Part 1 of a 2-part reflection on a Shepparton field trip.
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.
The Coat of Arms
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.
Part 2 (to be posted on Friday 2nd May), will look at some of the other Orchardists of Shepparton and their packing sheds, where fruit cartons are aplenty!