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Family tree bears fruit

Rodney McPhee, Kelso, Max Fragar, Leura, Alan Fragar, Cowra, and Colin McPhee, Rockley Mount, celebrate at “Garthowen”, The Lagoon.AS Astorm rollsoverhead, rain thunders down around the historic homestead, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of conversation inits rooms.

The rambling oldhousesits quietly, corralled by sheds and old machinery, at “Garthowen”near the backwaters of the Ben Chifley Dam at The Lagoon, and it is a hive of activity as the Fragar family meets totalk of old times.

At the centre of the branching conversations, and the table, is the Fragar peach, and this fruit is literally the seed from which this sprawling and proud family has grown.

The Fragar peach, a juicy, white-fleshed, clingstone delicacy, isnow commercially grown and is seeing a comeback asconsumersdemand produce fresh from the grower’s tree rather than a supermarket shelf.

The story of the Fragar peach begins whenFrank Fragar, who was born in Penrith in 1887, decided tomove westto near Bathurst with his wife Hilda and four children because one of theirsons was suffering from asthma.

The Fragar family wasprominent in the Penrith and Orchard Hills areas, and wasknown for several business ventures including a dairy, poultryand, most famously, a bus service.

Frankworked as a builder andon the railway, while the familyalso grew fruit, including peaches, nectarines and apricots, and table grapes in the Orchard Hills area.

Frank was the third generation of Fragars in Australia, after his grandfather Antonio came to Australia from the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean at the age of 20.

Frank’s trip over the mountains to Bathurst in 1929 took three days.

The family brought their old Dodge car and loaded all theirbelongings, as well as materials for building,onto a horse and cart, with an extra horse in tow.

They spent a night at Katoombaand a night at Tarana before arriving at their new home.

At this stage there was no Ben Chifley Dam near Bathurst, but their newly-bought 485-hectareproperty “Garthowen” sat on the shoulders of the Campbells River.

Frank grewfine wool Merinos, though according to his family, he ran more rabbits than anything.

He had an old horse called Bonny, who he apparently rode everywhere, whether it was to muster, chip weeds or evento head down to the outside toilet.

The original homesteadwas pise, but Frankadded rooms around itand made improvements, including making constant extensions to a stubborn chimney that refused to draw.

Frank grew vegetables, but his love for fruit survived the trip over the mountains, and hebegan an orchard nearthe house to provide fruit for their table.

It ended up including about60 trees, brimming with flourishing peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, apples, apricots, cherries, mulberries and quinces.

“Frank had a natural interest in growing fruit,” Frank’s grandson Alan Fragar said.

“He was anatural experimenter.”

Frank often grew Elberta and J. H. Hale peach varieties, butFrank’s great-nephew Colin McPheesaid Frank had a very simpleway to choose what fruit he added to the orchard.

“If he liked a peach, he would put the seed aside and then grow it,” he said.

The old family home at “Garthowen”, The Lagoon. Photo by Kerry Fragar, Perspective Photography.

Alan said one day, sometimearound the late 1930s, a seedling grew that Frank did not recognise.

His son Lyn took two of the peaches to the Agriculture Department in Bathurst to be identified.

As it turned out, with his simpleexperimenting, Frank had developed a brandnew variety.

It wasnamed the “Fragar Special”, which later became known as the Fragar peach.

A staff member from the Agriculture Departmentvisitedto get wood from the peach tree for graftingsoit could be grown commercially.

The Fragar peach quickly became a favourite, loved for its juiciness and flavour.

“It’s the kind of peach you need to eat with a knife and sit in the bath,” Frank’s great-nephew Max Fragar said.

Despite the peach’s success, Frankcarried on running his farm, and only ever grew four of the Fragar peach trees he had created.

He also developed a new variety of green peach, but it wasn’t popular because of its colour.

Frank and Hilda eventually moved to Katoomba due to poor health, and Frank died in 1973.

Three years after his death, his family received a letter from the National Horticulture Research Centre in France requesting some bud sticks from his tree for research and study, which were duly sent.

Sadly, Frank’s old peach trees died in drought, butthe peach had already found its way across the state.

The Fragar peach is now commercially grown in the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains, South Coast andCentral West.

Alan Fragar with historic family photos, including a photo of his grandfather Frank, who developed the Fragar peach.

Max said the recent world-wide trend of buying direct from the grower wasperfect for the Fragar peach, which wasexperiencing a big boost.

“This is a peach that is best picked from the orchard and eaten,” he said.

“People are seeking out original varieties.

“It needs to be bought fresh from the grower, not asupermarket where it has gone through three middle men.”

After Frank’s death, “Garthowen”passed to his son Neville, who then sold it to the McPhee family.

Today it is run full-timeby brothers, and Frank’s great-nephews,Colin and Rodney, who are Merino growers.

It is a welcoming homewhichFragars from across the state often visit.

Theymakethe journey down thedirt trackto talk and eat just metres from where Frank first createdhis wonderful peach that grew this proud family.

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