THE humble chicken parmigiana has been charming Australian taste buds for decades.
The quintessential pub fare has skyrocketed alongside Vegemite on burnt toast and warm prawns on Christmas Day to take place as one of the most iconic dishes Australia has to offer.
Much like Phar Lap, pavlova and Russell Crowe, Aussies everywhere have taken in the import with open arms, before dressing it up with some chips and miscellaneous green stuff and trying to parm it off as our own.
The only thing more Australian than tucking into a sumptuous parma at the local watering hole after a hard day’s slog (with one eye on your meat-tray raffle ticket) is getting around those who need it most — in this case, our local agriculture sector.
Convenient, given the parma, which already has merit in rhyming with “Holden Torana”, also cleverly rhymes with “farmer”.
So when John Alen and Sharon Hyatt from Maffra’s Macalister Hotel told their clientele to wrap their laughing gear around a parma in the name of giving a hand to ailing local farmers, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
The Mac has jumped aboard the ‘Parma for a Farmer’ initiative, which has spiralled into a nationwide campaign to help Aussie farmers deal with the harsh realities of drought.
The hotel pushed through about 140 parms to ‘standing-room only’ bistro last Thursday, raising $453 for local charity Gippsland Farmer Relief.
“People are really keen in the local area to get involved — we’ve knocked back five or six tables tonight, because we just couldn’t fit them in,” John said.
Maffra being an agriculture-based community, a lot of John and Sharon’s customers are farmers, currently experiencing a ‘green drought’ — with enough rain to keep the landscape from looking dried out, but not enough to effectively sustain farmers, with barely any feed for stock.
“Sometimes people see that green tinge in the paddock and think that this area is doing okay, but it’s actually not,” Sharon said.
“We decided to go through the local version [of farmer’s relief], rather than the interstate version, so that we could help the local farmers, who really are struggling.
“Around here, a lot of people either work on a farm, own a farm or run a business that services farmers, so it’s quite important for Maffra and surrounding areas, including Sale, that we get on board.
“If people are going to go out for a meal, why not come out on a Thursday night, and for a dollar extra, you’re supporting your local community ... your friends, your family.”
Every Thursday, the pair are backing GFR, which provides support and social welfare to Gippsland’s farmers through, amongst other avenues, food hampers.
Upping the price of a parma by a single dollar means that a dollar for every parma sold goes directly from the customer to Gippsland Farmer Relief.
John and Sharon are also matching every dollar donated on a parm.
After seeing their friends’ efforts, Jacinta Burke and Chris Jones from Rivers Apartments in Wurruk jumped on board with John and Sharon, and are also matching every dollar donated on a parma.
That means three dollars from every parma sold on a Thursday at the Mac will go to Gippsland Farmer Relief, plus takings from the donation jars on the bar.
Jacinta and Chris offer workers’ accommodation, and see a lot of farm workers through the area.
Jacinta said she was concerned about the effect the drought has on farmers’ abilities to employ workers.
“It trickles through to all the other jobs and employment in the area — if things like that go wrong, then you haven’t got your transport, you haven’t got your workers working on the farms and the farmers aren’t spending in the town,” Jacinta said.
The pair are even considering their own initiative: “stay for hay”.
Gippsland Farmer Relief chief executive Melissa Ferguson said the organisation was looking forward to supporting more local farmers via the rush of support generated by the ‘Parma for a Farmer’ initiative.
“Gippsland Farmer Relief advocates for our Gippsland farming families, provides referrals to welfare and community organisations, fodder charities and Vinnies,” she explained.
“The proceeds [of ‘Parma for a Farmer’] fund our on-the-ground support to farmers on a monthly basis of food aid and welfare referrals.
“We provide monthly ongoing food hampers to the value of $200 to relieve household costs.
“We seek to assist and help wherever we can to better the lives of our hardworking farmers in financial and emotional duress.”
Melissa said she believed the Aussie parma was as iconic as the farmers who were the country’s backbone.
“The ‘Parma for a Farmer’ initiative has envoked the great Aussie spirit, and created an influx of support,” she said.
An influx of support indeed, with other local businesses getting behind Gippsland Farmer Relief including Sale’s Star Hotel, the Commercial Hotel, Yarram, Yarram Country Club, Railway Hotel Heyfield, Farmers Arms Newry and Rosedale Butchers.
‘Parma for a Farmer’ will run Thursday nights at the Macalister Hotel in Maffra, “again and again until it rains”, but it’s best to book ahead.
To donate directly to Gippsland Farmer Relief, to volunteer or to anonymously nominate a farmer in need, visit www.gippslandfarmersrelief.com.