Written by Lizzie Macaulay
You’re a tireless worker. You work seven days a week, never take a holiday and rarely get a change of scenery.
It’s such physical, repetitive work that there’s a chance your body is breaking down and you’re literally out of fingerprints.
The type of job you have means that you’re constantly needing to innovate to future-proof your livelihood, and never, ever take your foot off the gas.
You have competitors, yes, but the biggest threats to your success come from external forces well beyond your control – weather, insects, government policies and diplomacy…
These are the very real challenges the incredible team at Tomarata Orchard (better known locally as Lychee Divine or Lychee Hill Estate) face year-on-year.
And yet, you will never a meet a more upbeat, dedicated, future-focused family who have such fabulous ideas for where to take their business next.
As we toured their incredible orchard in Tiaro, I was astounded at the sheer breadth and innovation of their operation – lychee wines and ciders, a cellar door just out of Maryborough to sell their wares, tours of their spectacularly secluded orchard, just to name a few.
They even have a skincare range in the works.
And ALL of this is handled with the utmost care and dedication by the entire Pool family. I met with not one, but three generations of Pool currently working on the estate, each with their own knowledge and flair for the lychee biz.
First-gen, John, established the farm with his wife, Kerry, more than 20 years ago. He had big visions for how the business would progress and almost immediately diversified from selling lychees to bottling them to ensure the least amount of waste each lychee season.
As we talked, it was abundantly clear that John is a shrewd businessman who, with the support of his family, has set up an incredible legacy for future Pool generations.
Most impressive in speaking with him was how much of a juggle it all is – the business, the farming, the new ideas that seem to flow from the collective Pool knowledge bank. But nothing seemed to phase him. It was all just part of the gig.
I’d visited the farm at a particularly poignant moment in the life cycle of the orchard – new growth was just starting to emerge from the lychee trees, which would give some indication of what sort of a season would be ahead.
Lots of flowers = lots of lychees. It’s a nervous time.
And then, when the time is right, John and co. have to move fast!
They have just six weeks in the hottest part of the year to pick and pack the crop.
Running up and down a ladder in 35+ degree heat with an 18kg lumpy bag strapped to your hips?
No wonder they were so excited to show me their new ‘toy’ they’d just acquired for the season ahead: the red beast! (my name, not theirs!)
The red beast had two platforms attached to hydraulic hoists that operated independently of each other. By all accounts, it was going to be a game changer for the upcoming lychee picking season, and I could see why… Farewell ladders! Sayonara heavy bags!
And also, just quietly, it looked like a heap of fun to play on. But I digress.
Once we’d had a look around the orchard it was time to head further afield and meet the other inhabitants of the estate. First up: hungry cattle.
John and son Dave hopped in the ute and drove us down to the ’standard feeding place’. So clued in were these beautiful beasts, that as soon as they heard the engine, they made a beeline for the spot.
John explained that the cattle was there in part for ‘ground maintenance’ – that cows made pretty good lawn mowers. And these were only the first set of living lawn mowers we met that day.
Bovine tastebuds satiated with gooey molasses, we moved on to the man-made dam further down the road. How excited I was to see a beautiful boat tied off to a pontoon just waiting for us to board and go for a spin. Travelling around on the water was such a privilege – watching the wildlife, feeling the cool breeze on my skin, just absorbing the peace of the space.
It was the kind of moment my busy soul truly needed, even if I hadn’t recognised it before my arrival.
Disembarking, we had one last stop to make before finishing up: we needed to meet the second team of living lawnmowers inhabiting the farmland.
This time, it was the bleating, chewy, hilarious goats.
These were a particular favourite of mine, and my tiny accompanying helper, Isabelle. They were understandably a little standoffish at first, but oh-so entertaining.
I can now cross ‘hold a goat’ off my bucket list, and I couldn’t be gladder for the experience.
Alas, where highs appear, lows also follow. It was time to head back to reality and let John and the boys get back to work.
I so enjoyed my time as a lychee farmer, getting to know just what it takes to succeed in the lychee game. Admittedly, I’d better stick to writing as my fortitude and usefulness for practical things leaves a lot to be desired.