Yes, they have bananas again

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Margaret Day surveys her damaged banana crop after the cyclone in March.
Camera IconMargaret Day surveys her damaged banana crop after the cyclone in March. Credit: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

Margaret Day can’t believe her eyes as her husband Tom reaches up to touch the bananas growing on their Carnarvon plantation.

Mrs Day was in roughly the same spot less than nine months ago surveying the devastation caused by cyclone Olywn and wondering if it was the final straw for the town.

The March mayhem wiped out plantations and damaged hundreds of homes. Carnarvon was declared a natural disaster zone.

Mrs Day said the weather had smiled on the town since the cyclone and the bananas were back. “You would not recognise the place,” she said. “They (the bananas) look unbelievably good. I just can’t believe how good they look. The weather, for bananas in particular, has been exceptional.”

The plants showed off by Mr Day began growing bunches before Christmas and will be ready for cutting next month.

“It takes them about 10 to 12 weeks to mature, so we are probably looking at late February, early March until we get good numbers back into the market,” Mrs Day said.

The Days, who came within centimetres of falling trees damaging their home, are grateful for the support of family who travelled to Carnarvon to help with the clean-up.

They are proud of the way the town has fought back from the latest in a series of body blows.

“To have a total wipe-out, which we had this time, is a once in 50 years experience,” Mrs Day said. “But we have had drought, the flood in 2010, a locust plague, we have had fires ... You just have to get on with it really.”

A record payout of $2.5 million from the Carnarvon Banana Industry Fund helped growers bounce back from the cyclone that destroyed fruit worth about $9 million. More than 40 grower members pay 20¢ into the fund every time they send a box of bananas to market. It has acted as a safety net for the industry since the 1960s.

Carnarvon fruit and vegetable growers also shared in $2.6 million from a joint Federal-State assistance package.

Table grapes from the first post-cyclone harvest hit Perth shelves in November and winter vegetable crops also boosted the local economy.

Carnarvon Shire president Karl Brandenburg said the community had proved its resilience but could only take so much.

“The economy is really struggling,” he said. “We have had a horror run for the last four or five years and there has been no recovery time between events for people to get back on their feet financially.”

Mr Brandenburg said the town and plantations were looking remarkably good considering the cyclone’s trail of destruction.

“We are being positive but the last thing we need is another disaster because at the end of the day we are slowly being strangled. We need a break so the economy can recover.”

He said the immediate threat to financial recovery was bushfires. The shire battled a blaze this week and just before Christmas a fire burned through four pastoral properties.

“The cyclone that destroyed us also dumped a heap of rain on us,” Mr Brandenburg said.

“Now all the grasses and native bushland out there has taken off and the fuel loads are exceptional high so we are looking down the barrel of a bad bushfire season.”

Mr Brandenburg said there were high hopes for the bananas after a big investment in new crops. “The people here are pretty strong and it is heartwarming to see the way they all jumped in to help,” he said.

“That makes it worthwhile living here and a pretty special place.”

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