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.