Rockmelon Carting from Desert Farm
Wiluna seems an unlikely place for a citrus farm given that it sits on the edge of the Western Desert. Yet in 1967, a man by the name of Jack Parr set about doing exactly that when he cleared 70 acres and planted mandarins, valencias, navel oranges and grapefruit. The land was surprisingly perfect for citrus trees that took to the dry heat and fertile soil and water was in plentiful supply, provided from a network of 15 bores that spread across the land. And as the trees grew, the aptly named Desert Farm rooted itself into financial success.
Desert Farm was created to develop a strong supply of citrus for Australia’s eastern states that would come online out of season. The products could be brought to market out of season, and with less competition from other growers would be in demand and fetch a higher price. But there was a problem: after the trees were first planted, there remained a number of years before they would be sufficiently mature to produce a crop. Eager to establish a cashflow, the owners of Desert Farm struck upon an interesting idea: to plant rockmelons at the base of the trees as a cash crop to supplement their turnover until the citrus trees came into reached maturity.
In the first year of the rockmelon harvest, a Perth company had the contract to cart the melons from Wiluna to Parkeston, where they would load them onto a train for the journey east. These were rough roads, too, with gravel spanning from Leonora to Wiluna, an 1100-kilometre round-trip that took two long days for a truck to traverse. The melons would be picked green, one or two weeks before turning ripe and allowed to mature on the trip east to market. They would be stored in chilled trailers for the road journey and pulled by some of the Perth company’s prime movers. But quickly there were more melons than the contractor could manage, and Little Industries were approached to supplement the fleet with its trucks.
During harvest, every day through December and January two of the company’s trucks would haul 50 tonnes of rockmelons down to Parkeston to be hand-loaded onto rail and sent east. A familiar story, the Little trucks got the job done without issue while the contracted Perth company faced issues with unreliable trucks and drivers.
When it came time for the second harvest of melons, Desert Farm purchased their own chiller trailers and asked Little Industries to take over the haulage contract. Little Industries were more than happy to provide. This haulage arrangement continued for a few years, and every harvest came off without a hitch.
Where the previous company had been halted by problems, Little Industries did what it took to get the job done, again proving a recurring theme in the company’s history: second to the party, but the first to step up and take over a contract when an incumbent faltered and failed.
And to make their success all that sweeter, the truck drivers would always come back with a few boxes of ripe rock melons. For those few years, rockmelon was a regular choice on the company menu.