This is another 500 word story I submitted to ABC Open for their 500 words: Endings project. They say what goes around comes around.
I watched as my grandfather carefully cut the apricots in half and set them on wire trays that slid perfectly into the old fridge. He then lit the mound of sulphur and closed the door.
Drying apricots was a summer holiday ritual on his orchard in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley. A little bit of domestic activity amid the steady labours of seasonal workers in the orchard and the bustle of the packing shed.
The orchard sat on the banks of the Goulburn River and granddad had, for several decades after he carefully planted Granny Smith apple and cling peach trees in rows, nurtured the orchard into maturity and today it provided a deeply rooted backdrop to summer holiday fun. The special apricot trees were tucked away behind the packing shed and provided fruit for drying and nanna’s lovingly made jam.
I took delight in being bounced around on the three-point linkage of the old red John Brown tractor as we travelled up and down the green tunnel-like rows of trees. On special occasions, I was even allowed to drive at a crawl in first.
The orchard formed part of my grandfather’s identity; not only to me, but to the neighbouring farmers and the co-op where he sold the bulk of his crop.
The following summer the Greyhound bus took me down the Hume Highway to Violet town where granddad met me and we drove to the farm. However, the much-anticipated arrival was not the leafy green rows and seasonal bustle. Instead I was greeted by a landscape of destruction and silence.
Gone were the leafy rows, the small army of seasonal workers and the bustle of the early harvest. Instead it was a scene of death and devastation with uprooted trees pushed into long rows like silvery grey corpses.
No wonder granddad had been quite on the drive back.
A downturn in fruit prices from an oversupply was the reason, he’d said, plus the government was paying him compensation to pull out his trees. As a 12 year old, these were concepts I could not grasp. Instead of pesky clouds Rosella parrots being flushed from the orchard by the scare cannon, granddad, nanna and I watched black clouds of smoke from burning funeral pyres that darkened the sky and our hearts.
Forty years on, and it is happening again. The crackling fires from my grandfather’s orchard are being echoed across time with news that up and down the Goulburn Valley, thousand of acres of heart and soul are again wrenched from the ground, heaped and burned. Sadly, once more there is no money in fruit. The supermarkets twist the supply chain and it breaks at the weakest link – the local farm gate.
A glimmer of optimism flickers when I hear on the Country Hour of some innovative souls who rushed through a small first vintage of pear cider from stored fruit. Hope springs eternal.
My childhood Goulburn Valley links are rattled. Can I help slow the carnage? There should be an overseas value-add opportunity for this product. I call some trading company contacts in China. This would be an appreciative market and with a growing middle class, perfectly timed.
Traders in textiles are probably not the best contacts and weeks turn to months with no leads generated. Now, even if a market could be found, would there be enough trees left to supply even a small slice of a giant population?
Or once again will trees one day be planted at the start of another boom and bust cycle….
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