South Australia’s Tastes of the Outback festival is now as much about soaking up the environment as it is the food and wine.

Story By John Kruger

Proud Port Augusta local Aaron Morgan motors his boat into the sheltered, shallow waters of Spencer Gulf and kills the engine. There's a weird absence of noise – not even the sound of water lapping on the sides of the hull – as time seems to stand still. The sun begins to set in a huge clear open sky, and the colour changes slowly yet dramatically along the Flinders Ranges in the background. Aaron whips out a platter of amazingly soft and moist smoked kangaroo rump and tasty kangaroo garlic mettwurst from White’s Meats in Port Augusta. The other side of the platter has watercrackers and generous slices of firm, delicious smoked kingfish from Arno Bay. There's also a pot of onion confit as a sweet addition to the tasty roo. Aaron hands over a cold bottle of Coopers Pale Ale and for a moment, it's hard to decide which is better, the beer and canapés combination or the stunning scenery and surround sunset. Flinders Water Cruises was just one of the highlights of this year’s Tastes of the Outback festival in South Australia in April and it epitomises how the 10-day event has developed. It’s so much more than food and wine – it’s big skies, space and regional hospitality, enjoyed with unique dining experiences and a few drinks as well.
Heading north from Clare the landscape changes from the rolling broad-acre farming country around Crystal Brook to hints of the Flinders Ranges growing bigger in the background. One of the first places to visit is The Old Bakery in Stone Hut, just past Laura. For years Stone Hut was a blink on a main road as motorists sped past, with few or no services available to encourage visitors to stop for a break. Dennis and Margaret Wheatley now have a full car park next to the bakery, while the big gum trees across the road have a collection of four-wheel-drives and caravans under the shade beside them while a group of grey nomads have lunch in the bakery.
Dennis and Margaret have only been in Stone Hut for two years since moving from Wirrabarra, just up the road, and display an immense pride in their local area. “Some people say that we're in the middle of nowhere, but to us it's the centre of the universe,” Margaret says. Their espresso machine runs constantly and visitors take their time looking through the massive collection of regional wines, olive oils, ciders, liqueurs, pistachios, and more. A closer inspection of the shelves reveals a few of the usual ubiquitous products, but if you want a Coke you’ll have to reach down past the locally made soft drinks to get to one. It’s little things like this that make this place work well and it recently won them an SA Great small-business award. Dennis embraces the unique foods of the bush with a collection of pies of noteworthy size.

This story excerpt is from Issue #54

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2007