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Landowners at Yatco

Interview: 2nd August 2011

 

Michael and Robyn Mason purchased their property from John and Tracey Wegener in 2002. Their property overlooks the southern lagoon and when they purchased it there were 30 acres of citrus, 15 acres of apricots, a small patch of peaches and 10 acres of vegetable land.

Since purchasing the property they have added 60 acres of wine grapes including Viognier, Shiraz and Chardonnay varieties, and the citrus has been top worked to replace Valencia oranges with easy peel Mandarines, early and late navels. The apricots have been completely removed — freeing up time during the busy Christmas period. All of the irrigated crops have been converted to drip irrigation during the past 5 years.

Michael and Robyn enjoy the peacefulness overlooking the lagoon compared to overlooking the river.

Riverland connections

Despite living on the Murray River at Murray Bridge, Michael realised that he liked the Moorook area following several visits to the region when developing the nearby Banrock Station and McGuigan Vineyards. The Mason’s had done business in the Riverland for around 20 years from their Murray Bridge base and were shareholders in a vineyard at Golden Heights Waikerie but had decided to move to the Riverland permanently.

Robyn was born at Renmark and had always had an interest in the river. Coincidentally, Michael became friends with John Lempens from Renmark while at Rostrevor College, and John lived next door to Robyn in Renmark. Following her graduation from Roseworthy College, Sheridan worked for The Fruit Doctors in Loxton for 7 years, and so the whole family had developed a connection with the Riverland region. Michael continues to operate his business Mike Mason Fencing, while his daughter and son in law, Sheridan and Craig Alm, manage the horticultural property.

Vision

Michael and Robin fully support Sheridan’s drive to improve the health of the Yatco Lagoons and improve the quality of irrigation water for the channel irrigators.

Michael sees future planting expansion of 100 acres on their land and will leave the timing of that expansion up to Craig and Sheridan. New wine grape varieties better suited to a drier and hotter climate are currently being trialled on their property, and include Fiano, Savagnan, Tempranillo, Vermentino and Sagrantino.

Together they see an opportunity to use Yatco Lagoon to help market their produce.

The environment

Michael’s appreciation of the environment runs through his ancestry — his great, great grandfather was amongst the first white settlers at Wellington on the Murray River and he could speak 7 of the 9 Aboriginal language dialects in the mid 1800’s. His great, great grandfather George Ezekial Mason was engaged by Sir Henry Fox Young to navigate one of the first river boats, The Lady Augusta, from Goolwa to Swan Hill in 1953 and his family has had a long affinity with the river.

Michael has always had a special appreciation of the environment and biological diversity, in part due to his fencing business having to comply with the Native Vegetation Act. In Michael’s words, “healthy environments mean more wildlife”, and he believes that Yatco is a good indicator of the health of the environment.

Michael fully supported the reasons for drying Yatco Lagoon in 2008 — “it wasn’t a threat” — and as such he has seen significant improvement in the tree health on the southern lagoon.

Somewhat “tongue in cheek” Michael is keen to retire and enjoy the good life from his castle on the lagoon – listening to the Kookaburras.