Date of Interview: 12 March 1985
Place of Interview: Montville
Interviewer: Gillian Pechey
Transcriber: Colwyn Boulton
Education: Montville State School
Married to Joan, three children -Hilary, Elizabeth Anne and Lorraine Mary
Pat Brown was born in 1918 and grew up on a citrus farm in Montville. He talks about the decline of citrus farming, the Fruitgrowers and Progress Association and the change to pineapple farming.
Farming at Montville
In 1906 my father and his family came to Montville. They were always keen on the land. My father was in business and when he came to Montville he was only twenty-one years of age and a very wonderful, wonderful man, and he decided that they would grow citrus, in Montville. They bought a property on the Maleny Road. It was eighty acres and already had a couple of hundred citrus trees on it just starting to be established and there was a small home on the property. And my grandfather got busy and got a builder up from Palmwoods and he had a lovely home built. My father lived in the home with his two brothers and four sisters. They realised that 200 trees was not sufficient for an income so they quickly got more trees planted. They had to clear the scrub. In those days it was all scrub up here. So, they cut down those trees and had them pulled out, and they planted more citrus and they eventually had a farm consisting of two thousand citrus trees. And those two thousand trees gave a very nice living.
There were no Aborigines when my father first came to Montville in 1906. But we had a lot of Bunya Nut trees in our property, we used to have. We’d find little stone axes round these trees.
They had different varieties of citrus trees – mandarins and oranges and navels. The citrus trees grew exceptionally well because of the lovely red volcanic soil on the range. And these trees grew marvellously well, and they were protected from the strong wind because tall trees surrounded the farm so that kept the wind from blowing the trees about. With citrus trees it’s detrimental if the wind blows the trees about so Father kept the scrub all round to protect them and they continued growing citrus right up until 1930; that was for twenty-four years.
In 1915, at the age of thirty, my father married. The rest of the family left the area except one of my father’s brothers, Uncle John. He stayed and then my father got married and he had the old home that was built in 1906. He was given that while his mother and father went down to live in Tasmania. They retired in Tasmania and my father continued, as I say, growing citrus.
My two brothers and sister and I were born in that old home. We had a midwife that came and helped my mother. Mrs Court and she lived about half a mile Maleny side of our house. She was a lovely old soul. The old house was full of white ants and borers, so now it’s necessary to remove it. The old house was forty feet by forty feet, sixteen squares and this house I’m living in now is twenty-two squares. We had tanks that collected the rain from the roof. Course, we had to always be very careful because water was scarce, especially when we got a dry spell. We had to make the water go very carefully.
We didn’t have irrigation on our citrus. We had lovely creeks running through our property, but we never bothered to harness it up. We just depended on the weather. In those days we used to get a good rainfall. We’d have a worthwhile rainfall and the rain came at the right time. For citrus, as you can understand, you must have rain in the Spring when the trees are blossoming, setting their fruit.
We used to pick the fruit and then we’d grade it. We had a grading machine – that’s for size – and then we’d pack it in bushel cases. A bushel case used to weigh in the old scale fifty-six pounds. Then we’d send it down by truck to the station at Palmwoods where it was sent on to Brisbane, the Brisbane markets. A train would take it to Brisbane and then the agents used to sell the fruit for us and they used to charge ten percent commission. Our special agent was a man called J.H.Leavy. He was a very honest and very decent man. In the markets in those days would be about fifty different agents, so you could pick and choose. But Mr Leavy we found a very honest man. He gave us a good deal.
But people wanted to open up more land for farming and of course once they took the trees away that’s when the trouble started. When all the scrub around us was felled it let the wind in and of course wind is detrimental to citrus, blows the fruit off, blows all the leaves off. Each farmer would just keep to himself. We weren’t working collectively. Today I feel in the modern world I think we get our heads together and we would have done something about saving those trees. But in those days, it was just everybody to himself, without any thought of the damage that was being done.
The trees too did a lot to promote the rain. We do know that where you have a lot of trees growing it does do such a lot to keep the moisture in the air and that’s why in those days we were blessed with good rainfall because the trees were there.
The Montville Fruitgrowers and Progress Association was started very early, in 1920, and when I was twenty I was appointed Secretary and I kept that job right up until I lost my sight in 1954. They did a lot to help growers in any way they could to work together and to help in the marketing. In 1924 the Committee of Direction was formed. That’s what’s known now as the COD. And this organisation was comprised of sectional group committees: that meant the pineapple sectional group, citrus sectional group, the deciduous sectional group and the vegetable sectional group. These committees used to meet in Brisbane every three months to formulate a scheme to promote all the different things represented. Each particular group looked after its own particular group that it was nominated for, and this COD still stands today.
