Monday, August 06, 2007

Uncut: Manjimup


It’s not cold enough. Nowhere near.

And when the temperature does drop it doesn’t stay low enough long enough.

All right, I should explain.

It’s all about cherries.

Thing is, every year, in December, there’s a festival in Manjimup, my other home town: The Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival.

Yes, I know, I’m a Bridgetown boy, but I’m also from Manjimup, another town full of people named Doust, Giblett, Blechynden and Muir. All right, there are also some Fontaninis, Ipsens, Omodeis, Radomiljacs, Reeves and Easts and some of them even married some of us.

Manjimup is one of those towns that was blessed from the beginning. It had everything: magnificent timber, excellent rainfall, healthy rivers and rich soils.

Along the way, some folk arrived blind, or became blind, or looked the other way, got something stuck in their eyes, or couldn’t help but look back to where they came from.

In short, they couldn’t see the blessings.

Thankfully, things and people change.

When I arrived in 1969, battered and bruised from a twelve month stint as a bank-johnny in Papua and New Guinea, I was blind too.

Manjimup was cold, wet, full of cousins I didn’t know existed, big men with big hands, three football teams and my father wanted me to run the family’s supermarket.

I stayed four years, regained my sight, played football for the mighty Deanmill Hawkes, fell in love a couple of times, added retailing to the list of things I didn’t want to do and met the finest group of people it had been my luck to encounter in my entire 24 years.

Rick Sneeuwjagt, then a fiery young man with a trunk like a karri tree, befriended me and invited me out to Deanmill, a mill town and home to one of country football’s legendary teams.

The mill has taken a battering over the years but the club hasn’t missed a beat.

The great John Todd started out there as did legendary weatherman Gary Boterhoven, one of the finest exponents of the drop kick ever. During a game against Boyup Brook Gary kicked a ball out of the ground and they found it one week later in Donnybrook.

Then there were these blokes: Harvey Giblett, or Three-trunks as we called him; Arthur Reeves, a noisy, tough bugger who once broke 15 jaws in an opposing team, all before half time; Peter Fontanini, a man who was a legend even before he was a legend; and Juggy Rice, named, not because he could scull a jug of beer in record time, or because of the shape of his person, but rather because the top of his head only came up to the average jugular.

My supermarket days included exciting events like a truck load of produce, an occasional break-in and disputes with the landlords over ablution block cleanliness.

If that wasn’t enough, there was always the annual illegal potato buy-up. It was a cat, shop-owners, and mouse, Potato Board Inspectors, game.

It was scary, thrilling and just what a young shop manager needed to keep him on his toes. Once, while on the shop-floor dripping sweat and evil smells, the team and I were confronted by a local politician who ranted about the evils of the black-market spud, the spud bought from dirty unofficial spud sellers. Friends of ours. I always wondered if he knew that as he droned on and on his wife was busy buying 10kilos of the devil’s tasty tubers.

Those days are long gone, of course, the Dousts no longer run a supermarket and all potatoes currently sold in the Shire of Manjimup are true blue Western Potatoes.

Cherries, however, are not blue, or a tuber, they are a fruit, red and Manjimup cherries are the finest, juiciest and reddest.

The Cherry Harmony Festival was born on a cold day in September in 2002, when 300 people gathered to talk about the town, its past, future and beyond.

2002 was shaping up as an ugly one for the Manjimup community, but four handsome women stood out from the crowd after I yelled “What this town needs is a cherry festival” and screamed “Yes it does and we’re going to do it”.

It did, they did and they are still doing it.

And if the weather gods give us 300 hours under 7degrees Celsius between now and December, we might even get a crop.

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