What do crocodiles and durians have in common? Nothing really, until we found out that this Darwin durian farm is currently the biggest in Australia, and it’s just a few miles from one of the most croc-infested rivers in the world.
During the durian season, the orchard supplies Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide with fresh, Australian grown durians. It’s currently the only orchard large enough to ship durians to the southern parts of Australia. So when Rob and I realized we were passing through Darwin anyway on our way back to Asia, we decided to make Darwin our last Australian adventure. For now, anyway.
However inappropriately, I imagined Darwin as an Australian Wild West full of
handsome blonde men in khakis crashing through swamps where every other log is a crocodile or a giant boa constrictor and who occasionally boat into town for a beer at one of the town’s two gritty local pubs.
In reality Darwin is a quiet, clean, and totally modern city on the coast with some of the most awe-inspiring sunsets I’ve ever seen. Or at least, it was quiet on the Easter weekend when Han Siah picked us up to take us out to his orchard.
Han’s family owns Tropical Primary Products, a fruit farm with a serious side crop of durian. Like most fruit growers in Darwin, they primarily focus on mangoes. But being originally from Malaysia, the family couldn’t resist planting durian as well.
As we drove through the flat, red plains Hans explained that his family’s farm was almost the only durian orchard left in the Northern Territory. “One guy still grows some Thai varieties over there,” Han said pointing to one side of the car and giving complicated directions.”And another couple grows some over there, you know, nearby where the girl got eaten a couple of years ago.”
My head snapped around from where I was gazing at the dramatic cast of clouds. Welcome to Darwin.
This year the family shipped over 5 tonnes of durian to Sydney, a record. I caught wind of the booming durian season in December in a radio interview with Han that had me drooling and whining to Rob for weeks. It’s been a hard lesson for me that I can’t be everywhere or taste every durian at once.
Han explained that the big crop was due to an unusually warm winter and an unusually late wet season, and maybe some new home brewed organic fertilizers he’d been experimenting with. “When it’s good for durians it’s bad for mangoes, and when it’s bad for mangoes it’s good for the durian,” Han said.
When we arrived at the family farm, Mr. and Mrs. Siah were cleaning and sorting pomelos under a vaulted warehouse ceiling. They were the biggest pomelos I’d ever seen. A few megalithic jackfruits were stacked in the corners between impressively massive sets of machinery – the tractors, trailers, and harvesting wagons used during mango season. Everything under the warehouse roof was gigantic except Mr. and Mrs. Siah.
Mr. and Mrs. Siah stopped what they were doing to chat. Mr. Siah thought Rob’s neon yellow visor was a riot (it pretty much is) and placed an empty segment of pomelo rind on Rob’s head to replace the deficient hat part. It fit, and put me in a fit of giggles.
Except for during the mango and durian season, the family works over 500 acres of fruit orchards by themselves. That’s an impressive feat. They own over 2,500 durian trees, most over twenty years old and in prime health thanks to constant coddling. Mr. Siah shook his head and sighed like a parent with a spoiled child. Besides the watering and organic fertilizer, the trees also get sprayed with water in the wintertime to protect them from the occasional cold snap.
Even more outlandishly, Mr. Siah hires a fleet of four-wheelers to patrol the orchard for Magpie Geese, a cocky bird that has recently developed an appetite for durians. No longer frightened of scarecrows, lasers, or even gas shots, the birds move into the orchard every year to escape the hunting season in the nearby reserve. Since it’s illegal to shoot the birds on the farm, the Siahs resort to round-the-clock crews who zoom around the orchard with air horns. Han says it almost works.
On a normal year, the durian orchard barely breaks even.
For years the family has actually considered uprooting them all, just keeping a few trees to assuage their own durian needs but…years later, here were the trees looking green, self-content, and protected by their own personal bodyguards.
I can relate. I can’t imagine letting go of a durian tree.
Just as I’d feared, we had missed the durian season by a long shot. But the Siahs made sure we got to try some of their durian anyway. Every year, they fill their freezer with whatever they can’t ship to Sydney.
Han hauled out a couple packages and zapped them in the microwave until they were soft enough to eat but still cool and smooth like ice cream. It was the perfect treat in the glaringly hot afternoon.
It was also a new durian for us. The family primarily grows a variety from their nursery in Malaysia called Hew 1. It’s a big durian, averaging 4 kg, with a rich orange-yellow color that would please any Musang King fan. I’d love to taste it fresh, because even frozen it was bittersweet delicious.
It had already been a great day, but Han wanted to make sure we really experienced the area before we headed back to Southeast Asia. So later that afternoon he dropped us off to mingle with other tourists on one of the Jumping Crocs Tours on the Adelaide River.
I spotted our first croc as we headed down the boat ramp. It was cruising along the shore, it’s tail making lazy semicircles, it’s head a black silhouette lying flat on the water. It gave me chills.
But not as much as what came next.
Oh. Dear. Durian. Those crocodiles can jump! Keep your hands, arms, durians, and other valuable appendages inside the boat, kids!
If you eat too much durian while visiting Darwin, cooling off by a quick float in the river is probably not the best idea.
Much thanks to Han and his family for showing us around Darwin! We had an amazing time.