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Restdown’s sustainable tourism recognised

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It takes hard work and dedication to build up a business from scratch, but that has never really deterred Jo and Don Hearn from Restdown Winery and Jungle Lane Beef Co. The couple and their business were recently recognised as part of Tourism Australia’s new international marketing campaign on sustainable tourism, and Tourism NSW has also included them in the top 10 things to do along the Murray River, alongside the iconic Mungo National Park.

Jo and Don Hearn of Restdown Winery have been nationally recognised.
Photo courtesy The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper

The couple has spent the last 27 years crafting their 450ha Caldwell property into what it is today – a show piece in sustainability and organic farming, centred around a 24ha wetland they established back in 2007.

Jo and Don describe the wetland as the kidneys of their property, filtering groundwater and providing important habitat while creating on-farm biodiversity. The wetland has an environmental covenant placed on it, which means it can never be cleared but can be grazed at certain times of the year if ever required.

An environmental water allocation through the Murray-Darling Working Wetlands Group is accessed every couple of years to deliver small, targeted watering events to the wetland which is regularly monitored by ANU in Canberra.

Sign
The wetland at the centre of the Caldwell property.

The wetland has significant indigenous heritage, which the couple has embraced as part of their farm story. “I grew up in a generation where you didn’t talk about the indigenous history or assets you had on farm and I am so pleased that narrative is starting to change,” Don said.

The eco-tourism generated by the wetland is now a significant pillar of Jo and Don’s business. Originally, the couple had 8ha of vines under irrigation, but that has been reduced to 2.5ha due to the cost and availability of water. They now only grow enough vines to support their popular Restdown wine label.

While the viticulture side of the business has contracted, the organic beef side is expanding, and the couple is hoping to build up to around 100 breeders over the next couple of years.

During the tough drought years, they made the heartbreaking decision to sell the majority of their breeding stock, but better seasonal conditions have enabled them to build numbers up again.

They sell their beef direct to the consumer in 5kg and 10kg boxes of mixed cuts. The couple is delighted to farm the way they do, and to receive international recognition for protecting the natural assets of their farm while they continue to produce food for the nation is something they are both very proud of.

“It really is an honour to promote and tell a sustainability story for Australia,” Jo said.

As part of their tourism business, the couple participates in a partnership with the Emmy-Lou paddle steamer regularly hosting visitors who are bussed out to the farm for a guided walk around the wetland and an education on farming.

“We actively welcome and encourage people to come to Restdown so they can learn about all the things we do and how farming, indigenous culture and environmental conservation can easily co-exist,” Don said.

The couple has worked alongside the indigenous community and is hoping to be part of a green burn program in the future.

“We just keep coming back to the idea of embracing what we have and this is all a part of the big picture for our business – and, it’s wonderful,” Jo said.

“This style of farming just makes sense to us and has allowed us to preserve our natural heritage, increase production, farm sustainably and share it with the many tourists who regularly visit us,” Don said.

Jo said their decision to move down this path was originally brought about due to some health issues and the millennium drought. “We were criticised and not treated seriously in the early days, especially considering we established a winery outside of a traditional wine region. It has been tough, and we have had to renew our commitment to farming, especially during the drought years, but we don’t have a regret in the world now – except we desperately need a holiday,” Jo laughed.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 24 March 2022

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 24 March 2022.

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