The crazy rule complicating country life

Chef Phil Wood at Pt Leo Estate, the site of Laura restaurant.
Chef Phil Wood at Pt Leo Estate, the site of Laura restaurant. 


On my 35-minute drive to work each morning I pass a potato farm, olive grove, half a dozen farm gates, twice as many wineries and a road that leads to an amazing goat farm and cheese maker.

I travel over rolling hills, through wooded glens and by national parks. Along the way, signs warn me of the risk of encountering Australia's rather large and fast-moving wildlife.

At times I've pulled over to the side of the road to message other staff members and warn them that kangaroos are lurking around the trees in the pitch-black night on the regular route home. This may sound like cotton-wooling but four members of our team have already had the unfortunate experience of meeting the coat of arms head-on while driving along a wooded road at 80 kilometres an hour.

I myself have had the bright reflective eyes of unmoving objects stare back at me in the middle of the night. After advising local area command, I was instructed to dial 000 and, with some hesitation and trepidation, I called to report these bovine escapees (I shouldn't have worried as apparently this is a normal occurrence around here). I then waited on the side of the road until after midnight for the poor constables who were tasked with apprehending the animal interlopers and establishing which farm they came from.

Encounters such as this have been part of the joy of leaving inner Sydney in the name of a tree change, so I was pretty surprised to find out that I both live and work in Metropolitan Melbourne. Yes, the beautiful green pastoral lands of the Mornington Peninsula's rural area are actually considered part of Metropolitan Melbourne by the federal bureaucrats.

I now count amongst my friends primary producers whose families have farmed this land for generations. They are excited about the impending revolution of automation, not just for the productivity opportunities technology offers but so they no longer need to beg people to come and help them harvest their crops.

Because despite the farms, wineries, regular road kill and lack of public transport in the Peninsula's rural area, we don't qualify as a region where young keen holiday workers can extend their working life in Australia through rural work as part of the second year visa scheme.

I expected that my desire to live amongst producers would lead me down the path of praising their ability to produce beautiful crops.

What I didn't expect to encounter was the unknown reasons for what constitutes a regional area. We need a common sense solution because farmers around Australia are struggling to find workers under the current visa system.

We were fortunate this year to win a best regional restaurant award. I wish my farming friends could take this award to their local representative to ask why they aren't also in the same classification.

Phil Wood is culinary director of Pt. Leo Estate in Merricks, Victoria, and former executive chef of Eleven Bridge and Rockpool est.1989, Sydney.