Across the River: Sweet treats amid the thorns

“Don’t eat the red ones, Luigi,” shouted Dudley to his newly arrived Italian neighbour. “With blackberries the red ones are always green, mate.”

NOXIOUS BUT NICE: Once everyone seemed to go out blackberrying at this time of the year, but do people still enjoy these roadside treats? Photo: Barbara Goodfellow

NOXIOUS BUT NICE: Once everyone seemed to go out blackberrying at this time of the year, but do people still enjoy these roadside treats? Photo: Barbara Goodfellow

And we wonder why migrants have difficulties picking up the Australian vernacular. 

The Southern Highlands is right in the middle of blackberry season right now and I am sure many readers have a secret spot where you go each year to pluck plump little treasures from those spiky blackberry vines. 

We collected a small bucket full last week and despite being declared noxious, they tasted delicious.

There are many techniques people use when foraging for blackberries.  

Obviously the most important thing is to first check if they have been sprayed. Always ask and if in doubt, don’t pick them. 

Other good tricks, particularly if you are a wimp, include wearing snake-proof gumboots, long pants, a long sleeved shirt and an old pair of gardening gloves with the picking fingers cut off.  

My old mate Ian Kite said, “If you are a biker, just wear your leathers and walk on in.”

Another friend suggests reversing a paddock-bashing ute into a big blackberry patch and pick the very best fat blackberries in comfort, standing on the tray high above those pesky brown snakes.

Oh, and one more tip. If you are blackberrying where dogs walk, best not bother picking any berries at about the height of a cocked cocker spaniel leg.

Whenever I am picking blackberries I can’t help thinking of two people.

Firstly, that legendary noxious weeds officer Bernie Long, who knew where every blackberry bush on the Southern Highlands lurked.  Bernie worked diligently for years with the then Berrima County Council, implementing enough legal action to keep the Bowral Courthouse busy for years.

The other bloke was a long-time farmer from out Robertson way.

When I worked at our local council I’d been pestering this old cocky to pay his overdue rates. He was a lovely gentleman and I got on well with him, but understandably he wasn’t keen to part with his hard-earned cash to the council. After I had sent yet another reminder letter he responded with an ultimatum.

“I’ll pay my rates, Mr Goodfellow, as soon as the National Parks people start sticking corks in their currawong’s bums to stop them spreading blackberry seeds all over my farm.”

How could I argue with that sort of logic?

Then there was another farmer, a very cranky old lady.

Our weeds officer picked up the phone one morning and she gave him both barrels.  

At the time we had been doing aerial noxious weeds inspections with a helicopter linked to a GPS and our mapping system. It was a remarkably cost-efficient way to map infestations, particularly in inaccessible country.

“I know it was you flying so low over my property in your council helicopter this morning and I am not happy,” she barked, venom dripping from the phone line.

He quickly recognised the voice. She had previously refused to spray her weed infested paddocks and refused him entry to the property.  

What she didn’t realise was this chopper wasn’t ferrying the council weed’s inspector around looking for her blackberry infestation, but airlifting two people badly injured in a motor vehicle accident near her property. Believing council had finally caught her red-handed, she immediately phoned a contractor who came straight out and sprayed her huge blackberry infestation the next day. 

A sweet, if unexpected, victory indeed for our weeds and seeds man.

I’ll leave the last word to Dudley, who came home after a big night at the pub with a lump on his head. Genuinely worried he went to the doctor.

“My mate Luigi said he could see a blackberry growing out of my head.”

“No worries, Dudley,” said the doctor, with a playful smile.

“I’ll give you some cream to put on it.”

- Geoff Goodfellow

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