Two tortoise towns, Goolwa in South Australia and Matakana in New Zealand, seem to be racing neck-and-neck to be recognised as The Slowest Place in Australasia. This will be news to most of their residents, who probably have never heard of their rival town the other side of the Tasman Sea.
It could be the latest round of a long-running feud between the two Down Under nations that are friendly allies in war but bitter rivals in football, cricket, and many other peacetime activities. They even argue over which country made the world's first pavlovas.
"Dean Betts Opens Slow Food Café in Matakana, NZ" was the heading on an article in Treehugger, a worldwide environmental webzine based in New York, on November 20. Leonora Oppenheim reported, "It has been said that Matakana is on its way to becoming the first registered Slow Town in Australasia."
She mentioned that Betts used to be well known as a supporter of the Slow Food movement in California, where he was a slow food cook with a chain of Slow Food seafood restaurants called The Fish Market. He moved to New Zealand 12 years ago.
"Dean and his Australian wife Toni have taken on the job of giving new life to a [Matakana] café at the Morris and James Pottery," she wrote. "Dean and Toni’s job brief was to create a new food experience that would attract locals as much as the tourists and day-trippers from Auckland."
Supporting the view that life there moves at a sedate pace, Auckland's Steam Brewing Company has produced a brand of beer labelled Matakana Lager, described as "the distinctive all-natural malt lager created specifically for the North's No. 1 self-styled 'slow town'.
"Matakana epitomises the great kiwi lifestyle of beaches, baches [holiday cottages] and barbeques. We created this premium beer for sharing with friends in our favourite part of New Zealand. With a great climate and great people, there's no better place to enjoy this refreshing lifestyle lager."
But what about Goolwa's claims to be just as slow (or even slower)? Goolwa is a small town at the mouth of the Murray River on Lake Alexandrina, 83 km south of South Australia's capital, Adelaide.
On September 4 the Mayor of Alexandrina Council, Kym McHugh, handed Goolwa's formal application for recognition and acceptance as a Cittaslow, to Dr Simone De Santi, Italian Consul for South Australia.
The International Cittaslow Committee in Orvieto, Italy is now considering that application. Committee members are expected to visit Goolwa in March 2007.
"Becoming a 'slow town' is a positive move to preserve Goolwa's history, develop local produce and products, provide good service and facilities, encourage healthy eating, promote recycling, reusing and composting projects and ensuring that Goolwa can join the international network of places where the living is easy," said the district weekly, The Times, published in Victor Harbor.
According to Steve Bracks, Premier of Victoria (the small state on South Australia's eastern border), his state's capital and Australia's second largest city, Melbourne, was the first city outside of Italy to be named a Slow City, "an honour bestowed by Slow Food, a worldwide organisation dedicated to rediscovering the richness of culinary traditions.''
That's a quote from the official brochure of the 2002 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, in which the Premier described Melbourne as a great food and wine city.
"It was writer and activist Carlo Petrini - a guest of the Melbourne Slow Food Convivium in 1999 - who declared Melbourne the first Slow City outside Italy," Jane Faulkner wrote in The Age (Melbourne) in 2002. "Petrini was so offended by the temerity of McDonald's wanting to open a store in an ancient Roman piazza that he started the movement in 1989.
"Since then Slow has become a powerful international movement with a fast-growing membership of about 70,000 people in 50 countries. [In 2006, the Slow Food organization includes more than 800 members in more than 100 countries.] As its charter states, it's a movement 'dedicated to the preservation of flavour and bio-diversity and the promotion of real food'.
"The charter specifies that a slow city is one with a population fewer than 50,000."
Sydneysiders sometimes mock Melbourne by calling it Bleak City, but they never call it Slow. That honour goes to Goolwa and Matakana.