Our signature crops were tomatoes, melons, and table grapes. I thought they would be nicely complemented by some of those fruity capsicums you can eat like an apple, so I ordered a kilogram of seed up from Adelaide. When it finally arrived on the transport, I had just slit the seal on the tin when I saw something about Hot Chillies. I don’t know if it was the store-person at the seed company, or me, who read the catalogue numbers incorrectly, but we were now stuck with this tin. And with a five year supply of chilli for the entire state north of Gawler.
There was a stray dripper line running across the front of the vineyard, left over from some experimental work I’d done. I put in some chilli seed‒someone might use it‒and we soon had a peppery Pitjantjatjara parody of those lines of roses you see along the edges of Barossa vineyards.
The chillies loved the Ernabella soil and weather. It was a heavy crop. I casually bit off half a chilli one morning, and had just enough time to think, “Huh? These are sweet!” before being hit by a wave of heat and pain unlike anything I’d ever tasted. A couple of days later, one of the gardeners asked me, “What are those things!? I thought I was going to die!”
Now, the bloke who ran the Ernabella farm was a born raconteur, equally at home with federal government ministers, research scientists, and his own grandchildren. He was also handsome enough to fit into any TV documentary which needed your typical easygoing and guileless Australian farmer. So it was the most natural thing in the world for him to tip his hat upside down and be picking a hat-full of chilli while our Community Adviser, Mike Last, talked to a dozen visiting senior Canberra bureaucrats about the farm. Even Mike didn’t realise what was happening as the farmer offered them these new fruit‒“really sweet,” that we were “very proud of.” I guess there wasn’t time for Mike to ponder why the ever-polite Mr. W. hadn’t offered him any of the new crop.
So it was that a dozen or so senior Dept of Aboriginal Affairs public servants‒it seemed like the entire senior echelon bar the Minister‒were suckered into eating the hottest chillies on earth, watched deadpan by six or eight Pitjantjatjara farmers. Our visitors were on their best non-racist behaviour, so nothing was said beyond a nod or two, and a slightly strained, “Very good,” from someone. And the entourage continued on its way as though nothing had happened, while the farmers nodded goodbye, and mooched off back to whatever they had been doing, without the hint of a smile.
Which suggests to me that, contrary to the proverb, revenge is best served hot. And with a straight face.
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