The Scott’s Sweeter Banana plantation is a long way from Madeira, a Portuguese volcanic island in the Mediterranean, but in some ways, the traditions of land management in both locations are the same.
“I arrived at the age of three with my two sisters and parents, Lucy and Manuel” says Estela, impressively juggling an energetic toddler and baby as we chat. “They came for an adventure and although they had some farming experience, they had no connection to this part of the world. It was a complete leap of faith.”
Initially the pair worked for another Portuguese family and it was, as Estela says, “tough times.”
“First of all we came to North River Road and then grew up two doors down from there with Rob’s grandparents two doors down in the opposite direction.”
In 1996, her parents bought a plantation, taking another one of those leaps of faith.
“I was 12 when we got the plantation and we were worried we might go broke,” she says. “It was an expensive decision and although we were welcomed by local Aussies, it wasn’t the same story with our fellow Portuguese residents, which was ironic since this river was built on migrants.”
The plantation originally grew bananas and tomatoes until the year 2000 when a flood ‘washed the bananas away.’
“We grew capsicums and eggplants then, but eventually went back to bananas.”
She met Rob in 2008 after sitting on his esky one day without realising who he was.
"Joining with the other Sweeter Banana families has helped us feel more united"
Rob’s family, meanwhile, had been in Carnarvon since the 1950s, leaving northern Italy behind like so many other farming dynasties who now call Carnarvon home. Rob would visit his grandparents in Carnarvon during the Perth school holidays. By the time the pair met, Rob’s uncle was her family’s next-door neighbour and Rob had been working for him for a few years.
“He did the hard yards and I think he enjoyed the learning process,” says Estela. “He was well aware too that I understood this life, and that you needed your own interests beyond the farm.”
After she suffered a back injury, Estella became a special needs teaching assistance and now works at the school she went to as a child.
“It’s great to be connected to the community like that on so many levels.”
As every plantation owner knows, the ability to grow bananas is restricted by how much water you can access, and thanks to some arcane governmental rules, it became the case that you’d ‘use it or lose it’, says Estela.
“Four years ago, we put in some avocados and now sell those locally too. Joining with the other Sweeter Banana families has helped us feel more united with opportunities for some social events as well as the strength in selling our product as a unified brand.”
Even now, her parents are still working on their plantation, also members of the Sweeter Banana co-operative.
“Dad is 67 and mum is 60 and they’re still doing 12-hour days,” she says. “Rob does the majority of work alone too but will bring in help on occasion to tend to the family’s 26-acre plantation. He proudly says he carries every bunch by himself."