The Pies Have It

87 Years of Manning’s Pies

Ancient Egyptians, or even Romans, may have made the first pies, but in the eyes of Cairns, the Manning family did.

We’re talking about the real thing … that melt in the mouth shortcrust pastry filled with delicious, slow-cooked tender meat in a rich gravy topped with golden puff pastry.

Way back in 1934, Hector (Hec) Manning was making pies in Manly, but severe asthma attacks prompted the family to move to the tropics, a fortunate decision for Cairns pie enthusiasts.

Hec started making his pies out of a house in Kamerunga.  At first, he transported his pies to the city in a pram lined with bricks and linen, which kept the home baked goodies hot for his customers at the Tropical Theatre.  Later, a frame holding the bricks was attached to a bicycle, which became an iconic sight around the streets of Cairns.

In the late 1930s, growing demand for Hec’s delicious pies saw he and wife Dulcie open a bakery in Pease Street.   After Hec passed away in 1957, his sons George and Hec Jnr ran the business together for a while, then George moved his family to Collins Avenue, where he made pies in the garage at the back of the house.  

In 1980, the burgeoning business moved to Newell Street. Over the years, all of George’s six sons have been involved in the business in one way or another.  Son Perry bought the butcher shop in Yungaburra, on the Tablelands, and his cattle supply some of the meat for the pies. Local farmers are sourced for their produce, while Steggles in Mareeba supplies the chicken.

Choosing a Manning’s pie is half the fun.  There is such a large selection, 25 varieties in all, both savoury and sweet. Each pie has its own little identifier on the puff pastry lid, akin to the little codebreaker map in your box of Quality Street. 

As a boy of 14, Dennis Manning used to put in a couple of hours at the bakery before school, falling asleep in the classroom to the dismay of his teacher. When the principal asked Dennis what he wanted to be, the young lad replied “a piemaker”.

“The principal told me that if I came in and signed the school roll, once I was signed in, I could leave for work,” says Dennis.

Now there’s an educator with foresight.  A piemaker was born, and we have all benefited.

Dennis and his youngest brother Laurie run the business now, with Dennis’s daughter Karli telling me, with a mischievous giggle, “I just tell them what to do”.  Karli’s cousin Danielle handles the administrative and bookkeeping side of the business.  Being in their midst is like being in the middle of a family gathering.  This is one happy team.

Karli has fond memories of helping in the bakery during school holidays. 

“I was only four or five when I first started helping.  I had to stand on a crate to put the tops on the pies,” she recalls.

“When we were kids,  our friends all used to come and help in the bakery because they got paid with pies and loved that,” Dennis adds with a grin.

What many people don’t know is that Mannings doesn’t only make pies, but white, wholemeal and multigrain bread, sweet tarts, cakes and buns, including of course, hot cross buns.

“Our products go as far as Georgetown, Croydon, Bamaga, Mornington Island, throughout the Atherton Tablelands and Cooktown; to cafes, grocery stores and other retail outlets such as IGA, service stations and roadhouses,” Karli says.

“We make about 8 tonnes of dough a month.”    

Like their pies, the family have soft centres and are renowned for their philanthropic pursuits.  Laurie has been deeply involved with Variety Australia, helping sick, disabled and disadvantaged children for over 25 years, while Dennis has been involved for 12.

The Manning’s team also involve themselves in various local charity events such as Relay for Life and the World’s Greatest Shave.

“You can probably guess who was voted to participate in the shave.  The shave would have been over in a flash if Dad or Uncle Laurie volunteered for that one,” Karli says. 

194-196 Newell St.

Cairns 4870

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