The State's Fruit Industry Report 1909

The State's Fruit Industry Kelmscott To The Canning Hills District.

Kelmscott, some 16 miles from Perth at base of the Darling Ranges, and watered by the pretty little Canning River, holds an agricultural show annually to demonstrate the doings and progress of the district. It is obvious, from the quality of the fruit exhibits that orcharding has a present as well as a future out Kelmscott way. As a matter of fact, the whole, of the range country in and about Kelmscott, Armadale, Bedfordale, and higher in and across the hills is a valuable fruit-growing area. Larger and smaller orchards, clustered together or considerable distances apart stud the land near and far.

Representing the “West Australian” and “Western Mail”, I left the train at Kelmscott one day recently expecting to view and report upon the closer orchards of Kelmscott and Armadale first, but found myself through a slight misconception as to route working on over the Roleystone-road towards the Canning Mills district, hence towards “Illawarra,” and finally towards Pickering Brook.


My first visit was to Mr. J. L. Lockyer, the president of the Kelmscott Agricultural Society, who provided me with information concerning orchard holdings in his district. Mr. Lockyer represents 10 acres of oranges, Mandarins, Japanese plums, peaches, apples, pears and quinces, with a market at the goldfields. His orchard – not on my present route – is more or less still in the making, but the owner is confident of the great future of the fruit growing industry of the State under progressive co-operation of the growers. Turning into the Roleystone-road from Mr. Lockyer’s residence I found myself in a pleasant little valley fringed by orchards and a dairy or two – a valley of rural pretty homes and some practical doing. Adjoining each other are the places of Mr. Davis, Mr. Salter, Mr. Molyneaux, of the Producers’ Markets, Perth; Mrs. Hare, Mr. F. C. Atherton, Mr. H. L. Struck, Mr. Logan, and Messrs. Buckingham.

Mr. Davis’s little home, a place of four acres, is typically one of the “back yo the land ventures” of the rural homeseeker and is young yet, but its practical eventual worth is evidenced by a probable yield this year of 20 cases of apples and 10 of oranges.


Mr. Salter’s home holding of 12 acres is mostly in oranges, and looks practical as well as pretty. Some of the orange trees have died from no apparent cause after reaching bearing maturity. This and similar cases will be noted by me as I write more of the fruit industry as matters requiring investigation in the interests of orcharding at large. Such places as that of Mr. Molyneaux are noticeable as “counting for the district”. Mrs. Hare’s dairy farms about 50 cows, and also has a small orchard. Mr. F. C. Atherton mixes his doing on some 130 acres of fruit, crop and forest land, and was one of the promoters of the Kelmscott Agricultural Society, and for some time its president.

Some small hillside holdings set to grapes, but smothered in weeds and tall grasses, now mar an otherwise beautiful landscape, albeit they show that the land they occupy has not remained unimproved. One marks them with disappointment even if there be good excuse for the neglect.

As one cycles along viewing the orchards and clearings on the hills across the river, there comes into view the home of Mr. H. L. Struck a German of fine intelligence and business acumen. There are eight acres of orchard here in good chocolate land. The trees – mostly oranges, apples, and peaches – look healthy and well attended, but are not yet all matured. Mr. Struck has to date marketed his produce in Perth, carrying it in open boxes and making private sales, but he is quick to realise that the day of such marketing is already past in Western Australia, and that “surplus” must be accounted for through the business co-operation of the producers. His close neighbour, Mr. W. Buckingham, has 12 acres in orchard, six acres bearing fruit, mostly peaches, and bringing a satisfactory return for their age.

Canning River

We have now arrived at the Canning River. Here a delightfully shaded stream running swift and clear over boulders and gravel and turning water-wheels of Buckingham Bros. small box-mill, located most picturesquely behind the Buckingham home, with foreground of orchard and back-ground of heavily-timbered hillside. As this mill is only worked at intervals, and more or less casually then, it has no stated output of box material, nor is the orchard of any stated capacity. This place is the home of Mr. Buckingham, senior.

There is a very delightfully situated dairy farm just behind the Buckingham mill more or less in the making still, but accommodating about 20 cattle. Messrs. Logan Bros., who unfortunately were away are progressive, hopeful young people. I learned from the lady of the house they have just put in two acres of Lucerne to be irrigated by an oil pump and the patch promises well. If the venture is successful it should encourage any neighbouring orchardists able to irrigate at all, to put in Lucerne for the milking cow and for horsefeed. The scenery grows wilder after the Canning River is crossed, and the more sparsely settled country is arrived at but there are houses at intervals with cultivated patches betokening the “coming of the people”, and encouraging the explorer to copy.

