MICHAEL ANDREOLI 

Like many other Italian families who have made Carnarvon home, Michael Andreoli’s family made the long trip to Western Australia from Era in Northern Italy in the 1950s. Sponsored with his cousins to work the land, Michael’s father bought the plantation in 1962, growing bananas from the very start.

 

“The family came here to get the experience of growing bananas,” says Michael. Nearly 60 years on, you could say that the experience became a life-long one.

 

Michael’s father Gus married Fiorentina in 1965 and described life in such a remote part of the world, cultivating bananas as something of a ‘culture shock’ for the pair.

 

“It was a struggle initially for us along with other families from Portugal, Croatia and Italy. It was all hard, manual work – you couldn’t use machinery to plant the crops. At that stage, three quarters of the plantation was bushland so they had to clear it all first,” recalls Michael.

“At one stage, they were using horses to help clear the ground.”

 

Michael was born and bred on the family’s plantation on South River road and by the time he was 12, the eldest of the couple’s five children says he was ‘pretty keen’ on the lifestyle. 

 

“We had a tractor to plough the land, so I had a crack,” he says. 

 

His parents made sure that all of their children had an alternative career choice, so Michael was a plumber for four years, but all of them would pull together to pack up the bananas when it was harvest time.

For now, just us lucky Aussies are able to feast on Sweeter Bananas.

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“In my first year of plumbing, there wasn’t too much work so I ended up planting bananas on my own plantation,” says Michael.

 

“I guess I always wanted to come back on the land and eventually took over the family plantation in 2004. My parents were still involved even then – Dad would still come out of the house and shout orders to me,” he laughs.

 

Despite the hard work and relentless nature of running a banana plantation, Michael raised six children – five boys and a girl – all the time working on the farm with just two other men.

 

Like fellow members of the Sweeter Banana co-operative, Michael could see the advantages of joining the group as soon as the packing shed was opened. 

 

“That really made life a lot easier for us when there was a hub for packaging,” he says. “A lot of us are also looking at the leasing model for our plantations too.”

 

Like the Munros and many other plantation owners, 2015 was the hardest year in memory for Michael. 

“Our crop was 100% wiped out and when you think that it takes about three years to set everything up again, it was pretty terrible,” he says. “I’d seen Dad go through some tough times and I suppose it took me a few days to start cleaning up, but one of my boys bucked me up and we did have a lot community help.

 

“Rio Tinto sent a crew around to help clear up but the aftermath lasted for about six months afterwards and it did take three years to get back to normal.”
 

As Michael sits outside his plantation house, with rabbit traps, lamps and tools hanging on the walls of his veranda, rows of bananas stretching into the distance, it’s not hard to see the attraction of this tough but rewarding lifestyle. As well as bananas, he also grows mangoes, chillies and pawpaws.

 

“I just love the physical work, being outside and growing a product which everybody loves. It’s an uncomplicated, peaceful life. We really do have unique bananas and eventually we would like to expand to export them internationally.”

 

For now, just us lucky Aussies are able to feast on Sweeter Bananas.