Dale Mahony just loves to grow potatoes on his family’s farm at Canungra. His grandfather and father purchased the farm, and then built the family home in the 1940s using timber from the property and from Tamborine Mountain. Back then, farmers in the area lived on twenty-acre dairy farms and made a living from the cream they produced. These days, Dale grows potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, sweet corn and watermelon. It’s not viable for Dale to sell his produce through the markets, so he sells directly to a couple of local retailers and from the back his old truck, which he parks on the side of the main road through Canungra. If he has a glut, he often sells from the side of the road up on Tamborine Mountain, too. The locals know Dale grows the best spray-free spuds in the area and always make a beeline for his truck when it arrives.
This was your grandparents’ farm, is that right?
Yes, my grandfather, George, and my father bought it in a couple of lots. I don’t know which year it was they bought the place — certainly before 1940, somewhere around there. Dad built the house in about 1945, I think he told me, for about 240 quid, and used all his own timber, too, off the farm up on the mountain. Basically, like all the other places around here, people were just living on little dairy farms, like this, only tiny little farms … about twenty acres. They just survived on what he made out of the cream. Probably Dad would have been almost forty years old before he actually got a job — you know, a paying job. And then my mum started working too. When the TAB opened here in Canungra, Mum got the first job there. And that was great; they had two wages.
And you’ve said your brother lives next door?
Yes. Of course, that was part of the farm. I built the house for him in about ’92, I think.
So, when did you put all the potatoes in, and why potatoes?
I’ve always liked growing potatoes and tomatoes. It was just never that viable to send it through the markets. It still wouldn’t be viable. You would get nothing for it. Now, things have changed a lot with the the growth in organic, you know? People are starting to care a bit about what they eat. I could put more time into it, really, but I like to keep it a bit relaxed.
Where do you sell your potatoes, Dale?
On the old truck, here, on the side of the road. Sometimes on Tamborine Mountain if there’s a bit of a glut. But, I don’t like to have that many. I like to try to size my operation. It is more effort to go up there. I like it to come to me. [Laughs.]
We’ve heard you grow heirloom melons and corn.
Yes. I have champagne melons planted there. They’re just little plants at the moment. I find the corn that works the best for me is bi-coloured corn. You know, the one that has the white grain in the seed? I get most of my seeds from Edens. Not all of them, as some of the stuff I want they can’t supply.
Do you grow organically?
Well, I don’t spray for anything. If there’s a lot of lady beetle about they hammer the hell out of the pumpkins, and you have to put something on them or they just eat the whole plant. But when the pumpkins grow, and their fifth and sixth leaves are just starting, the bugs can eat as much as they like because the plant grows quicker than the bug can eat it. The potato moth gives me a lot of trouble. When the moths get into the spuds, I just turn on the irrigation because they don’t like the moisture. It just reduces their numbers. Pumpkins and spuds I grow because they’re not so perishable. These spuds have been sitting in the shed with no refrigeration. If it wasn’t hot, they’d probably be fine in the shed for years. I have to build myself a cold room in the next two months [to keep the potatoes at an ideal temperature].
How long have you been growing potatoes?
On this scale, for about six years. Before that we might just put in a bag or a couple of bags of seed. But, everything [the farm and the region] is growing all the time. Back when I was talking about before, when we were just dairying here, there was no through road to the coast through the gorge. Nobody even knew Canungra was here. If you went down to the coast or something, I can remember as a kid you’d say, ‘Canungra’, and they’d say, ‘How do you spell that?’ And then this road went through.
You must have seen Canungra change over the years.
Back when I got my first job over here in town, the Canungra Information Centre used to be the general store. Two or three cream carriers used to come in. They’d drop the grocery orders from the farms in to the store on their way to take the cream, and when they’d come back, they’d pick up the groceries. When they’d drop off the empty cream cans back to the farms, they’d drop the groceries off too. That’s the way it used to work.
Back then, the Finch’s — which is the big dairy farm on the left-hand side just out of town — they had a dip across the road here. They would bring their cattle through Coburg Road. They’d take them and dip them. As it turned out, then the town water went in and they wouldn’t take them back through the creek; they’d just bring them back through the town. That’s how quiet the place was. They probably stopped around 1970. There’d be cow paddies up and down the street when they drove them back.
I have an old tractor in the shed down there that I used to use before I started using this one. My dad bought that when his draft horse died. That was in about 1948. Actually, the same fellow that did the watercolour of Spud [Dale’s dog] did a watercolour of my old tractor. Did a bloody good job of that, too.
Do you enjoy the lifestyle?
Living here? Yes, it’s good. Everything’s here. Everything I want, anyhow.
Have you always been here?
In general, yes, on the other side of the creek, or up in town here, or up on Darlington Range.
Where do you purchase your potato seed?
This lot is from down in Ballarat. It’s difficult. We can get two crops here every year. We plant in the last week of July and the second week of February, and down south they can’t do that. They can only get one crop. This crop now, the one we planted in July, these potatoes grow particularly well because they come from the cold and now they’re up in Queensland. It is just like coming out of a cold room and into the warmth. Even though we’re in our winter, it is warmer than their winter. You have to keep on getting seed from Victoria. You can’t just keep on putting in your spuds. The seed wears out. It gets weak. You have to search around to find seed for February and quite often I have to use my own seed.
So, you sell all the produce from your truck?
Pretty much. A couple of retailers buy directly from me. I did have a supermarket van pull up there one day. I wish I had a camera on me. She was working for the supermarket, but she bought a pack of spuds from me. From me!