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…
This is not an uncommon reaction from people in the industry; farmers, shop owners, market stall vendors, and designers all think I am a little daft for collecting what is essentiality rubbish. Either that or they are dubious about my intentions. However as is the case with most, when the art department at Orora Fibre Packaging realised that I was genuinely interested in fruit cartons (borderline obsessive perhaps) I was able to have a conversation about the genesis of a carton, which is a question that is at the very core of the process of Cartonography. So I was pretty excited when Camille suggested I come into the department if I happened to be in Brisbane.
Image above: Camille and Dawn look at some recent designs
I probably would have flown up just to visit the art dept., but as it turns out I was in close range to Brisbane recently. My wife and I were on the Sunshine Coast with the kids visiting her family in the town of Caloundra in the southern part of the Sunny Coast. I borrowed a car to drive down one morning (thanks Malcolm and Adrienne 🙂 ) and en route I dropped in to Allandale Pines at the foot of the Glasshouse Mountains to meet Steve Moffat and collect an unused Allandale carton. My visit there will be the subject of another blog entry, but it turns out his carton is also designed at Orora Fibre Packaging. He showed me the drawing from which the carton was designed and it was the kind of moment that Cartonography exists for. It was going to be a good day.
Image above: Allandale Pine boxes (and Steve Moffat on the right)
I continued south to Brisbane and arrived a little late at the factory, an enormous plant in Rocklea, south-west of Brisbane’s CBD. Camille met me in the carpark and brought me into the art department located close by. She had invited a former member of the art department, Dawn Burgaty in to meet me as it was the kind of thing that she thought would be of mutual interest to us both. Dawn didn’t seem to mind that I was almost an hour late but I felt terrible as she’d made a special trip in. We talked about the history of the plant, how it was initially small and grew to become the behemoth that it was today. Dawn had worked on the factory floor to begin with. She stood most of the day close to where the art department would come and go. One day she put her hand up to be a member of the department when they needed someone, and promptly began work on creating art for cartons. Dawn’s years in the company spanned decades. In the early days of her time there everything was made by hand but slowly the digital age took over with the introduction of the computer. In one of Dawn’s many fascinating anecdotes she told us of a client who insisted on sitting in on his design being created. Dawn was the only competent operator of the computer and when it came time to save the work it took up to half an hour. There was a lot of small talk to pass the time apparently…
The thing I realised about Dawn and Camille was that they valued what they were doing and realised there was a significance in it. Dawn compiled a small history of the fibre packaging industry and retained and recorded a great deal of materials and documentation, much of which she has given to the State Library of Queensland in its hard form. When I visited Orora she showed us a version of the materials in PDF form. They included photos of the factory – including of her as a young worker – older designs, and the processes and materials involved in creating carton. It was an almost museological document.
When I began the process of collecting cartons I didn’t intend for it to be a historical exercise, but now I realise that with time and rigour the things you collect and document could be historically significant at some time, or to some one. On this particular day at Orora I was the someone that found the things Dawn and Camille had kept to be significant. Along with the wealth of knowledge they both had about the packaging industry there were an enormous amount of images they kept of older cartons. Several photo albums that I flicked through that had photographs of old fruit cartons that were taken for reference purposes. This was prior to the computer and the sales reps would take the hand-drawn samples with them to the client and the photo albums were so that they knew what designs the Rep was referring to when he/she was talking about a client. It was a system devised to address a problem in the art department, not as a process of documentation for an archive, however Camille kept them from being thrown away; she recognised their importance and still uses them as a reference for the work she makes today. And now I marvel at them.
To me the fruit carton is a kind of vernacular marker. It has the potential to tell us something about the place it is from, even if that ‘something’ is quite broad or general. As I am a collector of contemporary fruit cartons – those that are currently in circulation – it was amazing to be able to see these older fruit cartons. It made me realise – and this goes to my earlier point about unintentionally creating an archive – that eventually my ‘contemporary’ collection will become a ‘vintage’ collection, and the cartons will represent a snapshot of time in a particular place (albeit in a very abbreviated packaged way). I am yet to write of the observations I have made about the vernacular of one region compared to another in terms of fruit cartons, but now I have examples of earlier artwork to draw on in making these observations.
I was so taken by the number of amazing cartons that I didn’t really get to cover all the things I had wanted to with Camille and the others in the art department. There are still so many questions that I feel another visit to the art department will be necessary in the near future! I would love to record some interviews with them (and Dawn Burgaty of course) about the genesis of some of the artwork they’ve created. I think you would agree it would make great listening.
Thanks to Camille Giacca of Orora Fibre Packaging for taking the time to meet with me and assist with my many enquiries. Thanks to Dawn Burgaty for coming in to meet me, and to you both for retaining and taking care of this invaluable documentation. Thanks also to Orora Fibre Packaging for permission to use the images.