A Short History
Navy bean production began in Australia during World War II when it became necessary to find an economical way of supplying a nutritious food to the many troops - especially American troops - based in Queensland. The United States military maintained a large base in Kingaroy and had many bases and camps throughout south-east Queensland. It actively encouraged the widespread planting of the beans.
"Navy bean" is actually an American term. It was coined because the US Navy has served the beans as a staple to its sailors since the mid-1800s. Most Australians know these beans as the familiar "baked bean".
Kingaroy is also known as the Baked Bean Capital of Australia. We can probably thank our lucky stars that the bean's other popular name at the time ("the Yankee bean") didn't catch on.
Beans: Important to National Security!
Kingaroy was chosen as the site for the first navy bean trials in the early 1940's and the US Army supplied the seed.
The industry didn't get off to an auspicious start when the first crop - reputedly grown by Mr J. L. Tyrell near Mannuem - was ploughed into the ground because there was no way to harvest it (pictured right). However this problem was quickly solved and the industry expanded very quickly.
During the War, navy bean growers were under contract to the Federal Government and all production was controlled under the National Security Act.
After 1945 the industry was restructured and by 1946 there were 111 growers in Queensland - 72 of them in the South Burnett. On the 7th November 1946 the Navy Bean Marketing Board was established in Queensland and four growers were appointed to it. However most harvested beans were still sent to the same agency in Brisbane that had been appointed by the Government during the war.
Navy Bean Marketing Board comes to Kingaroy
The early industry suffered many growing pains and had problems with quality. But it began to take off after a Tariff Board inquiry in 1961 found it should be encouraged. The Tariff Board imposed a 3d per pound levy on bean seed imported for any purpose other than cultivation.
As yields and quality increased, the Navy Bean Marketing Board began weighing up the pros and cons of establishing its own company to receive, store and process the crop. In 1964 Jock Nesbitt, a former general manager of the Peanut Marketing Board (based in Kingaroy), took the helm and was appointed secretary/manager.
That same year - after some strong lobbying by Kingaroy growers, including the late Errol Truss - the Board moved its operations from Brisbane to Kingaroy. It also began to seriously investigate ways in which it might establish its own facilities. The Provisional Bean Association was established for this purpose.
The Birth Of Bean Growers
The move to establish facilities in Kingaroy became more urgent after a fire damaged a Toowoomba plant which had been storing and processing beans from local growers. So in 1965, the Provisional Bean Association decided to handle the crop by itself and formed a co-operative for this purpose.
The co-op was supposed to start with a capital of 50,000 pounds (in 1 pound shares). However by December 1965 just 180 fully paid-up shares had been sold and a bank loan was sought. Kingaroy Shire Council encouraged the Association to take up council-owned land on the corner of River Road and Youngman streets in Kingaroy, where the company still has its offices to this day.
The first directors of the Bean Growers Co-Operative Association Ltd were elected on February 4, 1965. Douglas Barrie (pictured above right) was chairman of the Provisional Bean Association from September 1964 to February 1965 and was the inaugural chairman and chairman of directors of the Bean Growers Co-Operative Association Ltd from February 1965 to December 1967, as well as chairman of the Navy Bean Marketing Board 1964-1967.
The Father Of Bean Growers
Jock Nesbitt was the first secretary/manager of Bean Growers Australia and - in many ways - the father of the company.
Before he joined the firm he'd had a long and distinguished career as the general manager of Kingaroy's other major enterprise, the Peanut Company of Australia. Jock saw the enormous potential of the bean industry and his lobbying led to the Navy Bean Marketing Board's head office being moved from Brisbane to Kingaroy. He also helped guide the organisation through the difficult early years of its establishment, helping to raise the necessary finance to build the company's offices and processing plant.
Just as importantly, Jock was a dedicated Rotarian who believed strongly in the ethic of community service. Kingaroy's two Rotary clubs - still in operation and actively serving the area to this day - are another legacy of his extraordinary drive and vision.
The Force Behind Bean Growers
One of the most important names associated with the history of BGA was Errol Truss (pictured right), who was chairman of the Co-Op from 1968 to 1991.
Errol was born in Kingaroy on the 20th December 1922 and grew up on the family's mixed farm at Kumbia. After a short time at Kingaroy State High School, he began farming with his father Frederick and brother Leon. Errol wasn't afraid of change and introduced many innovations onto his family's farm - including one of the district's first tractors (a Model A McCormick Deering), a Sunshine harvester and a two-row mounted corn picker with a trailing sheller. Later he built one of the first bulk grain handling and drying facilities in the Kumbia area.
During 1942, Errol was one of South Burnett farmers who began growing navy beans for the US Army. This began his long association with the industry. In 1965 he was elected a member of the Navy Bean Marketing Board and took part in the lobbying that led to the decision to relocate the Board from Brisbane to Kingaroy. He was also involved in many farmer organisations. Errol was chairman of the Burnett District Council of the Queensland Grain Growers Association for many years and a QGGA State Councillor. He was also chairman of the Queensland Producers Federation and the Queensland Government Agricultural Working Committee on future agricultural polices.
In addition to this he had many other community commitments. These included being a member of the Kumbia Hall committee for 25 years and a long involvement with the Kingaroy Show Society. Errol was also a Kingaroy Shire Councillor for three years.
He passed on his love of agriculture and community involvement to his sons Warren and Gary. Warren served on Kingaroy Shire Council from 1976-1990 (including seven years as mayor) and was elected to the Federal Parliament in 1990. The Hon. Warren Truss MP is currently Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. Gary is currently a navy bean grower in Kumbia, where he continues the family's proud farming tradition.
In 1977 Errol was awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal and in 1986 he was awarded an Order of Australia for his services to Agriculture.
Errol passed away on the 28th August 2003 - almost a decade after the former Navy Bean Marketing Board and the Bean Growers Co-Operative Association Ltd merged to form Bean Growers Australia Ltd (which occurred in April 1993).