Orchardist remembers family, friends and fun

Ann RawlingsCountryman
Gina Altinier, of Pickering Brook.
Camera IconGina Altinier, of Pickering Brook. Credit: Countryman

For Pickering Brook orchardist Gina (Angela) Altinier, life in the Perth Hills has always been about family, friends and community.

"I was born in Italy in a little town about 60km from Venice," she said. "My Dad came to Australia after the war in about 1951. He had to work in a saw mill until he got enough money together to bring my Mum, my little brother and myself to Australia in 1952.

"I was nine and did not know a word of English."

Mrs Altinier's parents, Emilio and Giovanna Fantuz, bought a small orchard on Merrivale Road and planted vegetables on the property to supplement their income.

With memories of helping her parents pick vegetables such as peas, brussel sprouts and gherkins, Mrs Altinier said life in their new country was hard for her parents.

"We'd be out there before school picking these tiny gherkins, because they had to be picked every morning," she said.

Mrs Altinier learnt English at Pickering Brook Primary School, after which she completed her junior certificate at Midland High School.

"I then worked at the department store Boans for five years in an office position. I was a city girl, but then I married an orchardist," she said with a smile.

Mrs Altinier and her husband of 50 years, Lou - whose parents, Tony and Riva, also emigrated from Italy - had three children, a girl and two boys. They lived on the family orchard, while Lou's parents had a house in the Pickering Brook township.

Their orchard was designed with continuity in mind. A variety of fruit is grown on the 14ha property, meaning the family is busy all year round, and traditional orcharding methods are used.

"We are a family concern. We don't employ anyone," Mr Altinier said. "We could plant more stone fruit on this orchard, but who would you get to work it?

"That's not what we are about, we are about family.

"We have fruit all year round, so we are occupied all year round."

While Mr Altinier worked primarily in the orchard, Mrs Altinier spent a great deal of time lovingly packing freshly picked fruit. "Lou's mother taught me everything I know about working in the packing shed," she said.

"I always loved the atmosphere in the packing shed in autumn when it was harvest time for apples. We would always have races to see who could pack apples the quickest."

Their children also enjoyed life on the orchard, playing among the trees and helping in the packing shed - a life that is also now enjoyed by the Altiniers' grandchildren.

"Because you're just a family concern, you can get up early in the morning and do your picking, then you can take a break when it's hot, and go down to the shed later," she said. "You work under your own conditions."

Mrs Altinier said she also got great satisfaction from joining community sporting groups.

"I joined the Pickering Brook Sports Club.

"I would take the kids with me and I would play tennis."

When the tennis folded, Mrs Altinier tried her had at lawn bowls at the local club.

"I wanted to get out one to two days a week," she said.

"Lou's Dad was a champion lawn bowler at the Pickering Brook Sports Club where a green was named after him.

"The year I started was the year he passed away, so he never got to see me in action."

After winning her fair share of singles championships as a lawn bowler, Mrs Altinier also took up golf at the local course.

As a recipient of a Pioneer Medallion at this year's Karragullen Expo, Mrs Altinier said her role on the orchard was no different to many other women in the district.

"I don't think I'm different to any other lady on an orchard here," she said. "If you're part of the family, you work as a family."

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