The man behind beloved Australian apple brand Pink Lady has died aged 95, leaving behind a legacy in memories and fruit bowls nationwide.
John Cripps — known as the father of the Pink Lady apple — died in WA this month, more than 30 years after his apple formula was released to the market.
He worked at the then-Department of Agriculture and Food WA for more than 40 years, leading the team that developed one of the world’s most popular apples: the Cripps Pink variety.
He was also behind the development of the Cripps Red variety, known as Sundowner, which is a parent of the recently-released deep burgundy Bravo apple.
His daughter, Helen Cripps, said the family were proud of her father’s agricultural legacy.
“It took 25 years of research to develop the apple genetics of the Pink Lady to the point it’s at today,” she said.
“We are so proud that he’s left a legacy.
“He tasted so many apples he used to get stomach complaints, because he used to have to do the tastings.”
Dr Cripps detailed the lengths her father went to in order to create the brand’s eventual taste and ability to be eaten all year round.
“It’s not just about crossing and getting a single apple, it’s about having to take the seeds, create seedlings and get the trees to grow to a certain size,” she said.
“He was looking for a particular taste — he was looking for the red colour, the sweetness, the crispness … and that they had good storage so they could survive in cold store for a long time.”
The Pink Lady first hit the market in 1991 and has since been listed as one of Australia’s top 100 greatest inventions. Eventually, the brand accounted for more than 30 per cent of Australia’s apple production.
Mr Cripps bred the Cripps Pink Lady apple, marketed as the trademarked Pink Lady, at the Stoneville research station in 1973 by crossing a Golden Delicious with a Red Williams.
The sister apple, Sundowner, is a cross between the Golden Delicious and Lady Williams.
Mr Cripps’ career started when he joined WA’s agriculture department “fresh off the ship” in 1955, aged 28.
He held a degree in horticulture from Reading University in the UK, supported by an army scholarship offered to former soldiers at the end of World War II.
Although he had a job lined up in the UK, he said the offer at WA’s agriculture department was more enticing.
At the time of joining, he was the only degree-educated employee within the department’s horticulture division.
Mr Cripps, who retired in 2002, told Countryman in 2015 he’d always had an interest in apples — even growing them as a lad in his back garden in the UK.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development acting director general Terry Hill said the Pink Lady put WA apples on the international stage and pioneered the marketing of premium quality fruit as one of the first fresh produce in the world to be trademarked, requiring strict quality standards.
“WA’s apple growers have reaped the benefits of the Cripps varieties, which were bred specifically for WA conditions, producing high performance trees with desirable yields,” Mr Hill said.
“These varieties now form the basis of the National Apple Breeding Program, which continues to use natural breeding techniques to develop new, exciting and tasty apples for consumers to enjoy.”
Mr Hill, who worked with Mr Cripps for several years, remembered him as a quiet, thoughtful, highly intelligent and hard-working person, whose passion for apple breeding was unbridled.
“John was a great mentor to many department officers and leaves behind a legacy that will endure for years to come, as new apples from the Cripps varieties are developed,” Mr Hill said.
“With the apple harvest getting under way, it is fitting to remember John and how these remarkable apples have become an indelible part of WA agricultural history.”
In 2010, Mr Cripps was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Royal Agricultural Society of WA and five years later was made an Officer of the order of Australia.
At the time, the then-83-year-old was the only member of the horticulture industry to in the Hall of Fame, and said it was “important to keep the WA fruit and vegetable industries alive”.
In receiving his place in the 2015 Australia Day Honours List, Mr Cripps said he felt very privileged and was reminded every time he visits a supermarket or greengrocers of the huge difference he has made.
In a story published in Countryman at the time, Mr Cripps said seeing his apple varieties on the shelves gave him a “boost” and made him feel proud.
“I’m particularly proud that I proved a point,” he said.
“Nobody thought it would happen and yet it has.”