By Dianne Bortoletto
If I had a dollar every time someone said, “you’re going to love the Kimberley” I’d able to pay for a month-long stay at El Questro. My trip to Australia’s North West was not only to experience the Kimberley for the first time, but more specifically, to go to the ‘Best Regional Event in Australia’, the Ord Valley Muster.
Winning the prestigious title at the Australian Event Awards last year, the Ord Valley Muster is a cluster of 30 varied events packed into a ten-day festival that includes international comedy, a rodeo, cooking classes, special dinners, art, talent quests, markets and a huge rock concert that this year boasted Bernard Fanning and Troy Cassar-Daley in the line up, alongside a 500-strong black tie dinner. The event hub is Kununurra in far north Western Australia, the gateway to the Kimberley touted the world’s last true wilderness frontier.
Kununurra itself is a small rural town set on Lake Kununurra, a section of the Ord River. The town seemed functional – a pub, service station, several cafes, travel agents, banks, souvenir shops and a Target Country. It’s not exactly the sort of town you’d travel 3000km from Perth for. My love for the Kimberley was thus far unkindled.
Plenty of people love the hallmark event, the Durack Homestead Dinner where a celebrity chef, George Calombaris (MasterChef) this year, cook for guests who dine under the sparkling night sky in the company of boab trees and a windmill. The Durack Homestead Dinner is so popular that a ballot system had to be introduced to make it fair to the 500 people applying for just 80 seats.
Transport to the Durack Homestead in the East.
Kimberley was included with the ticket. After a pre-transfer refreshment in the shady car park of the Kununurra Country Club Resort, the hour-long journey took us through true outback country; wide-open spaces, big bright blue skies, contrasting red earth dotted with fat boab trees and desert scrub. We passed through gorges as tall as city scrapers, burnt red in colour, catching glimpses of Lake Argyle. Lake Argyle is so big that it!&s classed as an inland ocean, 21 times the size of Sydney Harbour. Colossal.
On arrival, sounds of the didgeridoo welcomed us along with a glass of sparkling wine. Long wooden tables were set on the lawn complete with linen napkins. Toward the back of the Homestead, the open-flame wood barbeque released enticing wafts of the deliciousness to follow.
The Durack family were a prominent pastoral family, the early pioneers in the Kimberley and they built the stone Homestead in the 1880s. Now a museum, guests were invited to wander through, gleaning Kimberley life in the years gone by.
The dinner was a modern Greek feast starting with canapés and followed by crab spanakopita, short rib souvlaki with bone marrow gremolata, Barramundi, dirty aubergine and crowd favourite, the smoky grain salad. While passing platters and licking our lips, George Calombaris came out to chat and answer questions, moderated by The West Australian food critic, Rob Broadfield.
The evening was spectacular. Here we were in the middle of nowhere. It was buzzing enough to feel like a party but small enough to feel special, intimate, despite the vast country around us. Along with the mango compote served for desert, I!&m sure I ingested some Kimberley magic that night.
More magic was evident at both Fervor events - a breakfast and a degustation dinner, both held at the same secret location only accessible by boat. Fervor head chef Paul !’Yoda!( Iskov has an interesting food ethos; he connects with local Aboriginal elders, goes foraging with them to learn about native ingredients and then uses those ingredients in his dishes.
The sell-out Fervor events were held on the lush lawns of a private property along the banks of the Ord River, enjoyed by an intimate group of 50 people. Before each course, Paul introduced the dish and the native ingredients contained. At the breakfast, stand outs included the juice of desert lime and ant, yes, insect-ants, and the smoked egg, bush tomato, emu and charred damper.
The Fervor degustation dinner included a bonus – a near-full super moon that had guests gasping, pointing cameras and iPhones as it rose up from behind Elephant Rock across the Ord. Kimberley elder Neville Poelina captivated us with interesting stories about his people and country. The eight-course dinner included crocodile chorizo, scallop with ants, marron with native lemongrass, kangaroo with wild rosella and ended with guests out of their seats, roasting eucalyptus marshmallows over the fire pit. Incredible.
It was hard to know if it was the life-giving Ord River, the energy from the ancient landscape, experiencing unique and intimate events, eating unexpected ingredients or the genuine friendliness of every interaction that infliltrated my heart. Once I let go and just enjoyed each moment, the Kimberley magic took effect. They were right; I do love the Kimberley. It!&s a place that every Australian should visit once in their lifetime.
Ord Valley Muster is held each May, 19-28 May 2017
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