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ABC News 24 12 Noon News -

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Hello, I'm Pip Courtney. Welcome to Landline.

The windmill is an familiar
part of the Australian landscape, but farmers and outback towns, which have relied on wind pumps
to extract water for decades, are increasingly turning
to solar energy. As Kerry Staight reports, though,
a remote South Australian community is going to extreme lengths
to keep the blades turning.

KERRY STAIGHT: For a century, windmills have been
the lifeblood of Penong, on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain...

..pumping underground water to the small town and farming
community west of Ceduna. Without windmills, Penong
and probably a lot of country areas wouldn't have been around. Whoever had the idea,
it was a bloody good idea.

But increasingly, the structures that are an iconic part
of the rural skyline are disappearing.

And some that still promise plenty
up top often deliver nothing below... solar pumps steadily take over.

I think I've sold
about two new windmills and probably...60 or 80 solar
pumps in the last few years.

Lovely. You got it, you got it.

All good?
All good. He may not make a living from them, but Tim Hardy, who owns
the local rural supplies shop, and friend Bob Oats want to preserve this important part
of Penong's history. Still got three
holding her up there yet. So with the help
of a group of volunteers, these windmill warriors,
as they call themselves, are bringing the battered fans
back to life, this time as a tourist attraction. There she goes.
OK. I got it. One more bit of treasure. I know when I go away on a holiday
and, you know, people say, "Where do you come from?"
and I say, "Penong"... "Nup." Nobody knew Penong. But then you'd say,
"Oh, that town on the Nullarbor "where
all the little windmills are," and they'd say,
"Yeah, I know that place." So, we're always known as
the town of windmills.

Despite appearances, this is
the first step of the restoration - the intense heat bath
making it easy to remove the rust and release the seized-up parts. Some look pretty ugly -
rusty, ugly, broken.

Are they all salvageable? Everything's salvageable. Yeah, everything is. You're gonna weld that on first? Look, listen and learn. I gotta put this here in first. He's got it all worked out. All planned out. While Bob may be
the painter of the operation, the initial repairwork
is Tim's domain. Oh, there she goes. Something you prepared earlier. I'm not really the patient type. Tim does all the patient stuff and
frees them all up without breaking. I tend to break things,
so, um, yeah. So, Tim's our man for that.
He tinkers away for hours. So the temperature is all
good banana, is it? (CHUCKLES) Oh... I've got oxy temperature
there as well, so, nup, we need to be a bit hotter. For Tim, who lost the use of his legs in a motorbike accident on his farm
27 years ago, the windmills also provide
hands-on work he loves at a time when there's less of it
in his day-to-day job. Yep. Beautiful. Like, in the last...
oh, probably six years, I suppose, the farming around here, machinery
and that, has changed. It's gone from the old headers,
where I used to fix them up, but now it's all too new. You just buy the new parts.'s still kept me... ..yeah, least I can still
get my hands dirty.

And Penong now wakes up
to a very different view, thanks to the dirty work
and dedication of Tim
and the rest of the volunteers.

From the old timber William Riddle to the more recognisable Metters
and Southern Cross designs, around 20 different
Australian wind pumps of all shapes and sizes
fill the town centre. They look good.
They're all different. They've all got
their own little squeaks and moans and groans and whatever. We know every nut and bolt
in every...every mill.

Gently. He's coming down. It may have taken Bob and Tim
16 years to get started with their idea
of a windmill museum... So, that's pretty good like that. ..but ever since the first one
went up around 18 months ago, there's been
a steady stream of deliveries in need of a good dose of TLC - much to the delight
of Bob and Tim's wives, who have had their holidays
hijacked by this all-consuming hobby. What do you think
when the boys drag in another one? "Another bloody windmill. "Here we go again." Yeah. No, they love it, but we just quite often
shake our heads and curse and smile nicely. Started off supposed to be fun. That's what we took off -
bit of a hobby, you know? A bit of something
to do on the weekends. And it blew out of proportion. It's got... Sometimes it's not
even fun anymore. (LAUGHS) But, no, we have a lot of fun. We have a few beers and...
yeah, we have lots of fun. MAN: And your left hand out there
to support it. One windmill that has required more
than a few beers is the Comet. Not the baby of the collection,
but the big daddy sitting alongside.

