The humble spud is breathing new life into two small rural towns, which are proud of their potato heritage.

Story John Dunn   Photo Fairfax   

Crookwell and its 2600 people on the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, and Trentham and its population of 1800 in central Victoria are centres of large potato-growing areas where a kind, cool climate combines with the right rainfall to produce regular and successful crops. In May each year residents celebrate with festivals, which not only draw considerable local support but attract thousands of visitors from other areas, providing a substantial lift to their respective economies.

Some might ask how can such an ordinary-looking, starchy tuber be interesting enough to attract such attention. In fact, there are a growing number of aficionados around the nation who are becoming intrigued by the many potato varieties and who are caught up in the culinary aspects of successfully matching the proper potato to the correct cuisine. And there are many, such as Beaujolais wine buffs, who want to be the first to sample the new product each year.

“More and more people are taking their potatoes very seriously,” says Garry Kadwell, a fourth-generation farmer from Crookwell, who specialises in growing seed potatoes on his 350-hectare property Rosedale just outside town. “Several like to buy from the first crop each year because those potatoes are young and flavoursome,” Garry says. “Many can tell one variety from another even though there are perhaps 40 different kinds, and they know some are more suited to certain dishes than others. For instance, your roast of lamb or beef will be better complemented by the sebagos, while marancas are the choice for fish because they’re the best crispers.”

It was increasing interest in information such as this that set a group of local people in Crookwell and Trentham thinking that they could make more of the vegetable. “So we conceived a festival as a way to bring an economic injection to the town,” Andrew Warren, Upper Lachlan tourism manager, says. “From Crookwell’s very first one in 2011 we have been digging, cooking and decorating potatoes, educating visitors about the attractions and advantages of the spud, and having a lot of fun along the way. The festival grows annually, and in May this year we expect about 5000 to attend. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #123

Outback Magazine: February/March 2019