Back in the late 1990s, Moree was undergoing something of a renaissance, with boutique creators of local produce, from olives to pecans, coming to the fore.
The town, situated three hours northwest of Armidale, had a long history of agricultural produce – in particular grain and cotton – and this surge of local creators prompted two local women to launch what is now a staple on the regional Australia calendar, Moree on a Plate.
Margi Kirkby and Jenni Birch were in the formative stages of their olive oil business, Gwydir Grove Olive Oil, and on one journey back from selling their products at an event in Tamworth, they decided to bring things a little closer to home.
With some help from Tammy Elbourne at Moree Tourism, the event was born in 2003.
Food markets were still new on the scene in regional Australia, and producers sold from what they came with, be it trailers, car boots or tables. There were certainly none of the matching white pop-up tents or highly curated aesthetics that we’re so familiar with today.
“The effort and arguments we had trying to accommodate these items into their allotted space was something else, all the while trying to set up our Gwydir Grove stall and source products for the guest chef to cook with,” laughs Margi, who remains on the committee to this day.
Moree on a Plate – a key date in the diary!
Year-on-year, the event has grown and is now an established name. If you live in regional NSW, you’ve heard of Moree on a Plate. In fact, if you live further afield, chances are you’re aware of it too – it’s often listed in the national calendar of Australian Country Style and Graziher magazines, and Australian Gourmet Traveller visited the festival in 2020 for a feature article.
As well as attracting the best food and wine from the region, it attracts some big names – TV chef Peter Howard was the first guest, while a number of other high-profile culinary champions, including Dominique Rizzo, Fast Ed, Marion Grasby, Ben O’Donoghue, Lyndey Milan, and Mark Olive, have given cooking demonstrations during the event, all to the backdrop of a whole host of entertainment for the community. Those peripheral activities include a ‘Kids’ Korner’, featuring entertainers, jumping castles, photo booths and cake decorating, among other things, while the ‘plein air’ painting opportunity invites local artists to paint at the event, with paintings raffled later in the day.
And it’s the impact on the local community that makes this such a special event. As well as bringing visitors to the town, it creates a focal point for celebrating the talent and passion within the region, as well as supporting it financially. “Our MOP raffle is highly anticipated and well supported, and raises up to $6,000-$7,000 each year which is donated to a local charity of choice,” says Margi. “The committee decides the charity prior to the festival, and past recipients include Meals on Wheels, The Moree Botanic Garden Society, The Moree Amateur Community Theatre, Moree Hospital, and Moree Women’s Refuge.”
A springboard to great things
The event has a lasting impact on many producers too, helping raise awareness of new brands and fast-tracking their development – demonstrating the benefits Moree on a Plate creates ripples for months, if not years, after the event is over. With local distributors in attendance to scout new products, appearing at Moree on a Plate can literally change the course of a business.
“Over the years we have supported a myriad of local producers, and Moree on a Plate was one of the initial events to launch Gwydir Grove Olive Oil, which evolved into a well-loved staple, with olives all grown and processed in the region,” explains Margi.
“Well before traceability was a buzzword, we helped launch Bellata Gold, the brainchild of local grain grower, the late Doug Cush, who was one of the first to market Durum pasta with grain sourced directly from his farm.
“We have so many exciting producers, and the festival continues to evolve to accommodate them all, with oranges one of the more recent industries to emerge. It is very exciting working with Grove Juice, helping showcase a nationally acclaimed product, grown locally here on the Moree Plains.”
Making Moree magic happen
Of course, Moree on a Plate doesn’t just ‘happen’. A hardworking group of volunteers is integral, while an awful lot of work goes into the event by the committee, which has formed strategic partnerships with other tourism-based businesses in town to maximise its reach.
“We help coordinate a full schedule of weekend events, and work closely with local art galleries, Bank Art Museum Moree – which runs a ‘Mother’s Day Family Fun Day’ in their garden on the Sunday morning, The Moree Gallery, which runs an exhibition opening on the Friday evening and Yaama Ganu Indigenous Art Gallery, which holds an exhibition opening on the Thursday evening prior.
“We also work with the Moree Town and Country Club, which hosts an informal cocktail party on Friday evening, as well as Moree Tourism, which organises pecan and cotton farm tours throughout the weekend.”
Since the early days, Regional Australia Bank has been a proud sponsor of Moree on a Plate, while volunteer staff from the Moree branch play an integral role, too.
Margi explains, “Regional Australia Bank has always been an invaluable sponsor of Moree on a Plate, providing significant financial donations over the years. But, most important is the support of the Moree Branch staff.
“Every year without fail, Regional Australia Bank staff volunteer their services to look after cash and run our MOP ‘bank’ at the festival. One of the many accolades we receive from producers is the seamless handling of cash and change on the day. This is an essential service, and we would struggle to run a smooth festival without it.”
Community events like Moree on a Plate are vitally important on so many levels, and Regional Australia Bank is proud to support what has become a prestigious event that’s a focal point in our regional calendar.
Don't miss out!
This year’s Moree on a Plate takes place on Saturday 13 May at Moree Secondary College, Albert St, Moree. Entry is $2. For more information, visit moreeonaplate.com.au