Although George Ronalds only ever moved 5 kilometres from his birthplace in Jindivick, East Gippsland, he has made some very big moves in other ways. During his lifetime, he moved from farmer, to work as an earthmover, and later he ‘broke new ground’, becoming a world champion cheesemaker.
As the founder of Jindi Cheese, he certainly made a new name for Australian cheeses in the world of international cheese competitions when he was awarded Australia’s first ever gold medal in the 1996 Wisconsin World Champion Cheese Contest.
Jindi Cheese has since been sold to a large French dairy company; but the story of innovation and excellence that belongs to George Oscar Ronalds as its founder has not been forgotten.
George’s story and legacy
George was born in 1937 into a small rural community, at a time when horses still did all the heavy work. When George was 16, his father Harold purchased their first tractor, and George’s passion for earthmoving machinery, and mechanical things in general, was ignited. In 1953, tractors were still rare on farms. George’s dad was only the second farmer in the Jindivick district to own one.
At 17, George bought his first car, a 1928 Chevrolet, with his brother, Dave. When George was 21, their first bulldozer arrived: an Allis Chalmers HD9 with a 471 GM motor – which, according to George, was the ‘Rolls Royce motor of the day’.
Equipped with his new bulldozer, George turned his love of machinery into a career opportunity. He began a land-clearing business, clearing bush areas to make way for farmland in the Jindivick region. With bush dominating much of the landscape, the scope of this enterprise was daunting, and the work was hard.
But George was inspired by another ‘big mover’: Robert Gilmour Le Tourneau. Le Tourneau was a generous philanthropist and devoted Christian. His contemporaries referred to him as ‘God’s businessman’. In the 1950s and 1960s, Le Tourneau produced earthmoving equipment three to four times the size of other equipment at this time. Many new freeways and dams were being constructed in this era, and the sheer size of the jobs in those days demanded these enormous machines. What was it about Le Toruneau that influenced George? Was it his ambitions and inventions? Was it his generous values and Christian faith?
Like Le Tourneau, George Ronalds lived a ‘big’ life. He worked hard, displaying what is sometimes called the ‘Protestant work ethic’ – the desire to serve God and other people by working hard and living a useful and helpful life. A normal day included early morning milking, some land clearing or dam construction, and evening milking; yet George found time to do other worthwhile things as well.
As an expression of his faith, he dedicated 26 years to building life skills, confidence, and resilience in the district’s youth as the Director of Warragul Youth for Christ. He always found time to show gratitude for his own life by investing in others.
When George was 48, he could see that there would not be much more work for him in the land-clearing business. He was on the lookout for another opportunity. His long-time friend, retired farmer Alwyn Jensen, made an interesting suggestion: ‘If I was a young fella today, I would milk cows and make cheese.’
Jensen predicted that Australians would soon get a taste for more interesting, European-style cheeses. This was completely new ground for George – and a huge risk to mortgage a farm, build a cheese factory and start making cheese when he had no cheesemaking experience! But George saw an opportunity. Being a prayerful and pragmatic man, he took a ‘leap of faith’ and got straight onto the job. The rest is history for the man who became known locally as ‘Mr Jindi’.
There were lots of obstacles to overcome, but Jindi Cheese became a success, and eventually a world champion. Jindi Cheese even beat the French (who are renowned for making great cheeses) at their own game, taking out the World Champion Cheese award in 2002.
The story of George Ronalds is more than a small business success story. It’s about a uniquely Australian family, a man’s faith and service to his community, and the encouragement of friends. It highlights what happens when faith, passion and perseverance achieve far beyond what could be hoped for or imagined.
Written by Vickie Janson.
If you want to read more about George Ronalds’ story, Vickie Janson’s book George from Jindivick: From Small Town Farmer to Big Cheese can be purchased directly from https://vickiejanson.com.au/pages/books.