Brief History of the Orchard Industry

Research by Gordon Freegard

The genesis of horticulture in Western Australia dates back to the arrival of the first European settlers 150 years ago. There are 90 years of endeavour in Kalamunda and districts.

Records show that the first horticultural pioneers took up land in the 1880’s and their names include Stirk, Wallis and Mead. However, it was not possible to bring the land into substantial production for at least a decade.

The Canning Jarrah Timber Company’s railway line began operating in 1891 providing a means of access to the district and giving impetus to an increasing number of settlers who were taking up land with the ultimate object of growing fruit. The ranges contained pockets of land in the valley suitable for horticultural purposes, and the transport provided by the railway had made their development feasible. The forest which covered the ranges was an obstacle to the making of roads to the railways, and the settlers managed with tracks which wound around great stumps and trees and fallen timber which was everywhere after the logs had been removed for milling. In some cases the tracks made for the jinkers hauling logs to the landing were used, but the huge wheels with their enormous loads had so cut into the ground that they were difficult and sometimes dangerous to negotiate. Roads came slowly. They were surveyed, and sections made, sometimes by the settlers with or without Road Board assistance, where they were too wet to use in winter. The nature of the tracks limited the loads the horses could pull and the rate at which they could progress, and the going was rough, often terribly rough, especially in the early years of settlement.A 15th February 1891 diary entry of Edward Whaton White records that on that day, a Sunday, he and Edward Herbert Dean Smith went out (from Canning Timber Station) to look at a 100acre block of land for which the latter had already applied.

The block, which lay along a small gently sloping valley containing a large swamp through which a brook meandered, and heavily timbered with huge blackbutt trees on the lower land, indicative of permanent water and good soil, impressed the men and they decided, together with White’s brother Lionel, to form a partnership to acquire and develop it. Under the Land Regulations 1877 land could be leased and later, subject to certain conditions having been met and the purchase price paid, secured as a Crown Grant. The conditions were that the land should be fenced on the surveyed boundaries, and an amount equal to the full purchase price expended on the land in prescribed improvements in addition to the cost of the fencing.

On 13th May 1891 Smith and White Bros., as the partnership was called, acquired a lease (No 49/332; in December 1891 altered to 49/383) of the block, which when secured as a Crown Grant became Canning Location 500, electing to pay the purchase price of 10/- an acre in 10 annual installments of five pounds. To commemorate the occasion they had a studio portrait taken.


In July 1891 they acquired a lease (No 48/363) of a further 100acre block, later to become Canning Location 499, adjoining the first block further up the valley. This block was originally selected (as Lease No7/1500) by Robert Kemp of Perth on 20th July 1886, and surveyed in May 1887. Kemp, however, did not pay the installment of five pounds due in 1887 and forfeited the block. No development appears to have been attempted, nor would any have been feasible as the block was only approached through miles of trackless forest. When Smith and White Bros acquired the lease development was as practical proposition: Keane’s railway was under construction to Canning Location 165, three miles distant, and a bush line through the property was projected and could be expexted within two or three years.

As the contract between the Government and Keane (builder of the Canning Jarrah Timber Company’s Railway) provided that “No sale or other disposition of any lands within the area of the said licence shall be made by the Government excepting of such lands whereon there is no marketable timber in the opinion of the Commissioner of Crown Lands for the time being and his decision on this point shall be final and conclusive” (Clause 47), the leases would have required Keane’s permission. This would readily have been given, cordial relations obtaining between Keane and the Whites, who were his brothers-in-law and worked for him.

The selections were named Illawarra after the property owned by the White brothers’ father, Abraham White, near Kapunda in South Australia, where Edward and Lionel were born.

Lease 49/383 was surveyed in February 1892 and the partnership proceeded to clear some five acres. The teams of horses and log-hauling equipment of the timber company, and a railway formation plough with a giant wrought iron blade of a coulter, drawn by bullocks, were employed in the clearing, with the men, responding to the consideration of plenty of beer, working in their own time. E.W. White, assisted by A.G. Hewby, pegged out the positions for the trees with a theodilite, and A. Lauffer, the proprietor of the Helena Nurseries at Smiths Mill, carried out the planting.

In an article of 29th April 1893 the traveling commissioner of “the Western Mail”. Lancelot Lindley-Cowen, writes of having visited Canning Mills and talked with Lionel White. “They had”, he said,”about five acres cleared and planted last year, chiefly to oranges, and are clearing five acres more this year …… The land is very rich, and really excellent fruit land, as good as one could wish. The country is heavily timbered about here with blackbutt, jarrah, and other trees, some of which are immense size, as one can easily see by the large jarrah logs that are being handled at the mills. Mr. White is taking a lively interest in his little orchard and it has every promise of being a success. A man must go slow in this class of country. It is not to be rushed, and if the proprietors of Illawarra go slow and do everything well they will get reward all the sooner, and I am sure it is safe to prophesy that it will be a satisfactory one.

