Twenty-first Century Australian Apples- the new wave
Heritage Fruits are not merely old varieties of living DNA trapped in time. The list is growing!
New cultivars - whether bred or selected - are being catalogued from time to time, even now in the 21st century.
Neil Barraclough is an idealistic and colourful Australian horticulturist who lives in Gippsland, Victoria. Gippsland is dairy country - acres of rolling, green hills with relatively high rainfall. It is also apple country. In Neil's travels throughout this picturesque region, particularly in autumn, he often stops when he sees wild apple trees growing by the side of the road. He samples the fruit, and if it is of outstanding quality he cuts a piece of wood for grafting. Sometimes people who attend his grafting days will bring him pieces of scion wood from outstanding trees they themselves have discovered.
Neil writes: 'I've listed over 1,000 apple varieties that were in the past grown in Victoria. First Australia's fruit varieties came from England, then other parts of Europe, then America and other parts of the world. With them and the amazing diversity of other fruit varieties we had the genetic base to provide fruit all year round.
'With cool storage and a change towards a consumer society we lost much of the diversity. However since the early days people have been travelling around eating fruit and chucking out apple/pear cores and other fruit seeds. Throw out 1,000 apple cores and perhaps 10 apple seedlings survive and these are locally adapted, the ones on the side of the road often producing copious quantities of fruit with out sprays or watering.
'Of the 10 seedlings perhaps one or two will have fruit equal or better than its overseas parent and much more suited locally. It's a genetic resource that may be necessary for our changing climate and less affordable fossil fuels. Until we come to appreciate its true value it is providing food for wild life and chemical free food for locals.'
Here are the names and histories of some of Australia's *newest* heritage apples.
The Christmas Apple
Originally found growing at an abandoned house site in Stockdale, Victoria, this apple ripens by Christmas Day. It is a good apple, discovered by Ralph Barraclough.
Likely a seedling from Irish Peach growing on the roadside near the Delta Bridge, Briagolong (Gippsland) beside the property once owned by Michael Landy who had over 50 varieties of apple growing in the 1880s. Similar to Irish Peach but possibly more varied in size, soft, sweet, juicy and crunchy. Ripens early to mid January, early flowering. Discovered and named by Neil Barraclough around 1988.
A roadside seedling at Agnes, near Toora, that Peter Hill's neighbours kids excitedly drew his attention to and was named by Peter in their honour.
A seedling with apples like Granny Smiths but the tree is far better adapted to the Victorian climate than the Granny Smith from Sydney, which is further north. Higgins is also a less vigorous grower so often more suited to multigrafts than the Granny Smith, which usually takes over the tree. Discovered by Ralph Barraclough.
Growing on the roadside at Boisdale and drawn to Neil Barraclough's attention by the Late Maurice 'Snow' Killeen around 1990. Large, good flavour.
Growing on the roadside at Meerlieu, medium large, crunchy and sweet. April-May. Discovered and named by Neil Barraclough 2007.
Growing on Silcocks Hill, Toora, Ripens mid to late February, medium large, good flavour. Discovered and named by Peter Hill, 2011.
Found growing on the Prince's Highway near Trafalgar, Gippsland. Sweet, juicy and crunchy, available picked fresh from the tree from mid June to perhaps mid August when it is perhaps the best flavoured apple available. Discovered and named by Neil Barraclough, 2013.
Found growing near the Gippsland township of Warragul. Scion wood was brought to the 2012 Heritage Fruits Society grafting day by one of our members, and now several young trees have been distributed. Named by Peter Wills-Cooke. Reputed to be one of the most delicious apples ever eaten!
Woods Point Tin Shed
Growing beside a tin shed at Woods Point. Ripens late February? Good crop every year, heavy bearer. Discovered and named by Ralph Barraclough.
About Neil Barraclough
Around the mid to late 1980s Neil began to take a deep interest in climate, solar cycles, their climate related consequences and past megadroughts. Back then he believed there was a very high chance the world would, in a few decades be facing a global crisis. As he assessed it, the consumer society of then and now was unsustainable and the economic situation we accepted as normal would drastically change. He believed that to survive at some time in the not too distant future people would have to be able to grow much more of their own food, and we were losing the genetic base to do so. So, first he learnt to graft, then he initiated the concept of grafting days in the East Gippsland Organic Agriculture Association (EGOAA). Possibly the first Australian group grafting day was held in his backyard in Briagolong in the late 1980s. He also put together an extensive data base on heritage fruit.
'I hope I am helping people have a better life, provide fresh fruit for their kids and save fossil fuels transporting food around the country,' says Neil.