It was originally
part of the outback rail system, pumping water for steam trains.

Bob Oats says
only 15 of these giants were made, and when this one was restored, the blades were moved out a bit to
make it stand out from the rest. It's 35-foot plus, as you'll see
written on the tail there. It is bigger, but we're not telling
anybody how much bigger it is, 'cause we're claiming that this is
the biggest windmill in Australia.

Bringing Big Bruce, as it's known,
back to its best was a mammoth task. First, the windmill warriors
spent a few days hauling the wreck
hundreds of kilometres from the property where it was found
to Penong. And then the real work began.

I reckon
there was about 2,000 man hours. I know the footings...
there was 113 bags of cement, which was hand mixed. And next morning we found
110 empty cans of beer there. So, nearly a can of beer
for every bag of cement.

One of the volunteers
who is right at home up high is local farmer Phoompy Price. He's been fixing windmills
around the district for decades, and not always from the comfort
of a cherry picker. Standing up there pulling
a 10-foot windmill blade to bits just hanging by a piece of rope,
putting it all on the ground, that takes you about a week
to do a windmill, if you get good weather. And with the cherry picker,
I can do it in about nine hours.

Have you had any mishaps? Nup. Still got 'em all! He says while the little windmills
can be temperamental, the big ones
hold their own against solar pumps. Going like a well-oiled
splish-splosh, eh? But he concedes time is getting
the better of many around Penong. There's a lot of them
that have been fixed that have been just plain worn out. Like, you know, they're...
been up there for 40 years and you can only put oil in there
for so long and then the bearings are worn out. Does it make you sad
to see them disappear?

Yeah. Yeah, especially the big windmills.

How much did you depend on windmills
in the past?

MAN: Oh, well, it was all windmills. These are probably 50,
60 years old, I guess. They may have kept his livestock
watered for years, but someone who is not sorry
to see them go is Tim Hardy's brother-in-law,
Greg Warmington. You know, you're forever switching
them on, shutting them off, fixing up leaky pumps. Got too hard, just
the maintenance on them, the upkeep. After a run of good seasons,
the mixed farmer switched to solar, investing in an $18,000 system
a couple of years ago. While this is more expensive
than a new wind pump, he says it's been worth it. So, how efficient are they compared
to what you had before? Well, that solar system is doing the
same work as the four bigger mills. Do you see the romance in the
windmills that other people see? Um...

..I can... No. No. I've got more time
for romance at home now, because I'm not out fixing
the windmills. (CHUCKLES)

He may be less attached to these
whirling workhorses than some, but the farmer has donated several
to the windmill museum and isn't sending the others
to the scrapheap just yet. Our intention is probably to
drop them down with a crane and put them in storage and somebody
may use them one day, but... ..probably not. Not you, anyway.
No, not us. But, you know, I still...
can't knock them for what they've done
over the years, you know? Two toggle pins, is it?
No, only one, eh? Back in town, the final touches
are being added to the museum, with the official opening
just days away.

But the display is already promising
plenty of pit stops, as tourists from all corners
get wind of what's going on on the edge of the Nullarbor. I think that Comet's
about the biggest one they've ever made in Australia. Tourists are coming
from far and wide, and we even had a couple
come out from New Zealand especially to go to
the windmills at Penong, which, um...which I find
unbelievable. There's been
a lot of vehicles there. A lot of vehicles. I mean, hopefully a few more put
some money in the donation box so we can keep it going.

All good. The site may be filling up fast,
but Tim Hardy says with hundreds of different types
of windmills out there, there's always room for more.

