Orchards in Somerville & Tyabb - Oral History
Narrator: Brenda Thornell
Other voices: David Shepherd, Maisie Lewis
Co-ordination: Brenda Thornell, Somerville Tyabb & District Heritage Society
Production: Lavender Hill Multimedia, 2014
Somerville, Tyabb & District Heritage Society
Brenda Thornell explains how the orchard industry developed around Somerville and Tyabb, along with recollections from David Shepherd and Maisie Lewis.
The early settlers took up their lots after the land in the area was gazetted in 1858 and 1859. At first they had mixed farms, with a variety of animals and crops but it wasn't long before most of them started to plant young fruit stock. After being grafted or budded these became apple and pear trees which were then planted out into orchards. Other property owners established fruit tree nurseries and sold young trees to orchardists in the local area, across Victoria and even overseas.
Some of the main apple varieties at that time were Jonathan, Granny Smith and Red Delicious, the pear varieties were Williams and Peckham, they were the most common.
Here we see large bundles of young trees, which have been dug, trimmed, and tied ready for loading onto a goods train. Prior to the coming of the railway in 1889, these bundles were taken to Melbourne by horse and cart.
The orchard map c1900 shows the vast area of land that was developed as orchards and nurseries. Fruit picking was hard work and itinerant workers were employed to help the growers so that a mature crop could be picked quickly. Fruit cases were placed around the trees and the pickers wore picking bags. These had snap hook at the bottom of the bag so that the bag could be opened gently, without bruising the fruit as it emptied into the case. A horse and lorry collected the full cases in the early years, but later on a tractor and trailer was used.
Once the fruit was picked, it was packed into the wooden cases which held about 40 pounds or approximately 18kg. The fruit was tipped into a grader, and gently rolled along a slanted panel which had exits of varying sizes. As the apple and pear reached the hole it could fit through, it rolled into a tray. Lines of packers stood at these trays and then packed the fruit which was then all the same size in the tray. If the fruit was going interstate or overseas, each piece was wrapped in tissue paper for protection. A timber lid was nailed onto the full case, with the size of the fruit stencilled on the case, together with a colourful label on the end, which denoted the variety, packing house and grower's name.
The first cooperative cool store was built in the Somerville area in 1914 at Tyabb. These allowed growers to preserve their fruit crops for longer, before shipping them to Melbourne or overseas. After the formation of horticultural and agricultural associations huge agricultural shows were held. These shows were not just displays of fruit, there was a vast array of exhibits which included cattle, sheep, flowers, preserves, all types of local produce and ring events for horses.
The fruit growing industry in the area continued to flourish until the 1970s, but as the population of the area grew, many growers sold their farms for housing estates. Only one orchard remains.
"Back in the 1940s, men working in the orchards and nurseries had these Ballarat boots, made out of leather, they've got a wooden stud, the iron stud here in the sole, and the arch was held together with wooden pins, and the iron on the toe and the heels. And this was the boot that every man in the nursery or orchard wore. They'd buy a pair of these in the autumn, and wear them through the winter until next autumn, and then buy a new pair. So they'd last them 12 months. Every man that had a pair of these, in the morning before he went to work he'd paint them with castor oil and that'd make them waterproof."