Steeped in history
by Bill McAuley-Hudson
7th September 2015
STRAWBERRIES, cherries and an angel’s kiss in Spring. Aumann’s Family Orchard Shop is really made from all these things. The iconic shop at the old packing shed on the top of the hill in Harris Gully Road sells plenty of other yummy, fresh and delicious fruits too, including apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, oranges and lemons.
Barry Aumann, 69, is part of a family that has been growing fruit here since the 19th century. Four generations of Aumanns have lived and worked on this land since the 1890s when Barry’s grandfather Wilhelm “Bill” and his brother Harry bought 60 acres on the beautiful hilly slopes.
“Some would say too bloody steep and not an ideal place for an or- chard,” quips Barry as he shares his family’s story with the Diary.
“My grandfather and his brother cleared the land and tried growing potatoes while they waited for the fruit trees to come into production. But the potatoes must have been hit- ting the rocks underground because they weren’t very evenly rounded,” he adds with a cheeky grin.
Wilhelm Aumann married Maria and they had four children, one of them being Herbert who was Barry’s father. Herbert married Marjorie and they had four kids too: Gwen, Bill, Richard and Barry. Herbert took over Harry’s share of the orchard and worked it with his sons until his death in 1986.
Barry’s mother Majorie died when Barry was only five and his two aunts Ada and Mary bought him up on the amily property. Barry’s robust and direct energy softens for a moment as he reflects on the loss of his mother at such a young age. “The older I got, the more I realized how much I missed her,” he says.
The three brothers, Bill, Richard and Barry, started working in the orchard when they were only five or six years of age.
“We had watering duties during the summer holidays,” remembers Barry. “There was a real art in that, making sure all the trees got a good drink.”
The boys all went to Box Hill Tech for three years then started working in the orchard full time when they were 14.
“Back then there was still no electricity along Tindals Road. It didn’t come until 1960,” says Barry. “So we grew up with Tilley lamps to light up our homes.”
In Barry’s grandfather’s day, taking the fruit to market was a much more leisurely affair than it is now.
His horse drawn cart loaded with cases of fruit would head off towards the Queen Victoria Market about midnight. The patient horses knew their route well and the orchardist could afford to nod off and have a snooze as the horses plodded stoically along throughout the dark night. They travelled through Kew and Richmond and arrived at the market as the first blush of dawn crept over the horizon. Cruise control 1910 style and the first driverless vehicles!
Now, over 100 years later, driverless cars are finally coming into pro- duction. Going to market became a lot quicker in 1926 when Bill Aumann purchased a Chev 4 cab chassis for 269 pounds and started trucking his fruit to town.
The Aumanns worked hard in the old days. When they picked fruit there was so much double, triple and quadruple handling. The apples and pears had to be picked from the tree, packed in a box, loaded onto a trailer, then loaded onto a truck and taken to the cool store in Fitzsimmons Lane.
When they were ready to sell, the process had to be repeated in reverse. The fruit was taken back to the orchard and stacked in the shed, then repacked for market and loaded onto the truck. That was all done by hand, but the Aumanns were used to the strenuous work and just got the job done. That changed during the 1960s when forklift trucks and bulk bins were introduced.
Barry has spent all his life on the orchard except for two years during the 1960s when he was called up for National Service. Barry served in Vietnam with The Royal Australian Engineers. After the war and back on the land, Barry met Michelle at a dance in Hawthorn.
“I took one look at her and thought she looks all right,” says Barry. “ We were married two years later in 1975.”
Barry and Michelle built a house on the orchard and have been there ever since, raising their three kids, Susannah, now 38, Michael 36 and Caroline 32.
After four generations of hard work running their business, the Aumanns are looking to sell the freehold and business, which include five acres of land.
“We have already sold some of the land,” says Barry. “But I would love to see the business continue and see the land being utilised. Michelle and I intend to stay on in the house we love, but I won’t be growing fruit. As far as The Aumanns are concerned, that has come to an end.
“We could have relocated the orchard but because of the Green Wedge restrictions we’ve been denied the opportunity to realise the full potential of the land value. I’m disappointed that we haven’t had the capital to relocate like many of our counterparts who have been able to get a fair price for their land.
“Life on the orchard has been great though,” Barry says with a grin. “It’s been bloody hard work. What we do revolves around the seasons and it’s a seven-day-a-week job. When you consider getting ready to leave for market at midnight the hours worked add up. Mostly I’ve been working 80 hours a week for over 50 years. The women in the family have been working just as hard as the men too.”
What has been good about a lifetime of work on the steep slopes of the family orchard?
“We’ve always had good rapport with the other orchardists,” says Barry. “It’s a great place to live and the view is fantastic from our place. We enjoy the best of both worlds. Living in this beautiful spot but only 30 minutes from town.
“One thing I will miss after we sell the business is interacting with all the different people who come in the shop. I will miss that.”