The Dangers of Fruit Peel

If by a practice, always blamed,
Of dropping orange peel, unclaimed,
We find that we are badly lamed - 
We shall have to make other arrangements.

Well before the ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’ anti-litter campaign, rubbish was thrown on the ground. While paper might simply look unappealing in the street, it was fruit peel that caused the most danger. People often ate fruit such as oranges and bananas while walking and dropped the peel straight onto the footpath. As it slowly deteriorated, it caused those who stepped on it to slip.

“It used to be Orange Peel, now It’s Banana-Skins.” An illustration circa 1886.

An early reference to the dangers of fruit peel occurred on 6 June 1889. The Daily News noted that it was orange season, and they hoped police would act to stop people from throwing peel on the footpath. Councillor Elsegood also brought it up at the City Council meeting on 7 June. He suggested that the Council adopt by-laws to deal with it. The Mayor, however, believed it was a matter for the police.

Nothing was done, and years later, on 24 July 1893, a letter written using the pseudonym ‘Back-Slide’ was published in The Daily News. Hoping their words would draw attention to the nuisance, they wrote, “…when walking quickly along, not noticing these small mantraps, should you accidentally place your foot on one of them, you are almost certain to come to grief…” They explained that in England, there were signs telling people not to drop fruit peel, but if someone did, it was quickly cleared away. The writer hoped something similar could be done in Perth.

For the next few years, the fruit peel nuisance was limited to commentary in the newspapers. It was not until September 1896 that something substantial was put in place. By-laws for the regulation of traffic in Perth were gazetted and they included a new clause prohibiting “the throwing of orange-peel or other like dangerous subject on the footpath…

Issues with fruit peel were not only restricted to Perth. In 1898, ‘Nomad,’ writing for the Geraldton Murchison Telegraph, believed that the footpaths of Marine Terrace were in a worse state than the road. As well as being rough and uneven (the writer melodramatically claimed boots wore out in a month), there was also the increased risk that came from fruit season.

Orange peel, lemon peel and banana peel variegate the pavements in all directions and the traveller has to pick his way as warily as if he were navigating a field of double-gees barefoot.

Geraldton Murchison Telegraph (WA : 1892-1899); 15 June 1898; Page 2; As the Minutes Career

Other towns eventually implemented their own by-laws. Mount Magnet, in 1898, added a by-law preventing sweeping or throwing on any road, street, or footpath, dirt, rubbish, orange peel, or banana skins. They declared they would be “a model sanitary settlement.

Throughout the 1900s, complaints, and accident anecdotes littered the pages of various newspapers. In 1901, a man slipped on Hay Street in Perth and prevented himself from falling by catching a verandah post. Another man in Kalgoorlie in 1903 slipped on peel and fractured his ankle. In Geraldton, in 1908, a lady fell heavily on Marine Terrace, and a man injured his wrist after slipping on peel. Even Day Dawn in the Murchison reported that they had noticed “orange peel and banana skin festooned gracefully across the footpaths…” No accidents had occurred, but they strongly advised people to “deposit the peel and other superflous matter in some place where their presence won’t entail danger of accident to others.

There is no use in thinking of dignity when you place your heel on an orange peel on the footpath.

Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931); 31 October 1903; Page 1; Random Remarks

While people who slipped attracted sympathy, there were some people who found those moments funny. It was, essentially, the littering of fruit peel on footpaths that gave us the well-known banana peel gag. It began in vaudeville shows in the 1900s and eventually made its way into silent films, with Charlie Chaplin using it in his 1915 film By the Sea. In Western Australia, newspapers mostly focused on the frustration that came from dropped peel but occasionally printed poems or brief anecdotes which highlighted the embarrassment of falling in public.

The decades that followed continued in much the same way. People wrote letters to the editors of newspapers. Journalists reported on accidents attributed to slipping on peel on footpaths. Editorials decried those who threw their peel and strongly encouraged local bodies, the police, and Government to do more. Rubbish baskets were eventually provided, but as they were placed sporadically, they were not used and often vandalised.

In 1930, the Royal Automobile Club initiated a ‘Safety First’ campaign aimed at school children. They created eight posters “setting forth the various dangers which beset the careless boy or girl who takes no heed of road traffic” and distributed them to public schools around the state. One illustration showed the dangers and the risk of accidents that came from dropping fruit peel.

Despite such campaigns, the behaviour, at times, continued. During the Municipal Council meeting at York in 1942, the Medical Officer brought up the “strewing of fruit skins on the footpath.” The culprits were children coming to Avon Terrace to buy their lunch and then dropping the peel as they walked along. It was also people sitting in their cars and presumably throwing peel out the window. On one particular morning, an official counted dozens of banana skins on the footpath. The Council resolved to place an advertisement in the newspaper encouraging people to use the “receptacles provided.

Looking through the newspapers indicates an ebb and flow of improvement throughout the years. Campaigns, from the 1970s onwards, no doubt helped change people’s behaviour. Littering is still a problem today, but focus has since moved away from the dangers of fruit peel. We may see the odd banana skin or citrus peel on the footpath, but we are (hopefully) less likely to slip and fall. Still, it is important that all waste (including peel) is placed in a bin.

Keep Australia Beautiful week runs from 16 to 22 August 2021. If you would like to contribute in some way in Western Australia, please visit their website: https://www.kabc.wa.gov.au/

Sources:

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