OUT OF THE BOX
Village life in Stanley.
STANLEY – above Beechworth – has altitude and attitude. On a clear day from the top of Mount Stanley you can see all the way to Kosciuszko. A little way below the summit you’ll find the North East’s horticultural heart, a resilient and creative community and four distinctive seasons.
GENEVIEVE Milham sits in her kitchen in the village of Stanley and rekindles a childhood memory.
She remembers being squeezed onto the bench seat of her parents’ car with her sisters and brother and taken on a day-drive from the family’s home in Albury.
Out they drove along the city’s handsome streets, lined with plane trees, and across the river-bridge with its fruit-fly checkpoint.
Beyond were the blue-green-grey-green hills of Victoria’s North East. These were the 1960s. “There was this thing about driving in the landscape then – driving through the country, something that was for leisure and pleasure,” Genevieve says.
“Sometimes we’d go out to the weir on Lake Hume or up to Beechworth.
“We lived down in the flat country by the river, and here, up in the hills, this was a different experience.
“Here – as we drove up – there was this gorgeous change in the landscape. I suppose it became embedded in us because we experienced it at such an impressionable age: this scenery – the eucalypts and the rocks that I’ve since learned come with mining areas.
“We would drive on out to Stanley to the fruit farms where we went to get a box of fruit.
“It was a mysterious place. It was definitely on the far boundaries of our drives. As a child it was a sort of nether region, and mystical.”
It was a time when Stanley – remote in its way, high on its plateau south of Beechworth – was the place that had put bite into Britain.
Fruit and vegetables had been found to thrive in Stanley’s cool foothills’ climate and what came to be considered its limitless topsoil – a rich earth in which there is said not to be any clay base – in the wake of gold’s discovery late in 1852.
When the glint disappeared from what was known as Snake Gully – and then Nine Mile Creek before it was named Stanley – the plateau’s tall timber was cut and milled.
It is where one of these mills once worked that Genevieve Milham now lives in an extraordinary garden.
The district also became a fine source of potatoes, yielding up to 800 tonnes a year and all of them dug with forks. Now less than a tonne is harvested. But it was the place where the apple came into its own. Orchardist Peter Chambeyron – whose family has produced fruit in Stanley for generations – says ‘King Cole’ became the dominant apple variety grown in what is regarded as Indigo Shire’s richest soil.
It was bred in Australia in 1912 from what is thought to have been a cross between the American-raised nineteenth century ‘Jonathan’ and pre-eighteenth century ‘Dutch Mignonne’.
A single tree could yield almost a tonne of fruit and King Cole apples became Stanley’s staple export to the United Kingdom for decades.
“There were probably a thousand acres (411 hectares) of King Cole growing in Stanley at its peak, around 1965 to 1970,” Peter says, “plus Granny Smiths and other varieties.”
“Then Britain joined the European Economic Community and the market effectively disappeared overnight.”
The last shipment of Stanley King Coles exported to Britain was sunk in the Suez Canal during the 19-day Yom Kippur ArabIsraeli war.
Much has changed – there are now just a few orchardists on the plateau for whom apples are a principal crop but they number the leading producers in Victoria. >>
Advanced horticultural techniques have led to the introduction of higher-yielding varieties on dwarf rootstock that are close-by planted in trellis systems, streamlining tree management and harvesting.
Henry and Rita Hilton, who farm south of Stanley, have developed their Snowline Fruits orchard and a keen market for their produce – which also includes stonefruit, berries and nuts – since the 1980s.
Henry was born in the English apple county of Kent, raised in a fruitgrowing family and studied horticulture before travelling the world and settling in Australia.
The pair runs a beautifully-maintained orchard and nut grove and a highly successful farm shop, and about a third of their annual production is sold directly to the public.
Change is also continuing in the village and the district. Where the community in 2006 had a population of almost 700 there were 324 at the 2011 census.
Stanley village is seeking the restoration of its status as a township – something it lost in the wake of municipal amalgamations in the 1990s when the community was designated entirely as a farming zone.
Ed Tyrie, the president of the local advocacy organisation known as Stanley Rural Community Incorporated, says the community wants its official identity returned.
It is envisaged that change will enable the development of retail enterprise which – apart from a precedent which allows the historic Stanley hotel to operate – is presently limited to farmgate stores, such as Hillsborough Quality Nuts.
Anita Mihaljevic and Andrew Cook are producing potatoes, raspberries, eggs, olives, hazelnuts, chestnuts, grapes, greens, conserves and condiments from a significant investment in a new farming business and have recently opened a farm shop on their property on Stanley’s outskirts.
Orchardist Rob Sinclair makes fruit available from his family’s coolstore at the village intersection and the Chambeyrons and Highgrove are among growers who offer pickyour- own in season.
“As a township we would be able, in addition to the farm shops, to have an art gallery and craft shop and we could reestablish a café and a store,” Ed says.
The former Commonwealth protective security agency executive director and his wife, Maggy, a former museum curator, decided eight years ago to move from Canberra to Stanley.
Stanley Rural Community had already been established when it responded, with Ed’s guidance, to the unforeseen closure of the district’s former postal service in the old village store late in 2010.
It is a mark of Stanley’s resilience and reinvention that the organisation was able to win council approval for a demountable – which a local benefactor bought and loaned to the community – to be placed on a roadside verge to serve as a new licensed post office.
The service is this year being relocated across the road and into the former Stanley state school. “We like getting our hands dirty,” says Genevieve. “Stanley will evolve, but it will always be of the earth.”
BLOOMS \ Pacific or mountain dogwood Cornus nuttalli flowers in the Stanley garden of Jenny Indian and Stephen Routledge, one of numerous fine gardens in and around the village. STEP AHEAD \ Horticulturalist Henry Hilton and his wife Rita use advanced techniques to produce trellis- system apples at their Snowline Fruits’ orchard south of Stanley.
BITE \ Orchardist Peter Chambeyron grows apples, cherries and some berries on his family’s Europa Gully farm, which is open in season for pick- your- own. The orchard includes what are thought to be the last 10 ‘ King Cole’ apple trees growing in Stanley. MAILMEN \ Graeme Osborne ( centre), Stanley Rural Community chairman Ed Tyrie ( left) and Bob Malone meet in Stanley’s demountable roadside post office.