L is for Living Off the Land

Ted moved onto his allocated block ahead of his wife, until a house was built for her.

It was a very comfortable and charming little house with two bedrooms and a huge living room where the family ate their meals around a large round table. At one end was a huge fireplace where a log blazed cheerfully, and glass doors opened out onto a verandah, kitchen and bathroom.
“Against the Odds” by Mary Chandler

At a meeting held by the Fruit Growers Association in April of 1922, Ted gets a mention. He notified the growers that the formation of a Co-operative Society was mooted and a meeting of all growers was to be arranged shortly.

The Red Cliffs branch of the Australian Dried Fruits Association was formed. Ted addressed the group to say that 40,000 acres of vines would soon be coming into production for dried fruits and 80% of this was expected to be exported overseas. The role of the AFDA was to expand overseas markets so the growers needed to support it.

In 1923 the Red Cliffs Co-operative Society erected a packing shed.  Some of the first allocation growers were producing their first crop of grapes so Ted convened a meeting to discuss methods of marketing. Grapes sent away so far were being sold for less than it cost to produce them. It was decided the fruit would be marketed in 6lb cartons to be handled by the Red Cliffs Co-operative Society. This worked for a while but a glut occurred, the fruit was held over in Melbourne and so was not best quality. Marketing strategies would have to improve.

The first two overseas consignments of sultanas, 112 tons in all, left Melbourne by ship after four years of hard work.

Ted quickly realised that there was no fortune to be made on a block, so began some auctioneering. With a partner he opened the Red Sun Packing Shed which prospered until he sold it to the Red Cliffs Co-op Packing Company in 1931.

The Red Sun Packing Shed

The early fruit had been processed by hot dip but it soon became apparent that the London market only wanted the golden sultana from Greece. Changes had to be made to emulate the Greek method of cold dipping. The fruit matured in mid February. It was picked into perforated tins known as dip tins and loaded onto an iron tray in the vineyard. This was lifted by a crane and lowered into the dip. After sitting in the solution for a few minutes it was raised and taken to the drying racks, tossed out evenly and allowed to dry. After about two weeks the fruit was shaken down onto hessian. Fine weather was then needed for the fruit to obtain the right colour. Once dried properly the fruit was packed into “sweat boxes”, loaded onto lorries and taken to the packing sheds. This is where Ted’s and other packing sheds cleaned, stemmed, graded and packed the fruit.

By 1924 prices for dried fruit had halved which made it difficult for the growers to make a profit. Many growers left the land but also many survived.  In 1929 Ted set off to New Zealand on a mission to develop the dried fruit trade between the two countries. At the time American imports were of superior quality partly because of inefficient shipping methods used in Australia. Our fruit had been packed many months before arriving in New Zealand. He pushed for a large publicity campaign to sell the fruit.

Ted was an entertaining and witty speaker and became the first Red Cliffs settler to stand for Parliament. He opened a vigorous campaign, standing as a Country Party candidate but was unsuccessful.

After moving to Melbourne for a short period to act as an agent for Wendell and Company he returned to Mildura to invest in the newly formed Milne-Gibson Packing Company. As the other shareholders wanted to sell during the worst years of the Depression he vowed never to put money into anything he didn’t have absolute control over. In 1933 he formed a partnership with an army friend becoming an Estate Agent. At the outbreak of WW2 the front window of his shop featured his maps of Europe with pins marking the progress or otherwise of the Allied Forces.

By 1941 he was unable to stay out of the war any longer so he joined the RAAF as a recruiting officer. Although based in Adelaide at the Recruiting Centre his new job required extensive travelling. From 1941 to 1944 he travelled nearly 36,000 miles around Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory. During this time he received a promotion to Flight Lieutenant and was wounded in the bombing of Darwin.


It is here that I find he was diagnosed with cancer in 1944, receiving a medical discharge. Unlike his 1952 death certificate, where the doctor says he was diagnosed 18 months before, it appears he was suffering severe symptoms eight years earlier.

8 thoughts on “L is for Living Off the Land

  1. Hari OM
    My word, to have lived some eight years with a C-diagnosis has one wondering; clearly a man of character and strength on all levels. Wonderful that you could find out so much. YAM xx

    Liked by 1 person

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