So will this ever be finished? Well, not... long as Bob and I
are still alive, I suppose it won't be finished. After resurrecting that, I reckon we've done
a pretty good job. (CHUCKLES) As the sun sets over Penong, the windmill warriors pause to take
in what has risen out of the ashes. Everything else
is just about done now. I don't think we got too much else. An idea that started
over a few beers...

..finally realised thanks to a lot
of hard work and community spirit. Both very proud
of what we've been able to achieve with all our friends and helpers. Very proud to stand back
and look at them and... Makes the beer taste nicer. Here's cheers to the windmills,
guys. Thank you, everybody. Cheers. Job well done, guys. (OTHERS TOAST)
Job well done.

SEAN MURPHY: At the dawn of time,
according to Aboriginal belief, the Murray cod
created the Murray river, and now the nation's
premier native fish is driving one of Australia's fastest-growing
aquaculture industries. Caged growing systems
in purpose-built dams are offering huge potential
to irrigation farmers along the Murray-Darling system, providing
a diverse new income stream and double use
of their precious water. MAN: The fish are grown in cages. The cages are about two metres wide,
by 2.5 metres deep. By doing that
we keep the fish up off the bottom and stop any muddy tastes that traditionally
are associated with Murray cod, especially dam-raised Murray cod. The big thing here is just being
able to reuse that water twice. You know, two incomes
off every meg of water. We're being forced to become
more efficient with our water, and returns per meg in the fish probably outstrip
any growing crop by tenfold. With inland aquaculture, getting rid of that waste water
and the waste from the fish is a big issue. Here we're able to irrigate all
of the water back out onto crops, especially in the summertime
when our water use is high. But on the plus side, we're also not putting any waste
materials back into the environment, so we're using them all on farm.

Matt Ryan gave up dry land farming
five years ago to start Griffith-based Bidgee Fresh, and with the help
of three contract growers he's selling about 50 tonnes a year into the Sydney
and Melbourne markets.

Citrus growers John and Marisa Triaca
invested about $350,000 in a fully-stocked dam. Oh, look at the size of that one. Look at the size of that big fella.
That's massive. In three years,
their fish have paid for the system, while their oranges have
barely earned the cost of production. MARISA: Well,
it's given us hope really. We've stuck with citrus
for such a long time and this opportunity came along
and we thought, "Well, why not?" JOHN: Water only cost me $600
to run, you know, one dam here. With the oranges it cost me I think
about $4,000 for water. And the return
is probably more out of the fish than 100 acres of oranges. And are you thinking
about expanding? If I was 10 years younger, yes.
Yeah. I would. But I wish I was
10 years younger, I'd go. But I'll stick to this
at the moment.

Roger Commins is one of
the biggest cotton growers in the Murrumbidgee irrigation area. He says the advent
of user-friendly technology has been the breakthrough that is finally delivering on the
potential for Murray cod aquaculture. MAN: I think this is the time for
it. It just feels right for me. Look, I've been interested
in aquaculture for a long time. But couldn't get all the pieces of
the puzzle to sort of pull together. Whereas, you know,
once we got involved with Matt and understood his system,
it joined the dots up for us. This area has an abundance
of flat land and water and it's just going to be
a really good fit.

