, movie evenings as well as these popular live performances from big-name acts. Next in the pipeline will be a series of cooking demos, with hoped-for appearances by celebrity chefs including Neil Perry and MasterChef Australia’s Poh Ling Yeow and Julie Goodwin.

Tonight the shed in which Seymour is performing is packed. Who knows whether Farnham will have his vineyard audience as spellbound as Seymour has us, but it’s certain A Day on the Green – a rolling series of concerts staged at vineyards around Australia – is a boon for Mudgee. The event injects about $1.5 million into the local economy during the weekend. This is great news for Mudgee’s many small businesses, such as the cool Cherry Red boutique on Market Street, which stocks the best range of designer gear in town, and local dining spots Sajo’s (which doubles as a hangout for the cool crowd at night) and the terrific Deeb’s Kitchen (a husband and wife-run Mediterranean restaurant a few minutes outside the town centre).

Two new openings – Alley Cats Cafe set in a cobblestoned courtyard and the even more recent Andrew Harris cellar door and homewares store on Market Street (pop in for exquisite gift ideas) – will also see extra trade.

We drive 20 minutes north to Gulgong, a 19th-century goldrush town, and in Mayne Street we step out of the car and back in time 50 years. In one shop window a display of toys and games from my childhood – Mr Potato Head, Kaboom, Mousetrap, Shaker Maker, Trouble – stops me in my tracks. There is not a single electronic gadget among them and it’s a pleasant reminder of a more innocent era.

Alas, like many of the shops on this strip it is simply a nod to the past, a museum-like display fronting a store long since closed.

Gulgong has about 130 buildings listed with the National Trust and is doing an admirable job of preserving history. It is also home to a thriving arts community.

After popping into the Butcher Shop Cafe for a cold drink, we continue our walk down Mayne Street and take a right into Herbert where we stumble across Cudgegong Gallery, another unexpected surprise. Showcasing fine Australian and international ceramic art in the sleekly redeveloped old town hall, this is a sophisticated find in such a quirky and historic town.

There is more local art to be found at Fairview Artspace, set in a heritage building 2km outside Mudgee’s town centre, which shares a plot with Mudgee Gourmet, the Small Winemakers Centre and Gulgee Wool Shed.

Mudgee Gourmet is an excellent place to familiarise yourself with the region’s plethora of local produce. Owners Clem and Vanessa Cox have done the hard yards by ferreting out the best gourmet offerings, such as sauces, spreads, jams and glazes. Most are available for tasting, with recipe notes for those who can’t resist a purchase but have no idea what to do with it when they get it home.

Being a couple who would never knowingly under-condiment, we buy a couple of exotic-sounding jars; the shiraz and lemon thyme wine jelly will be making a guest appearance on the Christmas turkey.

The thriving and passionate community of producers includes Georgie and James Caspar of Ormiston Free Range who run a farm shop, deli and the Farmers’ Pantry cafe just off Castlereagh Highway and also do farm tours of the smallholding on which they breed Berkshire and Duroc pigs. We stop by the Farmers’ Pantry for lunch and tuck into a shared tasting plate of locally made goodies including Ormiston park rillettes, ham, salami and chorizo, Lakelands olives, Cooyal Grove pistachios, High Valley feta, homemade dips and organic sourdough for $38 the lot.

The Caspars, James a vet and Georgie an animal behaviourist, relocated from Britain with their children Felix and Emily looking for a tree change. “We came for a long weekend to Mudgee and thought it was a lovely place,” Georgie says. “What we wanted was a strong foodie area . . . Lots of people are producing great food and it just felt natural.”

I couldn’t imagine a more pleasant way to spend a few hours than taking an outdoor table at the Farmers’ Pantry on a sunny day and pairing some of Ormiston’s excellent smallgoods with a glass of wine from the adjacent Burrundulla tasting room.

The Mudgee region backs on to the Hunter Valley, and is itself no slouch when it comes to winemaking. The third-largest grape-growing region in NSW, it is home to a growing number of organic vineyards, one of which is Thistle Hill on McDonalds Road. For winemaker Michael Slater there is no grey area when it comes to doing things the organic way. “If you can’t grow grapes organically you shouldn’t be growing grapes,” he says.

There’s a cellar door and gourmet store at Thistle Hill and yet another opportunity to sit outside with a glass of wine and a local cheese plate on its small deck.

We make our way back to Sydney reluctantly. But there are a couple more highlights in store: the Lue Pottery gallery run by local character Des Howard in the tiny village of Lue, and the gorgeous gift store-cum-restaurant, 29 Nine 99, just across the road from the Lakelands Olives tasting room at Rylstone.

It is at 29 Nine 99 (Bridge View Inn, Louee Street, Rylstone) that we find that elusive piece of artwork to fit the empty space on our living-room wall. Reg Buckland, who owns the tiny shop with his Chinese-born wife Na Lan, is another of the region’s artists and his works, along with Na Lan’s beautiful linocut prints, are on sale. The store also sells gorgeous homewares and soft furnishings sourced from China.

Even better, 29 Nine 99 turns out a thoroughly excellent yum cha lunch. Who’d have thought?

Michelle Rowe was a guest of Visit Mudgee Region.


The next Day on the Green event, on January 25, will feature INXS, Baby Animals, Train and Sean Kelly from the Models at Robert Oatley Vineyards. More: