Hop growing in WA
In the 1930s, WA was the third state to establish hop growing on a commercial basis.
There are two records of 19th century hop growing in WA – a Captain Wilkinson of Woodbridge Estate, Guildford was noted for having grown hops successfully in 1873. A decade later, J Blatt planted some Victorian hop cuttings from Mr Henley of Oxley, Victoria at Jarrahdale with such good results that the following year he was offering a quantity of hop cuttings for sale.
J J Bunn, a dredging engineer from Victoria, attempted hop culture again on a commercial scale in 1929 at Pemberton. Mr Bunn had had discussions with the management of the Swan Brewery and the Department of Agriculture in Perth and was sufficiently encouraged to start clearing land for planting with Golden Cluster hops he had brought with him from Victoria. He had previously cultivated this variety for five years in Myrrhee in the North Eastern District of Victoria. The depression cut off the promised financial aid from the WA Department of Agriculture but he persisted and harvested his first crop in March 1931 and by 1939 had twelve acres in production. He had built his own kiln and had also encouraged other men in the district to be involved in hop growing. Only one of these growers, W E Gardner, was still growing hops in 1950 but he abandoned hop cultivation and it was said ‘he threw the fight to the karri trees’ and his kilns and gardens were eventually destroyed by fire.
The largest farm remained the one started by J J Bunn who handed it over to his son, Arthur William Bunn in 1950 who, several years later started new gardens some five miles away from the original ones – ‘in a natural valley surrounded by hills and giant karri trees’ – which meant no other wind-breaks were necessary. A sprinkler system was installed for irrigation and, in 1965 a hop-picking machine was used for the first time to harvest the hops. In 1967 there were 70 acres in production. This farm, now Karri Valley Resort, was known firstly as Springfield, and then ‘Waterfall’ Hop Gardens.
Arthur Bunn ended up as the only hop grower in WA and he believed the failure of the industry in the ‘30s and ‘40’s resulted from ‘too little capital and too many giant karri trees’. Another opinion was that the lack of summer rainfall might have been a contributing factor to the relatively low yield of 10-20 cwt/acre in this period. Hop yields in the 1960’s were consistently higher probably due to the summer irrigation being assured by the Beedelup Brook which is a permanent stream running through the property which ran through the Waterfall Hop Gardens. The most striking feature of the farm still remaining is Lake Beedelup, which was constructed, with assistance by Swan Brewery, in 1962 to irrigate the hops farm, which produced 50,000kg of hops annually. Some of the produce was sold to Swan Brewery and the rest went interstate. Arthur Bunn experimented with other varieties of hops but still found Golden Cluster the most suitable for the climate and, at that time, for the Swan Brewery. It is interesting to note that the WA hop industry was able to prosper at that time as the three basic problems confronting all hop growers in the Australian environment had been solved: a supply of healthy hop plant cuttings; a variety of hops suitable to the specific environment; and the use of regular irrigation to overcome the hot dry summers. Even in an area like Pemberton where the annual rainfall at the time was 56 inches, irrigation was essential to increase and maintain yields.
The Swan Brewery continued to purchase hops from Pemberton until the late 1970’s but when it moved to Canning Vale in 1978 and the new brewery, it required hop pellets rather than whole cones and stopped purchasing WA hops. Besides Lake Beedelup, the only other residual sign of hop growing in the area is a road called Hop Garden Road.
Hopshed Brewing & Hop Farm, Peerabeelup, WA – in 2003 first rhizomes planted from remnant Pemberton crops at Springfield farm, Beedelup – Golden Cluster – basic trellis. In 2005 aromatic rhizomes from Tasmania planted and in 2006 more aromatic rhizomes planted and trellises improved. In 2007 additional aromatic rhizomes sourced and trellises upgraded and in 2008 was the best harvest to date, more aromatic rhizomes planted and the primary trellis was due for upgrade. Sales of Rhizomes commenced 2008. In 2009 there was a good Golden Cluster harvest exhibiting an earthy, rich aroma plus a great Cascade and Williamette harvest. In 2010 there was an early picking of organic Golden Cluster and Pride of Ringwood with delicious aromas and large, healthy cones.
In 2019 the business was sold and moved to Mayanup, on the Blackwood River in the South West of WA. Expansion of the operation commenced with the importation of hop specimens from interstate, both bittering and aromatic varieties. A new trellising system was installed and planting will commence in the spring of 2019
The Hop Industry in Australia – Helen R Pearce – 1976
www.hopshed.com – Drew & Katie
TALL TREES & TALL TALES
Stories of old Pemberton – a marvellous reminiscence of
the characters and places of the big timber country.
by John Morris & Roger Underwood ( ISBN: 0 85905 168 4 )
Indexed by Eric Meacock, May 2000.