To make it more interesting, the COD in 1944 decided to build a cannery to help sell the excess fruit that the markets wouldn’t take. And this factory was formed in Brisbane at Northgate called The Golden Circle Cannery. And why this cannery is so interesting to me is that my brother, John Brown, was commissioned to be the Managing Director of this big cannery. He directed this cannery right up until he retired when he was sixty-five. He was Managing Director for thirty-one years and started off just a small cannery and now there’s forty acres of buildings at the cannery. So, it’s the biggest fruit cannery in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was started to use up all the excess fruit. More and more farmers planted both citrus and pineapple, vegetable and then up in Stanthorpe they were growing more and more deciduous fruits. Well the cannery was necessary to operate to absorb all this extra fruit. Talking about the factory, it really is a magnificent show. It’s known all over the world. The Golden Circle products go to every country in the world. They’re exported. And the emphasis is on quality and presentation. And they really are doing a magnificent job because Golden Circle now has become a household word, and everybody thinks so much of them. And I know when I try them myself how I enjoy them. All my friends say, “Oh, you can’t beat Golden Circle.”
We grew citrus from 1906 until 1930 – that was for twenty-four years – and then we started to change our farm from citrus to pineapples. Then we had a big pineapple farm, consisting of thirty acres of pineapples. It meant that we were all very busy, picking and packing them. We used to send pineapples to Adelaide, Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney and Brisbane and we even sent them north. We sent them to Rockhampton and Townsville, and then of course we sent a terrific amount to the Golden Circle Cannery. We used to find it most interesting because we studied the markets to see which markets seemed to be the best proposition. And of course, as you can understand with selling the fruit, you’ve got to build up a good name in the trade to get first choice. But we concentrated on that and we really found it most exciting.
In 1954 I lost my eyesight due to sugar diabetes. I got this sort of condition of diabetes at the age of ten and when I was thirty-six I lost my sight completely. That changed my whole mode of life because it just meant from being an actively engaged person in the fruit, I had to just quietly relax and spend my life quietly, doing what I could. But what I did was when I couldn’t work the farm anymore, my brother-in-law sold his property at Palmwoods and he came up and took over my share of the property. He took over our old farm that I was looking after.
Pineapples need very well drained soil. So, to ensure good drainage, we used to plant the pines on the contour. We’d have a little drain going down the centre of each row and the pineapples planted on each side of the drain and there you see they were well drained and that ensured good drainage. Pineapples don’t like wet feet and it meant excellent drainage which is essential. Of course, the bigger the pines you can grow that means the bigger tonnage to the acre and that is very important from the economics. You must get production and you must get the weight. So that’s important.
After having grown pines in Montville, for my working years up until 1954, I would now suggest to any person who wants to come into the industry to grow pineapples on the lowlands, because pineapples need to be protected from the strong wind which we get up on the top now it’s all been cleared away, and warmer conditions which you get down below. And so that’s what I feel is a much better proposition for getting the extra tons per acre.
There were seventy pineapple farms in Montville in those early days and now there’d be no more than three now in 1985. And even they are going out. So very soon there won’t be any pineapples growing in Montville, indication that our area now is definitely sub-division because the land is so rich, and the views are so beautiful that it isn’t economical to have it now, growing anything. It’s worth more to the farmer to sub-divide it. I feel that when we’ve got something good, then we’ve got to use it to the best advantage. I feel that we can get a lot more money for our land in sub-division than what it’s worth to try and grow fruit and vegetables.
Some [people] want it to be cut into five-acre blocks, but I’m against that because I feel that if a person wants five acres well then they can go to the extent of buying a little extra, having their five acres. But the average person who comes here to retire – a quarter of an acre is plenty. You can have a lovely garden at the front and the back of your house and your lovely trees and that’s quite enough to look after in the evening of your life. You see young people who want to be in a big way and want to grow big areas of stuff. Then they go and buy a lot of the big areas of land. But the people who will in the future be the citizens of Montville will be the elderly and so we’ve got to prepare for them.
When I was a boy – I might add at this stage I have a great faith in God. I’ve always loved our Lord very deeply, because I feel without God we’ve got nothing but with God we’ve got everything, everything that’s sweet and beautiful and wonderful. When I was a boy I went to Sunday School. I loved that and later I became a Sunday School teacher and then I became a warden in our church and a synodman and a Councillor. That’s in the Anglican Church. For the little bit of pleasure that goes with life, little things on the side, we had a lovely club. It was called St. Mary’s Pastime Club. And in that club, we played all manner of games; ping pong, quoits and – you name it – billiards. We had that in our Montville School of Arts that I was Secretary of later. And we had all these games we used to play. Then we knocked off about 10 o’clock and had dances.
We danced then ‘til 12 o’clock. And I used to love dancing. We used to have squeeze box, an accordion, and there we danced and frolicked around, doing all the old-time dances to the accordion. Then occasionally somebody would come and visit our area and we’d hear that they were good at ‘tickling the ivories’. We got them in to play the piano. We had a piano in our hall, lovely piano. And then we had sports. We had a lovely Tennis Club and I was Secretary to that. And we played tennis, and then cricket in the cricketing season in the summer time. We used to play against other places. We’d go down to Palmwoods and Nambour and Woombye and Maleny and all those places. We played them in sport. In the summer time we played cricket and in the winter time we played tennis. And there we enjoyed a little bit of pleasure.
