One could be excused for thinking, at first glance, that Carmen Miranda has hit the Far North, but behind the fantasy are two exotic fruit fanatics with a mobile fruit factory.
Simon Fell and his wife, Donna Toussaint, established an exotic fruit orchard outside Mossman three and a half years ago, but with the industry still in its infancy, they decided to take the fruits directly to the public and educate them in just what is available. The fruits themselves are distinctively tropical and most definitely exotic, and Simon and Donna have presented them with the very same exotic and tropical flavour. Donna catches more than a few admiring glances decked out in a tropical print, Miranda costume adorned with coloured fruits, while Peter adds a dashing touch of colonialism in his pith helmet and safari suit. Together, they flit from Rusty's Bazaar to the Crystal Cascades and to the Port Douglas markets in their vendors' van, setting up a table to tempt visitors and locals alike with a taste of the exotic. But although the presentation has had a lot to do with their success, Simon insists the fruits have the potential to sell themselves.
As a member of the Rare Fruit Council and a firm believer in what the exotic fruit of North Queensland can offer as a future industry, he has certainly not held back in the range of fruit he offers to the public. The display table boasts a bounty ranging from the better-known pawpaws, pineapples and bananas to the more unusual like the jak fruit, black sapote and rambutans, and to the truly exotic abiu, jaboticaba and uvilla. Placed together on a table, they present an eye-catching cacophony of colour and texture.
Many people approach the Fruit Factory to inspect the bristles of the rambutan, while others cautiously sample the aroma of the jak fruit. "There are a host of fruits with very different tastes, but we let people know what to expect. We try to persuade them to try something we think they will like, for example, a child would probably not appreciate something really tangy." Peter said.
The range of products caters for the same diversity of tastes. Donna spent quite some time in the catering industry, and recently travelled through Asia, Japan, India and her home country of Sri Lanka for ten months, gathering information about fruits and recipes. The result is a tantalising range of products including juices, ice-creams and shaved ices with syrups including rose petal.
According to Simon, shire councils in the Far North have been extremely receptive to the possibilities of the business. "We've been imaginative and original. We're having a lot of fun and making some money, but we're also doing a lot toward promoting the fruits that are so distinctive to the Far North."
With the time and preparation involved, the money is nothing to boast about - only an enthusiast would do it for love of the fruit, Simon says.
Simon has only praise for the Cairns, Mulgrave and Douglas Shire Councils who also seem to be behind the industry. They have so far granted approval for the van to visit markets and the Crystal Cascades, and to cater for outdoor functions like parties.
DATE: November 1985
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