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Remembering Bill Montague: A passionate apple industry legend

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The innovative founder of Montague, Bill Montague OAM, passed away on 6 February.

Innovation, collaboration and family are words that spring to mind when we think of Bill.

Bill started his business at age 22 with the purchase of a small carting operation and two market stalls in 1948 and his big break came when he won a tender to supply fruit and vegetables to Melbourne’s hospitals. He planted his first apple trees in Narre Warren, southeast of Melbourne, in 1950, little knowing the thriving family business he was creating. In the seven decades since then, the Montague business has expanded to include packing, procurement, logistics, wholesale markets, marketing and exports to Asia, Middle East and Europe, as well as providing chiller and freezer spaces for many Australian businesses.

Innovation was key to Bill’s success in business. He was the first to introduce controlled atmosphere storage in Australia in 1967, became the first business to wax supplied fruit in 1977, and introduced apple labelling stickers in 1988. Montague was also at the forefront of the shift towards growing managed varieties such Jazz™, Smitten™, Eve™, Envy™, SweeTango®, Yello®, Kissabel® and Ambrosia™.

Bill was recognised “for his service to the fruit industry through the introduction of a range of innovations to improve the quality of market produce” in 2006 when he received an Order of Australia Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Service was also important to Bill, and his philosophy was to treat customers, suppliers and industry peers as part of the family circle. This collaborative approach between breeders, brand managers and growers is one of the business’s strengths.

“The esteemed founding father of the multi-generation Montague business, Bill’s passion for the industry grew at scale alongside the family orchard over the years,” said Phil Turnbull, CEO of APAL.

“From modest beginnings in the late 40s and early 50s, Bill’s tenacity led him to build the foundations of what has arguably become one of Australia’s most significant orchard operations. Bill dedicated himself to shaping a business that left an indelible mark, remaining actively involved in the company operations well into his 90s.

“Bill’s unwavering commitment and fierce dedication have had an extraordinary impact on our industry. His relentless pursuit of quality, embrace of operational efficiencies and cutting-edge technologies, and his advocacy for cultivating branded varieties of apples and other fruits are admirable pillars of the legacy he leaves. Inducted into the Australian Fresh Fruit Company Hall of Fame in 1999, Bill’s immense contributions to the apple industry are etched in our sector’s history, a testament to the gentleman he was and the lasting imprint he leaves behind.”

Bill’s attitude to hard work, his willingness to embrace change and meet it with innovation, and his philosophy of treating customers and suppliers as part of the Montague family continue to be integral to the Montague approach today. Vale Bill Montague.

Bill Montague in the orchard at Narre Warren, Victoria, in 2017. Photo: Carla Gottgens

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