15/10/2008 - 22:00

Woods on historical journey

15/10/2008 - 22:00

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WHAT started as a marketing plan to name a range of wines has become a 10-year passion for the history of French exploration in Western Australia for businessman, Peter Woods.

WHAT started as a marketing plan to name a range of wines has become a 10-year passion for the history of French exploration in Western Australia for businessman, Peter Woods.

Mr Woods is a major contributor to the second in a series of exhibitions dedicated to the European exploration of WA, 'Journeys of Enlightenment', which opens this week at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle.

Well-known collectors such as Kerry Stokes, Jock Clough and Marie Louise Wordsworth are also strong supporters of the exhibition.

Although busy running his publishing company, RIC Group, which has an annual turnover of $20 million and offices in Ireland, Malaysia and Tokyo, Mr Woods has been busy tracking down historical documents through auction houses around the world during the past five years.

He founded the Woodside Valley Foundation with the late historian, Leslie Marchant, in 2003 to preserve the heritage of French maritime explorers and scientists who visited WA.

Other businessmen, such as property developer Nigel Satterley, joined the board of the foundation.

Mr Woods' interest for the French exploration in WA was triggered quite randomly, when he bought 77 hectares of land in the South West to grow a vineyard.

While he said he saw a unique marketing opportunity in building on the French heritage of the region to brand his wines, the initiative led him to develop a profound interest in the history behind the 250 French names in use in WA.

"I was working with my marketing people in West Perth at the time and we were wondering who would know about the French history in WA, and the name of Leslie Marchant came up. He had been all around the world...knew everybody," Mr Woods told WA Business News.

"That's where it all started. He [Mr Marchant] was like a teacher to me.

"I wanted to use these French names [to name the wines], and then wondered who they were. I got all the names trademarked, I wanted to use the Bs, like Bonnefoy, Baudin, Le Bas, and on the bottle it says who the person is and what they did.

"Then we started to get more involved in what he [Mr Marchant] did."

The catalyst for the creation of the Woodside Valley Foundation came in 2002 when important historical documents from the French exploration of WA came up for auction at Christie's in London.

"I put in $150,000 for the government to buy items," Mr Woods said.

"There were about 100 items; a lot of them were related to the eastern states and went to the eastern states.

"$1 million was raised in total, which allowed us to buy about 40 items.

The explorers undertook the first expansive studies of the region's flora and fauna, and the rare documents bring together drawings, paintings and specimens associated with these journeys.

"That's what started the whole thing with me...you just don't realise what these people did, some of the photos and the journals they kept," Mr Woods said.

The French connection goes even further for Mr Woods, who is also a sponsor of the St Tropez film festival 'Cinema des Antipodes' on the French Riviera

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