As the largest banana grower in Australia, the MacKay farming business prospers into the third generation and remains grounded in the family values it represents.
Story By Peter Ross
Tully was battered by furious winds when Cyclone Yasi crossed the far-north Queensland coast in February. Then it was soaked by two months of torrential rain. Only now is a little bit of sun shining again in Australia’s banana heartland.
Banana plantations stretching from Tully to Innisfail were flattened for the second time in five years, leaving farmers and farm workers without income and consumers without affordable bananas. The entire community is struggling to get over the shock, rebuild property, recoup losses and regain spirits. For banana farmers, the historic pattern of a cyclone wipe-out every 30 years has suddenly become a lot more challenging, forcing them to seriously consider spreading their risk outside the Tully/Innisfail cyclone belt.
The MacKay family survived plantation wipe-outs from Cyclone Agnes in 1956, Cyclone Winifred in 1986, and Cyclone Larry in 2006, with partial wipe-outs in between from Joy in 1990, Justin in 1997 and Rona in 1999. Yasi was the worst of all, coming so soon after Larry, but the MacKay family is getting on with the business of rebuilding homes and farms – and family members continue the tradition of meeting every Wednesday afternoon at 3pm in the boardroom at Bolinda Estates.
This is not a meeting of suits, although it is a formal session chaired by Robert MacKay and attended by his brother John, and their sons Stephen, Cameron, Barrie, Gavin and Daniel (by teleconference), all of whom have defined roles in the integrated banana, sugar-cane and cattle enterprise employing up to 400 people and producing 11 percent of Australia’s bananas.
At these weekly sessions, they review financial and productivity figures, raise issues and make decisions. By meeting’s end, which is usually 6pm but can be much later if needed, the MacKays are all on the same page about where the business is headed.
This story excerpt is from Issue #77
Outback Magazine: June/July 2011