Travelling Australia - Journal 2008
18 February 2008 - Darlington Point (visit to Griffith farm)
Location map A cool but not cold night followed by a cool morning promising a warmer day. After breakfast I wandered along the river bank to get some photographs of the ruins of Darlington Point wharf with the sun in the east. The wharf is now reduced to a few broken off piles in a line with a few unbroken piles behind them. The site is easy to miss except for the regularity of the piles sticking up from the water. Some of the longer piles still have metal brackets used to secure cross members still bolted to the top. Then we went to Leeton to re-visit the rice centre to buy more rice crackers and their storage containers.

Wharf piles A few rotting timber piles are all that remain of Darlington Point wharf. For some years this wharf was the upper limit of navigation for paddle-steamers on the Murrumbidgee and the port was busy loading bales of wool from surrounding properties.
Top of pile Top of one of the few remaining intact piles in Darlington Point wharf.
Our plan for today was to take an advertised tour of an irrigated farm at Hanwood, near Griffith. This was described as a salad farm, that's a local slang term for a farm growing a mix of products. The tour was run by the owning couple; the wife did the introduction and the husband then drove us on the tour of the property. We began with the house on the farm built in about 1906 by the first occupant who made mud bricks while waiting for approval to begin farming. A section of the lining in one wall has been replaced by glass so visitors can see part of an internal wall. The woman stressed that the bricks were entirely mud and did not have a mix of straw or anything else. The roof was galvanised iron, the ceiling pressed metal, the floor was the original cypress with three coats of polyurethane. Original cypress stumps had rotted in the damp underfloor environment and had been replaced with brick. The house was apparently lovely and cool in summer and bitterly cold in winter needing a heater going all the time.

Then we boarded a small bus and began touring the property. There were several once-off nut plants which seemed to be conversation pieces more than anything else; the main commercial crops we saw were grapes, oranges and sweet plums. Their older grape vines grow on their own roots, newer ones are grafted which have the advantage of producing fruit more quickly than ungrafted ones. Most of their grapes appear to be shiraz; there is no winery on the property so presumably grapes are sold to a winery.

Valencia oranges were mentioned in some detail - apparently the best time to eat Valencias is when they are green in Summer. Later Valencias are coloured orange but are dry and past their best, early Valencias, also green are not yet ripe although they can look nice.

Water for the farm is measured by a pair of Dethbridge meters as it flows from the supply channel. Water is released from Burrinjuck Dam to order but takes several days to reach the irrigated area; if rain falls while the water is enroute and the ordered water is not needed, the surplus can be temporarily stored near Yenda. This property uses underground pipes to supply each row of trees or vines with a single tap at the end of each row. The tap is turned on to start water flowing along the ditch beside the vines or trees and is turned off when the water reaches the far end of the row. There is an underground terra cotta pipe drainage system to ensure water does not lie around root systems.

The Fruit Salad Farm grows sweet plums which are dried as prunes. Plums were being picked and dried during our visit. Picking is done by a team of five; two spread a ground sheet under the tree to be picked - this has a long slot so the tarpaulin can be dragged around the trunk to cover the ground under the tree. Then a tractor with a special rear attachment back up to the trunk of the plum tree and shakes it to loosen the fruit; initially fairly gently then with hard shaking. The two ground sheet people have long sticks to knock down any fruit slow to fall. Then the ground sheet is lifted up from the outer edge and the plums roll across the sheet onto a narrow metal tray covered with rollers which transfer the plums to a plastic bin. Then the tarpaulin and roller gear is towed along to the next tree by a second tractor and the process is repeated. The shaking to bring down the plums makes the tree roots separate from the soil around them and would be bad news for the tree but watering immediately after harvesting repairs any damage and the tree continues to bear fruit. Filled fruit bins are taken to the drying room (by the fifth person in the team) where plums are laid out on racks in frames and placed in gas fired brick kilns for several hours to dry out. Drying in the sun is no longer used. The term 'sweet plums' has been introduced instead of prune plums for marketing reasons.
Row of plum trees Rows of plum trees. Irrigation water flows along the shallow channel nearest to the trunks.
Bin of picked plums Bin of sweet plums ready for drying.
Plums in drier Sweet plums in the drier about to become prunes.
This farm used casual worker all of the year and provides accommodation on the farm. Passing comments indicated that backpackers were not highly regarded as grape pickers but migrant workers from a variety of countries were highly regarded and were considered as permanent workers although they worked under casual arrangements.

When we arrived for the tour we were 35 minutes early and were given a bucket full of newly picked grapes to eat to fill in the time. During the tour various nuts and fruits were sampled including figs straight off the tree, a soft skinned almond which was easy to break open with fingers as well as prunes and sweet plums.

From the Fruit Salad Farm we drove into Griffiths to fill up with petrol at Woolworths then returned to Darlington Point. We returned by a round-about way so we could have a look at more of the irrigation area and drove past a large field of sunflowers which require less water than rice.
Sunflower crop A field of sunflowers which have flowered and are now maturing.