Award for fruitful career

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Most people would know of and love delicious Pink Lady apples.

Therefore it's fitting that WA's John Cripps, who bred this internationally famous apple, has been awarded an Order of Australia (Officer) Award in the General Division of this year's Australia Day Honours List.

He was recognised for distinguished service to primary industry through internationally renowned, innovative contributions to the agriculture and food sectors, and to the community.

Mr Cripps bred the Cripps Pink Lady apple, marketed as the trademarked Pink Lady, at the Stoneville research station in 1973 by crossing a Golden Delicious with a Red Williams. The sister apple Sundowner is also a cross between the Golden Delicious and Lady Williams.

Now in his 80s, Mr Cripps' career started when he joined WA's agriculture department "fresh off the ship" in 1955, aged 28.

He held a degree in horticulture from Reading University in the UK, which was supported by an Army scholarship offered to former soldiers at the end of World War II.

Although he had a job lined up in the UK, he said the offer at WA's agriculture department was more enticing.

At the time of joining, he was the only degree-educated employee within the department's horticulture division.

Mr Cripps, who retired in 2002, said he'd always had an interest in apples - even growing them as a lad in his back garden in the UK.

But apples were not considered his priority work during the earlier years of his career in the department.

"I was keen on apple breeding and was reluctantly given permission to work on new varieties, provided it didn't interfere with work considered more important," he said.

Mr Cripps said producing the new apple varieties took more than seven years.

"You have to cross pollinate the male and females, grow in small pots in the glasshouse," Mr Cripps said.

"After a year you can plant them out on the field, and six or seven years later they may produce fruit. Then you taste and decide whether they're worth keeping or not.

"As soon as I tasted the Pink Lady and Sundowner, I knew they would be good commercial fruits.

"They tasted good and are long keeping, thin-skinned and firm."

According to Mr Cripps, the odds of breeding a successful commercial apple variety are considered one in 50,000, so it's particularly impressive therefore that the Pink Lady and Sundowner were bred on first attempts.

Many decades later, Pink Lady apples are still Australia's favourite apple and are now grown in about 15 different countries and sold across more than 30 countries worldwide.

Mr Cripps also has had an impact on the wine industry, his work on different vine rootstocks at Manjimup being instrumental in the setting up of the Pemberton-Manjimup vineyard area.

His work in this field led to Mr Cripps being inducted in the Royal Agricultural Society of WA's Hall of Fame in 2010.

Mr Cripps said he felt very privileged to have received his place in the 2015 Australia Day Honours List.

And on top of this, he is reminded every time he visits a supermarket or greengrocers of the huge difference he has made.

He said seeing his apple varieties on the shelves still gave him a "boost" and made him feel proud.

"I'm particularly proud that I proved a point," he said.

"Nobody thought it would happen and yet it has."

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