FOR 20 years John Tickle was a coal miner in the Hunter Valley.
Today, at 66 years of age, he is an innovative producer, transforming the market with gluten-free flour from an age-old plant - cassava.
A true self starter, Mr Tickle has turned around the dire situation of losing his cattle property and a shopping centre.
After moving to Queensland through work and meeting his wife, Sue, he purchased the 60 acre sugarcane farm he now calls home, 15km south of Mackay.
"We thought we would have a go at sugarcane farming but we made $9000 profit in a year," he said.
Mr Tickle said it was a losing battle as the price of herbicides had gone through the roof and, with harvesting fees going up every year, the sugar industry was not viable. He said it was also not possible to grow cane without herbicides, which ruined the soil in the long run.
When his grandsons were diagnosed with gluten intolerance he put two and two together and started experimenting with the cassava plant, which is naturally gluten-free.
For his wife Sue, who comes from a farming family in the Philippines, cassava is a staple food.
"We were growing it anyway, for Sue to eat," he said.
Mr Tickle built most of the processing equipment and even the mechanical planter and harvester himself.
"I am a bugger for building things," he said.
"It keeps the brain active. Other blokes get up and go look at the computer all day and do nothing. And then they die."
He also highlighted the importance of making the big money made in the mines work.
"If you are on big money, like you are in the mines, you've got to make it work," he said. "If you have the borrowing power to borrow a million. Go and get it. And do something with it.
"I do my sums. If something is feasible I will do it. I just bounced in the bank one day and said I want $800K. They said 'what for'. I said 'shopping centre'. They said 'yes'".
Mr Tickle lost the shopping centre in a divorce but he now owns all he has.
"We have no debt at all," he said.
"I am 66 and retired for three years. This is my job now and I love it. I can sit here all day on my own, listen to the radio and peel cassavas.
"The plant and flour is entirely processed and packaged on site and by hand without chemical additives.
"We peel the bulb by hand," Mr Tickle said.
"Sue and I can do 150kg in a 10-hour day."
The raw plant is then put through a hammer mill to be chopped up and dried at 70 degrees to remove moisture. It is then pulverised to a flour.
Mr Tickle also enjoys cooking and has experimented with making cookies, cakes and crisps with the flour and has plans to make animal pellets.
"The tops of the plants can be cut like sugarcane and contain up to 20% protein," he said.
It had been difficult to find customers for his product, he said, because the cassava plant was still relatively unknown.
The cassava plant is a woody shrub native to South America and a staple food across South America, Africa and Asia. It is more commonly known for it's starch, tapioca, and has many uses including human and animal food and medicinal.
Cassava has, in the past, attracted negative comments and warnings to consumers because in it's raw state the roots of the plant contain cyanide, which is removed by heating.
Mr Tickle said his Sandringham Farm cassava flour was regularly tested and safe for consumption.
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