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Discover Darkes Magic

Glenn and Jo Fahey, with Tilly, who inspired the cider name ‘Little Blue’.

Glenn and Jo Fahey, with Tilly, who inspired the cider name ‘Little Blue’.

In just three years, the Faheys have transformed their apple farm into a major tourist attraction. The South Coaster reports.

Crisp, juicy and full of flavour – there’s no going back to the supermarket once you’ve tasted an apple fresh from the tree at Glenbernie Orchard. Nor to mass-produced cider once you’ve tasted the Darkes variety, made from pure crushed apples, hand-picked on the farm.
Glenbernie Orchard is set on a beautiful, fourth-generation fruit farm, covering about
65 hectares in Darkes Forest, 10 minutes’ south of Helensburgh. It is a glorious, sunny day when the South Coaster visits to chat to Jo Fahey about this historic farm and its future.
“We have an interesting micro climate,” Jo says. “With apples, like grapes, the fruit will taste different according to your terroir – so your soil, your combination of climatic factors. Our Pink Ladies have a beautiful tang, and our Granny Smiths are sweeter.”
Faheys have farmed this land for four generations, since Edward Charles Fahey
(Ted Snr), grandson of an Irish free settler from Galway, began the farm in 1939. Originally, they grew potatoes, raised chickens and sold firewood. The first commercial apple crop was planted in 1952.
Today Ted Snr’s son, Ted Jnr, is 82. His son Glenn runs the farms with his wife, Jo, and their children, Brandon and Casey.
The fourth generation, the Gen Ys, are behind the farm’s expansion from apple grower to cider producer. Not only did Casey and Brandon come up with the idea for apple cider, but Brandon named both Darkes Ciders.
The alcoholic tipple is called ‘Howler’ and the non-alcoholic is ‘Little Blue’. Both are named in honour of the farm’s dogs (Australian stumpy tail cattle dogs, pictured on the bottle’s label).
The family’s much-loved line of “guardian angels” have been famous howlers, most notably on a night when thieves broke in and stole a quad bike and tipper trailer. “We still reckon Gilbert [the original howler] is around, a breeze will happen when we’re talking about her, we still reckon she is somewhere watching over us,” Jo says, laughing.
“Brandon and Casey are both really interested in the farm. They weren’t a couple of years ago, when we were just producing fruit for the major supermarkets. They saw it as a lot of hard work and not a lot of return, and not a very good career path.
“But we’ve listened to them – they were interested in value adding, in making apple cider. So we’ve done that.”
Brewed and bottled off-site, Darkes Cider has been such a success the goal now is to export it to China, aided by a NSW Business Chamber program. “It’s about finding the correct niche market in China, about us trying to find the right partner, somebody who has the same values,” Jo says. “We believe in honesty and integrity, it’s about being real.”
Glenbernie is the last of the Illawarra’s orchards, a survivor in these challenging times for Australian farmers.
“You can no longer just grow fresh fruit for the traditional market system, so selling to the supermarket chains,” Jo says. “All of the other fresh fruit orchards in the Illawarra have gone, because it has been too difficult for them to make a living.”
For the Faheys, success means diversifying. “So we are making apple juice,” Jo says. “Now apple cider. The apple cider project has led to apple cider vinegar. And that has also led to us looking at our fresh honey production and utilising our own honeys to make honey wine, in particular honey mead … in the last three years, we’ve created a number of additional products.”
Tourism is growing too – Glenbernie is on the scenic tours list for passengers of Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas when it makes its maiden visit to Wollongong on October 30.
During apple harvesting season, from about late January until about May, the orchard runs sell-out picking tours. The chance to pick your own apple off a tree is over for 2016, but the AppleShack still has plenty of fruit in store and the Pink Lady Jo slices up for tasting is as crisp as a winter’s day. Simply scrumptious – the South Coaster takes home a box full every visit.

  • SIP Taste Darkes Cider at the AppleShack, then get a six-pack, case or 5-litre keg.
  • SHOP Buy fresh fruit, apple juice, dried apples, apple cider vinegar, bush honey, honey wines, home-made jams, relishes, free-range eggs and more. The AppleShack farm store (open daily, 10am-4.30pm) is at 259 Darkes Forest Rd, Darkes Forest.