By Breanna Inferrera
THE daughter of the first Freeman of Kalamunda has reflected on her father’s life which has seen him honoured by the Royal Agricultural Society of WA as the 2020 WA Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee.
Late politician and agricultural scientist Raymond ‘Ray’ Owen, who Ray Owen Reserve and Raymond Street is named after, was nominated for the honour by his daughter Helen Skehan.
“We have felt for a long time dad never really got the recognition he deserved because he was so busy in so many different areas,” she said.
“It probably wasn’t until I did his oral history and heard more from him about the things he had done.
“When we put the submission together, we were astounded at how much he had done.
“Whether he was inducted or not, I think the whole family were proud to look back on his life.”
Born and raised in the Pickering Brook orchards, Mr Owen would leave a lasting impression upon WA agriculture and horticulture in a career spanning more than 40 years, before passing away in 2003 at the age of 97.
Mr Owen received scholarships to attend the Narrogin School of Agriculture in 1919 and the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 1922, before joining the Department of Agriculture (DA) in 1924.
Realising he needed a university degree to progress in the DA, Mr Owen returned to his studies in 1933, before graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture.
Mr Owen lectured at UWA for six years, before continuing his career with the DA as an inspector and later advisor to the state’s highly lucrative fruit trade.
Mr Owen’s expertise helped control outbreaks of Apple scab, Mediterranean fruit-fly, Codling moth, and other destructive pests and diseases which threatened the quality of the region’s fruit crop.
In 1939, Mr Owen was sent to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Sydney, where he retrained as an expert in food dehydration and canning.
Mr Owen continued to climb through the ranks of the DA and attained the position of Assistant Superintendent of Horticulture in 1940.
However, a few years later, Mr Owen’s career took a left turn into politics, where he contested the WA parliamentary seat of Swan and took his seat in April 1944.
In 1947, Mr Owen returned to his ‘fruit salad’ orchard in Kalamunda, where he also developed vegetables and daffodils to expand the orchard and purchase a bush block for a farm.
Mr Owen re-entered politics in 1950 as the Country Party Member for Darling Range, until he was edged out of the seat by a single vote in 1962.
Ms Skehan, who is Mr Owen and his wife Flora’s only daughter out of four children, said despite her father and mother being busy, they always had time for their family.
“I suppose looking back it meant we didn’t have a great social life,” she said.
“I don’t think most families of orchardists in those days did.
“But when I was aware of what dad was doing, I was very proud.
“It held the family together.”
Ms Skehan said she was always expected to pull her weight in the orchard.
“I remember having to stand on a fruit box to be tall enough to pack,” she said.
“I used to hate it when we went back to school at the beginning of the year and in English class you had to write what you did in the school holidays.
“It was a bit boring to write I packed fruit, but we had our fun, we had the dam to swim in.”
She said she was also heavily involved in her father’s electioneering.
“We kids would hold up the pamphlets and stick them in the envelopes and stamp them,” she said.
“Election day we would hand out how to vote cards.”
Mr Owen’s portrait, due to be unveiled at a later date, will hang alongside other pioneers who have made outstanding contributions to the development and progress of Western Australian agriculture.