The story is an edited version of a conversation between Bonnie Walker and Hazel Ferguson 9th July, 2012.
Coming to the Northern Rivers
My name is Bonnie Walker, I’m an avocado farmer we also have macadamia trees but primarily we grow avocados on our farm. We’ve been here for about twenty years.
We were living overseas when my husband (who’s originally from Sydney), was wanting to retire and he wanted to be on the land. We’d lived in the tropics for many years and we decided that we wanted to live in a climate that would be perfect. So my husband looked at a map of Australia and pointed to this area. I flew to the Gold Coast, rented a car and started driving south. I found this area that my husband had pointed to, spent my first night in Byron Bay and started driving around looking at farms. That was in 1988.
This property was shown to me by a real estate agent in Alstonville. I have to stay I did start looking around the Mullumbimby area where I visited a number of banana farms on the sides of the hill but I couldn’t see my retiring husband carrying big bunches of bananas up and down those hills so I moved south. When I got to the Alstonville plateau I thought ‘Oh this is looking very good’ and I noticed that there were a lot of avocado orchards here. Macadamias were around but not as much as they are now. And I just thought this area right here, with its lushness, it reminded me a bit of New Zealand, we had lived in New Zealand in the 70s for a while, and this kind of reminded me of the green, lush New Zealand that was so nice.
We looked at different properties but when we came here it was already a mature avocado orchard so we did not plant these trees. The macadamia part of the farm was just grazing…um…just cattle grazing. I think they were using them more as lawn mowers than as a business. We bought a mature orchard. There was no house; the shed was there; there was no power on the property so the first thing we had to do was put in power and we built a cottage to come for holidays until we built our house. We built the house in 1990 it was finished in 1991.
The macadamias, that part of the property we didn’t own. We bought separately so we bought that a few years later and that …would have been probably about five years after we bought this so …early 90s, 92, say we bought that. Then the macadamias went in around 98, 96 to 98 – they were staggered.
When we bought the farm it also had about a thousand lychee trees which we netted, we put a big net over that and we produced lychees for about five years but they required a tremendous amount of chemical; chemicals sprayed for macadamia nut borer and fruit fly and we decided that we didn’t enjoy that so we removed the lychees.
They were productive, they were productive but at that time the market for lychees wasn’t well developed so I would say the prices weren’t great. If the return had been greater we probably would have persevered and I think we had a hail storm that put big holes in the net and to repair the netting would have been very expensive and it wasn’t economic.
In the early days the avocados did very well. We would have agents phoning us begging for avocados.