I met Mr. James Butcher and his brother on horseback, and driving a fine herd of cattle headed by a huge Holstein bull and Mr. Butcher tells me of his bit of money-making fruit land tucked away at the end of a by-path further along, and advises me that it is worth seeing. There is no denying that it is. The Butcher orange trees are a heart-gladdening sight. There are only a few acres of these splendid bearers, some of which are fully 20 years of age, but they show the health, size, and form to which carefully-tended orange stock in good land can be brought in Western Australia. The soil is a rich friable, dark to red loam, cleanly and well cultivated, and the orchard altogether is an object-lesson, though the quality and position of the land must undoubtedly have been an immense aid to the success of the place. An orchard more ideally situated it would be hard to find in any country. Bordering the Canning River – here as pretty a stream as anywhere – somewhat as “bottom lands” do, and under a gentle slope at present put to hay crop, the orchard must be well drained, and yet have a splendid general moistening throughout the year. The crop above this fruit land is a fine one with an amazing undergrowth of clover grasses: indeed, clover grasses are springing well in this district.

Coming back to the Roleystone-road and traveling upward towards the summit forest older cultivated places attract attention, that of Mr. Collins being notable, but information concerning them was not to be had at the time. My next step was therefore at Mr. Lund’s beautifully-kept little spot, far up on the hill. From this place a fine view of the opposite rises, whereon Messrs. Cockram and Gordon’s stud farm, orchard, and vineyard is situated, is obtained, also a view of other places above the river on the nearest side. Mr. Lund has 12 acres bordering the Roleystone-road, as acre or two cleared and in fruit and vegetables. There is no story to tell of fruit production, but certainly a memory to retain of exemplary neatness and work performed. This little place is by way of being a splendid and encouraging lesson to the small man, heartsick, probably, over his own ineptitude rather than the real unproductiveness of his patch. I noticed here a fine plot of potatoes quite free so far from any suggestion of the dread “Irish blight”. Mr. Mayne, whom I met on the road, has an orchard nearby that is young as yet, but very promising, he says.

At this point a turn should have been made for inspection of the places along the higher Canning River but passing carts homeward bound to somewhere invited question as to the country beyond the forest now just ahead. The reply induced me to travel on into the Canning River district. It was no easy work to push a satchel-loaded bicycle up through the long stretch of red gum and jarrah nor a particularly pleasant experience to go speeding, with many bumps and side-slips, down descending wheel-cut bush tracks, but reward came towards evening in the shape of Mr. Stiffan’s fine orchard in a clearing containing also the home of Messes. Jobson, Willows, and Ferguson.

A Place To Be Proud Of

Mr. Stiffans has a place to be proud of – a place that spells work and achievement in 12 years of doing. There are 15 acres of fruit land carrying nearly 2,000 trees mostly apples and pears, and 100 Navel orange trees. The varieties are Jonathan, Rokewood, Rome Beauty, and Cleopatra. The pears are Bartletts. All stock is in healthy condition, the bearing trees yielding big returns, fully 2,000 cases of produce being sent away last year, but the district is stated to be too cold for citrus fruits. A fact worthy of keen attention is that the original preparation of the soil of this splendid orchard was performed by Mr. Stiffans and his son with mattock and grub hoe to the depth of 18in. A trojan task this, for not a root was left to hamper cultivation. The soil is a rich-looking varied loam. Mr. Stiffans is progressive; he has built quite recently a more commodious house, and is quite of a mind with all those who mean to work for the advantage of the fruit business in Western Australia. He is to be congratulated upon his successful doing, and the possession of one of the best orchard properties in the state.

Messrs. Willows and Ferguson have separate properties near the Stiffans’ orchard, but I was unable to see them, and passed the night with Mr. Jobson at his kindly invitation, enjoying some all-round conversation with him and Mrs. Jobson, and experiencing true bush hospitality. Mr. Jobson’s 12 acres, originally cleared by Mr. Stiffans, have been planted some five years to various fruits, mainly apples. The orchardist is hopeful of the future, and seems to have the right to be so. He is on good land in the main, and is an earnest thinker and worker. As I looked before going to bed, over the big clearing, flanked by heavy forest, and estimated the cost of preparation for fruit and gauged the labour expended, a wonder at man’s venturesome spirit and pertinacity seized me. With what a big “L” is Labour spelt upon these Australian forest homes! Work, work, work! Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Is it all worth while? Can we compete with countries where preparation is easier and conditions of life are not so fraught with apartness from the centres that call to civilized people to come and see? Yes, replied experience born of contact with a world of rough toil and the faith of men; we can, spite of drawbacks, spite of all that looms darkly before the toiler, and the morrow shall prove it.

