Goodman’s Fruit Tree Nursery was founded by Charles John Goodman, our grandfather, in 1888, when he was twenty three years of age. (I believe this to be the same year that David and Peter Wicks’ grandfather started Balhannah Nurseries). His father Richard, who settled in Bairnsdale in 1858, had fruit trees advertised for sale in the Gippsland Times in 1863.

Located at Picnic Point, in West Bairnsdale, and then known as Picnic Point Nursery, the nursery was operated on leased ground within the district. Early nursery photographs show an occasional substantial house in the background, most of which are still standing today, although they are now surrounded by other houses.

He became well known, and planters in all states purchased trees from him. The 1905 catalogue lists 121 different apple varieties, 89 peaches, 86 plums, 75 pears, 43 cherries and 30 apricots amongst a plethora of other species as well. He exported trees to South Africa and to New Zealand until protectionist legislation was developed in those counties in order to foster the development of local nurseries.

He developed extensive orchards himself and encouraged other local farmers to plant stone-fruit trees, mainly peaches and apricots. About the turn of the century he established a fruit-preserving cannery in Bairnsdale. During the busy season over one hundred local men and women were employed at the cannery. We still have in our possession a pay book covering the years 1916 to 1921. .

Unfortunately, Charles died in 1910 at the age of 48. His son, our father Sinclair, was only three years old at the time. Upon Charles’ death, the nursery was managed for his widow by one of his nephews, George Peart. Even in those early times, George travelled to the United States and was responsible for the introduction of ‘improved’ varieties for Australian orchardists. He was active in the nursery industry and served three separate terms as President of the Victorian Nurserymen and Seedsman’s Association as the Garden Industry Association was then known. The cannery was later sold to the Australian Jam Company and continued to operate until the arrival of brown rot decimated the local stone-fruit industry. The cannery building still stands today and is occupied by commercial tenants.

When Sinclair left school, he worked in the nursery and while still in his late teens, he boarded in Melbourne where he gained a broader knowledge of the nursery industry. Upon turning twenty-one in 1928, he inherited the business and was still actively involved when he died in 1990 at the age of 83. Sinclair was active in Victorian Nursery Industry Association affairs and was awarded Life Membership in 1970.

Final owners, Sinclair’s sons, Brian and Darren have been working in the business since 1951 and 1963 respectively. The nursery has been involved with ANFIC since its beginnings in Albury in the early 1980’s. Darren served on the Board for over twenty years and along with David Wicks and John Robson, accompanied Bruce Manchester in 1986 on what was the second overseas trip arranged by the new company. On that trip contact was made with two nurseries in Japan and numerous nurseries and research institutes in the United States and Canada.

Obviously, there have been many changes in the way things are done over the years.
The change from T budding to chip budding was a considerable advance. With T budding, sometimes apricots and cherries produced a very poor bud take. Chip budding, not only proved to be a quicker operation, but bud take percentages improved with these more difficult fruit types.

Originally all trees were hand dug which required a big workforce. Later on, trees were ploughed out with a single furrow plough with half the shear cut off. This procedure cut the roots on one side and under the trees, which meant the men only had to chop the roots on the other side of the tree, before lifting it out of the ground. The construction of a two-row digger with shakers incorporated, transformed winter operations as it was both quicker and less laborious.

Initially, all tree orders were packed in a ‘cradle’ with wet straw around the roots and dry straw to protect the limbs. The bundles were given extra strength and packing by using a layer of reeds cut from local swamps and then wrapped in hessian, prior to being laced-up and the hessian edges then sewn together. All in all, a very effective method, but also a very laborious and time consuming procedure. In the winter it was necessary to have two teams of men; one digging the orders and the other team packing them. As all orders were dispatched by rail, these bundles could withstand delays in transport, which used to occur occasionally. At one time the packing shed was located adjacent to a railway siding and when needed the railways would shunt a couple of rail trucks down to our siding and the large bundles were rolled out of the packing shed and straight into the railway wagons. With the demise of the state rail freight system bundles of trees were transported by road until such time as the nursery acquired it’s own trucks for delivery purposes.

No doubt some will regard the nursery closure with a degree of sadness, but our view is rather than lament the fact the nursery is closing, we should celebrate the fact that it has lasted so long. As the next generation of Goodmans is successfully engaged in other pursuits, the decision to close the nursery was easily made.

Locally, there would be farming families still farming land purchased or selected by their forebears, but as far as trading businesses are concerned, we think there is only one local business that has been trading for this length of time.

(Written by Mr Darren Goodman, September 2011)

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