BENDIGO tomatoes once ruled the state thanks to a man who overcame a disinterested council and a harsh climate to put the city's produce on the map.
The area's tomatoes were so good that people selling produce at Melbourne markets would lie and say theirs were grown in our soil, local historian James Lerk says.
He has dug up that all-but-forgotten reputation for his new book Bendigo's Once Flourishing Tomato Industry, which will be launched this weekend.
Mr Lerk says Bendigo's age of tomato dominance began when an ambitious entrepreneur called John Paul Carolin tried to get Bendigo's council behind a maverick idea to harness land along the creek for crops.
"He was a real go-getter and when he first moved to Bendigo in the 1870s he saw all this land that was once used for alluvial mining," Mr Lerk said.
"He thought it would be great to turn those kinds of areas - which were real eyesores - into productive land."
Carolin was an elected official with the Bendigo council and lobbied his colleagues for action, but no-one was interested in his ideas.
"He couldn't get any support from anyone within the council, so he decided to go and buy some of this land and got his labourers to level it out, put manure in and begin growing," Mr Lerk said.
"Remarkably, things grew really well."
The trial was so successful that Carolin decided to bring in Spanish labourers with specialist knowledge so he could upscale operations.
It was not a bad result for a man with limited experience growing the plant.
"Put it this way, his daughter was married to a Spaniard and he had seen how that part of the family were busy growing tomatoes in Box Hill," Mr Lerk said.
Other farmers quickly followed Carolin's lead and the golden age of the Bendigo tomato was born.
Multiple factories soon dotted the town, including at what later became the Gillies Pies factory in Garsed Street.
"Older people will certainly remember the Bendigo Preserving Company, as it was once known," Mr Lerk said.
Other companies to make their names on Bendigo's tomatoes included Leggo's, which eventually became one of Australia's most well-known household sauce and pasta brands.
The good times would not last, Mr Lerk said.
"People realised the water supply here was rather inadequate and very expensive," he said.
"So the intelligent ones decided to buy land near rivers, where they could get that bountiful supply of water."
Mr Lerk will launch his book during an online event this Saturday at 11am. To join visit zoom.us and join using the meeting ID 833 2027 2896 - the password is tomatoJAL
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