As mentioned previously, the Riverina Region of New South Wales around Griffith is agricultural country with favorable climate and soils. With the addition of irrigation, local farmers grow fresh produce and citrus fruits for both domestic and export markets. There is also a large wine industry producing both limited quantities of “premium” wines for the specialty market and large quantities for people who want quality wine at an “every day” price.
When we were in Australia in 2002, Jon discovered shiraz wine; being a frequent and loyal shopper at Costco, it wasn’t very long before he discovered [yellow tail]® wine. So it seemed only natural that we would search out and tour the winery where it is created. That happens to be Casella Family Brands in the little town of Yenda just a few miles from Griffith.
In 1957, Filippo Casella brought his family from Sicily to Australia, and in 1965, he purchased 45 acres of farmland and set up a small vineyard which eventually expanded into a winery. John Casella, one of Filippo’s sons, joined the family business in 1994 and became the Managing Director. The [yellow tail] brand was introduced in 2001 and was an immediate success in the United States. It is now the number one red wine in the USA. In order to meet the demand, they now have two bottling lines that run at 24,000 and 36,000 bottles per hour. The 36,000 bottle line is the fastest wine bottling line in the world.
Enough with the numbers, already … But it takes numbers to relate the size and growth of this enterprise, sorry! We contacted them and arranged a time for a tour. We were given an excellent personalized tour of the 90 acre facility. They are in the middle of this year’s vintage (harvest), so we were able to watch huge double-trailer trucks bringing grapes in from all over Australia to be crushed and the juice moved into one of the one hundred 1.1 million liter (290,500 gallons) fermenting tanks. We also watched the entire process of bottling the wine through putting the palletized cases into shipping containers. Not fun for the operators of the 36k bottling line, but interesting to us, was when the labeling machine stopped labeling properly and the inspection machine began rejecting hundreds of bottles – quite an impressive backup, quickly solved!
They are extremely proud of their family-owned business and its size. As an example, Les, our guide, told us of a conversation with another wine maker who told him how much wine they had produced that year. To which Les replied, “Oh, we probably spilled that much.”
Australia has created the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) with Canberra as the capital city. Like the District of Columbia and Washington in the United States, this area is set aside to belong to the nation rather than to be another state. ACT and Canberra were created in 1908 when the separate colonies decided to gather as a single country as part of the British Commonwealth. Unlike most cities, Canberra is entirely planned. It was designed by Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin following an international contest. The plan features geometric motifs such as circles, hexagons, and triangles, and is centered on axes aligned with significant topographical landmarks. Construction began in 1913, but political and legal squabbles caused considerable delay.
Prior to the opening of the Provisional Parliament House (later to become the Old Parliament House and now called the Museum of Australian Democracy) in 1927, Federal Parliament “borrowed” the Victoria State Capital in Melbourne. The provisional building served as the seat of government until early 1988 when it moved to the larger and permanent Parliament House on Capital Hill. In December that same year, Australia was granted full self-government through an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament in Great Britain.
From Parliament House’s position on Capital Hill, you can look down a wide grass mall to Old Parliament House. Beyond that, your eye travels over Lake Burley Griffin, along the ANZAC Parade, and comes to rest on the Australian War Memorial. The idea of a memorial was conceived in 1916 during World War I to ensure preservation of records relating to the war being fought at the time. The Memorial was officially opened on November 11, 1941, Australia’s Remembrance Day.
The Commemorative Area is a U-shaped structure with a pool and eternal flame in its center. The side cloisters hold bronze plaques that contain the names of more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives while serving in any capacity with the Australian military. At the head of the “u” is the Hall of Valour honoring all the men and women who have served, and it includes the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier under a beautiful dome. Beneath is a museum telling the history of all the military conflicts in which Australia has been involved. There is also a Research Centre containing all of the records.
Each evening at closing time, the Memorial holds a Last Post Ceremony. It begins with the singing of the Australian National Anthem and a Lament is played by a piper. They then tell the story behind one of the names that appear on the Honor Roll. The day we were there, members of that man’s family laid wreaths and a eulogy was given by his great-niece who is also serving in the military. The ceremony ends with a bugler sounding the Last Post. It was a time of reflection.
On a lighter note, located on a small island in Lake Burley Griffin is the National Carillon. It contains 55 tuned brass bells mounted in a tower. Regularly scheduled concerts are held and can be heard from many points surrounding the lake and in the neighborhoods around. We were fortunate to listen to a concert performed by Astrid Bowler, a well-known carillonier.
High on Black Mountain overlooking the city is the Telstra Tower. Telstra is the largest telephone and communications provider in Australia and they built a 195.2 meter (640 feet) tower to house the major communication needs for the city and connections to the rest of the nation. Of course they included inside and outside viewing galleries and a revolving restaurant between the 54m (177 ft) and 62 m (203 ft) levels. The views were spectacular and the wind was cold and powerful.
Our last stop in Canberra was to visit the Old Bus Depot Markets. As the name implies, it is the former bus barn and maintenance depot for the city public transportation system. Today it is a typical market where you can find vendors selling mostly hand-crafted items, bakery goods, plants, and homemade goodies. And, of course, there is always a food court where one can try a wide variety of cuisines.