From Humble Beginnings
Way back on 4 May 1815 Governor Macquarie remarked upon his first sighting that the appearance of the Bathurst Plains was truly grand, beautiful and one of the finest landscapes he had ever seen. Three days later Macquarie proclaimed Bathurst the first inland settlement, named after Lord Bathurst the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.
After an examination of the water, soil, timber and other natural productions of the Macquarie valley, this rich, fertile and luxuriant country was judged to be ideally suited for pastoral purposes, which led to the government herds being relocated to the area from Sydney and coastal areas. As meat was the staple of everyone’s diet, cattle and sheep breeding became predominant, together with draught oxen, bullocks and horses needed by the colony for working stock.
The early settlers interacted with the Wiradjurri Aboriginal people, a semi nomadic tribe who showed the Europeans their homeland and harvesting methods, including animals previously unknown to Europeans such as platypus, ducks, pigeons, quail, kangaroos, emus, black swans and many varieties of fish.
Macquarie also established a small party of convicts and soldiers to plant wheat which became the start of permanent agriculture on the Bathurst plains. Newcomers settled on river frontages of approx. 50 acres, and were issued with one cow and some wheat to get started.
From these humble beginnings the Bathurst region developed into one of the most prominent and vibrant agriculture industries in the State. Over the years some of the traditional cattle and sheep grazing land, and acreage under crops and orchards, have made way for some new niche industries such as vineyards, olive groves and nut farms as producers struggled to diversify and survive.
The First BRE&D
Bathurst had many early agricultural pioneers and one of our best known was Gordon Edgell, who introduced market gardening down on the river flats of Bathurst on a large scale.
Then in 1926, Gordon established our first cannery, which over the next 88 years established contracts with over 100 Australian farmers with vegetables as the main product.
Hobby farmers found a similar niche by growing organic food for personal consumption or sharing with family and friends. And in more recent times, the fresh food and slow food movements have taken people back to their roots as consumers demand more information on nutrition, diet and healthy living.
In September 2001, with the assistance of Bathurst City Council, a community group called Bathurst Region Eats & Drinks (BRE&D) was formed to increase consumer awareness of our local produce, to promote the Bathurst Region as a culinary tourist destination and to contribute to the economic sustainability of the local industry.
The first BRE&D Committee was elected comprising Hal Rossiter (Chair), Wendy Porter (Vice Chair), Bob Henry (Treasurer), Margaret Hogan (Publicity Officer) and Felicity Baines (Honorary Secretary).
The committee decided to officially launch BRE&D with unique flagship event, a long lunch on the historic Dennison Bridge overlooking the Macquarie River on Sunday 24 March, 2002.
With the assistance of Bathurst Mayor Ian Macintosh, General Manager Phil Perram, Councillors Mary Tudor & Lisa Schofield and Director David Shaw the event was conducted as part of senior’s week with Council underwriting public liability insurance risks.
The event proved a huge success with the Sydney, Canberra and Regional media reporting that 500 diners enjoyed a carnival type luncheon prepared by volunteers as they wine & dined on the culinary delights of the Bathurst region with entertainment by local musicians.
The Development of Bathursts Farmers Markets
Following the successful launch of Bre&d on the Bridge the Committee integrated more closely with the Central Ranges Food & Wine (CRFW) project which was established to assist in the promotion, development and education of the regions food, wine and tourism industry.
The project was the first of its kind in Australia and began by establishing local monthly Farmers Markets in Mudgee, Orange & Cowra.
Bathurst followed shortly after when on 26 October 2002 Bathurst Region Eats and Drinks (Bre&d) established the monthly Framers Market in the heritage and agriculture pavilions of the Bathurst Showground where consumers started buying regional produce directly from agriculture growers and producers.
The first market attracted 20 stallholders who sold their authentic farm and value added produce to a crowd of 500 consumers. It was managed by Kim Currie, CRFW Development Officer and Bre&d Treasurer Bob Henry with the Lions Club of Bathurst assisting with gate and parking arrangements.
These arrangements continued for the next 8 months until Bre&d called expressions of interest and “The Bre&d & Butter Providores” (Bob Henry, Mark Haley & Christine Le Fevre) were appointed as permanent market managers.
Over the next 2 years the Bathurst regional community certainly endorsed the new shopping revolution sweeping Australian as the market expanded to 100 stallholders, supported by a crowd of up to 10,000 consumers to rival many metropolitan markets.
In fact the Australian Financial Review reported the Bathurst Farmers Market was the largest and best Farmers Market in country Australia.
The concept proved an excellent conduit for smaller growers and producers to showcase their wares and gain much needed brand and industry acceptance in an “Agriculture Market Meeting Place” each month, where consumers enjoyed purchasing fresh healthy produce at its nutritional peak.
From Breakie to Dinner
Following the popularity of the first “BRE&D on the Bridge Luncheon” tickets starting selling like hot cakes.
To satisfy the increased demand and allow more people to experience the culinary delights of the Bathurst region, Bre&d organized two further events on the Dennison Bridge.
A musical dinner under the stars was held on the Saturday night and a Farmers Market breakie was organized in conjunction with the monthly markets. Both events were very well patronized and Bre&d had to pull out all stops using their voluntary resources to run 4 events in 2 days.
In 2003 Bathurst Council and Procar canvassed Bathurst organizations to run Off-Track activities so the 24 hour motor race would be more widely accepted and supported by the Bathurst community, and so first class entertainment would be available for fans and competitors.
Bre&d responded to the invitation and organized several food & wine events for this major international motorsport event which were staged over 4 days and beamed around the world during the TV coverage of the event.
First up Bre&d hired a heritage train with beautiful restored wooden carriages from The Rail Motor Society based at Paterson. Then they organised 4 train rides over 4 nights out to the historic Tarana Hotel where patrons dined on the culinary delights of the Bathurst region with food prepared by local chefs and wine from local vineyards.
During the day the train transported patrons to Mudgee where cellar door visits were organised together with lunch in the vineyards. Another activity involved historic train rides for local school students.
However the major event staged by this non-profit, community group was a black tie dinner in the fore court of Bathurst Court House where 200 fans and competitors experienced Bathurst through their tastebuds.
In May 1999 Bob Henry & Chris Siegert had a dream or a vision of setting up a food and wine centre on the highway to showcase the unique food and wine of our local area and promote the Bathurst region as a culinary tourist destination.
They set up a company called the Central West Gateway and began discussions with Bathurst Council Director David Shaw who also saw a need to relocate the Visitors Centre from lower William Street to a more prominent location.
Eventually 2 new buildings were constructed on Morse Park and following Expression of Interest and Public Tender processes, Absolutely Delicious opened in August 2004. By then Chris had moved onto other things and Bob invited his co Farmers Market Managers to join him in the venture.
The new Café was used as a unique opportunity to assist Bathurst Council to promote local tourism by supplying an essential conduit between growers/producers and consumers to raise the profile of our local food and wine industry.
It provided consumers with an “absolutely delicious unique experience” by sampling "local fresh and nutritious produce" to promote Bathurst as a prominent food and wine destination.
Travellers and visitors were also encouraged to venture further afield, and interact with local producers, manufacturers and value adders, resulting in longer stays in the Bathurst region and naturally repeat visitations.
The overall objective was to support Bathurst Regional Council under the NSW Tourism Master Plan to promote more effective coordination and cooperation between industry, the community and Government.
Absolutely Delicious has become a very popular venue with travellers, tourists and locals, becoming a significant tourism attraction in it’s own right, providing a complementary and supportive role for the adjoining Bathurst Visitor’s Information Centre.
Story provided by Bob Henry