Tomato Growing Industry


Tomato Growing Industry
Japanese Market Gardeners c.1890 Glenfield

Photo from Sister Mary Albertus Bain, OP and used in a Geraldton Guardian “Our Heritage Article” by Gary Warner, 16 April 2004

The original tomato growers in Geraldton were the Japanese.  Establishing vegetable gardens around Geraldton c.1920; they were among the regions first horticulturists.  This photo to the left is of early Japanese tomato growers taken outside the home where they lived and worked together in the 1920’s out at Glenfield. Until then the tomatoes were grown with the bushes spread along the ground; tomatoes were picked green and ripen on their way to Melbourne by train.

However, one man, George  Kenworth Allen, saw the potential of the tomato industry as a cash crop. As a very young man George worked for a while at Narratarra but during the early 1920’s George recognised the potential of tomatoes with Geraldton’s climate making it possible to grow tomatoes out of season, this made them very marketable in Perth. When George started he wasn’t satisfied with the tomatoes, they were small and wrinkly. So he wasn’t just a tomato grower he was a tomato breeder. The result after much experimentation was a bigger tomato with a smooth skin.

Later George became known as the “Tomato King” he transformed the industry with his first breakthrough of a smooth-skinned tomato in 1927.  The tomato was too small to make a good price on the market so he continued experimenting and is credited with developing the “Geraldton Smoothskin”. What was to follow were the glory days of Geraldton’s tomato growing industry with much of the tomato growing land situated in and around Wonthella during the industries heyday. Thanks to Geraldton’s climate, growers were able to grow tomatoes out of season.  

George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (31)

George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (17)Tomato growing in Wonthella

George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (44)

Tomato growing in Wonthella 

George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.



25 January 1923

In his report to the Municipal Council last night Inspector Harrop said together with a local grower he had been instrumental in arranging for the export of tomatoes from, this district to Melbourne. Owing to low prices in this State last year the industry was seriously threatened but the opening up of trade with the Eastern States will he believed, give quite an impetus and encourage more settlement in this district.  We understand from Inspector Harrop that when, the crop was at its zenith last season the market at Perth and Kalgoorlie slumped, prices dropping to about 5/- or 6/- per case. It was thought that perhaps tomatoes could be sent to Adelaide, but owing to restrictions and inspections that would be necessary this was found not to be feasible, and the proposal dropped through. Then an improvement in the weather caused the market in Perth a to become more profitable and growers anxieties were relieved for a while. Mr. Harrop talked the matter over with growers and suggested that it might be possible, to export tomatoes to Melbourne.  At that time when the Perth market slumped tomatoes were being sold retail in Melbourne up to 2/6 per lb., the reason being that growers over there cannot plant out tomatoes until about August on account of frosts, and that, is just the time when locally grown tomatoes are coming on the market. To read more click on this Link to Trove to view this article in the Geraldton Guardian, 25 January 1923

The following are extracts from the Geraldton Regional Library Transcript recorded at the Oral History morning on Wonthella “The Early Days” as shared by George’s son Ken Allen.


To the right is a row of tomatoes and that’s my dad, George Allen in the middle section, standing in the background. He’s probably tying them up or doing something to them. When he first started growing tomatoes they were a ground crop and they graduated from a ground crop to putting up these trellises.  

The middle photo is of a display of the tomatoes along the trellises and there’s probably George again and as you’ll see in the background there’s a bush area. Well that’s a bush fence which they used to erect and make into smaller paddocks because of the wind problems with the tomatoes.

They made these fences out of bush and they got the bush from down the Greenough area – it was tea-tree which was suitable to make a bush fence. They erected these fences and they were quite good at keeping out the wind and they used to last for quite some time. Every now and again you might have to replenish the bush. 

On the block he first obtained – which was 52 acres – about a quarter of it was put down for growing tomatoes and bits that were left over he used to grow hay because he had the horses and they’d have cut that for feed.

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (41)George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (27)

George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.

In the early days there were only horses and at our property we had six or seven horses out there in a paddock. We had draught horses and we had cart horses. This photo is of two draught horses – and it’s being ploughed by a single furrow plough.

This went on for quite some time but when I came on the scene a bit later on they graduated into tractors and tractors did most of the ploughing, but we still retained horses because to cart the tomatoes from the paddocks into the packing shed we had little carts with cart horses.

Even some of the earlier tomato growers used to cart all their tomatoes down to the siding with horses. Later on we obtained trucks and we used to cart our tomatoes down to the siding with trucks; not just our tomatoes but also for the people who were growing tomatoes around us. 

To the right we see spraying taking place and on a ground crop, that would be in the early days well before my time. My father was a bit of an inventor and he had a tank which he placed on rubber wheels and had an engine attached so it would utilise a pump. And he had these big arms that went out with the spray and four sprayers used to be able to go spraying tomatoes down the row.


It was necessary to spray the tomatoes because they used to get certain diseases. Black spot, I remember black spot and wilt and also grubs and things like that. So every couple of weeks they had to go and spray the tomatoes. And in addition to spraying at a later stage they used to use dust – that was mainly to kill the grubs. 

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (50)

George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (16)

George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.

