1. An object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck
1.1 A person regarded as representing and inspiring a particular group.
Source: Oxford Dictionary
When I was a Sydneysider I would go to the fruit and flower markets at Flemington early every Saturday morning with my son, who is an unfortunately early riser. His mamma and his sister would sleep in and we would venture out in the darkness, stopping briefly at the brightly lit petrol station to get a coffee for me, and some warm milk for him. The Sydney Markets are a special place on a Saturday morning; big, noisy, dirty, and busy. They are not cool markets. Probably the coolest thing about them is that there are no people trying to be cool. The hipster has not infiltrated. The vast majority of people visit for the sole purpose of getting cheap produce. I was probably the only person that would happily go there for the sake of going there.
Prior to the 2018 Field Trip I was contacted by Craig Darveniza by phone after he had seen an article in a horticultural magazine about the project. En route to Innisfail from Cairns I called him and asked to come and visit, but it was unfortunate timing as the Great Wheelbarrow Race – a three day event involving teams of runners pushing a wheelbarrow 140kms between Chillagoe and Mareeba – was about to commence and he was going up to the tablelands for pre-race preparations. His brother, Hayden was around though and so I arranged to meet him shortly after our phone call.
On the penultimate day of the Field Trip we travelled south from Cairns towards Cardwell and stopped into Peter’s Organic Bananas, located in Upper Murray, near Murray Falls. I was in contact with the farm about a year ago prior to the presentation of a selection of cartons at the Museum of Brisbane (September 2017). They enthusiastically responded, to the extent that I received an unused carton for the installation, which was posted directly to the Museum to replace the beaten up version I had.
Above: Audio interview of Tim and Beryl from Peter’s Organic Bananas.
The carton is white with green and orange colours used in the text and graphics. The “Peter’s Organic” text is located across the upper part of the artwork. To the left of the text is the logo of the organic certifying body, NASAA (The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia). The “BANANAS” text, in CAPS, is located in the lower part of the carton artwork, to the right of a small hand of bananas (which appears in larger form in the graphic arrangement at the centre of the carton). Both “Peter’s Organic” and “BANANAS” are in serif font, perhaps Times, and are green with orange embossing/shadowing. Other smaller text on the carton includes “Naturally the Best” and “taste the difference” (both in orange MT Brush Stroke font, capitalised as such). “NORTH QUEENSLAND” and “IN HANDS” are both in green Helvetica (or similar), and “GROWN IN HARMONY WITH NATURE” in orange Helvetica.
The pictorial part of the artwork depicts a banana tree in green silhouette, foregrounded by a large hand of bananas, which are orange in a green outline. The sun is represented as an orange circle in the right hand side of the artwork, from which beams of light in the form of straight, orange lines travel across to the left hand side of the carton.
Whether the carton is representative of the farm or the place is not immediately clear, however having visited the farm there is something about it that is a kind of distillation of my memory of the place. Perhaps the carton is emblematic of the farm because I simply now have a familiarity with the farm itself, and not just its carton’s artwork. At the very least the carton’s colours – orange and green on a white background – transmit the vibrance or vitality of the colours that we experienced on our visit.
Situated in a valley of rainforest and flanked by the Murray River, the farm has bananas and cattle (although the cattle are not a commercial herd). There is a brief but lovely undulating track in from the roadway, the kind of track that is a dirt road but the grass is growing up between the wheel tracks. I spoke with Tim Bola and Beryl Watson about the farm. Beryl is Tim’s grandmother, and she and her late husband, Peter (from whom the farm takes its name) moved there in 1970. When Beryl and Peter started out they had no house, no water and no electricity, and built the place up from scratch. They established their plantation and were producing organically from 1986, but didn’t receive their certification until 1990. She told me that when the plantation went organic there was no readily available knowledge to draw upon; just trial and error until they found a way. Interestingly Beryl explained that being organic back then wasn’t a market advantage, as it can be today, because no one cared about organics from the consumer end. Their shift to organic was motivated by a desire to move away from pesticides.
The farm has an upper and lower section. They have recently prepared lower paddock with a new crop of bananas, and the farm’s house looks out over it, providing quite a dramatic view. The house is built from a cyclone-proof design and withstood the onslaught of cyclone Yasi, which affected other parts of their farm including their packing shed. We took a stroll down towards it to take in the view after looking around the packing shed and workers’ accommodation (which is available to Willing Workers On Organic Farms [WWOOFs], who are given accommodation and meals for 4-6 hours work per day). Tim’s sister, Miriam presented us with a large packet of organic dried bananas and some information on Gordon Bola, their father who now runs the farm. Gordon is of Indian heritage and came to Australia in the late 1970’s.
To hear more from Beryl and Tim please listen to the audio interview near the top of the blog post, including the moment when, after observing and asking about their beehive, I am immediately stung in the ear (which I am putting down as good luck).
This project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.
I’m writing to let you know about an exhibition at Cairns Art Gallery, opening in late November 2018. The exhibition will be an installation of current, local fruit and vegetable cartons from Far North Queensland, as a way to tell stories of this region through one of its main industry’s artwork.
In May of this year I will be conducting a field trip to Far North Queensland, the main purpose of which will be to gather fruit and vegetable cartons and stories in preparation for an exhibition at Cairns Art Gallery in November 2018. There are 104 days between now and then, and so (almost) every day a carton from the collection will be posted on my Instagram from that region.
