King Island's bountiful fresh produce is put to good use at the Long Table Festival.
I'm driving when I first notice it. People driving towards me are lifting their finger in acknowledgement. What? They don't even know me! Wow. These King Island people are friendly.
There are more strangers in town than usual this weekend as I've come to the island for its fifth Long Table Festival.
I'm looking for my accommodation. The instructions are simple: turn left at King Island Dairy and follow the sign saying Porky Beach. I follow the quiet, unmade road two kilometres past the dairy, then see "Turnstone" on the horizon.
I'm blown away when I realise this is my home for the next three nights. It's a new, luxury three-bedroom house with a separate open-plan lounge, dining area and kitchen. When I say blown away, it's also literal. The house is on the west coast of this well-battered Bass Strait island, and although it appears to be placed bunker-like in a sand dune, it's exposed to the elements. Sunshine quickly becomes torrential rain, then morphs back. The part-owner of the house says if you don't like the weather on King Island, wait half an hour. Windows and doors open out towards a white sand beach; the kilometres of waves beyond are hypnotising.
King Island is known for its cheeses (Turnstone's fridge has a tempting selection), lobster and beef. Cows graze in the fields, which is no surprise, but the number of wallabies I see astounds me. There's an estimated half a million on the island – that's 250 for every one of King Island's 2000 inhabitants. Dodging bounding wallabies becomes a priority as I follow the farm-tour itinerary (though plenty of roadkill indicates not everyone does).
The first stop is easy to find; about 30 cars are parked at the market garden of Long Table founders Paul and Cynthia, just out of Currie. Across two days, the convoy visits cattle and dairy farms, lobster processing plants, and more. At each stop, we hear stories of the produce from those who spend their lives tending to it.
Beef farmer Fred Perry separates his cattle in the yards, points out the various cuts and educates us about the fat score. He points to a Black Angus cow. "There's about 25 kilos of meat on that one," he says, as the cow, unsurprisingly, shies away.
On Saturday, those who want to help prepare Sunday's feast disappear into the school, chopping, washing and learning from chef Stephen Russell. Russell runs the unusual gastro pub Kings Cuisine at the Grassy Club, and we sneak into this stuck-in-the-'70s club for a meal. The receipt says it all: "Octopus, wallaby, beef." All fresh, all local, all impressive.
Sunday's finale reveals what the cooks and helpers have spent days working on. Crayfish and Atlantic salmon ravioli. Terrine of King Island octopus. Barbecued wallaby. We sit along a communal table while a couple play guitar and sing. The sun shines on the golf course and locals and visitors chat and laugh together. A real estate agent seated next to me tells me about some land and gives me his card. At that moment, with King Island shining, it's very, very tempting.
Jayne D'Arcy was a guest of Tourism Tasmania.