Roger Commins partnered
with Matt Ryan last year to develop
a world-class fish nursery. Matt Ryan says it will alleviate
a shortage of fingerlings for new growers, but more importantly it will bring
continuity of supply to the market. MATT RYAN: Most of the restaurants
we've spoken to have said, you know, "We're happy to have your
fish, we love the fish, "but the biggest issue in the past "is we get it and then
two months later we can't get it." So for us
it's a really important thing. Tell you what, they're doing well
for eight months, aren't they? They are. They are.
Look at that. I'm excited how some of these are
growing. Look at that fish there. He's 1.2 kilos that fish. Now Roger Commins and Matt Ryan have joined forces
with accountant Ross Anderson. They'll soon launch a public float
on the Australian stock exchange, seeking $10 million to create
a vertically integrated company. I reckon if we get
the genetics right on these things in a few years, they'll be growing
at double these rates. ROSS ANDERSON: This is the birth of
a whole new industry in this region. This should be modelled
something like the chicken industry. And it will grow very rapidly,
we think. And to do that
it's going to need capital. So, one of the best sources
of capital is obviously the capital markets which is why we've approached that
way rather than using debt funding. And what will be the advantages of having
a vertically integrated enterprise modelled on the chicken industry? Well, for a start we'll be able
to control the product from the time it's hatched until
the time it hits the dinner plate so we can say to the consumer we know exactly
what water this fish has been in. We know exactly what it's been fed. We know exactly
what treatments it's had and we can, you know, really
give a stamp of quality control in terms of the cleanliness
and the freshness and the environmental aspects
of how this fish is produced.

The plan is to buy Ian Charles's
native fish hatchery at Grong Grong and use his 20 years of experience
as a breeder to produce
up to 2 million fingerlings a year. MAN: Yeah, I guess the time
was right for us also where we wanted
to stay in the industry but also wanted to see
the Murray cod industry kick off and be more involved in
a larger sort of business model. So it suits us.

So, what stage of the process
are these ones? So, these are around
the 100 gram mark. So they're ready to actually
go into the grow-out cages for the final grow-out. So, you breed other native fish.
How do Murray cod compare? Uh, as far as the grow-out part, they're a better species
than some of the others. They're a little harder to breed,
though, to get large numbers of them because the fecundity of the females
is quite low, so they have low amount of eggs
per kilogram of fish.

At the New South Wales Department of
Primary Industries Fisheries Centre in Narrandera, they first mastered
Murray cod breeding in the 1960s and have been at the forefront of
understanding the biology of the fish and how to keep it in captivity. They now produce
about a million fingerlings a year for restocking in lakes and weirs. MAN: It's been really exciting. The last 10, 15 years, we've seen a real resurgence
in numbers of Murray cod. It wasn't that long ago
that we were worried the Murray cod was going to be gone. But there's certainly areas
around New South Wales where they're in numbers that they
haven't been for 40 or 50 years, so it's a great story for anglers.

Matt McClellan
runs the DPI breeding program with an emphasis
on genetic diversity. It's the opposite
to the emerging aquaculture industry which will focus on selecting
for key genetic traits.

to make my fish as much as possible the same as that wild type of fish. So, my brood stock
are collected from the wild and they're rotated
through my program and returned to the wild
and we get new brood stock. Whereas the intensive grow-out
industry that we're talking about, they're going to be wanting
to do selective breeding. So, you know, programs
where they're selecting animals for domestication, handling
and growth, is the opposite of what we're doing.

Some of the early versions
of Murray cod farms used cage systems in existing irrigation dams
like this one. The real game changer has been putting them
in much smaller purpose-built dams. It gives us a lot more control
over the environment. We can modify it to suit ourselves and it also helps a lot
with our disease control. We commonly see white spot
and some protozoan diseases, which are common diseases, they're readily available
in the environment around here. But as soon as you put fish
in a tight environment and a little bit of stress
they tend to become worse. So we've got a number of treatments
available to us that we can use, and the smaller dams enable us to use those treatments
more effectively. Matt Ryan says there's further scope for improving the design and cost
of pond systems.

With the help of Roger Commins'
Whitton-based engineering works, they've brought the cost of a caged
system down by about $100,000. Their company's contract growers will also get access
to the latest innovation, a portable grading system, improving one of the most
labour intensive aspects of Murray cod farming.

ROGER COMMINS: Until now, every fish
has to be netted out of the cage and they've been manually sorted. You know, one this way,
one that way. But this is going to
really streamline that operation.

