LOOKING BACK: RON SCHILD
Pineapples are iconic Queensland produce, and Ron Schild could be said to be the iconic pineapple grower, as Moya Stevens discovers
Ron Schild’s origins are as far away from a pineapple plantation as one could imagine. He was born in 1932 to Otto and Hilda who were at that time, vine-growers in the Barossa Valley, South Australia.
The family was large – 6 children in total, and WWII saw their lives unsettled, and after a couple of bad years for grapes, their father had to move where work was available and where earnings were enough to support a large family.
Whilst doing stints in the South-East and Coorong of South Australia on sheep stations, the Schilds had two uncles visit. These men had done their Army training in Atherton and spoke of this “wonderful place” – far north Queensland.
After Otto exchanged letters with the Atherton Council and a real estate agent, the family was packed into a truck and caravan for a 6 week trek to the tableland.
“The trip up was very educational – we visited places few people had seen,” Ron said, “and we had to do it all on petrol coupons.
“The four boys slept in the back of the truck, and my Mum, Dad, sister and little brother slept in the caravan.”
Upon arrival in Malanda, Ron got a job in the real estate office but soon found himself working with his father in a dairy.
“I got 25 shillings a week and Dad earned £4,” he said, “but soon Dad heard of a job in Mossman, milking and delivering milk.”
So early in 1947, the Schild family moved to Mossman, to do the milk run, eventually ‘camping’ on the floor of Mellick’s shop.
“I had to get up at 3am, help milk 30 cows then deliver milk to the houses in Mossman, but we didn’t have a truck – we used a horse and cart.
“And then I would have to do it all again in the afternoon, getting home for dinner and then bed.”
“I did this seven days a week, so I was really tired.”
“I got to know everyone in town, and after the delivery was over, if there was any milk left, we used to take it up to the hospital.”
After the war, there was a shortage of labour, so jobs weren’t hard to find. Otto started at the mill as a sugar lumper and Ron soon decided that working on a cane farm was more to his liking.
“We would use a horse and plough to work the fields and I got to start the fires too,” he said.
“The wages were better and the hours not as long.”
After three years of working on Doug Crees’ cane farm, Ron and his brother Ned decided to go out on their own.
By the mid ’50s, Ron and Ned were cutting cane on Howard Cecil’s and Bill Pringle’s properties and during the slack, the brothers bought and started to clear 40 acres at Miallo.
The family had moved to a house in Miallo a few years previous and had put several dozen pineapple plants in around the home.
“They grew flaming well so we figured we would clear a few acres and put in 10,000 pineapple plants,” Ron said, “and they grew wonderfully.”
Their produce was sent to the cannery in Cairns until the cannery went broke so the fruit was then sent to Brisbane.
Ned left the property in 1956 to go mining and Ron ran the property on his own.
“Pineapples ripen at different times with the ones at Cooktown coming first, then Mossman and so on down the coast.
“Our pineapples ripened just in time for the Christmas season, so I ended up sending fresh fruit to the markets in Sydney and Melbourne.”
Being a traditional man, Ron believed that a man shouldn’t take a wife until he is financially set up, so it wasn’t until 1965 that he married Ida Rossi, a nurse at the local hospital.
“I guess I married her because she accepted me,” Ron said, “and of course I loved her.”
Ron had built a house on the pineapple block at Miallo and within the next few years they had three children, Pauline (who sadly only lived until she was 20 years old), Bill and David.
As the children came along, Ron built a larger home on the property where David and family now live.
Ron kept up with new techniques in the pineapple growing business, going on an overseas educational tour in the mid 80s to Malaysia, Indonesia and Burma.
“It was so interesting seeing how things are done in other places,’ he said, “but I was amazed to see that women did all the work in the fields.”
For most of his life, Ron has enjoyed bush walking and hill climbing. In the 80s, his friend, John White, and he went searching for the remains of a DC3 that came down during the war.
“We eventually found the propeller and then the rest of the plane at the far reaches of Stewart Creek,” he said.
Ron has climbed Thornton Peak “at least 10 times” and has scaled Mt Demi, the Bluff and the Devils Thumb.
He looks at food production now and compares it to “his time”.
“The farms are too big now but it’s the only way to make any money,” he said, “and now they have $2m worth of machinery which we didn’t have in my day.
“You just can’t start with nothing and build a business up, like I did.”
Ron “gave it away” about 6 years ago, leasing out his property.
He still supplies local shops and cafes with pineapples from his small, roadside plot and he grows bananas for his own enjoyment.
“I try to do as little as possible now,” he laughed.
“But I still love to eat pineapples – they taste nice and they’re really good for you.”
I had to get up at 3am, help milk 30 cows then deliver milk to the houses in Mossman, but we didn’t have a truck – we used a horse and cart. And then I would have to do it all again in the afternoon
MAIN PICTURE: Ron Schild. Inset: Marano service station, Miallo, in 1957. Above left: Ron with wreckage of the DC3 in the 1980s. Above centre: Sam Elliott, Ron Schild, Mick Vico in the Palmer Goldfields 1983. Far right: Ron in 1956