It was men and women – we couldn’t do without the girls. Be amongst the girls. Oh no, we enjoyed playing. Well, of course, the girls didn’t play cricket, but the girls joined in the tennis. See in tennis, as you know, there’s four men and two girls to each game, each match I should say, and the matches consist of nine sets – four mixed, four men and one ladies per set – and those were the nine sets that each match consisted of. And they were played from one o’clock in the afternoon until five. We played our fixture matches on a Saturday afternoon and our practice on a Sunday afternoon.
I was blessed. I was married to a very beautiful woman called Joan and she gave me a lovely son and a lovely daughter. And they used to come out with us and they’d play about outside the court on the green grass while we were enjoying the tennis. They were very well-behaved children. They never gave us any trouble. All the other children joined in. They were all kind and friendly. They really had a lovely time. We used to boil the billy, the good old-fashioned billy. Boil the billy and put the kerosene tin full of water over a fire and there we’d boil the billy and pour the tea in and stir it with a stick. And we used to have lovely afternoon teas and enjoyed it all to the fullest. We enjoyed every moment of it, it was so delightful. Being on the mountain top the air is so pleasant, you know, fresh air and healthy, beautiful to breathe in your lungs.
In the Forties, at the School of Arts we used to conduct dances every Saturday night. Every Saturday night we had a dance to raise funds and we all enjoyed them. We used to be very good though we’d only go ‘til 12 o’clock. We never danced on a Sunday morning. Knock off at 12 like good children. And we had lots of fun. Actually, that pretty well wound up our activities because we had our cricket and tennis in season, the dances every Saturday night, and then once a year we’d have a concert. And with the concert every different group in Montville would give an item. I was Secretary of School of Arts and Trustee and I would say a piece of poetry.
In the Second World War, my two brothers, that’s John and Hilary, they went to the war but unfortunately, I couldn’t go being a diabetic on insulin. They wouldn’t take me. When I went to enlist they termed me medically unfit and so I couldn’t go. But my two brothers went, along with lots of other young men from Montville and also the girls. The girls went with the WAFS and the WRENS, and the Land Army Girls went also from Montville, out working on different properties. The farms were depleted. They went back [in production]. Because there were so many men having gone away. So, I really had to play my part by working extra hard on the farm to take my two brothers’ places.
In the Depression years we used to clear sixpence a case profit on our pineapples. A bushel and a half case of pineapples would clear sixpence. Sixpence would be worth, I suppose in those days, about five shillings today. The tragic part about it was such a lot of them went broke. Because of the seriousness of the situation. My two brothers and myself and father, we were able to grow our fruit more cheaply because we didn’t have to pay out any labour costs, but a lot of men who had to pay labour out, went bankrupt. But as I say, we were all heavily mortgaged and we were able to weather out the storm. Then when America came into the war they wanted our pineapples. They really enjoyed them, and they paid a big price for them so that helped us tremendously. It was how we got out of our debts you see with the good price we got for the pines.
The greatest thing in our fruit industry was the building of our Golden Circle Cannery because that’s absolutely given us a satisfactory price for all our fruits and vegetables. The factory now takes such huge quantities at a price payable to growers. So that really has been the most important feature of the whole situation. We established our Golden Circle Cannery which is world-wide.
We used to get a “Courier Mail,” in the olden days it was called “The Courier”. We got one of those every day and then of course the mail came up from Palmwoods in the mail coach. We used to get our letters every day, that’s if there were any letters. And then regarding the advent of wireless we didn’t get our first wireless in our home until 1938 but some of our friends in Montville, they got wireless sets in 1930. This meant that you got all the market reports and all the interesting things pertaining to fruit and vegetables. Then of course, we used to ring up. We had the telephone. About 1925 we got our first telephone in Montville and that of course meant being able to ring Brisbane Market for our fruit and ring up our agents. Ring up our loved ones. This was a wonderful thing. It meant so much.
For radio we had little battery sets and used to have to have a wet battery. That’s a big car battery, one of those, and also a dry battery. Used to have these two batteries fitted up and there we would hear the wireless. In those days our first radio was one with a big horn and we used to tuck our heads into the horn to hear all the news. It was so wonderful hearing the news at night, the seven o’clock news. You’d come in tired from work and we’d hear all the news at night.
We got electricity in Montville in 1939. It was brought through from Brisbane as a straight line and it came all through the back of our property. We were paid one pound for each post that was put in our land. It was called City Electric Light in those days when it first came out in 1939. Each farmer was paid one pound for each post that was put into his property and that was then the main line. They had transformers in various spots where the current was reduced and there we were able to have our power. We had our iron, electric iron. We later brought little radios, electric radios, and then we had all the usual things: lights, anything that required electricity that you could buy, an electric lawn mower. We had everything that walks and talks.