Like father, like son – A true family business

For Nerada Tea’s plantation director Tony Poyner, living and working in the Atherton Tablelands is the best of all worlds, offering him the perfect work-life balance, a much-loved rural lifestyle and, most importantly, strong family connections and continuity.

Can you imagine living on a tea estate in the pristine environment of the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland? Tony Poyner, plantation director at Nerada Tea, has done just that for more than 30 years, raising two sons, Jason and Matthew, here with his wife, Bev. Now his grandchildren, too, get to enjoy this rural upbringing among the tea bushes.

Sons following in their father’s footsteps isn’t unusual in the farming industry, but it’s becoming less common now. It’s a great life, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a good living. Farmers need to have many strings to their bow.

It was never the plan for Tony and Bev’s younger son Matthew, 29, to follow Tony into the tea industry. Like many teenagers, he was champing at the bit to go out into the big, wide world, which is exactly what he did.

“I can remember vividly when the two boys came to me at age 16 and 17 to tell me they had jobs in Cairns,” says Tony. “They packed up the Commodore and off they went.” Although he sent them off with his blessing, he freely admits it took some adjustment: “I walked around in a stupor for weeks. They were my life.”

Matthew became a renderer by trade, but returned to the estate a few years later. Tony didn’t hesitate: “I put him to work in the fields – pulling weeds and fixing machinery. Over the past nine years, he’s had many roles here at Nerada Tea, from factory supervisor to tea maker.”

Working together as family does come with its trials and tribulations. Tony and Matthew are each other’s toughest critics, although they do have their survival techniques: “We made a pact not to talk about work at home – it’s the only way to survive!” laughs Tony.

And now that Bev is overseeing the Tea Room alongside Matthew’s partner Nikita, it really is a family affair. “We wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Tony. “We’ve got each other’s back, no matter what.”

Tony’s upbringing was similar to his children’s in many ways. Growing up in the country outside of Brisbane, before moving to Cairns and finally to the Tablelands, he’s a Queensland man through and through. Growing up, Tony experienced first-hand being part of a family business and country life. His father was a baker and it was all hands on deck from the age of eight – slicing bread and helping his dad in the bakery. From an early age, Tony’s grandad taught him how to grow vegetables and tend to the chickens. His parents’ smallholding in the Tablelands was the start of his love for life on the land, and being able to give his children a similar lifestyle was a dream come true.

As idyllic as it sounds, working and living on a tea estate is not suited to everyone. Mind you, Tony thinks his son has some characteristics that make him ideal for the life and the job. “Matthew has carried on a trend for polite stubbornness,” he laughs. “He’s also very articulate and good with people. There really isn’t anything he couldn’t turn his hand to.”

Nerada is clearly the perfect place for the Poyners to work, rest and play, and the next generation of the family is already getting a taste for tea. Tony’s granddaughter can often be seen playing in the Tea Room. It’s somewhat fitting that the Tea Room occupies the original tea manager’s house where Tony and Bev first lived with their young family more than 25 years ago, and which is now where new memories are being made for the growing family.