1950 – Apples are exported from Tasmania
Bob Mostyn Jr moved down to Hobart in August 1949 and had no trouble finding premises in that city for a branch office. Frank Bond Pty Ltd, CM’s wattle bark subsidiary in Tasmania, operated a mill at No. 11 Gladstone Street, conveniently close to the wharves in Sullivans Cove and backing onto St David’s Park. It was a perfect site. The front entrance led off the street into a room about 3.5 x 2 m, with an identical room behind it. A third room of similar dimensions, used as a changing room by bark mill workers lay behind that, and CM later took this over, knocking a hole through the wall for access and building new toilet and shower facilities out the back. The branch office’s windows offered views of bark stacked outside awaiting processing.
In those days Hobart was a major port for Europe, although initially CM was shipping mainly to Singapore and to a lesser degree Hong Kong, Burma, India, Malaya and Ceylon. However, ships of the British India Steam Navigation Co., CM’s main carrier, preferred to load in Devonport, on Tasmania’s north coast, because they could pick up other cargo there, in particular Ovaltine, a big export that was being moved out in thousands of boxes. So CM railed its fruit across the island to the northern port, often to the detriment of the product, which suffered a good deal of bruising as a result of all the manhandling and movement (pallets had yet to come on the scene). Mostyn would often help with the physical labour. He would be on the wharf at Devonport to make sure the product had arrived, and seeming he was on the spot he felt he might as well pitch in. He believed that if you could save a pound, you saved it.
The following year, with CM’s apple exports from Tasmania building up nicely, RL called Russ Fretwell into his office in Sydney and asked him what he was doing for Easter. Fretwell said he planned to go down the coast and visit his family in Kiama. RL asked him if he fancied going to Hobart instead. Two ships were due to load over the long weekend, one in Devonport and the other in Hobart, and Bob Mostyn would need help as he could not be in both places at once.
Now it so happened that Fretwell was one of the Apple Isle’s most passionate fans. A teacher at his school 111 Kiama had been a
Taswegian as well as a star Australian Rules player who could impress his pupils with his marking and kicking. Such a fervent evangelist for everything Tasmanian was this teacher that at the age of nine Fretwell knew more about the geography of the island than of his borne State. There was a further influence: at weekends his father would get him to split crates acquired from the local greengrocer for kindling wood. Many of these crates bad the IXL brand on them – showing that they had come from Tasmania. One label particularly impressed itself on the young Fretwell’s mind: it had the words “Pinnacle Brand” superimposed on an image of Mount Wellington, with the port of Hobart in the foreground and two ships and some apples. Whenever he chopped up a Pinnacle Brand crate, Fretwell vowed to go to Tasmania one day.
Given all this, it was natural that he should answer RL’s question with an enthusiastic affirmative. He went to help out with the loading in Devonport, and even though he knew nothing about the system, he was quick to learn. He loved every minute of his experience there; it confirmed all the preconceptions he had of the island and he felt that if he ever had the chance he would return.
The chance came two years later. In 1951 Britain cased the controls on food imports that had been in place since the war. And in 1952, restrictions on trade with Germany were lifted. This threw open the trading doors to Europe, and CM reacted quickly to exploit the situation. RL decided that Bob Mostyn should try to move Tasmanian fruit to the Continent. When the wheels for this were in motion, it became obvious that Mostyn would need help. Once again RL called Fretwell into his office and asked him if he wanted to go to Tasmania. Mindful of his previous experience there, he replied that he would like to very much.
“I mean to stay,” RL said.
“Yes,” replied Fretwell. “That appeals to me.”
“Well, when can you go? Today, tomorrow or the day after?”
A little taken aback at the suddenness of the proposed move, Fretwell said he had a number of connections to sever in New South Wales but would be happy to go on the day after.
“Righto,” said RL. “We’ll arrange the flight.” And that was that.
Officially Bob Mostyn was the Hobart branch manager and Fretwell his offsider, though like most CM staff in those days, he had no title. His skills in shorthand and typing, acquired in the public service, came in useful in the early days of the Tasmanian operation. Without a permanent secretary on the staff, the two young men often found themselves typing out documents, letters and cables themselves, especially when working late at night.
Initially Mostyn and Fretwell’s biggest task was buying fruit (mainly apples, but some pears for Europe) from the growers. During the season they would spend two or three days a week in the Huon Valley, each visiting different growers, and they would often be busy till late at night. The season for the fruit destined for Europe was short and hectic, usually lasting from the beginning of March till the end of May. Ships were loaded seven days a week during that period. If it was a good keeping year for apples, the branch would continue shipping to the Far East until October. All fruit was shipped in wooden boxes – made from an untold number of trees. Today all fruit is packed in cartons.
At the time of his transfer to Hobart, Fretwell had just become engaged to Yvonne Gilchrist, who until a short while previously had been working for CM in Sydney, having joined the company in 1946. The couple were married in Sydney in 1953. Beer was still in short supply then, posing a problem for the reception. The company helped out as far as it could, donating two dozen bottles of wine and spirits, but for Russ Fretwell and Yvonne Gilchrist’s relatives and friends this would have been enough for a starter and not much more. However, beer was readily available in Tasmania. Intending to set up home in Hobart, the couple had shipped their household possessions down there before the wedding in four CM wine and spirit crates. After unpacking the household goods in Hobart, Fretwell filled the crates with Cascade beer and shipped them back to Sydney. There were loud cheers when they were ceremonially prised open at the reception.
Soon after moving down to Hobart, Bob Mostyn had told his parents he intended to take up flying. His parents were horrified aircraft were far from being the safest means of transport back then. But Mostyn, who had always had an interest in aircraft and flying, contacted the Aero Club of Southern Tasmania, based at Cambridge Airport (Hobart’s main airport at the time) and began taking lessons in a two-seater Tiger Moth. The two cockpits of this aircraft were not enclosed in those days, so flying conformed very much to the image of legend – goggles, leather helmet, scarf streaming in the propwash, the freezing wind whistling through the wing struts.