Canneries helped shape GV communities

By Geoff Adams

For most of its life, the SPC business was a co-operative, founded by Goulburn Valley orchardists wanting to build an outlet for their produce.

Of course older readers will remember that modern day SPC is the result of a merger between the former Mooroopna factory known as Ardmona and the Shepparton-based SPC, with the inclusion of the former Kyabram Preserving Company.

Both major partners had their simultaneous beginnings in the post-World War I era, when the trees were maturing after the introduction of irrigation.

The construction and opening of the factories were major events for the towns and celebrated by the community, but the first decade was a troubled one for growers and their new factories.

Poor seasons, problems with exports, under-supply, over-supply and inappropriate fruit varieties resulted in some loss years for the business, and it seemed that fluctuating fortunes were a hallmark of fruit processing as the problems were repeated in later years.

Despite the peaks and troughs, it seems as though there was a lot of excitement generated around the canneries in the 1970s and 1980s, which saw new products introduced and literally thousands of people found seasonal work at the factories, raising money for their holidays, education fees and house deposits.

This was when SPC and Ardmona became the heart of their respective communities and the fruit labels were synonymous with Goulburn Valley life.

The love and regard for the companies was reflected in the response to the crisis that hit SPC in the 1990s, when the employees gave up entitlements in a bid to rescue the company.

The fairytale experience was confirmed when the company eventually paid back the money that was foregone by the loyal staff.

In recent years the number of casual positions has declined and, although it has been the beating heart of the rural city, the processor has been eclipsed in importance by other major employers in the town.