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Family’s road to farming milestone

Posted: 3pm 11 Jan 2021

Bill Pates smiles at the irony. Last Wednesday (January 6), his family clocked up exactly 100 years of growing pineapples on the same Pates Road land in Wamuran - but he rarely eats them.

“I grew up eating pineapple,” says Bill, a third generation Pates at the farm, “now I’ll have pineapple perhaps twice a year, as fresh fruit - and only one piece.”

Invited guests

A planned centenary celebration on Saturday with family, local pineapple farmers past and present and politicians, including State Agriculture Minister Mark Furner, fell victim to the weekend lockdown.

But, a commemorative plaque has been made for a sandstone monument at the front of the Pates farm. Bill has also researched, written and published a family history entitled Pates of Wamuran.

“I was looking forward to it (the centenary celebration) and getting it done,” says Bill, “the process has taken three-and-a-half years of research leading up to this.

Million plants

“A lot has changed in 100 years, but pineapple has been a good stable crop. We’ve always known beforehand what we’d get per tonne, which has been easier than for some farmers.”

Pates’ farm now grows two varieties of pineapple, MD2 and 7350, on around 50 acres. Many are sold at Coles and Woolworths.

There are one million pineapple plants - 60,000 per hectare - on a two-and-a-half-year rotation. They produce 83,000 trays when harvested, weighing 1075 tonnes.

Just enough

Two Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) research trials are also currently underway on the farm, which employs four people and a dozen backpackers in season.

“We just had enough backpackers this year with the COVID issues,” admits Bill, “but things are pretty straight forward now. Technology is huge with soil samples, leaf analysis, it’s highly regulated.”

Queensland Minster of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) Mark Furner paid tribute to the Pates family: “Like every farming operation they have manoeuvred through numerous challenges.

Bill Pates checking one of the family farm’s field of pineapples.

Special event

“Bill and (brother) Elm have navigated the impacts of Coronavirus and it hasn’t affected production to date as the business has strong links to local employees.”

As Bill and Elm are the last in the Pates family line farming the land which Minister Furner said it made the weekend celebration “even more special”.

Saturday was a far cry from November 15, 1873 when Walter and Elizabeth Pates arrived in Moreton Bay from Cheltenham in the UK.

Harry Pates’ first truck at the Wamuran farm.

Harry’s land

However, it was almost 50 years later, on January 6, 1921 that their grandson Henry ‘Harry’ Pates (Bill’s grandfather) bought 320 acres of farmland on Newlands Rd, Wamuran.

Pineapples and bananas were already established. Harry added citrus and small crops (beans, cabbages, cauliflowers) and cows to make and sell butter.

Harry sold his produce to Roma St Markets in Brisbane but after becoming ‘disgruntled’ at the prices he switched to selling around Wamuran.

Harry Pates second truck which he used to go door-to-door around Wamuran.

Pates Road

The Pates Road we know today was built when Harry subdivided the land into 21 lots in 1932, during the Depression. The family still has five of those blocks.

Harry and wife Lucy had five children – Lucy, May, twins Kate and Phillip and Robert. ‘Bob’ worked at Bestman and with brother Phil at Gordon Bishop’s farm, both in Toorbul.

Twice Bob and Phil put their ages up and tried to enlist in World War II, but farm workers were exempt. A third time, claiming to be 21 and 22 (rather than 19 and 21), they got in.

Lucy Pates on a tractor ploughing in cabbages

Wedding day

Bob served in Borneo and with the occupation forces in Japan from 1945-50 where he met future wife Kimi. They married at the Church of England Church, Caboolture in 1955 and had two sons – Elm and Bill.

Bill worked in logging, mining and construction at Rockhampton, Mackay, Morayfield and Woodford before returning to run the pineapple business.

Elm used to work on the farm but is now with a landscaping company in Brisbane.

Bob and Kimi are buried at Tallowood Dr, Deception Bay. Lucy and Phillip at Caboolture Cemetery in King St.

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