60th Anniversary Orange Picking

July 8, 2020

Bingara has celebrated the 60th anniversary of Orange Picking this week with a COVID-friendly subdued version of the usual excitement. The chaos by children to reach the best oranges, scoped out for weeks, was replaced by an orderly scramble to their allocated trees.

No less exciting though was the search for the biggest, smallest and heaviest oranges, weirdest shaped orange, biggest orange smile, ‘golden’ orange and specially tagged oranges, all compared and rewarded once back at school.

The service held at the front of the RSM Club recognised the purpose of the planting of the trees and the joy of the picking each year. Bingara RSL sub-branch president David Young addressed the crowd explaining the history of the planting.

“The committee of the Bingara RSL sub-branch decided to plant oranges along Finch Street as a living memorial to the men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice in World War 1 and 2, and also in the Boer War. In total we had 59 men and women from the Bingara District who lost their lives,” he said.

After years of children picking oranges and throwing them at one another and on the roofs of houses, Shire Clerk, Mr Don Whiteman and local dentist, John Tate, decided to conduct an official orange picking.

Orange Selfies: Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall,
with Bingara Central School students enjoying orange picking.

Local newsagent, Rodney King, was a school student and prefect during the first two pickings and remembers the event as quite chaotic, stating that the ceremony has evolved significantly over time.

Long-time Bingara teacher, Mr Mitchell, recounted his memories of Orange Picking since 1983, when his children were also students at the school. He reflected on the days when oranges were rolled down the street and times when the ‘Orange Police’ have been needed.

Mr Mitchell was joined by year 12 student Jacqueline Coombe, who suggested “running as fast as you can and find the biggest orange” as her hot tip for getting the best oranges, and Mason White of kindergarten who shared that he had already spied the biggest orange on a tree at the front of the school.

Northern Tablelands MP, Adam Marshall, commended the Bingara Central School and Gwydir Shire Council for ensuring that the Ceremony was held, despite the festival not being able to go ahead. “There is no other community anywhere in Australia that commemorates it’s fallen and those who served in the great wars in this way. With, literally, a living memorial to those who served.  There is nowhere else where students get to pick the oranges, guard the oranges and scout out the biggest oranges,” he said.

This year’s ceremony was well attended by media organisations, including NBN and Prime News coverage in their nightly bulletins, and will feature in an upcoming edition of ABC’s rural and regional news program, Landline.

Bingara Orange Festival initiator Nancy MacInnes with Jenny McGowan.

While the picking went ahead this year, what was missing was the festival that over the past 20 years has put Bingara on the map. What was first mentioned as an idea in The Bingara Advocate back in 1960, came to fruition in 2000, thanks to the generosity of a local with a vision, Nancy MacInnes. Nancy started the festival with $500 of her own money with the event being held on the last weekend in July in 2000.

Over recent years the Happy Days theme has enabled the festival to grow, with regular visitors from outside the region travelling to be part of the festivities.

Attendees of the festival now number in their thousands according to Gwydir Shire Council’s Marketing and Promotions Team Leader, Georgia Standerwick. We look forward to bringing you memories of the festival’s past 20 years in The Gwydir News 29th July edition, to coincide with the start of that first festival.