I was born just across the river here,” says Pat Hansson, standing in the Margan kitchen garden, in Broke-Fordwich. “All this land you see, I used to run around here with my brother, all the time, when we were kids. We would chase rabbits and get up to all sorts of mischief . . . I can't remember there being any vineyards planted out here, only Lizard Rock.”
Hansson is a Wonnarua woman. Her descendants have lived in Wonnarua Country for tens of thousands of years. It is a place of great history, which extends well beyond the relatively brief time span that many Australian's perceive of day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year.
Yet, it is a history that is easy to see, if you know where to look.
THE GREAT LIZARD
"My father used to tell my brother and I this story when we were young," Hansson says.
"Many thousands of years ago, there was a Great Lizard who wandered in from the coast, carving out all the rivers of the valley as he went. He wandered up the Hunter and Paterson rivers, causing water to flow out to the sea and give life to those who lived along their banks.
“One day, Great Lizard carved a path to the place we now call Putty where he met two guards who were standing in his way.
“They told Great Lizard they had had enough of his wandering and ordered him to not go any further.
“But, Great Lizard wouldn't listen, so the two guards hurled a big rock at him, which stopped him dead in his tracks and turned him to stone.
“To make sure Great Lizard doesn't wake up and wander off again, the two guards turned themselves to stone and now they stand either side of Great Lizard and guard him for the rest of time.”
Take a drive out to Broke and you'll see the ancient Great Lizard, frozen in time, exposed along the edge of the Brokenback Range, glowing gold amongst the green of the Pokolbin State Forest. Underneath the yellow rock you'll find Pat Hansson working, almost everyday, in the kitchen garden at Margan Winery and Restaurant.
“I worked as a viticulturist out at Wyndham Estate for about 24 years,” Hansson says.
“When they closed, Andrew Margan offered me a job here. I worked in the vineyard for a little while, until the opportunity to work in the garden came up. I absolutely love this land.”
Hansson manages the garden at Margan, growing just about everything head chef Thomas Boyd needs to create the award-winning dishes of the Margan Restaurant. Most recently, it was named in the Australian Financial Review’s list of top 500 restaurants in Australia.
The garden is adjacent to the winery’s parking lot, nudging up to vineyards, and not more than a stone’s throw from the back door of Margan Restaurant. The garden includes many herbs, fruits, and vegetables, including parsnips and celery, garlic, beetroot, heirloom carrots, and tomatoes.
“I'll sow a cover crop to replace some of the nutrients back into the garden beds,” Hansson says.
“We have an orchard, too, with pear trees and apple trees, persimmons, apricots, peaches, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and figs . . .
“We keep chooks and lambs too, which they use in the restaurant, so I try not to get too attached to them," Hansson says, laughing.
“I will plan the seasons ahead, with Lisa [Margan] and chef [Thomas Boyd],” she says. “They'll tell me what they want for the spring menu and I'll look after it.”
Pioneers of the “paddock to plate” dining concept in the Hunter Valley, Margan Restaurant relies on Hansson’s knowledge and skill for growing food in the most mindful way possible.
"We grow everything organically in the garden, meaning we don't use any pesticides or other chemicals," Hansson explains. "All the food that goes into the kitchen is absolutely pure.”
All the organic waste from the kitchen is brought back out into the garden for her to create compost heaps.
"We don't waste anything at all," Hansson says. "All the vegetable peelings and so on get put onto a compost heap and will eventually be spread onto the garden, putting back into the land whatever we've taken out."
Hansson feels a deep connection to the land of the Wonnarua and sees Andrew and Lisa Margan as present-day custodians of her Country, taking care of the place and respecting its ancient history and culture.
"It's quite special what Lisa and Andrew and are doing here," she says. "They're certainly respecting and looking after Country. I just feel like I'm a part of the Margan story, just like they are part of the story of my Country.
“Most days I'll be working out in the garden and I'll look up and see Lizard Rock and feel its presence and remember my father's story about my Country's history," she says.
Before he passed away, Pat's father instructed her and her brother, Kevin Taggart, to look after the land the way he and his descendants looked after the land before them.
"I look after what I can, and I do what I can, here," she says. "Growing food for the restaurant and the people that come to visit and dine here, in my Country, Wonnarua, underneath Lizard Rock."