Tasmania earned its name as the apple isle largely due to the wealth of apple production that stemmed from the Huon Valley. A boom period for the apple industry here was during the 1950's & 60's. The highpoint, according to one source "was probably 1966 when 6 million cartons of apples were exported to Europe."
The success of this period was marked by a series of annual Apple Festivals that ran from 1953- 61. The Apple Festival was like a harvest celebration. It was a show day for industry, a display of pride in the apple industry, attracting crowds of up to 30,000 people.
The three day festival put Huon skill talent and produces on display. Competitions, activities and events were run constantly over the weekend, with the crowning of Apple Queen as the highlight.
These former Apple Queens recall their experiences of the festival.
Nathalie Norris -- Apple Queen 1955
Well it was always very exciting and it was certainly a beautiful day as it always was for the Apple Festival. Thousands and thousands of people there all with their brightly decorated floats. The apple industry, it almost came to a standstill. In fact we were accused of not getting enough fruit picked and packed to send up to the boats at the time, because everyone was so busy with the Apple Festival -- especially in Cygnet, everybody in the town, in the district was involved with it.
Lyn Ivey -- Apple Queen 1961
The festival was probably symptomatic of the whole of the Huon, Tasmania was The Apple Isle, apples were a huge success, it was a great time… (As Apple Queen), it was a really big thing in those days. It was a prize that was pretty exciting to win.
Set against the mythic backdrop of Sleeping Beauty, the coronation of apple queen, was of a more serious nature than just a selection of the fairest. It wasn't a beauty contest. It was a quest to find the best Ambassadress for the Huon Valley's apple industry.
Di Clarke (née Gorringe) -- Apple Queen 1958
It wasn't a beauty contest. We didn't parade in bathers or anything, it was more for personality and knowledge. The outcome was that you went for a trip and promoted the apple industry. My trip took me to Sydney with a chaperone -- Mrs Hansen. It was really about promoting Tasmania, so apart from visiting the Premier and the Mayor of Sydney, we went to the apple markets. Then up the coast to Coffs Harbour and Brisbane, where we went on banana and pineapple plantations. Wherever we went, we had to give speeches and talks to different organisations to do with the fruit industry in New South Wales and Queensland. All the time we were promoting Tasmanian apples and there was a lot of interest wherever we went. Tasmania tended to be a little bit forgotten as a state then. What I learned too, was that Tasmanian apples tended to be the best in Australia. Wherever we went, they wanted Tasmanian apples, because they said they were firmer and crisper
Ruth Stewart (née Hammond) -- Apple Queen 1956
The Queens or the contestants for the Queens' competition were presented at the ball. It was a very glamorous and exciting time, and the public made us feel very special. I enjoyed it; I enjoyed being with the girls. I guess we were all just as nervous. I was excited there had been a great deal of build up to this. The Apple Queens weren't asked to raise money before the festival as a lot of these competitions. But we were asked to be their ambassadress. This meant certainly understanding the apple industry and the girls who had grown up with the apple industry I guess had a lot in their favour.
The interviews for the judging were done on the Friday and then that night was the ball. That's when the final decision was made and the name was put in the envelope for announcement the next day. The Apple Festival Committee and the Apple Queen Committee put in a lot of work to make it a very special feature.
The year that I was Apple Queen, one of the big promotions was to have the world's largest apple pie. I think it weighed a ton… After the crowning, one of my duties was to cut the apple pie. It was on a huge trailer, more in the form of an apple slice, cut into thousands of pieces, so everyone at the festival received a piece of apple pie and cream. Schoolchildren went around with little trays around their necks and moved amongst the crowd distributing apple pie. The promotion for this was really good because when I went on my trip to Qld they knew about the pie, they didn't know much about the festival but they did know about the world's largest apple pie.
Nathalie Norris was perhaps the most legendary of all Apple Queens.
A recently retired orchardist, now in her sixties She tells:
As our prize, or part of the prize for the apple queen, the year I was chosen, we were sent to South Australia, to Sunraysia and to the apple growing areas there. I was fortunate to be shown so many different orchards while I was there and the different ways they did things. I bought back two new ideas, one about grassing down orchards and I grassed mine down, soon after I came home, and the other one was lateral pruning, which I implemented and I had field days here to show growers how I did it. It improved production tremendously; in fact I still used it right until I stopped growing apples four years ago.
It was an exciting time in my youth My father was a refrigeration engineer at Port Huon and we'd often have two or three great ships in at a time. We were packing fruit and sending it to about 45 different countries in the world.
Howard Hansen, President of the Young Fruit Growers Association, is a fourth generation orchardist in the Valley.
In the seventies there were 2,000 apple growers in Tasmania. Now there's only 150. We're losing 10-15% of growers a year, yet during the harvest season, the apple industry is still the biggest employer south of Hobart.
Nathalie's opinion: I think as far as we are concerned in Tasmania, there will always be an apple industry, always be orchards, but because of our geographic position and because there's so many apples grown through out the world, we're going to find it difficult to get any bigger perhaps than we are now. What we've got to concentrate on is niche markets. We can grow anything in the world here, anything! It's our marketing that seems to be our difficulty, yet that has improved, and production has improved. Standards and quality have improved. It's really good. If you go into a packing shed now you'd be most impressed with the standard and quality that they put up.
The Huon apple industry has remained competitive with the rest of the world by staying ahead of the game technologically and by marketing its differences. Instead of rejecting poor quality fruit at the packing shed, ways to grow a higher percentage of saleable apples on the trees were developed. The pack-out rate is now over 90%, 50% higher than many competitors. The demand for "clean and green" led to a dramatic reduction in the use of chemicals in orchards. Not only did the consumers feel safer, the costs of production were reduced. (Editor)
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