Big Pineapple general manager Paul Ziebarth
Big Pineapple general manager Paul Ziebarth Cade Mooney

Big Pineapple revamp begins

WORK has begun on a makeover of the Big Pineapple but restoration of the 165-hectare site is expected to take some time.

Scaffolding round the pineapple itself can be now seen from the road, a sign of progress.

Big Pineapple Corp. Pty Ltd has appointed Paul Ziebarth, the architect and manager of the  Northey Street Organic Markets in Brisbane, as the general manager.

A fifth generation farmer with a long career in agriculture, science and advocacy, he will deliver on the consortium's plans to rejuvenate the site, restore the Heritage-Listed icon and create a market hub for locals and visitors alike.

"The vision for The Big Pineapple is to re-establish it as a leading agri-tourism operation - which was its role originally.

"This will be delivered in a contemporary context, showcasing sustainable agriculture and production," Mr Ziebarth said.

"Stage One will include welcoming back the Produce Markets which were a highlight here at The Big Pineapple for many years; cleaning up and reclaiming the 400 acre site after years of neglect; restoring the plantations and orchards (a two year program); restoring and reopening the Pineapple itself; specialist fixing of the famous train, and developing the Masterplan proper," he said.

"It's important to recognise that The Big Pineapple was completely rundown and in a derelict state after being neglected for a long time, and lying dormant for well over 12 months.

"The orchards and gardens need very serious attention and care, all buildings on the site need cleaning, restoring and assessment, and the Pineapple needs full restoration," he said.

"Some of the buildings, like the Nut Factory and the Chocolate Factory have been completely gutted, to the point returning to their original use is simply impossible.

"Alternate uses will be sourced - uses that fit with the agri-tourism vision of creating a sustainable agriculture businesses."

Mr Ziebarth said in November the Produce Markets, for years a weekly highlight at the site, will return to their home, after being hosted by the Woombye School, and saved by the Nambour Alliance after being evicted from the site by receivers.

"We are incredibly grateful to the Alliance and the school for giving the markets a temporary home until the future of The Big Pineapple was clear.

"This local support and passion is extraordinary, and are proud to welcome the markets back to what will be their permanent home. The markets are a big part of the vision and Masterplan for the site."

"While the markets at The Big Pineapple were traditionally focused on tropical fruits, our focus is to build on this solid foundation, and develop all primary food bases, into a full range markets offer covering fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and grains and in the longer term, seafood."

Mr Ziebarth said already more than 80 trucks full of rubbish had been removed from the site, and in one week some 200litres of fuel was used in mowers and whipper-snippers alone. In addition, the site was now permanently tenanted.

"Rather take the easy path of demolition; we have spent significant time and investment restoring all 12 houses on the site.

"In addition, we are working closely with the Heritage Council on the restoration of The Big Pineapple itself - scaffolding has now gone up and around it and we are hoping to complete this in three to four weeks," he said.

"In the orchards alone there are some 12,000 trees, all in a seriously neglected state. Restoring the gardens and orchards - of avocados, pineapples, macadamia nuts, lychees and more - is a very big job."

"A team of 12 local tradesmen have been onsite managing the cleanup process, including some former employees, and we look forward to increasing this number as the works progress."

"The Masterplan for The Big Pineapple is one with economic, social and cultural strengths.

"We aim to create a self-perpetuating hub with very real business and employment generators, a showcase for the best of regional produce, a bank of producers, supported by orchards and gardens and a very real paddock to plate delivery.

"To do this we need people; we need council and government support; and we need the support, ideas and feedback from our local community," he said.

"The Big Pineapple is a big part of the Sunshine Coast family and we are keen to engage ideas and suggestions.

"We have been privileged to realise this purchase and understand the heritage, cultural and social value in the property," he said.

Built in 1971, The Big Pineapple burnt down and was rebuilt in 1978, and during its life has been owned by various operators, including Rupert Murdoch during the 1980s.

When opened it was seen as original and unique in the world, and certainly created a new benchmark for agri-tourism in Australia.

However, it fell into receivership about 12 months ago. Since then, it has been contracted for purchase a few times - all falling over.

The parcel of land purchased covers 165 hectares across 15 titles, with approximately 76 hectares on the northern side of the highway, which incorporates The Big Pineapple, and 89 hectares on the southern side.