In the photo to the right you can see them tying up and pruning the tomatoes. They’re probably on their second or third  tie – by the look of it and they used to prune the tomatoes. They used to only have two main stalks or sometimes people used to only have one stalk. On the one stalk tomatoes they grew bigger tomatoes than the two stalks but the most profitable were the two stalk tomatoes. So they pruned them so there was only two stalks going up the stick and tied them up with this string. We used to obtain the string from George Marsh who was working up at the wharf and all the old ropes that they used to discard from the ships; they used to get hold of them, bring them out to my father, and we’d utilise them as strings for tying up the tomatoes as you can see there.

To the right is photo of a load as I explained previously about the horse, cart and tea-tree which we used for the fences. You can see the fence in the background and I’m not quite sure who the two people on the cart are. This photo gives you a better view of how we fenced it all off mainly for the protection from the wind. 

You could get the brush wood for the windbreaks locally but you couldn’t get stakes because Geraldton had nothing like that. We travelled and bought back truck loads and it was pretty hard tedious work.  I can well recall one time we went down to Cliff Head. There were five of us, I was only about 14 or 15 at the time but the other four were mature people and they cut the stakes and my job was to bundle the stakes that they cut up into a bundle of 20/25 and tie them off. Then we had a truck coming down every couple of days to pick these stakes up. We were there for two weeks and during that two weeks we cut 36,000 stakes. That number sticks in my mind.

But these stakes, lasted for quite some time, probably each year there was a few of them that would deteriorate and you’d have to chuck them out and use them for firewood. In addition to these stakes one time we purchased jarrah, proper jarrah square stakes that had been manufactured down south somewhere and we used them for quite a while and they lasted quite a long while. 


George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (56)George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (55)George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.


 History Note 

“Gerry Cassin shared with Jim Trevaskis (Oral Historian) that his dad used to source their stakes from Wongoondy and from East Yuna for his fathers tomato garden which was located between Beaver and Boyd Streets.”

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (36)George Allen photo’s courtesy of the Allen Family.

We had a windmill right near our packing shed. In the early days water was very important of course, that’s why they only grew them in the winter time in those days because they relied on the winter rains to grow the tomatoes.

We used to get this water pumped up into a tank and then they’d cart it around to different paddocks and water the tomatoes. But later on of course the scheme water was introduced and we all got connected to the scheme. That was quite a big operation and was pretty well policed by the Water Supply and if you used too much, or used it at the wrong time, they used to clamp down on you and put little things in the pipe to restrict the flow so you wouldn’t get so much of a water supply.

Everybody who could find water used to try and get it like this with windmills.The people who couldn’t of course had to go along to public tanks and cart water from a public water supply.

That was before my time because in my time we used to pick tomatoes and put them in – on the back of – a cart and cart them into the shed. But here they are carting tomatoes physically from the paddock to wherever they’ve got to go and pack them.

To the right are photos of people in that very early time picking tomatoes probably from a ground crop. And below that photo we have a truck load of tomatoes packed in cases and probably ready to go down to the sidings to be loaded on to the trains.

The loading places were Waggrakine and Crowtherton and Utakarra and then initially they closed Waggrakine and Utakarra down and they established one at a place called Webberton. Webberton Siding Building (now demolished)

The old Webberton siding (now demolished)

We used to take those tomatoes down and load them into the rail trucks. Those rail trucks, the small ones went through to Melbourne by rail and then the other ones in the ¾ bushel cases, they went down to Perth.

When they started the Singapore market of course they used to load them into a rail truck at the receivable places, take them into the wharf, unload them and put them up onto the boats. 

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Butter & Bacon Factory - GG Article - 1921

Click Here to read this Geraldton Guardian article about the Butter and Bacon Factory

At the end of the growing season they sent all the best tomatoes to Perth and Melbourne and rather than waste all those pulpy tomatoes, they put the pulp in kerosene tins. They were treated and the Butter and Bacon Factory and they were sent somewhere else to be made in to tomato sauce. 

In one of his best  years which was from the initial tomato garden of 52 acres, 36000 cases of tomatoes were produced.

In addition to that he had these share-gardeners, mostly Macedonian people, who used to come and work on the garden and after they got to know how to grow tomatoes and got a bit financial they eventually went out on their own. So he helped a lot of people get going in the tomato industry besides his own tomato growing.

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George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (13)


History Note

During the 1950’s, tomato growing made a vital contribution to the economic health of Geraldton. To the left is an image of a George Allen label used to label his tomato cases.

George Allen’s philanthropy is well known in Wonthella. Not only did George Allen help a lot of people get started in the tomato industry he also donated the land that the Allendale School and the Wonthella Memorial Hall are built on. 

The top photo is the Wonthella Memorial Hall which opened 5 August 1960. After its sale by the Wonthella Progress Association it became the home of GTW 11, Geraldton’s first commercial TV station. The hall is now home to the Fifth Street Furniture Mart.


To the right is Class 1 and 2, April 1953 – on the back steps of Allendale School which was then only one long prefabricated building.  Photo courtesy of Lost Geraldton.


Allen Street in the Wonthella Industrial Park is named in honour of George Allen.


Wonthella Memorial Hall then GTW11 - July 1980

Allendale Primary School, Class 1953 via Lost Geraldton

Allen Street Sign 2