Pickering Brook

From Canning mills to Pickering Brook mounting my bicycle, after a hearty breakfast at Mr. Jobson’s,and waving a last goodbye to my genial host and hostess, I sped down the roughish bush track before me in search of Mr. Hanbury’s place, not far away, and found it. But not before pushing and carrying my wheel over some impossible-looking intervening bush country, having missed the turn-off. This range bush is by no means a King’s Park to travel through; indeed, I got a fall before dismounting for good, that shook me up “some considerable”, as they say in Yankee-land. A cup of tea at Mr. Hanbury’s, however, and a pleasant chat went far towards restoring me to strength and good temper. Mr. Hanbury is a young Englishman with an orchard in the making. He has no story of practical production as yet, but tells of transplanting considerable stock from Mr. Price’s place at “Illawarra”, an experiment he hopes to prove successful. He possesses a comfortable home, a very possible-looking orchard piece, and is hopeful. His nearest neighbour, Mr. Laverack, is also English, and seems to have a fine proposition in his 10 acres of cleared land, carrying some 1,025 apple trees, all Rokewoods, five years old. There are three miles of boxed drain in Mr. Laverack’s 10 acres of orchard, but this orchardist reports trouble through dieback in spite of this, and, like other in his district, is puzzled as to the reason. Most orchardists I have met seem to attribute it to lack of proper drainage, but from what an authority on such matters tells me it may be through some specific lacking in the soil, Mr. Laverack reports the rainfall of his section as about 35inches.

This orchard, whacked out of the heavy forest of jarrah and red gum, and walled by it, as are all orchards of pertinacious venture. It is come upon unexpectedly, and because of its barbaric setting convinces one of what can be done by those who make up their mind to do things. But the same thing could be said of the rest of the range orchards. They surprise.]


There was now the great place of the district to be found and viewed – Mr. “Tom” Price’s “Illawarra” orchard, and I wheeled away through the forest in search of it, having many adventures before me in the shape of rough going, cross tracks to be puzzled over, hard climbs to make, and dangerous runs to negotiate; and “Illawarra” was not to be found. The air was glorious, the brooding hush of the ferny woods conducive to poesy and dreamy reverie. As a business man I merely marked it all speculatively, wondered how many orchards would be planted there in years to come, and again tried for Illawarra. A boy in a cart finally told me I was away off the track and making for Pickering Brook; then a wood-carter I met told me Mr. Price had just gone in to the station. There, after a run of several miles, I found him, and traveled back to Illawarra in his buggy, discussing Californian orcharding en route, for Mr. Price knows something of America, and we compared notes with pleasure. The day was dying as we drove into the clearing that contains the beautiful “Illawarra” orchard, but I was driven on after a cup of tea to Messes. Pearce Bros., who have 12 acres, put to some 1,180 trees, mostly apples and pears, half of these trees bearing.

The Pearces are six years on the place, and practically made it. They state that the Rome Beauty variety of apple does well with them, also the Rokewood. So far they have manured but lightly – about 2lb of bonedust and superphosphate per tree. There has been comparatively little trouble from pest or disease – woolly aphis occasionally and cases of die-back. They talk of pears for their moister ground, and query as to the cause of the die-back’ having themselves some idea that it is due to dampness of the land.

The Charms Of Illawarra

“Illawarra”, to which I returned for the night, is a place to delight the heart of any orchardist, let alone that of a lay visitor. Roses and other flowers climb and cluster about the verandah of the large house, and the general outlook is simply “fine”, fully 50 acres of clean, expertly planted orchard greeting the eye from the house. Mr. and Mrs. Price are first hospitable as hospitable can be. Then Mr. Price tells me things in keen-brained fashion, and shows me about. There are 5,000 trees, nearly all bearing, the capacity of the orchard being at present about 7,000 cases per season. The varieties of apples are Cleopatra, Jonathan, Improved Yates, Rokewood, and Dunn’s Seedling, the Dunn’s Seedling – on high land _ being the best for export. The Cleopatra is stated as being the best all-round apple, but subject to “spot”. Yates as next best. The Jonathans need heavy soil. Bartlett pears do well here. All apples are rooted on Northern Spy stock.

