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Bird flu, 50-cent fares and footing the bill

Bird flu, 50-cent fares and footing the bill
Artist Dale Frank’s dreamy dry-climate botanical gardens, open 30 June.
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Anna Rogan
Anna Rogan Tallarook, Victoria
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Plus how to be a farmer. Welcome to Galah Weekly, our newsy newsletter keeping you up to date with regional headlines that matter, plus other delightful things from life beyond the city. By Anna Rogan, who is happy to do her bit to address an oversupply of Australian wine.

Regional news round-up

Bird flu has landed

After four years with no recorded cases of bird flu, it appears the current global outbreak of the virus has finally landed in Australia. The first human case of the dangerous H5N1 strain was detected in a child travelling home to Australia from India this week. Should you be worried about catching it? The Victorian Department of Health doesn’t think so. Commenting on the human case, a department spokesperson said "avian influenza does not easily spread between people" and the risk of additional human cases is currently "very low" (full story). 

If you’re a poultry farmer or keep backyard chickens in Australia, there’s more cause for concern. Three separate strains of bird flu have popped up on poultry farms across the country in the past two weeks: two in Victoria (full story) and one in WA (full story). Half a million birds have now been euthanised in Victoria, and local authorities are urging all poultry and chicken owners to follow biosecurity practices to stop the spread of the virus (full story). 

As a precaution, the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has placed a temporary suspension on health certification for all Australian exports of poultry meat and egg products (media release). But a spokesperson from Agriculture Victoria says: “Consumers should not be concerned about eggs and poultry products from the supermarkets, they do not pose a risk and are safe to consume.” 

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Who foots the bill?

Bird flu isn’t the only biosecurity concern for Australia right now as fire ants march across Queensland (full story), varroa mites infiltrate bee hives (full story), and the debate around the Federal Government’s controversial biosecurity levy rages on. 

What’s this about a levy? Last year, the government proposed a new biosecurity levy bill that would see Australia’s biosecurity costs split between importers (48%), taxpayers (44%), primary producers (6%) and Australia Post (2%). The 6% producer split is the controversial part. It’s estimated at about $50 million a year and has faced significant political opposition and backlash from farmers (full story).

In response to the backlash, the Federal Government asked a special Senate committee to scrutinise its proposed plans. And while the committee ultimately put its support behind the levy (full story), the Greens, who hold the balance of power in the Senate, say they won’t back the bill when it’s raised in parliament (full story).

Record highs for regional housing

House and rent prices in regional Australia have hit record highs and are increasing at a faster rate than city prices, according to CoreLogic’s latest regional market update. In the first quarter of 2024, house prices increased 2.1% in regional Australia compared to 1.7% in cities. Meanwhile, rent prices in regional areas increased by 6.3%, a big jump from the 4.9% increase in the previous quarter. 

“After falling -5.8% between May 2022 and January 2023, regional home values have seen a slower recovery compared to capital city values but have now regained the losses from the downturn,” said CoreLogic Australia economist, Kaytlin Ezzy.

QLD and WA had the strongest price growth, which Ezzy said is partly thanks to their “diversity in economic activity” as well as “higher levels of interstate migration, relative affordability and low supply levels” (full story).

How far will 50 cents take you?

Quite a long way if you’re travelling on Qld public transport. A new 50-cent flat fare will be trialled in the state for six months starting in August. Premier Stephen Miles said the cheaper-than-chips fare will help to ease cost of living pressures and traffic congestion (full story).

The 50-cent fare will apply across all zones and modes of transport on Qld’s Translink network including bus, train (excluding Airtrain), ferry, tram, on-demand services in south-east Queensland, and all regional buses. I did some digging and found you could get all the way from the Gold Coast to Gympie on the Translink network. It’ll take six hours, two trains and a bus and should set you back only $1.50.

Split state

Qld state MP Robbie Katter moved a motion in state parliament this week to split Qld and create a new North Queensland state. Katter said more needs to be done for residents outside metropolitan areas and claimed that while billion-dollar upgrades had been provided to south-east projects such as the Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro, regional areas lacked basic infrastructure. "The majority of the policy coming out here is actually doing more damage than good to the regions," Katter said (full story).

