It’s hard to imagine Killarney without the Wickhams. They are highly visible. The pioneering family’s enormous fleet of refrigerated trucks travel the highways daily. More than 50 locals work on their potato and onion farms, and in their packing and processing sheds smack in the middle of town.
But it’s their less visible presence that keeps the tight-knit, rural community’s heart beating.
In the 1950s brothers, Peter and Angus Wickham started growing and packing potatoes in the fertile red soil of the Falls, Killarney. Their potato empire grew, along with their passion for the tiny town that would be home to their children, and grandchildren.
Their family’s commitment to producing superior quality potatoes and onions for Coles Supermarket aligned with their commitment to Killarney’s prosperity.
Peter and his children have kept a keen eye on the horticulture industry, looking for opportunities to expand and evolve their businesses. They have applied the same strategic focus to their numerous board positions, helping guide the sustainability of the Killarney Co-op, Killarney Memorial Aged Care, the Killarney Recreational Club, the Killarney Show Society and the Warwick Credit Union, just to name a few.
Peter’s daughter, Kerri-Ann Lamb, who is breaking new ground in the male-dominated horticultural industry, says her family’s commitment to Killarney is unwavering.
“We are embedded in this community,” she said.
“It’s our family; we derive our income from this land. We want our community to be strong and to thrive.”
Up beyond Queen Mary Falls, over by the rainforest, Ken Watts, made cream. In fact, in 1991, Ken’s lush Killarney mountaintop property saw the last cream delivery in Australia depart his dairy.
Ken’s son Darryl, who with partner Miriam, still operates the dairy, said Ken didn’t strive to be the last cream producer in the country.
“He couldn’t get a dairy buyer to come up here to pick up the milk, so he had to keep making cream and run it down to Dairyfields in Warwick,” Darryl explained.
Finally, in 1991 a buyer agreed to bring collect the milk from his dairy and that was the end of the cream.
Darryl is the fourth generation dairy farmer to rise at four and brave the mountain’s cold misty winter mornings to milk.
They have a mixed herd that includes Fresians, Illawarras, Jerseys, Swiss Browns and an Ayrshire calf.
Like their neighbouring beef and potato farmers, the Watts’ family thank the rich volcanic soil and temperate climate for the Killarney region’s strong history of fresh milk, cream and butter production.
Killarney butcher Steve Carey believes the famed quality of Killarney’s beef and pork comes from “something in the water’.
While producers may argue it’s the rich, red volcanic soil that creates the prime quality meat, it’s hard to argue with a bloke who comes from a long line of local butchers and clutches a trophy for award-winning kabana.
Steve says he was thrilled but surprised when his smoked kabana won the Australian Meat Industry Council 2017 Royal Qld Show Smallgoods trophy, against a field of 27 products.
“I knew it was a good product but I was surprised,” Steve said.
The kabana is half local pork, half beef, spiced with chilli, cayenne pepper and flavoured with cheese.
“It’s popular on pizzas and fried on the BBQ, and it’s not a heat that will chase you away,” Steve said.
Steve’s smoke house skills have been honed by years of practice. He started in a rudimentary smoke house at the back of his grandfather’s Yangan butcher shop.
“Back when I was an apprentice my meat smoking equipment was an axe, a quarter 44 gallon drum and a box of matches.
“I’d hang sides of bacon in halves and light the fire up the front.”
This year Steve will also enter his popular smoked boneless leg ham in the Royal Queensland Show and he will have his prized kabana available for taste testing and purchase at the Killarney Picnic Basket Day.
Killarney dynamo Sue Hoffman is best known at picnic basket day for her world-beating steak burgers.
What you don’t see is the military precision of the burger production that creates the mini-masterpiece presented to each of her 2000 customers.
‘Super Sue’ lives on her picturesque 140-acre property in Killarney next to Browns Falls, in a lush garden that attracts more than 32 species of birds.
Her workdays are spent running the family’s Warwick Gardens Galore nursery, café and gift shop in Warwick, along with the neighbouring motel.
As Sue simultaneously greets customers, wraps gifts and co-ordinates kitchen staff she speaks of her passion for the Killarney region’s “good fresh clean food, full of flavour.”
“At the picnic basket day, I sell steak burgers and pulled pork rolls. I buy local produce and everything is cooked fresh on the day. I buy the steak from a local butcher in Warwick and I buy the pork from the Killarney butcher.” Sue said.
“Even the bread is locally produced and the applesauce is homemade.
“People love the fresh taste and it’s a decent size – like you’d expect to get in the country.”
Former rugby league great Rohan Hancock was considered one of ‘the Invincibles’ on the paddock but these days he is renowned for his cattle buying prowess in the yards.
In the 1980s Rohan played the State of Origin’s first three years for Queensland. In 1982 he played in the Australian representative Kangaroos team, nicknamed ‘The Invincibles’ when they returned home as the first undefeated team to complete a Kangaroo Tour. Following his footsteps, daughter Stephanie last year co-captained the Australian women’s rugby league team, the Jillaroos, to win the team’s first World Cup.
While football opened doorways for Rohan, it was his rural childhood that shaped his career as a respected cattle buyer.
Raised among the rich volcanic fields of Killarney Queensland, Rohan’s pedigree extends from a long line of cattle selectors, butchers and processors.
His grandfather, ‘Tec’ Hancock, taught Rohan, as a boy, the art of cattle buying.
Rohan went on to train as a butcher at the Killarney Butchery and later in the Hancock family-owned Killarney Abattoir, opened by his father Rolly in the 1970s.
It was Killarney’s major employer for three decades and established ‘Killarney beef’s’ reputation as superior quality meat.
Quality cattle remain a big part of Rohan’s life, as he seeks out the best cattle in the district to supply to local butchers and, further afield, to well-known Brisbane meat suppliers, A la Carte Meats. Rohan firmly believes the fresh mountain air and rolling green hills of the Killarney area produce the best beef cattle in the country.
Over the next few weeks, we will share the stories about the local food producers who bring you the tastes of Killarney at the annual picnic basket day.
Local writer Jo Brosnan and photographer Kieth Murray gathered the stories and photos from the Killarney area. Jo is a communication consultant and writer who runs her business, Jo Brosnan Strategic Communication, from her home office on the family cattle and horse property in Killarney’s Cambanoora Gorge. Kieth and his wife commute between Brisbane and their Cambanoora Gorge getaway. Photography is Kieth’s hobby and he is never short of stunning material to capture in the Killarney region