Fifty Years of Orange Picking

July 30, 2010

It took nearly 20 years for orange picking to become a ceremony of real significance in Bingara.  It would appear from reports and indeed, the absence of reports in the Bingara Advocate, that very low key ceremonies were held sporadically, right up until the late 1970s.

It was around that time that orange picking finally took on the mantle of remembrance, fulfilling the aspirations of those who originally saw the avenue of orange trees established.

If it is said often enough, it will become fact!

The June 30, 1971 edition of the Bingara Advocate carried the headline, “Orange Trees laden”.  The article said “There is a touch of the New England charm again this year in Finch Street, Bingara.

The street’s memorial drive of orange trees are laden with the usual crop, not quite yet ripe. Local school children are also just as patient as usual as they wait for “O” day in August when the fruit is theirs.

“However, some people, visitors included, have not been so kind to a few of the 23 orange trees. These have been prematurely stripped. One lone lemon tree stands among the oranges with a reduced yield this year through citrus gall wasp.

“Two orange trees were accidentally destroyed recently when large gum trees being cut down in the Bingara Court House yard crashed across them. Next month, council plans to replace these trees with Washington Navels.  “Most of the other orange trees in the street are the Valencia variety. School children will assist in a planting ceremony.

“Finch Street trees have become well-known since 1960 when children from the nearby Bingara Public and Convent Schools decided to take care of them. Prior to that, the green oranges were used as missiles and target practice by children going to and from the schools.

“Bingara Shire Clerk, Mr D Whiteman said the trees were originally planted as a memorial drive and assistance of the children and adults to maintain their beauty was a great advertisement for Bingara’s civic pride.”(It is highly likely that Mr Whiteman himself wrote this article.)

Civic pride still exhibited by the students
On July 9, 1975 the front page of the Advocate carried a small article stating that the Bingara Shire Council decided that the annual orange picking ceremony would be on July 16. It went on to say that “arrangements are to be made with the Principal of Bingara Intermediate High School, Mr A Eberle for the ceremony to be held on this date.

“Cr Jean Eather reported to the meeting that she believed there were many children who were picking oranges from the trees and asked could something be done about this as there would not be many left for the ceremony.

“Cr Eather suggested that a letter should be forwarded to the parents of children seen picking the oranges. The Principal is also to be requested to address the school children at assembly regarding the early picking of oranges.”

In the August 10, 1976 edition of the Advocate, only a small mention was made of another orange picking. Nicholas Reece wrote that after an excursion to Mitiamo to see aboriginal implements “we arrived back at school and went to “Orange Picking”, where I helped Adrian Johnson pick some oranges.

After that we went home after a good day.” That was the extent of the 1976 report of orange picking.

A very short mention was made of the 1977 picking with Deputy Shire President, Austin Mack giving a brief address before “the children performed their usual good job of picking the trees clean of their crop.”

1980 ceremony “the best yet”
In 1980, great plans were reported for an orange festival to coincide with orange picking. It was the Bingara Tourist Association’s idea to have a festival in the August school holidays. There would be a week of celebrations, including a procession with floats, an art exhibition, a theatre night and a junior disco through the week, culminating with the orange picking ceremony at the end of the week, along with a Festival Ball.

This did not eventuate, as it was decided at the Bingara Tourist Association public meeting that “Orange Picking Day” should continue to be “held in the same tradition, in which all Bingara school children participated in the picking of the oranges.”

This decision must have been the right one because the August 27 edition of the Advocate was very enthusiastic about the 1980 orange picking. The paper said “Bingara’s twentieth orange picking ceremony, held last Thursday, has been described by many residents as the best yet.

“Although the skies were overcast, the day remained fine for the event and an orderly host of children listened to a short address from Shire President, Cr R A Whitfeld, MBE while eagerly awaiting the signal to begin picking the oranges.”

The paper summarised Cr Whitfeld’s speech at some length, including the message that “it was due to the community spirit of its children that Bingara could be justifiably proud of its unique orange picking ceremony.”

Scarcity of records
Apart from what can be found in the Bingara Advocate, there appear to be no other records of the early years of orange picking. Neither the Historical Society nor the RSL could unearth anything on the subject.

Bingara Central School’s records of Orange Picking do not start until August, 1981. The records they do hold are copies of newspaper articles, predominantly from the Advocate but also from the Inverell Times.

In 1981, an article appeared in the Advocate alerting the community that the orange picking ceremony was to take place on the following Friday. It states that “Pupils from the Bingara Central School and from St Mary’s School, as well as the Pre-school children, will again participate and from all reports all are eagerly looking forward to orange picking day.”

“As has been the practice in past years, the ceremony will commence with a call to order at 11.30am, and following a short address by the Shire President, Cr R A Whitfeld, MBE, the children will pick the oranges from the trees.”

“The supervision by school teachers ensures that children in all grades have a chance to pick oranges and special distributions are made to patients at the Bingara district Hospital and to aged residents of the town.” There was no further mention of the ceremony for that year.

In 1982 there was a photograph in the Inverell Times dated July 20, showing Travis Peterson and Jason Lewis helping to harvest the drop at Bingara’s annual orange picking ceremony. The accompanying article said “Bingara’s orange picking ceremony could be unique in the world, according to Shire President, Cr Ray Whitfeld. He made the comment at a brief ceremony prior to declaring open season on the Finch Street orange trees by students of Bingara’s schools.

“The Central School Principal, Mr T Newberry, said he was amazed at the community co-operation in leaving the fruit on the trees until the day of the ceremony.” The article went on to say that the fruit was distributed to hospital patients and the town’s aged citizens.

On August 23, 1983 another article appeared in the Inverell Times with the headline “Unique ceremony a credit to Bingara.” Shire President Ray Whitfeld was quoted saying that “the community co-operation evident in Bingara in leaving the oranges on the trees until the official ceremony was a credit to the town and an example many other centres should follow.”

Each year from this date, articles appeared in the Advocate reporting on the Orange Picking ceremony. In 1993 when Mr Bruce Robinson was Principal of Bingara Central School, the program for orange picking was considerably expanded. The day began with an address from Mr Robinson, followed by short items from St Mary’s School and the Pre-school. Bingara Central’s primary department presented an “Orange Rap” and the school’s Concert Band presented a short concert.

In conjunction with Orange Picking Day, the Bingara RSL Women’s Auxiliary conducted an orange jam and orange cake making competition.

After the initial ceremony in 1960, it took nearly 20 years for orange picking to gain sufficient status to warrant more than a passing mention in the local press or recording for posterity by historians. It may have been due to the persistence of a very few people, who had a vision for the ceremony and a passion to see the fallen soldiers of Bingara remembered, that it survived through the early years after the trees were planted.

In 2010 however, the ceremony would appear to be well entrenched in Bingara’s calendar of events and an event noticed by many far away from Finch Street.

For the first time this year, the Orange Festival is to be held in conjunction with the Orange Picking Ceremony. It has been suggested by some in the community that the town’s oranges should be processed in such a way that they are available throughout the year to locals and tourists alike, to promote the unique story of Bingara’s memorial orange trees.

Story compliments of the Bingara Advocate.

This week’s copy of the Bingara Advocate has wonderful photographs of Orange Picking throughout the years.  Get your copy to see if you recognise anyone.