A what-a-pus?

Twenty-five years ago Elizabeth Smith and her daughter Clytie discovered opalised bones while sifting through the tailings heap of an opal mine in Lightning Ridge, NSW. This week, palaeontologists finally published their research into those bones, which turned out to be 100 million-year-old fossils from three new species of extinct monotremes (aka furry, egg-laying mammals) including an echidna-platypus hybrid they’ve nicknamed the echidnapus.

According to the research, at least six monotreme species existed in Lightning Ridge during the Cretaceous period. “It’s like discovering a whole new civilisation,” said lead author Professor Tim Flannery. “There are no other kinds of mammals [in the area]. It suggests Australia experienced an age of monotremes when they were the dominant mammal” (full story).

This week's newsletter is sponsored by Westfund

Tell us about it

Kate Day, an on-the-ground Galah and award-winning winemaker at In Two Minds Wine weighed in on last week’s newsy and the challenges facing Australia’s wine industry.

“It’s the worst many veterans of the industry have ever seen it with little to no respite in sight. For small direct-to-consumer producers like us waging against large multinationals/duopolies, a flooded market due to the oversupply and China tariff woes, cost of living pressures, cost of production pressures and less people drinking wine, it has been a perfect storm.”

The best way to support the industry is to buy directly from small Australian producers. If you’re not sure where to start, the Galah team has some ideas.

Helen says, “Life is too short to drink bad wine. I look for well-made wine using good fruit, and often (though not always) it’s the smaller Australian vignerons and winemakers that are creating excellent and interesting wines. I’m lucky, though. I live in a wine region, near the Tamar Valley in northern Tasmania, where all the wine is made by small labels and growers, and it’s easy to taste across vintages at local wine bars and shops and direct at cellar doors. A few of our local favourites include Utzinger Wines, Supply River Mill, Bellebonne, Wellington & Wolfe and Burgundian-style wines from Apsley Gorge on the east coast".

Annabelle says, “I drink whatever wine Alistair from Stonefruit in Tenterfield tells me I should drink. One of my fave labels, thanks to Stonefruit, is Jilly Wines. Made in the Northern Rivers (not traditional wine country) using grapes from colder climates, all the Jilly Wines are fun and young and alive". 

As for me, we have granite hills and a Mediterranean-style climate here in the Goulburn Region, which makes for delicious wine. I especially love sharing local drops with visitors and regularly reach for Bravegoose, Tar & Roses, Box Grove, Joy John and Maygar’s Hill. I also bought a case of In Two Minds rosé at the start of summer and it didn’t last long.

Galah goss

Thanks to generous Galah subscribers, we raised $2,850 for the national sexual, domestic and family violence response and recovery service, Full Stop, during the month of May. Our subscriber campaign is now closed, but we’re proud to continue supporting Full Stop in its important work (keep an eye out for the full-page ad in Galah Issue 10). If you missed the campaign but would like to make a personal donation to Full Stop, you can do that anytime here.

Meanwhile, Annabelle chatted to The Squiz on its News Club podcast and it could be one of my all-time favourite interviews (and not just because I’m a massive fan of The Squiz). Annabelle dished all the details on the Hickson pecan farm (“I like to say I’m a pecan farmer, but truthfully my husband is the pecan farmer, and I’m his happy flatmate”); starting a print magazine (“What a bonkers, silly idea”); and the importance of local news (“I think if you were going to be a slightly corrupt councillor or a slightly dodgy cop in a small town, now’s the time to do it because there aren’t people on the ground watching.”) Listen here.

What's on

Guidance II, photograph by Naomi Hobson from the Life On The River series, 2024.

Life on the River

Naomi Hobson captures the colour and playfulness of the Cape York Peninsula and the river life of the Coen community in her new series of photographs, Life on the River, showing at Cairns Art Gallery, 8 June-1 September. Read more

Dale Frank botanical gardens open day

Step into artist Dale Frank’s vast gardens and meander through a dreamy, dry-climate landscape featuring towering cacti, spiky palms and lush aloe and agave. The team has been busy paving, planting, weeding and manicuring in preparation for garden lovers to take a wander at Hambledon Hill in Singleton, NSW, on 30 June.  Read more.


