Big Pineapple Dreaming
Long before pineapples were kitsch, they grew in abundance in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and inspired the beginnings of an Australian tourism icon. In 1971, on a patch of fertile land on a well-travelled section of the Bruce Highway, Bill and Lyn Taylor created Sunshine Plantation, a tourist attraction and working farm producing an array of tropical fruit, nuts and spices.
A 16 metre high pineapple structure was built on the highest part of the land as a prominent landmark and lookout to view the site’s pineapple plantations, ancient rainforest and surrounding farms. Over forty years on, the Big Pineapple is still remembered as a symbol of summer holidays, parfaits, train rides and tropical produce.
For the first ten years of its existence, millions of people made the pilgrimage to the Big Pineapple and Sunshine Plantation – for the fruity, fairground experience, and for what they learned while they were there. Sunshine Plantation was a tourist attraction, but also an educational site for people to learn about Queensland’s diverse range of fruit and produce, how it was grown and how it could be used.
Bill and Lyn Taylor’s vision was to promote local produce through tourism. Local journalist Kerry Brown says that for the ten years the couple owned the attraction they inspired both the agricultural and tourism industries in Queensland.
The Big Pineapple was a world class tourist attraction, and a catalyst for so many developments in production and agriculture,” she says.
The Taylors knew nothing about farming. Bill had been working for the United Nations in New York and Lyn was an interior designer, but they had dreams of becoming farmers in their new paradise home.
“They used to drive up into the hinterland and in the 1970s there were all these beautiful farms up there. They noticed that people would pull up on the side of the road and have picnics and be fascinated with the plants and produce,” Kerry says. “They saw that their friends and relatives from down south were really interested in the produce. So they approached local authorities for information about local plants.”
Their search for information proved fruitless. So they decided to do the research themselves.
“They had a vision to start a farm on the side of the road where they could share information about the fruit and how it was grown,” says Kerry.
Lyn drew plans for a big pineapple to attract visitors to the site, inspired by one that she and Bill saw atop a pineapple cannery in Hawaii.
“She could draw beautifully,” says Kerry. “All of the early plans and brochures were drawn by Lyn.”
Inside the custom-built giant pineapple are two levels of displays featuring tropical fruit and pineapple manufacturing processes, hand-painted landscape dioramas of pineapple plantations with model factories, trucks and cane trains, as well as arrangements of Golden Circle products.
A train line ran throughout the plantation and crops were planted along it so guests could experience commentary and demonstrations about how the plants were grown and harvested. Many different types of plants grown on Sunshine Plantation were used in the restaurant, made into jams or supplied to the Golden Circle cannery in Brisbane.
Pineapples, sugar cane, paw paws, ginger, nuts, spices, tea and coffee plants thrived throughout the plantation and after seeing these exotic plants growing in the field, guests could have a fruit sundae or salad or buy a plant or a souvenir tea towel from the gift shop.
“Children would come and learn about produce,” she says. “The train would stop half way along its route and a guide would show them how to grow a pineapple. So kids would go home and stick the top of the pineapple in the ground. They’d come back two years later when their family was on holiday again and they’d say, ‘You know that pineapple you told me to grow, I’ve grown it.’
During its first ten years Sunshine Plantation grew from a roadside market stall to an award-winning tourism mecca. Bill and Lyn Taylor’s vision brought the world to the Sunshine Coast, and shone a spotlight on the plants that grow there.
The Taylors sold the Big Pineapple in 1981, after a decade of ownership. Shortly after, they developed a similar project in Hawaii.
Today the Big Pineapple still stands by the side of the road at Woombye. A smaller number of pineapples are still grown, mostly for show. The pineapple structure, surrounding buildings and train track were heritage-listed in 2009. Although its paint has faded and it shows its age, the essence of the icon remains.
Visitors still pull up on the side of the road to take photos of the Big Pineapple and learn about tropical produce. Many of the original plants cultivated by the Taylors remain such as the pomelo, avocados, sausage tree and the jaboticaba. Bill and Lyn Taylor are no longer with us, but their dreams live on, not only in the many farms and home gardens which host living proof of their legacy, but also the memories of all the people who rode the train, ate sundaes and learned about plants all those years ago.
Kerry Brown is the author of ‘Our Sweetest Icon, Sunshine Plantation’s Big Pineapple 1971 – 2011.