Double mission: Finding mutton-bird oil and wallaby salami

The early morning transfer to Flinders Island aboard Zodiacs necessitated a wet landing at Trousers Point beach, which meant wearing reef shoes or flip-flops in the boat and then switching to walking shoes once on shore. Beautiful spot, Trousers beach, a curvaceous bay with cerulean water and blond sand from which lichen-painted boulders, the color of dried oranges, hang out over the crystal clear water.

While I was sitting on a rock putting on my running shoes, Andrew Hood, our on-board wine expert (he started the winery now known as Frogmore Creek, near Hobart, that is considered one of the finest makers of cool weather wines, like Riesling and Pinot Noir, in all of Australia if not the world) walked up to me holding a clump of seaweed in his hand. I had no idea why he was giving it to me. “Eat it,” he said. “Sea grapes. They’re quite tasty.” And they were. Only a wine maker would think to forage for sea grapes.

Trousers Point

From Trousers Point we loaded up into a couple of vans and headed up the road to the only real town on Flinders, Lady Barron (less than a thousand souls live on the island, 40 miles long and 23 wide, which is sculpted by the Roaring Forties latitude, splitting the island in half). The wind howls here in a way that drives some people crazy. Tasmanian author Nicholas Shakespeare describes talking to one old-timer who complained how the wind transformed all her vegetables into propellers. “I’ve watched from my bedroom window a cabbage plant being blown round and round and then spin right off out of the ground.”

Fortunately for us, the morning was still when we visited but you could see its effect on the landscape, particularly in the copses of ti-trees, their trunks bent at 45 degree angles to the earth, denuded with nothing left but a crown of green on their tops, like so many emerald berets, and the tall grass, all bent as well, being topped by sheep and cows.

At Lady Barron, tea and hot scones were waiting for us at the town’s lone tavern, Furneaux, where a sign on the door to the bar advertised FREE NUTS with the purchase of a beer. Waiting for us inside the bar was the mayor, Carolyn, a cheerful, stocky lamb breeder who, while we drank our tea and ate our scones, told us about Flinders lamb (“premium and some say the best in Australia”), seafood (“crayfish, garfish, and abalone, though none of us on the island can afford to eat our own abalone; it’s too dear”), and wallaby (“we’ve got double the number of wallaby per kilometer compared to the rest of Tasmania.”)

After she’d finished her little talk I took my tea and went down to have a chat with her. I asked her what they did with the wallaby. “We eat it, of course.” I told her I had no idea Australians ate wallaby. “Oh, it’s lovely,” she said. “Very lean. No cholesterol.” You could make steaks and chops from wallaby or ground wallaby but she said her favorite was wallaby salami. “I would have brought some if I’d known anyone would be interested,” she said.

I asked her if there was anywhere I could get a little bottle of mutton-bird oil. “That’s a bit of a rarity these days,” she said, though she told me she’d had more than her share over the years. “Can’t swallow it without a bit of sugar in it,” she said. “It’s got a taste you’ll never forget. A bit fishy. Not to everyone’s liking, that’s for sure.”

So now I have a double mission: Finding mutton-bird oil and wallaby salami.




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