In March 2017 I travelled down to Shepparton in Victoria by invitation of Ros Abercrombie, director of the Shepparton Festival, to present a Cartonography project. We spoke on a number of occasions about presentation possibilities for the Festival, and how I had previously travelled to a farming region to collect fruit cartons (Far North Queensland 2014). The project we agreed upon was the exhibition of a display of fruit cartons sourced from farmers in the region.
I convinced my sister, Ciara to come along for the trip. Having made a few doco’s and short films she’s handy with a camera and loves a good story, so I didn’t have to twist her arm too much. Upon arrival in Melbourne we made our way to a car hire place where I’d reserved an economical/conservative vehicle, however rental car guy took a liking to us and produced a bright red, turbo-charged Holden Commodore. He told us we would look hot rolling into town in it, although the ‘city-slicker blow-in’ look was not the first impression we were hoping to make. We sheepishly made our way onto the highway north.
Shepparton is located a couple of hours north of Melbourne in regional Victoria. It is in the heart of the Goulburn River floodplain, which is a mostly flat expanse of land that has extensive irrigation networks throughout it. During preparation for the project I was familiarising myself with the region by looking at maps of it in Google. I was quite startled by the number of delineated shapes of various greens and browns. This was a serious agricultural region, I realised; we had our work cut out for us.
When driving around Shepparton there are a number of places of worship that one cannot help noticing (even at great speed). They were not the kinds of structures – Minarets and Temples – I was used to seeing in a farming region. Many of these are located in the outskirts of town, some in industrial areas, and the locals seem to have embraced these spiritual and cultural gathering places. When speaking to farmers such as Peter Hall, of Integrity Fruit, it quickly becomes apparent how proud locals are of the cultural diversity, and how “Shepp” is a place of opportunity where you will get a fair go.
I spoke to a farmer of Zucchinis, Jarnail Rai, towards the end of our stay whose Sikh religion is represented in the name of his fruit carton, Dasmesh. The Sikh Temple in Shepparton is a striking building in an industrial area bordered by orchards.
Jarnail was previously farming stone fruit and was selling to “the cannery,” as the locals call it (or SPC Ardmona as everyone else knows it). When there was a dramatic contraction in the cannery’s production Jarnail and his wife decided to rip out all of their trees and plant zucchini instead, which he says was a big risk. They have survived the massive change and are doing well. Below is a video of Jarnail talking about his farm.
While the name of Dasmesh Farms is associated with the Sikh religion, its carton artwork has a symmetry that is not dissimilar to an insignia, or coat-of-arms. Four zucchinis – two mirrored by an identical pair – hover beneath the centred text on a green background with a bold white line around them. I have written previously about fruit carton artwork of this type and how the carton can act as a kind of ambassador for a family or a region. Upon visiting Shepparton this notion acquired a new dimension, with the way that farmers perceive their place or their region. When I asked farmers what they loved about the region, most replied with answers about soil types or access to water. None of them talked about the landscape or any natural features unrelated to their crops. Initially I thought this was odd, but then Shepparton doesn’t have a dramatic landscape like one might find near the ranges of Far North Queensland, for example. I couldn’t picture any of them standing in their orchards looking out at the landscape, nor are they affected as often by upending weather events. So it follows that the carton artwork is less influenced, artwork-wise by the landscape. Their carton artwork is more about what they do and their name, and is more pragmatic or matter-of-fact. The colours one might find in the region’s cartons are more sedate; there are no hot pink or magenta cartons like up north in Queensland.
Debbie and Lynton Greenwood are a brother and sister duo that manage the Greenwood Orchards, where their family has been for 110 years. Like some of the orchards in Shepparton I already had one of their cartons before going to the region, and sought them out to meet them in person. Their orchard is one of the few biodynamic orchards in the region, and when we arrived there was a lot of activity with students from a university in Melbourne hanging out having food among a scattering of camping tents in the shade of some trees. The students had come to study the farm’s biodynamic practices. The Greenwood carton is unlike any other that I collected, in that it has a geometrical pattern and a unique font. As Lynton explains in the video below, the carton was design decades ago and was intended to be striking as a pallet of cartons, rather than just individually.
The Dicky Bill carton is one that I have had since I started collecting fruit cartons. It is an atypical carton, with a simple, cute echidna giving the thumbs up. I had always thought that Dicky Bill was the echidna’s name, however it is the abbreviated nickname of the late Richard William Barnard, a 3rd generation lettuce farmer whose farming legacy lives on through his son, Ryan McLeod and business partner Hugh Reardon. Dicky Bill now specialises in salad (mesclun, spinach and wild rocket).
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the art department at Orora Fibre Packaging (previously Amcor) in Brisbane, which is responsible for some of the most recognisable fruit carton designs in the industry. I was the guest of Camille Giacca who had seen an article in Smith Journal about Cartonography some months before and recognised some very familiar cartons and it wasn’t long before we were communicating. Interestingly enough I had been in touch with the art department at Orora about 18 months prior to ask them questions about fruit cartons. Perhaps it was my odd inquisitive enthusiasm, or perhaps it was because nobody else had asked, but Camille admitted that at the time they had wondered whether I was pulling their legs…