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The Export of Harcourt Fruit

Early beginnings

The first attempt to establish an export market in England was in 1887. Henry Ely and James Lang shipped apples wrapped in cotton wool. The fruit was sent as general cargo, taking 5-6 weeks for the journey, and arrived in very poor condition. Several more shipments were made bringing unsatisfactory prices. Following the development of refrigerated shipping, and with perseverance, an export market was established.

Expansion of the market.

In 1906 Mr James R Warren of Harcourt secured a position with Lohmann & Co. Fruit merchants of Melbourne. Through this firm Harcourt fruit was able to access the Hamburg market. J R Warren was employed to promote the growing of uniformly high quality fruit in large quantities. This would ensure a dependable demand for Harcourt apples. J R Warren advocated unlimited plantings, because, he said, ‘as civilisation advances the demand for apples will be insatiable’. The opening of the German market, coupled with an expansion of the irrigation channel network, resulted in a vast increase of acreage of apple trees in the Harcourt valley.

Risky business

Unfortunately the growers bore all the risks. Sometimes fruit shipments were delayed on the London wharves and became unsaleable. Sometimes shipping freight cost more than the sale proceeds of the fruit. Fruit could not be exported during 1915 – 1918 due to lack of available ships. This happened again from 1940 – 1945 when 146 orchardists in Harcourt were paid under a Federal Government scheme of tree-measurement, with most fruit left to rot under the trees. Export of fruit from Harcourt virtually ceased in the 1960s when Great Britain joined the European Economic Community,

A thriving industry

The export of fruit resulted in great prosperity for the Harcourt District. In 1941 it was estimated that Harcourt produced 473,000 bushel cases of apples and 96,000 long-bushel cases of pears.  In a previous year some 400,000 cases had been railed for export. This represented approximately seventy percent of the fruit produced in Harcourt. A large fruit storage and packing industry grew up near the railway station to meet this demand. Two saw mills, case factories and packing sheds were in full operation, while, at the railway siding, long trains of louvred vans, destined for the Melbourne wharves, were loaded with tightly packed, nailed, wired and branded bushel cases of apples or pears, each bearing a colourful label.