QM’s pineapple peeler & its 95yo inventor

Dominic Cansdale & Cathy Border, The 1970s pineapple peeler became a kitchen staple and a sweet, yet humble success for inventor Ray Ashdown, ABC Gold Coast, 6 November 2023

It was once a must-have item in any Australian kitchen but, for its inventor, the humble pineapple peeler of the 1970s shows how we all should cherish life’s simple pleasures.

“I’m a bit of a wary character — I never smoked, I never drank beer,” Ray Ashdown said.

“I can’t help inventing things, I just want to improve things.”

While it didn’t bring him fame or fortune, this 95-year-old inventor has contributed to a small part of Australian culture, with the Ashdown Pineapple Peeler now proudly catalogued in the Queensland Museum collection.

a pile of cut up pineapples
The “Ashdown Pineapple Peeler” was produced for about five years in the 1970s.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale).

“It is a great example of Queensland ingenuity in the everyday,” senior curator Liz Bissell said.

“Creative Queensland minds finding solutions to challenges.”

But for Mr Ashdown’s son, Don, it meant a childhood overloaded with pineapple.

“It’s a bit of a thing in our family now, we still traditionally have to eat pineapples — it’s just the done thing,” Don said.

two men smiling
Don Ashdown and his father Ray. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)..

Inspired by a pineapple ‘wrestle’

Ray Ashdown was inspired to craft and patent his peeler in 1971, after watching his wife “wrestle” with a pineapple while cutting it up.

“I went into the workshop, I got a piece of tin, I bent it up and I drove a couple of nails through, got a pineapple and it worked,” he said.

“She was amazed.”

newspaper reads the ashdown pineapple peeler
A newspaper clipping from the 1970s advertising the “Ashdown Pineapple Peeler”.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale).

A year later, the pineapple peeler featured on the ABC television program The Inventors.

“We got home to thousands of letters, people disappointed I hadn’t won,” Mr Ashdown said.

Not long after, however, he was contacted by a factory in Sydney, which produced his pineapple peelers for the next five years.

“They were selling like hot cakes,” he said.

A bright yellow pineapple-shaped plastic cutter beside a piece of cardboard showing how to use the device.
Ray Ashdown came up with his pineapple peeler design using a piece of metal and two nails in his back shed. (Supplied).

But not everyone was a fan.

When Mr Ashdown “very foolishly” showed his peeler to a canned fruit company, he was told to “get out of here”.

“They weren’t happy about it, they said, ‘Your invention is going to cut across our sales.'”

Eventually, the peeler was exported to the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom with mixed success.

“Hawaii said, ‘We don’t want any more of them’ — do you have any idea how big pineapples were in Hawaii?” Mr Ashdown said.

woman holding two objects while knelling down
Queensland Museum curator Liz Bissell with the pineapple peeler.(Supplied: Queensland Museum).

A perfect time for pineapples

Mr Ashdown’s invention came as the Big Pineapple emerged as a popular tourist destination on the Sunshine Coast.

He said the peeler was sold in bulk at the tourist attraction.

black white photo of large pineapple
The Big Pineapple, seen in an ABC report from 1973.(ABC Archives).

“Their counters were full of them,” he said.

“There were three ladies working at the table, demonstrating the pineapple peeler, and [tourists] would buy two or three at a time.”

Liz Bissell said pineapples were once considered a luxury item but became more popular as the fruit was farmed in greater quantities in Queensland’s ideal climate.

How a pineapple peeler shaped Ray’s life.

“This is an example of one of those great household inventions that people come up with because they see a need,” Ms Bissell said.

“It was extremely popular because everyone thought, ‘Amazing, something to make life easier and reduce waste.'”

A giant pineapple sculpture beside a gold coin featuring a pineapple.
The Big Pineapple in Woombye, Queensland. (Supplied: Giulio Saggin/Royal Australian Mint).

But Don Ashdown, who was about 10 when his father invented the peeler, said his family remained humble.

“The various fees you had to pay to the patent attorneys, the marketing costs, I think he got some money out of it, but it didn’t really change our life,” he said.

“Except for us having to eat pineapples all the time.”