It's not every day that you decide on to jump on a plane and fly all the way to the Northern Territory, just to visit a durian farm in a place called Humpty Doo, but food has a habit of leading me into adventure!

The farm I visited was Tropical Primary Products which is owned by an incredible Malaysian born couple, Mr Tian Mok Siah and Mrs Siew Yoon Hew, who are both aged in their 70s and dedicated to farming. They also have the help of their son Han Shiong Siah, a winner of the prestigious Nuffield Farming Scholarship. Han is the manager, muscle and public face of Tropical Primary Products.

Han Shiong Siah

The Siah's main focus is growing mangos, but they also produce a few boutique tropical fruits such as pomelos, jackfruit and durian - a fruit which has made the family quite famous!

Tropical Primary Products Pomelo  Tropical Primary Products Jackfruit  46892558824 581f88a6e8 n

Images: Pomelo, Jackfruit & Durian grown by Tropical Primary Products. 

Even if you have never experienced a durian, you have probably heard about its smell. Durian has a pungent aroma which has given it a stinky reputation and seen it banned from hotel rooms across Asia.  

But durian is also known as the King of Fruit. The durian's hard outer shell is covered in regal green thorns and inside this are the crown jewels, its creamy golden pods. The flavour of durian is sweet with a slightly bitter taste sensation.

47612904611 9a54e5fecf e  HEW 1 Durian

Images: HEW 1 Durian grown by Tropical Primary Products

Last November, when Tropical Primary Products' durians were in season, Sydney’s durian aficionados went into a spin of excitement. The craze started when a member of the Malaysian Food Lovers Facebook group shared a video of her 5 month old baby delighting in the flavour of fresh Australian durian, and it went viral.

This was big news as freshly picked durian is very hard to find in Sydney. The majority of durian is imported from Asia, and due to strict quarantine laws, all imports must be frozen which may also reduce the quality of the fruit.

Imported Durian  Frozen Durian Cabramatta

Images: Imported Durian.

Suddenly, people who adore this tropical delicacy found out that locally grown durians were available and this sparked a hunt for the fruit across Sydney. As I watched the excitement unfold, I realised the important role the Siah family have in so many people's lives. For my Malaysian friends, durian is a taste of home and helps to keep nostalgic family memories and traditions alive. For people like me, it's more about the discovery of new and delicious flavours.

HEW 1 Durian 

The love of food inspired me to find out more about where this prized fruit came from, and that meant packing my bags for Darwin!

Darwin . 

Tropical Primary Products is located forty minutes outside Darwin on the fringes of Kakadu. The farm is surrounded by some of the Top End's most beautiful natural wonders. Just down the road, I saw lush green wetlands with flocks of jabirus and the majestic jumping crocodiles of the Adelaide River.

Jabirus of Humpty Doo

Adelaide River Croc

 The Adelaide River 

Han and his dad Tian Mok showed me around the farm. Durians weren’t in season during my visit, but we ate jackfruit and pomelos straight from the tree. Han even taught me how to peel a pomelo using a car key!

Tropical Primary Products  Han Shiong Siah

This was the first time I have seen how big a jackfruit can actually grow. I was astonished to find out that the biggest jackfruit ever grown on the farm weighed 64 kilograms!

Jackfruit tree at Tropical Primary Products 

Throughout the day, I learnt of the proud history of Tropical Primary Products and those durians that sent Sydney into a spin.

 

The Siah family migrated to the Humpty Doo area from Malaysia in 1987. They brought with them generations of farming skills, their dreams of starting a produce business and some durian plants which had to survive quarantine before they could be planted.

Humpty Doo Northern Territory

Back then, this was a brave move because the land on which they settled wasn't thought to be viable for commercial farming. But the Siah's made it work. They started off by planting and selling vegetables while establishing thousands of fruit trees, which of course take many years to grow.

Tropical Primary Products Jackfruit Tree

Image: Jackfruit Tree grown by Tropical Primary Products.

Tropical Primary Products now produce an heirloom durian called HEW 1, which is named after Han's mother's side of the family. The HEW 1 has a fascinating history which goes back to the 1960s. An uncle originally sourced the variety from where it was growing wild in a Malaysian forest and started to produce it under the family name. From these humble beginnings, Tropical Primary Products now have 2,500 durian trees which produce 60 percent of Australia's fresh durian.

Durian Tree Tropical Primary Products  

Image: Durian Tree grown by Tropical Primary Products.

Durian season is short and busy. When the fruit is ripe, it naturally falls off the tree and is harvested directly from the ground. The family does two rounds a day to pick it all up and pack it for the markets. This really tests their stamina as the average durian weighs two kilograms. Last year the Siah’s picked up almost 30 tonnes of durian without hiring any help.

 Hew 1 Durian  TPP at Sydney Markets

The harvested durian eventually make their way to the Sydney Markets by road. After a four day journey the fruit is handed over to another family business, Exotic Fruit Traders run by Alf and Connie Costa, who have been Tropical Primary Products’ only wholesaler in Sydney for the past 31 years. From here, the durian find their way into local fruit shops.

Connie and Alf from Exotic Fruit Traders in Sydney Markets   TPP Durians at Sydney Markets

Visiting Tropical Primary Products gave me an insight into the challenges faced by farmers in the Northern Territory. For starters, there are only two seasons each year, the wet and the dry, and both of these come with their own set of extremes. Another difficulty is isolation. Everything from tractor parts to foam packing boxes needs to be shipped into Darwin from far corners of the country, and this is expensive.

Mango Trees Tropical Primary Products

Mango Trees Tropical Primary Products

Image: Mango Trees grown by Tropical Primary Products.

The Siah family have established an incredible farm over the past 31 years and Han is continuing to contribute to both the industry and his community. In addition to farming, Han is a Board Director of the Australian Mango Industry, the Northern Territory Mango Industry Association and the Northern Territory Farmers Association. He is also a volunteer for Bushfires NT and actively involved in researching crop pest control.

Han Shion Siah

 I have learnt from Han that there is so much more to farming than meets the eye. The next time I see an Aussie durian in a fruit shop, I’ll have so much appreciation for how it got there.