This unique exhibition brings together the works of 16 artist residencies at the former Liddell Power station in Muswellbrook, NSW. Artists visited the site, met with workers, collected objects and ideas and created works that reflect the legacy of the power station and its future. The exhibition will be held across two sites: Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre and Singleton Arts & Cultural Centre, NSW, 8 June-11 August. Read more.

Wollombi Taste Festival

Celebrate the culinary and cultural heritage of the Wollombi Valley with food, wine, live entertainment and family-friendly activities. The week-long festival kicks off with unique dining experiences at restaurants and cafés across the valley that showcase local flavours and concludes with a long weekend packed with events including cracker night at the Wollombi Tavern on 8 June. Read more.

In the flock

“Stay young at heart and never forget what it’s like to be a kid,” says Josh Arnold. Photo: Tyla Arnold.

Josh Arnold, country musician

Interview by Emma Hearnes

Ten years ago, Golden Guitar-winning country music star Josh Arnold stepped out of the spotlight to let rural kids take centre stage. Arnold treks to outback schools where he collaborates with local kids and communities to write, perform and film songs about their home towns. These small-town anthems leave a legacy long after Arnold has left for his next stop on this unique Australian tour.

Where do you call home?
I live in Toowoomba, but my work takes me all over Australia. On my last big trip I travelled through outback Qld and wrote songs for the rural towns of Muttaburra, Isisford, Stonehenge and Jundah. For three of the videos, the whole town showed up in the main street for the final scenes—amazing community spirit.

Do you have an anthem?
Small Town is my anthem to growing up in Tara in western Qld. Coming from a small town inspires me to do what I do. I wrote it after I’d been working in schools for 10 years. It’s so important for the kids from out west to feel part of something and feel pride in who they are and where they come from. I believe that my songs and videos are leaving a legacy for people and their communities.

Which country musician should we be listening to?
Slim Dusty was the music man of Australian country. Unlike a lot of Aussie artists today, Slim sounds Australian, and he sang authentic songs with authentic Australian stories. He stayed true to this until the end.

What’s your mantra?
Always stay young at heart and never forget what it’s like to be a kid. Not only does this help me relate to the kids I get to work with—I really just feel like one of them when I’m in a school—but also seeing everything with the fresh eyes and enthusiasm of a child is the best way to stay creative.

One last thing

How to be a farmer

If you didn’t grow up on a farm and inherit the family business, farming can be a pretty tough profession to break into. Hands-on experience is hard to come by and the start-up costs can be astronomical. Rising land prices also mean starting a farm is more challenging than ever for young and new farmers. In fact, IPES-Food recently reported that 70% of farmland is now held by 1% of the world’s largest farms (report).

So, what’s the solution? According to research commissioned by Agriculture Victoria, innovative approaches such as land leasing, share-farming, co-operatives, alternative investment and tailored training programs can provide pathways for new and young farmers outside of traditional family succession models (report).

The Gateway to Small Scale Farming training pilot program is one such innovative approach. Working in conjunction with state and local governments and farms, the program trains young people in growing, harvesting, and selling produce across a range of industries (full story).

The Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC) in central Victoria, is another program that helps young farmers bypass huge land prices and enter agricultural fields. The co-op includes a diverse team of organic and regenerative farmers who all lease land from a single farm on Dja Dja Wurrung country owned by Katie and Hugh Finlay.

Tess Sellar, a young HOFC farmer says, “I’ve been running the dairy up at HOFC for six years now. I’d been putting money away for a long time with the plan to either start my business or buy a farm, knowing I couldn’t afford both. Having the opportunity to start at the co-op meant I could test out the business model first. Little did I know that the most valuable part of being in the co-op was farming alongside others. Having others around to celebrate when you have a win and an ear to listen when some cold hard farming realities happen."

HOFC is currently recruiting new members with interests in running enterprises in horticulture, orchards, grazing and other businesses. Aspiring farmers in central Victoria can find more information on joining HOFC here.

What’s new(s)?

We’d love to hear about the news, events and people that should be making the headlines in the Galah Weekly newsy. Share what’s new(s) in your neck of the woods with us at newsie@galahpress.com