Clearing and planting was continues year by year until in 1898 there were 22 acres of fruit trees. A mixed orchard was favoured and nine different fruits and a variety of each, including 35 varieties of apples and numerous varieties of pears, were planted, Vegetables were also grown. In 1895 it was reported that “some magnificent specimens of vegetable marrow and mangel-wurzel” grown at Illawarra were on show in the window of Alfred Sandover and Company in Perth. “Two of the first named”, the report said, “weighted 39 and 20 lb respectively, while numerous samples of the others are from 20 lb downward.

A weather-board manager’s residence consisting of two 10 x 12 feet rooms lined with an oiled dado and Norwegian Match-board, separated by a passage similarly lined, and surrounded on three sides with an 8 feet wide verandah and roofed with corrugated galvanised iron, all of such quality and so well constructed that much of it was still sound until destroyed by fire 75 years later, had been built, with a skillion (later to be replaced) consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and spare room across the back. There was a three-roomed unlined timber frame cottage with the sides made of broad vertically placed boards with further boards covering the joints, The roof of horizontally placed over-lapping boards but later covered with iron as it ceased to be weatherproof, and two huge fireplaces and chimneys built of vertically placed boards, identical with the cottages provided by the mills, for a married man. (The size of the fireplace separated the fire from the timber and the jarrah used did not, if care was taken, create a fire risk). A small hut, such as a fettler would occupy, existed for a single man. In addition Smith had erected a wood and galvanised iron cottage for his own use on visits, The shed accommodation, whatever it was, was scant.


At this stage Illawarra was like many other fruit growing ventures, “absentee owner endeavouring to conduct orcharding by remote control without much success after they had appointed a manager”, as Thomas Price observed. Some areas of the orchard were so boggy that it was almost impossible to take a team of horses over the ground even in summer, couch grass had taken control, and lemons were so infected with scale that it was considered hopeless to try and do anything with them.

It was to meet this situation that the firm invited Price, whom they knew as a nurseryman, to become managing partner. The demands of the situation were formidable, but the potential of the property influenced Price and on 23rd March 1899 he invested 500 pounds and acquired a quarter share in the enterprise, which then become known as The Illawarra Orchard Company.

When Price took up residence at Illawarra on 1st August 1899 the enterprise was far from established. It was not paying, and an overdraft of 530 pounds, with interest at the rate of seven per cent, had been incurred in the payment of wages.

Price commenced the clearing of a further twenty-two acres at once and established a nursery, from which he made some sales, to provide trees for the new orchard. The old orchard, requiring a tremendous effort to put it in good shape,made heavy demands on him and, working early and late, he wished he had never come.

The land for the new orchard was heavily timbered and the stumps were grubbed by hand. It was exhausting work at any time and doubly so in the hot weather, and when one man swore he had had enough and swung his mattock around his head and sent it flying into the scrub., Price understood. Ploughing after clearing was a hazardous occupation. Roots were required to be removed to a depth of eighteen inches or until they could be broken off by hand, but evidently some were missed and the plough striking them resulted in a nasty clout with the plough handle on the side of the head. Price discreetly awaited a favourable time to confer with his ploughman. Planting was begun in the winter of 1900 and completed the following year, “a terrific effort” as his son Hector, aware of what was involved, observed years later.

In 1900 Price and Smith each invested a further 400 dollars in the company to erect stables, implement, storage and packing sheds, and a cottage.

By 1902 the earlier plantings were bearing substantially (over seventy tons of fruit was sold), and the overdraft was paid off. At the conclusion of the apple season in 1903 the first dividend was paid, 60 pounds on each twenty per cent share. (Price and Smith had bought out H.L.W. White, for 1000 pounds, late in 1902, and each now held a two-fifths interest, and E. W. White a one-fifth interest, in the partnership). Price’s wife recorded under date of 21st April 1903: “Tom went to Mr. Smith’s to tea with Mr T. (Ted) White; business after tea, ending up by giving Tom praise for his management and by them making him a present of the price of a cow – fourteen pounds.

By 1912 the orchard had developed and production increased to the point where Price was in desperate need of a working partner who could assume sub-managerial responsibilities. He therefore approached Frank Laverack, a nephew of Dean Smith’s, who had come out to Illawarra in 1900 and learned orcharding under Price’s direction. Laverack, who had had horticultural experience in England, had taken charge of the orchard during Price’s five months absence in 1906.

While working at Illawarra he had selected land nearby (Canning Location 492) and, in partnership with Sydney Smailes, established a model ten acre orchard which he named “Rokewood” after the variety of apple which he planted exclusively. In 1907, having bought out his partner, he left Illawarra and settled at Rokewood, where he had a small nursery to keep the pot boiling while his trees came into bearings.

Laverack was thus uniquely qualified by experience for the position at Illlawarra, which he accepted. He was admitted to partnership on 1st January 1913 and a residence was built, Laverack living with his wife (he married Pearl White, a niece of E.W. White’s) in Smith’s Cottage, where he had batched as a young man with L.B.A. Craven, during construction.

A working partner gave Price relief from the storing and packing of the fruit, a responsibility which increased with the erection of a cold store with its special storing requirements and an extension of the marketing season, two years later.

It was first thought that the conditions in the Gooseberry Hill area (Kalamunda had not then been coined as a name) would be suitable for wine grapes and a number of vineyards were established. Experience over the years disproved this. It was also proved that a wide range of fruits could be grown successfully in the various localities where climatic conditions were favourable for particular types of fruit. Strawberries were the first proven to be successful commercially.

There was no Government advisory service of any description and a very wide range of fruits was planted, often as “Fruit Salad” orchards with a multiplicity of types and individual varieties of each type. Over a period of two decades, it was determined that the cold weather of Canning Mills – Karragullen did not favour navel oranges, but admirably suited apples and pears. Likewise it was proved that apples were not ideally suited for localities with poor winter dormancy, but oranges and lemons were a success in these areas; and also that most stone fruit could be grown satisfactorily over a range of conditions. Nevertheless, winter dormancy in orchards close to the scarp was far from ideal for peaches or nectarines.

Ideal winter dormancy indicates the number of hours below 7degrees C. It has been determined that apples and pears need between 1,200 and 1,500 hours depending on the variety. Similarly peaches and nectarines have a range of 600 to 1,500, Japanese plums 200 to 400 and grapes practically nil. If insufficient chilling occurs peaches, apricots and almonds are prone to drop their dormant fruit buds before opening. Likewise apples, pears and plums open their flowers erratically and “set” poor crops.

An example of the very mixed varieties in all early orchards is instanced by the initial list planted on the Owen property in 1895: twelve orange trees including 1 Washington navel, 1 Australian navel, 4 lemons, 1 persimmon, 1 mulberry, 6 figs, 20 grapevines, 1 cherry, 6 loquats, 10 pears (including Bartletts), a few plums and the rest apples of several varieties plus some strawberries. Within two years about 5 acres had been planted with 1 olive and 5 almonds being included. Apples and pears of several varieties predominated.


The first two orchards in the Canning Mills area were planted in 1893 by Josep Steffan, a German and by Smith and White Bros. Thomas Price who already had nearly 20 years experience in horticulture, was invited to join the partnership as manager and Illawarra Orchard Company as such was inaugurated. The latter’s knowledge was primarily acquired in England working with several leading horticultural nursery establishments, who also specialised in glass house fruit culture and catered for fruit and floral for London banquets. More recently he was associated with the “Woodbridge” orchard and nursery at Guildford (W.A.).I

n the early planting at Illawarra, navel oranges and lemons were prominent followed by about 40 varieties of apples and pears and a selection of stone fruit, especially peaches. Persimmons and quinces were included but there were no grapevines or strawberries. A substantial area of rhubarb was the first cash crop of note prior to propagating fruit trees and the subsequent income from fruit.

Most early settlers commenced with practically no capital whatsoever and very little experience in horticulture. Income for sustenance and property development was derived from a variety of sources. The timber industry provided employment for many. Other sources included firewood cutting, contract clearing for the Roads Board (now known as the Shire Council), contract fencing, charcoal burning.


Market gardening was a major source for many properties over a lengthy period, and this included flower production and especially daffodils, in more recent times. Poultry, pig and dairy farming, in a comparatively small way, also figured prominently. In later years some of these undertakings were quite large. One family group conducted a fruit case saw mill, and two orchards conducted nurseries. Eventually some of the most advanced orchards provided employment for many, especially part-time.

Strawberry growing as cash crops was popular in the 1890’s and continued for many years. The names of Urch, Stirk and Wallis appeared predominantly in the early records in this field, although most gardens produced strawberries. A. Sanderson, Secretary of the Darling Range Fruitgrowers’ Association reported in 1902 – “That 30 acres of strawberries yielded a modest estimate of 3 tons per week during the September – January period”. It is recorded in articles in Western Mail 18/2/1911 that one grower in Pickering Brook sent over a tonne of strawberries to market after the New Year. There were no less than 93 growers in the whole district by 1911.

It is appropriate to record that, at the Royal Agricultural Show held at Guildford in 1904, Messrs Urch and Schmitt shared the honours for strawberry prizes; also that at the National Fruit Show 1905 the medal for best case of apples packed for export was awarded to T. Price.

Subsequent awards were gained in England. One medal was awarded at the Franco-British Exhibition 1908 held at Shepherd’s Bush, London reads;

“Diploma for Gold Medal

Awarded to T. Price, Western Australia

for Apples”

The other is a “Diploma of Honour” awarded to Illawarra Orchard Coy. at the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition, Chelsea Gardens, London 1912.

Those early producers soon found they could not rely on the timber company’s very irregular and unreliable train service to get their produce to Perth markets, either in good time or in good condition. An arrangement for transport from orchards and gardens in the proximity of Kalamunda was made between growers and C. H. Brooks, the first storekeeper in the district, to take their fruit to the Perth markets on his two-horse wagon. At the peak period, four trips a week were made- over unmade roads, which were actually tracks and included several kilometres of absolute sand. The charge for this service was generally one penny per pound. Records show that the best quality sold at 2/6 (55 cents per kilogram) per pound wholesale. However, the range of price during the flush of the season varied between six and eight cents per pound (on an average 15cents per kg). The production of strawberries eventually waned, and then ceased on account of pests and diseases. Other cash crops were grown.

It is also recorded that there were 9 cases of peaches comprised 124.25 dozen and 1,354 lbs rhubarb (34 cases weighing 14 cwt 1 quarter = 775 kg) consigned from Illawarra to the main sales agent in Perth during the third week of December 1899.

The highest price for apples, at least for perhaps 50 years, and before inflation, was 3 guineas ($6.30) each for two Nestles milk boxes of Doherties (then called Improved Yates as this variety had not been identified at that time). These were the first two boxes of this variety produced in the district (in 1900) and were the only apples in the market at that particular time. The relative value of this high return can be appreciated by comparing it with the weekly salary of the Manager viz. three pounds per week ($6.00).

On the other end of the scale, very low prices have been received, quite often well below cost of production. Debit notes were not unknown.

Some properties were used for other purposes, although fruit trees were planted on most. Many of the larger properties were subdivided into smaller holdings. The Owen property comprise of 338 acres and that of Richard Urch 107 acres, of which 3/4 (0.75) of an acre was planted with strawberries.

The very early settlers suffered extreme hardships and had to be self-supporting. They were very resourceful and their dwellings comprised whatever materials were available and that could be constructed by their own hands. Materials included hessian, timber slabs and mud bricks. One, August Johnson eventually graduated from hessian walls to a self constructed residence, “Ronneby”. The main material was stone, abundantly available nearby.

Most of the holdings did not contain more than about 25 per cent of soil suitable for horticulture and this was located in the valleys adjacent to creeks. However the non-arable land on the hillsides had substantial stands of small to medium size jarrah trees ideally suitable for fencing, slabs for huts, frames for tents and other makeshift dwellings, also sheds.

There was an abundance of firewood left behind from milling operations. The timber companies had been very selective and milled only the larger first quality trees. It took several decades before forest fire protection, re-afforestation and conservation became Government policy.


Clearing land was accomplished by using their own labour, with very few tools and without the use of horses. At a later date, simple hand operated tree pullers for removing stumps were used by those that could afford them. Sometimes a sharing arrangement was entered into between neighbours. Bullocks were used on one orchard at Canning Mills, to assist with clearing and for the initial ploughing of the land. Much hard labour was necessary for removing roots and the like. Much of the timber in the hills was of massive proportions. Some jarrah stumps left behind after milling operations, measured 1.5 metres and more in diameter, about 2 metres from the ground, the level from which large trees were felled from an improvised platform. The blackbutts in the swampy areas and huge red gums (Marri), were not considered of commercial significance, also created problems. It was essential to remove every root of the red gum trees, otherwise a native root fungus (Armellaria), associated with these trees, prevented fruit trees from thriving and could eventually kill them.

A lot of underground drainage, in the form of timber box drains of timber, was necessary for the removal of heavy winter rains, especially in the heavy swamp soils. The annual rainfall in the wetter areas some kilometres from the scarp varies from approximately 700mm to 1,800mm according to records taken over 40 years. The official average rainfall taken over 60 years (1909 to 1968) in Kalamunda town is 1,072mm with the lowest of 569mm in 1914 and the highest of 1,405mm in 1945. The maximum for any one month is 519mm in June 1945 (658mm at Illawarra). Most of the rain occurs during the months of May through to September. Significent falls in the growing season, especially February, March, are the exception rather than the rule.

Various novel means were used by growers to transport their produce to the nearest railway siding. Wheelbarrows were used by many. A yoke with one package suspended from either side was a method used by one grower.

Another couple constructed a conveyance described as “resembling a stretcher”. Two cases at the time were transported on horseback by still another grower. Albert Annetts acquired the first horse in the Piesse Brook – Heidelberg area (later known as Bickley) and constructed a sledge from bush timber to transport his strawberries to the timber company’s siding up the very steep track now known as Lawnbrook Road.


Eventually, horses and carts were in general use by orchardists, as distinct from strawberries growers. One large orchard purchased a wagon drawn by two horses, as well as a cart. Sledges became common after each grower acquired a horse. An excellent frame was obtained by selecting a tree with a suitable forked limb. A light chain was fixed to the apex of the sledge and this in turn was connected to the harness of the horse. Sledges were covered with any reasonable flat boards that were available, including unmerchantable “offcuts” obtained from “spot” timber mills nearby. These formed a platform, on to which a spray barrel could be fixed and which was also used for other haulage purposes; – picking boxes, fertiliser and the like, on the orchard.

Those early pioneers had major grievances, being “deprived by lack of personal communication, by road or rail to Perth, and mails being delayed for two or three days”. The nearest shop from Kalamunda was at Guildford. There were no services of any description, nor a resident doctor. Canning Mills was an exception – for 12 years. The Horticultural Advisory Service had not been developed.

The clearing of the property owned by Josef Steffan and hand grubbed by himself and son to a depth of 18 inches (45cm) could be regarded as one of the epics in the annals of clearing by the early settlers. An issue of the “Western Mail” in 1893 records that the clearing and ploughing of the first five acres at “Illawarra” (Smith and White Bros.) in 1892 cost about $15 per acre ($73 per hectare). This was, in the main, on a contractual basis. The clearing and planting of approximately 5 acres per year for several years was a very creditable achievement. However, it was subsequently ascertained by the first manager, 7 years later in 1899, that the clearing was far from thorough and this defect needed rectifying. Hidden stumps and/or roots played havoc with ploughmen. When the tip of the ploughshear became wedged under a root, the plough temporarily tipped up and then fell back, the handlebars often bruising the ploughman’s fibs. There was also sporadic trouble with Amillaria, extending over many years. A number of fruit trees needed replacing and others needed chemical treatment.


In about 1912/13 the Department of Lands and Surveys inaugurated a tree clearing service to further assist the opening up of the district. It consisted of a steam traction engine, a team of six men and one horse (for hauling the heavy wire rope into position). The cost was 18/- an hour. The terms of repayment were generous and extended over 25 years. Many growers in the hills extended their orchard acreage by utilising this service. Some subsequent hand clearing and “running” of roots was necessary, although the traction engine often pulled out roots with the tree top.

Canning Mills had a district population of approximately 500, with 170 being directly employed by the timber mills, supporting a population of around 400.

All settlers lived several kilometres distant and housewives were responsible for their own bread and generally assisting their husbands in a multitude of ways. When a cow was eventually acquired, butter-making became a regular chore. The small mill town provided a market for a quantity of mixed produce.

In 1902, a Government Field Officer reported that – “The great drawback of this promising district is the means, or lack of means of communication. There is a railway run by a private company to suit itself, but certainly not to suit the public. This part of the country has established quite a name for its strawberries and the orchards, large and small, have been favourably reported on”.


Public meetings were held regularly to take over the railway line. The Upper Darling Range Railway League had been formed in 1901 for this purpose. After many representations to the Government, the line was taken over in 1903, but only as far as Pickering Brook and not to Canning Mills. A regular service was established with 3 or 4 trains a day.

By 1911, there were no less than 93 growers in the whole area. The growers in the Canning Mills district (which subsequently became known as Karragullen) were obliged to cart their produce to Pickering Brook for the next 8 or 9 years – until 1912 – when the Government extended the line to Karragullen. The roads, other than those which followed the timber tram lines for a few kilometres, were just tracks and extremely torturous, with sections very boggy in winter. It took the most isolated settler all day to transport 14 cases, per horses and cart, over a round trip of about 28 kilometres.


Further land was thrown open for settlement after World War 1, under the Soldier Settlement Scheme, in the Piesse Brook area, which included the large area at Pickering Brook (subsequently known as Carilla).

In 1930 Millars Timber Company released land they had taken over with the milling enterprise from Canning Timber Company. This was situated in the “Red Gully” valley of Karragullen, adjacent to the original site of the Canning Mills and stretching in a southerly direction.

A number of orchard properties at Karragullen were resumed in 1923 by the Metropolitan Water Board, in connection with the proposed Canning Dam. Subsequently several properties have been purchased by them on both the Canning and Victoria Reservoir – Bickley Brook Catchment Scheme.

Most orchards adjacent to Kalamunda, and in many other localities have been sold for housing consequent with the spread of outer suburbia. More recently some properties have changed hands for “Hobby Farming – Residential”.

Giant Chestnut Tree

There are comparatively few trees remaining of the 1890 – 1910 era. However, there is one magnificent chestnut of immense proportions. This can be viewed from the Brookton Highway, Karragullen, approximately one kilometre from the junction of Canning Road. It was planted about 1919 by J. Steffan and has prolific yields; no less than 360kg of nuts were harvested in 1980. It is easily the most profitable tree in the region.

Illawarra Nursery

Illawarra commenced a small nursery in the early 1950’s with the object of obtaining suitable apple and pear trees for new acreage and subsequently for replanting the old orchard. This developed as a commercial enterprise and over 160,000 trees were disposed of during the peak planting years of this era and until planting saturation was reached in all areas of Western Australia in the 1960’s. Approximately half of these trees were sold in the hills and the balance in the other apple areas of this State with some selected parcels going to Eastern States growers, whose orders had been obtained through personal contact.

This nursery operation has continued privately to supply Illawarra orchard with the best rootstocks to propagate any new variety and especially to supply further replacements. those trees on seedling rootstocks planted 20 years ago are now too large for the fruitgrowing economics of the 1980’s.

Largest Export Shipment

Exports had its beginnings in a comparatively small way in the early 1900’s. These early apple and pear shipments were supplied with several firms acting as shipping agents. This fruit was supplied by several growers in the Canning Mills (Karragullen) area. The principal markets were United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. The first export was recorded in 1906 when 20 cases were consigned to the United Kingdom plus 6 others purchased by the State Government for Exhibition purpose in London. These were supplied by Illawarrra, the varieties being mainly Cleopatra and Esopus Spitzenberg (not unlike Jonathan).


The largest single consignment from any one property to use rail service was 2,268 redwood dump cases in 1922. These comprised Jonathan, Cleopatras and Dunns and it took nearly a week to transport them to the railway siding, a distance of 7.5 kilometres round trip per two wagons, each drawn by two draught horses (the heavier wagon or lorry with a capacity of 84 cases in on display at the Kalamunda & Districts History Village). Cleopatras were very acceptable in London. The nett return was a disappointing 38cents per case to cover production and packaging and transport.

On the other end of the scale was a shipment of 2,000 cases of Granny Smiths for Singapore on one vessel in the early 1950 buoyant years. These were required to be at the ship’s side for loading on one day only. The local cartage contractor with several light trucks was obliged to engage some other carriers. Heavy semi-trailer trucks had not yet appeared on the scene. Each and every case was stacked and unloaded by hand. The out-turn of this fruit was very satisfactory and there was not enough Granny Smiths available to meet the heavy demand over the full season. Within a few years all the younger plantings in the Shire and district came into full production with excellent demand continuing. The absolute largest shipment on one vessel from one orchard was 4,000 cases in 1957 shipped to Glasgow. These were loaded in under 48 hours and comprised 13 motor truck loads.


Quantities of stone fruit have been exported since the 1920’s. In 1923, O. E. Owen, “Rosedale” of Pickering Brook forwarded a small lot of President Plums to London and received a satisfactory return of four cents for each fruit. Subsequent consignments, although payable were not an advance on local market prices.

In the 1930’s small lots of Japanese plums were regularly shipped to Singapore and Indonesia. Immediately after World War 11, Ray Owen sent a parcel of 350 half dump cases of Ruby Blood Plums to Singapore for a return of $2.50 per package. Increasing lots were subsequently sent to Singapore and Malaysia and in the late 1960’s a record total of 180,000 cases were sent in one season mainly from the Hills area.

Uncontrolled shipments in the middle 1960’s caused uncertainties in these markets. A voluntary Stone Fruit Export Committee with growers and shippers co-operating was inaugurated in 1965. To look after the interests of growers an Export Stone Fruit Growers’ Association was formed and registered under the Company’s Act. Since then all export of this commodity has been channeled through this pool, which had the desired effect of stabilising the market and resulted in satisfactory returns.

Because of the limitations imposed by the constitution of the Western Australian Fruitgrowers’ Association Inc., in 1965 the “Western Australian Export Stone Fruit Growers’ Association was formed. It is registered and has the power to engage in trade.

Cold Storage

The first cold store was erected at Illawarra in 1914/15. The necessity for this initial cold store was determined by the disastrous results of storing pears in a Perth Store the previous season. The bulk of the Bartlett crop was stored in a solid block without precooling or ventilation. Upon inspection, prior to intended marketing, the outer stacks were frozen solid and had to be separated by using a hatchet. The inner stacks were over-ripe. A near total loss was the result and this represented an estimated 10 per cent of the anticipated income from the property. This project cost slightly in excess of 4,000 pounds ($8,000) and included a 48 H.P. suction gas engine operated by charcoal gas and a small D.C. electric light plant. While there were handbooks on refrigeration, there was absolutely no instructions available on cold storage of fruit. Learning the most suitable techniques by trial and error method was a long and often frustrating and costly process.

The gas producer needed re-fuelling every 20 minutes with one kerosene tin (capacity 19 litres) of charcoal. All refrigeration system controls were manually operated and needed periodic adjustments, especially the compressor piston gland to correct expansion and contraction of composite packing to prevent ammonia leaks. As one large fan circulated cold air in the four fruit rooms through adjustable ducts, the small duct sliding doors needed opening or shutting according to the fruit temperature. A permanent engine-driver-cum-machinery attendant was employed. When he was off-duty this task was undertaken by a principal of the orchard company. During the peak intake period it was not uncommon to have a 15 hour stint with meals on the job. It was the practice to do some packing, supervise unloading fruit and other jobs in between each 20 minute interval. Periodically the plant was stopped to allow the removal of clinker created by heated pebbles accidentally mixed up with the charcoal, which blocked the grate, thus preventing air circulation for gas production. Occasionally the plant stopped of its own accord. This meant re-generating gas to re-start the engine – per medium of a hand blower similar to those used in blacksmiths’ forges. In the meantime there was no power.

A “Rushton” horizontal engine superseded the gas producer in 1949 and in 1957 had an alternator installed to supply some electricity if and when there was an S.E.C. power failure.

The erection of an extra room in 1932 increased capacity to 13,000 bushels. All cases were hand-stacked, which was very hard work. Gravity roller conveyors on movable trestles were introduced for moving fruit any appreciable distance and especially loading and unloading wagons – cases still being handled individually. This building was constructed mainly of seasoned timber with charcoal insulation and is still partially functional. Structural alterations have been made to some store doorways, permitting access of forklifts, pallets and bins. The refrigeration system was modernised with the extension of electricity services in 1956.

There are now at least 40 grower-owned cold stores in the district, varying in capacity from a few hundred bushels to well in excess of 20,000. Most of the smaller ones are used in connection with stone fruit. In addition there are seven large central packing shed/cold store enterprises built in the first instance to service export requirements.

With the recession of the export trade, several of these have increased their storage capacity and cater specifically for the local market trade supplying many retailers and supermarkets, including pre-packing. A number specialise in controlled atmosphere cold storage, and have multiple refrigerated chambers. This augurs well for the consumer.

Fruit Cases

Before the introduction of uniform fruit cases, in about 1905/06, fruit was packed in whatever boxes were available (grocery boxes, etc.) and then weighed for nett contents and sold on that basis.

The first fruit case used was the imported Scandinavian long bushel flat case, with a partition in the middle. The local redwood was not extensively used until World War 1 when importation of fruit cases ceased on account of hostilities.


At a meeting in Perth of the Central Fruitgrowers’ Association (now known as the West Australian Fruitgrowers’ Association) in August 1908, a motion was passed “to encourage the use of local timbers for fruit cases” and also “the following standard cases be adopted” –

FLAT CASE (the Scandinavian type)

BUSHEL CASE – The Victorian Standard Bushel (presumably the “Dump”)

The capacity of both cases was 2,223 cubic inches or one imperial bushel.

At the second annual conference in June 1910, a committee was appointed to consider making a submission to the Australian Conference on the dimension for fruit cases (Thomas Price was a representative from the Hills). A Fruit Cases Act was introduced into Western Australian Parliament around 1917/18 and became law. This defined the sizes of 8 different dimension of cases.

The piecework payment for making dump bushel cases was one penny each. The standard wage for orchard hands in 1920 was 1/6d (15 cents) per hour, working a 48 hour week, over 5.5 days. Married men at Illawarra were supplied a modest cottage free and were granted a plot of good orchard land to grow vegetables on the strict understanding that weed control was absolute. Many made cases piecework in their spare time. In 1953 one member of the staff and his wife made 10,000 in the season.


While the extension advisory service, as it was known, was practically non-existent in the very early years of fruit growing, there was a Bureau of Agriculture (later to become the Department of Agriculture) and A. J. Depeisses was appointed as Expert of Horticulture and Viticulture. He was responsible for the production of a voluminous handbook covering the full range of facets of these and related subjects in 1895 and second and third editions in 1902 and 1921.

Amongst the recommended spray controls for certain pests and diseases were Bordeaux mixture comprising copper sulphate and special lime, and lime sulphur solution. These two sprays are still effective, although in the main they have been superseded by refined mineral soils and synthetic chemical sprays such as organic phosphates and other formulations. However, lime sulphur has recently returned to favour for a few specific pests. Some of the newer sprays kill the predators of mites while insect pests become highly resistant to certain specific sprays after a few years, necessitating a change of material or method of control. The lime sulphur mixture required home preparation and was not available at that time in 44 gallon casks or steel drums. Arsenate of lead containing arsenic was the standard material for chewing insects and used extensively. This chemical being cumulative in effect is considered by certain authorities as hazardous to human health as the most dangerous of modern sprays now in consumer usage.

Oliver Owen and Thomas Price, whose names go back to the turn of the century in the realm of fruitgrowing, used to relate difficulties encountered in the “manufacturing” process of lime-sulphur. The ingredients were boiled in a heavy metal cauldron for a long period of time and the fire needed “stoking up” in the early hours of the morning. The actual spray material was pumped by hand from a wooded cask of barrel usually of 44 gallon (182 litre) capacity. The barrel was situated on a horsedrawn cart or skid-like sledge. This job was very irksome and monotonous as the pressure needed to be regular and constant. Work often started at 7.00 a.m.. Low pressure resulted in ineffective coverage and timely reminders were made by the hose operator to the youth pumping to “keep up the pressure”. It was a most unpopular job.


The first power-driven pumps became available around 1913. Records show that an International Harvester Co. power sprayer cost 30 pounds ($60) in that year. Several different makes and models were used at Illawarra during the next seven years. While they were an advance on the hand pump, there were many problems with the earlier ones. One particular make was powered by a noisy marine engine. Spraying outfits made by Hardie of U.S.A. and Ronaldson-Tippett of Ballarat, Victoria became two of the most reliable in the 1920’s and 1930’s

Survival of the Fittest

Growers cannot automatically pass on any cost of production increases. There has been no infusion of outside capital, but by what has been able to be generated through sound management and expertise and the application of the resourcefulness of which the pioneer in the industry set a fine example. Growers, of necessity, have developed a considerable degree of business acumen. They cannot, however, expect to obtain interest on their capital outlay comparable to most other sources of investment, neither can they expect to operate their orchard and associated marketing business on a 40 hour, 5 day week, observe all public holidays and enjoy regular long-service leave, nor normal periodic salary adjustments.

In the main, the workforce consists of owner-operated and his household. Most additional labour for harvesting is supplied by friends and acquaintances, working weekends and holidays. However, for those who have elected to retain fruitgrowing as a specialty profession and as A WAY OF LIFE, they can lead a very interesting life with a considerable degree of satisfaction, as well as rewarding under favourable circumstances.

It can be truthfully stated that the industry is never static. The old adage also applies – “One either progresses or retrogresses”. Like most industries, it has become the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. Most properties over the years have changed hands at least once – and sometimes more – for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the future of the industry is assured as the demand for high quality fruit has never been greater on the local market, especially for those growers who have a continuity of supply of reliable uniform quality.

The total membership of the two branches of the Western Australian Fruitgrowers Association (Inc.) is 224 and who can thus be regarded as commercial growers. Probably over 500 persons rely on this industry as their primary source of income, with many other females and also students relying on seasonal employment over an extended period.

  • Orchards within the Shire of Kalamunda in the 1977/78 season produced:
  • 225,862 cases of apples
  • 79,859 cases of plums
  • 70,674 cases of oranges
  • 70,064 cases of lemons
  • 42,009 cases of pears
  • 25,568 cases of peaches
  • 6,847 cases of apricots
  • 521,073 plus less quantities of nectarines, loquats, etc.

