Whilst living, travelling, visiting and holidaying on Wadandi Boodja, we ask that you respect the area and walk softly on the country, taking the time to listen to Boodja (Country) as she Wongi (talks) of the season, and leave nothing but footprints.
– Pibulmun Wadandi Yunungjarli Elder Wayne Webb.
Thursday, February 23rd, marked the first-ever Pre-Vintage Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony presented by the Margaret River Wine Association (MRWA) and Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association (MRBTA). The gathering centred around welcoming those arriving in the area to help with vintage and sharing with them the beautiful culture and history of the traditional custodians, the Wadandi (Saltwater) people.
Set at the serene Pioneer Park Amphitheatre in Cowaramup, the evening began with the musical stylings of local guitarist and vocalist, Dan White. His laidback, acoustic tunes filled the air as the sun dipped down behind the treetops and blanketed the park in dappled golden light. Viticulturists, winemakers, cellar hands, vineyard workers, as well as local community members, trickled in with chairs, eskies, and picnics in tow. It was a joyous scene as friends reconnected, colleagues kicked back and vintage teams swapped stories.
As everyone settled into their own patchwork of blankets and camping chairs, quiet settled over the crowd. That is when Amanda Whiteland, CEO of the Margaret River Wine Association, took the stage. She welcomed all and thanked the hard-working individuals who have come to the region to lend a helping hand during this busy period. She then recounted the start of vintage 2023, noting that despite a slow beginning to the growing season, the consistently warm and sunny days of January and February mean the region is on track for a fabulous vintage.
Next Stuart Hicks, Chair of the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association Directors, spoke to the unique makeup of our coastal region with its meld of locals as well as interstate and international transplants. He asked anyone whose parents and grandparents were born in the region to put up their hands. With only several hands raised, Mr Hicks acknowledged the far-reaching heritage of the Wadandi people whose connection to this land dates back over 50,000 years.
Mr Hicks invited to the stage Wadandi Pibulmun Elder, Dr Wayne Webb and Iszaac Webb of the Undalup Association, who then welcomed the group onto their ancestral land and spoke of the Bunuru season. It is one of the six ancestral seasons of the people of Wadandi Boodja and stretches from February to March covering a vast majority of the vintage period.
Iszaac spoke of the name of the land on which we stood, ‘Cowaramup’. Although often incorrectly associated with cows, the name actually means ‘place of the purple-crowned lorikeet.’ He then recounted a Wadandi legend surrounding the Cowara bird and how it stole fire from the thunder and lightning gods. This led quite naturally to the smoking ceremony.
Traditionally, a smoking ceremony is used to cleanse and purify the spirit, body and soul and signifies the beginning of something new. As such, it seemed the perfect way to signify the start of this exciting time for the local wine industry. Wayne and Iszaac lit the smokebush and guests had the opportunity to bathe in the cleansing plumes of smoke. Attendees were also invited to daub their faces and hands with white ochre to show their connection to country.
With Dan White once again spreading the good vibes with his guitar, people took turns kneeling by the fire pit, painting their faces, and chatting to Iszaac and Wayne. Folks mingled and caught up, soaking in the last glimmers of evening light before eventually calling it a night.
Altogether it was a spectacular way to welcome newcomers and celebrate the start of harvest. It offered the rare opportunity to reflect on the remarkable history of the region while looking with eager anticipation to what the future of vintage 2023 may have in store. The Margaret River Wine Association has declared that this will now be an annual event and we cannot wait to see how it continues to evolve in the years to come.
Photography by @oviscreative.