It is evident that thoroughness is the maxim at Illawarra. There is a good drain between each row of fruit, plenty of manure per tree – some 10 or 12 lb of “super and bonedust” – and tree is behind tree for the full length of the row, almost to the inch. Mr. Price emphasizes the importance of good drainage, and deplores the lack of vegetable humus for the land. The country needs it, he says. Another point he emphasizes is one which the present writer is preaching hard wherever he goes – good grading and packing, and “brand standard”. The brand of a packer to be guarantee of the absolute soundness and quality of the fruit in each case. Illawarra has been on the making 14 years, and is still being made. the Land, a fine loam, varying from dark chocolate to light grey-brown, is being brought to absolute cleanliness and strength, and the buildings are excellent, there being a fine mouse-proof metal-sheeting storeroom on the place, sawdust packed for coolness, also some neat cottages for the men. As a man who knows his California, I am glad to have seen Illawarra and to have smoked an evening pipe with its managing man. The place is distinctly representative of real Western Australian orcharding and the man has made the place, which is no small praise of him. Mr. Price is keen upon the co-operation of the fruitgrowers of the State for the all-round advancement of the industry. After sleeping well and enjoying a good breakfast provided by kindly Mrs. Price, Mr. Price drove me by some orchards to Pickering Brook again, winding by devious tracks through some miles of timber, blackboys, and ferny undergrowth; a weirdly attractive stretch of country, fascinating by an awesome sameness that is paradoxically not a sameness, since one is always coming across the indefinable change in it that lures one’s imagination. The sun strikes the track ahead or filters through the branches of overhanging trees, or plays pantomimically on the greenness of the faraway. There is starkness here, the starkness of the dead, and fire-burnt forest, over there is life; the life of the springing vegetation, the still-living woodscape, and yonder, a sudden break to it all, is the home clearing of someone who has dared to invade the silences.

It is Donald MacKenzie’s clearing, and brings one back to thought of what one is here for. Out goes pipe, away flits dream of the primordial condition that was before what now is. We are back in business. Mr. MacKenzie holds eight acres of red to chocolate loam land, put to some 800 trees, 150 in bearing. There are Cleopatra, Rome Beauty, White Winter Permain, and Rokewood apples, and Bartlett pears, the Cleopatras doing best. Mr. MacKenzie’s output last year was only 150 cases, but he is expecting good things as time goes.

We spin away again, and rundown to Mr. C. French’s next. Mr. French has 19 acres of black to sandy light loam, planted mostly to apples, 100 trees being in bearing. His varieties are Jonathan, Cleopatra, and Dunn’s Seedling, the Dunn’s doing best. He also has Biggereau cherries, bearing well. Mr. W. Fox (Pickering Brook Stationmaster 1910 – 1921) has a small mixed place in the vicinity, near the Owen property and Mr. Jochetti, an Italian, has close by Pickering Brook station a small well-cared for fruit holding of good land. His was the last place visited.

A Summing Up

Summing up this first trip in search of the story of the Western Australian fruit industry, the writer is well aware that he might have begun on “bigger fields”. One of the values, however, of stiking back into the more sparsely settled regions is that the story of them will at once speak strongly of the advancing tide of land settlement in this State. The critical faculty of the observer is not yet so keenly aroused as it may be later, nor has he had opportunity to so far study the more serious drawbacks to fruitgrowing in Western Australia. As yet the biggest complained of is the patchiness and shallowness of the land compared with that of such countries as California.

Such criticism as will now be indulged in is to the effect that a great deal of the non-success of many Western Australian orchardists is lack of knowledge of, or neglect of, those factors which make for success. Closer attention to timely and thorough cultivation of the soil is imperative if an orchard is to “arrive”, and wiser pruning than is often to be seen must be done. Weeds and grasses are much more valuable ploughed in as vegetable manure than left rankly growing, nor should trees be allowed to grow downward, so that fruit will be dragging on the ground, neither should they be shorn of spread and allowed to shoot willow-like skyward, or retain crossing and chafing inner branches. One of the great needs of the State’s more inexperienced, fruitgrowers would indeed seem to be the aid of an expert, and I cordially record the suggestion of one of them that the Government should employ one as a traveling demonstrator.

District Wants

The present particular need of the country about Canning Mills and Illawarra is, so I am informed, extension of the railway from Pickering Brook to Canning Mills (Karragullen). This extension was promised some time ago, but the promise has never been fulfilled. The extension would be a boon to such shippers of fruit as the larger orchardists of the region are, and an inducement to other settlers. A provisional school seems also to be one of the needs of the outer country behind Pickering Brook. These remarks really end the present article, but I am tempted to say a few words about the beauty of the ride from Pickering Brook to Perth via Kalamunda, and the Zig-zag railway descent to the level. The magnificent panorama from the summit is one to really enthuse over. As the train reaches the beginning of the descent, bush, town, cultivated land and the water, far below, form an enticing birds-eye picture. Far away against the distant rises lies Perth, nearer and nearer still to the onrushing train are suburban towns; city and towns whitely dotting the green of earth and shrub and timberland, while the waters of the Swan estuary reflect the glorious blue of the sky. In it all one reads the story of the passing of the bush.

Reference: Article: Silio Di Marco

Images: 1, 2 Kalamunda & Districts Historical Society