In the following year, the plum crop increased by an estimated 20 per cent.

While some of the pioneers’ names have been mentioned in this treatise, it has not been possible to include the majority, all of whom are equally entitled to recognition. However, with a few exceptions , these worthy predecessors have their names perpetuated in the naming of streets, roads, parks and reserves.

It is highly significant that the names of some of these early pioneers, mainly from the 1900 to 1910 era have been carried on into the third generation, namely

  • Annetts
  • Bettenay
  • Della Franca
  • Di Marco
  • Fernie
  • Ghilarducci
  • Giumelli
  • Littlely
  • O’Meagher
  • Owen
  • Price

The prospect of some of these names being carried into still another generation seems reasonably assured.

JOHN GIUMELLI, A.GIUMELLI & SONS , PICKERING BROOK #49 (Sadly John Giumelli passed away 2010)
Records of Produce Sales


1902 Purchased 220 acres from Charles E. Ashcroft including homestead and an area of 8 acres planted with assorted fruit.

  • Subsequent sales of fruit in 1902 included:
  • Loquats at fourpence per pound
  • Strawberries varying from 7.5 pence to ten pence per pound (weight)
  • Nectarines one shilling (10 cents) per dozen
  • Peaches 18 and 21 pence per dozen
  • Plums five, six and seven pence per pound
  • Selected Peaches
  • Other Peaches graded into different grades
  • Freight on Strawberries 3/4d per pound

1903   Sales

  • 1 case of Passionfruit of 35 dozen for three shillings and sixpence (35 cents)
  • 1 case of Rome Beauty Apples comprising 32 pounds at 4 pence per pound
  • 1 case of Apples mixed Frampton and Five Crown = 33 pounds 9/6d. (95 cents)
  • Muscatel, Doradilla and Ladies Fingers Grapes
  • 21 cases Rome Beauties = 702 pounds returned 14pounds 6/5pence ($28.64)
  • 3 cases Framptons = 99 pounds returned 1pound 4/10pence ($2.49)
  • 3 1/2 pairs Ducks at 9/3pence per pair (92 cents per pair)
  • 2 pairs Fowls at 6/3pence per pair (62 cents a pair)

July 1903 2 cases of Oranges (the first) 10/6 and 8/- ($1.05 and 80 cents)

(Citrus of several varieties soon predominated)

  • 2 cases Lemons for 9shillings (90 cents)
  • 1 case Persimmons 19 1/2 dozen for 15/- ($1.50)
  • 1 case Nickajacks (apples) 35 pounds all 4 pence
  • 1 case Cookers 35 pounds for 45cents (total) per pound
  • 1  case small mixed apples 35 pounds for 30cents

For comparative purposes wages were about 6 shillings per day (60 cents), usually 60 hours per six day week, no annual leave.

2.2 lbs = 1 kg One shilling = 10 cents


25th July  1899         Theo R. Lowe & Co. (Perth Selling Agents)

                                     ORANGES 434 3/4 dozen. = 50 cases.

                                     Gross weight 2170 lbs.

4th August  1899      ORANGES 12 dozen. 1 case.

                                      APPLES 44 lbs. 2 cases.

                                      Gross weight 115 lbs.

22nd Sept.  1899      Albany Bell (Pastry cooks and Tearooms)

                                     78 cases LEMONS.

                                     Gross weight 1 ton 5 1/2 cwt. 14 lbs.

18th Dec. 1899         Theo P. Lowe & Co.

                                     9 cases PEACHES 124 1/4 dozen.

                                     Gross weight 3 cwt.

19th Dec. 1899        13 cases RHUBARB 1354 lbs.

                                     Gross weight 14 cwt. 1 stone.

29th Dec. 1899        16 cases RHUBARB 631 lbs.

                                     3 cases PLUMS 78 lbs.

                                     Gross weight 8 cwt.

5th March 1900        1 case PASSIONFRUIT (E. White)

                                    12 cases APPLES

                                     2 cases LEMONS

                                     14 cases QUINCES

                                     4 cases RHUBARB 175 lbs

                                     Gross weight 14 cwt.

20th March 1901      Department of Agriculture.

                                       2 cases DUNNS SEEDLINGS 18/6 each (one pound 17 shillings) = ($3.70)

17th April 1901        Theo R. Lowe & Co.

                                     5 cases LEMONS

                                     1 case PEARS

                                     18 cases APPLES

                                     1 case APPLES for the Ice House

                                     2 bags RHUBARB 120 lbs

                                     Gross weight 10 3/4 cwt.

Other varieties of fruit are entered, such as PERSIMMONS and NECTARINES.

29th Dec. 1899        16 cases RHUBARB 631 lbs.

                                     3 cases PLUMS 78 lbs.

Reference: Article: Known by their Fruits By Hector Price
Thomas Price of Illawarra By Eric T. Price

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 47, 48 Tom Price
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. 12, 13, 14, 22, 45, 46 Kalamnunda & districts Historical Society
16, 24 Battye Library
37 Gordon Freegard
49 Beverley Giumelli