New players like Brett and Lisa Ryan have also developed their own
new and cheaper cage systems. The couple had no farming experience when they invested in a system
near Leeton two years ago. They had to learn new skills such as how to check
the health of their fish. Lisa Ryan helped organise
this weekend's industry conference in Griffith to help fill the information gap. WOMAN: With the conference
we've got lecturers from university, we've got
New South Wales DPI representation. We've got trade exhibitors and we're really hoping that will
enable new and existing farmers access to new information. Information in aquaculture
is changing continuously. It enables people
to develop relationships so that we can support each other
in the industry because there are times, where, you
know, people won't know what to do and they can,
with these relationships, find the information they need.

Murray cod
is the fastest-growing sector of the New South Wales
aquaculture industry, but current production is barely able
to supply the domestic market. ROSS ANDERSON: I think there's about
60 million tonne of seafood a year consumed in the world. If we grew to 10,000 tonne,
we're a speck in the world markets. And what makes this such an
attractive proposition for us is that the quality of the fish,
the product itself, the chefs love it, consumers
love it, it's been selling itself. It's currently the most expensive
farmed fish in Australia.

Griffith-based chef Luke Piccolo
feature a range of Murray cod dishes on the menu of his
fine food restaurant Limone.

We really strive hard
to using the entire fish because it is not a cheap fish,
and we realise that. We actually make sure that we use
the belly, the head, the bones, everything
in all different preparations. So, we actually prepare this fish in about six or seven
different preparations.

It is a very, very versatile fish. We actually cook it
in 10 different ways - from deep-frying, from charcoal... We actually cure it and cook it
in a baccala style as well. So, we've found
that the fish is actually... takes well to nearly
every single style of cooking.

Despite the overwhelmingly
bullish outlook, there are concerns about what impact the government's
carp eradication program could have on the Murray cod industry. The fear is that by using
the internationally notifiable koi herpesvirus, it could damage
Australia's clean, green image just as the industry
is developing export markets. And worse, there are worries about the safety
of using a biological control. It'd be nice
to get some more information and know what impacts are going to
be had on the native ecosystems when we pull that carp out, because that's probably the major
food source at this point in time for Murray cod. And also, I guess,
always in the back of our mind, there's that potential
of that herpesvirus to jump across onto Murray cod, and
that would be devastating for us. MATT McLELLAN: At this stage, the department's looking at that
very closely, and there's been
a long research project involving the state departments
as well as the CSIRO. So, all of those aspects
are looked at very carefully, and any likely impacts
on stakeholders or something, that's evaluated. So it's all part of
the overall proposal, and I don't think there's anything
for the industry to worry about.

The world's largest
Murray cod hatchery is owned and run by Noel Penfold
near Wagga Wagga. He shares the concerns
about the carp program, but is optimistic
about the Murray cod industry finally realising its potential. This is a real opportunity
for the industry to stand up and be something, yeah. It's very exciting times
for the industry.

Noel Penfold breeds about 3.5 million
fish a year for the industry and wild stocking programs, but he also now sells
his Murray cod fingerlings to aquaculture producers in Asia.

We're selling a lot to China. There's a lot of interest
in our fish from China. We developed that
about 10 years ago. Each year it seems to grow
a little bit more. It's exciting for them over there. They like our fish. So, there's plenty of room for
improvement there and more export.

Even if China
grows its own Murray cod, the industry here believes it
will continue to attract a premium in the world's biggest
seafood market. ROSS ANDERSON: We've got a lot of
inquiry now from large Asian consumers, you know, wanting in the hundreds
and thousands of tonnes. We can't supply enough. So, I don't think demand is going to
be a big problem for us, given the size
of the seafood market in the world. If we got to 10,000 or 15,000 tonne,
we're still a minnow, you know? We're gonna have no impact
on the world aquaculture market or the world seafood markets.

Well, that's the show. We hope you enjoyed it. Don't forget, Landline's on ABC TV
Sundays at noon and on iView. I'll see you next week. Bye for now.

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation