Fontaninis add to apple pie
Picture: Craig Kinder

It was the apples that first gave Manjimup its reputation as a horticultural centre of excellence. One of its claims to fame is as the home of the pink lady.

And while it's still one of Australia's best apple-growing areas, Manjimup has come a long way in recent years. Avocados, cherries and truffles have joined the humble apple and made a home for themselves in this fertile area of the South West.

And just as Manjimup horticulture has diversified, so too the pioneering Fontanini family has spread its wings since its arrival in WA early in the 20th century.

Germano (Jack) Fontanini migrated from Lucca, Italy to join his brother Archimedes (Archie). He took up land next to his brother's and today, two generations later, three generations of Fontanini live on that 46ha. Shaun Fontanini, one of Jack's great-grandchildren, has a home on the farm with wife Neysa and their five young children. So, too, does his father Tony and his wife Shirley.

Shaun said the farm's trees were divided roughly equally: one-third apples, one-third avocados and one-third nuts - chestnuts, walnuts and a few hazelnuts.

Apples, he acknowledged, were a bit of a struggle at present, with rising costs, increasing competition from Eastern States' growers and returns staying the same. "But then they've supported us for the past 20-30 years when we didn't have the avocados," Shaun noted.

Tony said South Australian growers enjoyed warmer weather and were able to bring their apples to the market before the Manjimup apples were ready.

But the Fontaninis have high hopes for a new variety of apple called kanzi, a crunchy red apple which was bred in Belgium.

They've planted 5000 Kanzi trees on the farm over the past four years and got a small crop last year. "Everyone's always looking for something new," Tony said.

Shaun added: "You've got to keep up with the new varieties and the new growing practices."

The nut trees were a way to spread the family farm's interests.

"The story used to be that if an apple tree died, they'd replace it with a nut tree - a chestnut or a walnut tree," he said.

But it also reflected something of Jack's history. "He used to grow chestnuts in Italy in the wild and he knew that they'd go well over here," Shaun said.

The West Australian

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