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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 1

I Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851

II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888
i Setting the scene for change
ii A transplanted community; a transplanted technology
iii The development of appropriate technology
iv Importation, adaptation and innovation in cropping
v Introduction and innovation in livestock husbandry

III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927

IV Agricultural Science Pays Dividends: 1927-1987

V Examples Of Research And Development 1928-1988

VI International Aspects Of Agricultural Research

VII Future Prospects

VIII Acknowledgements



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The development of appropriate technology

After the impoverishment of the monoculture wheat farms in the high rainfall areas in the aftermath of the gold rushes, more appropriate farming methods were slowly evolved during the late 1860s and 1870s. Initially, the most important developments took place in the better rainfall areas around the main centres of population and the type of farming that evolved around Melbourne and Geelong during this period, and which has remained ever since, illustrates developments which took place more generally.

The essence of this development was that farming responded to the presence of a substantial market. By 1881 the population of Melbourne was 262,000 and rising. This market could absorb a diversity of goods such as potatoes, vegetables, oats, oaten hay, butter, cheese, eggs and goodquality meat. Farmers within a day's journey of the city were best placed to satisfy these needs, and the steady development of roads and water transport further assisted them. Many of the old, hopelessly small, wheat farms of 30 to 50 acres were abandoned and amalgamated into units of 640 acres or larger. Integrated systems of farming were developed that were not simply attempts to transplant intensive English systems, but which represented considerable adaptations to the shortage and high cost of labour, the cheapness and availability of land, and the variations in soils and climate in the region around the city market.

Oats, peas and potatoes were grown in a rotation that ended in rye grass and white clover pasture in those areas with sufficient rainfall for these pasture species. Only a small portion of a farm was cropped at any one time and dairy cows grazed the remainder for butter production or crossbred sheep (Merino ewes crossed with Leicester or Lincoln rams) for fat lamb production. Pigs were fattened on crop and animal by-products, such as buttermilk. In the sandy areas close to the city, with a good rainfall, vegetables predominated, grown with ample supplies of city manure. A low-lying frost-free area on the shores of Port Phillip Bay provided the onion supply for Victoria, still from farms which integrated hay, peas, potatoes, sheep and cattle with the production of onions. Seaweed and shell grit were collected from the sea shore to help maintain the fertility of these farms. By 1877 bone dust, animal guano, superphosphate, and superphosphate with sulphate of ammonia were all being sold on the Melbourne market, with bone dust being the most commonly used phosphatic fertilizer until the end of the century. Inputs were kept at a low level, however, and ley farming was relied upon as far as possible to maintain the productive capacity of the soil. An annual rainfall of 600 mm or more made this possible with the aid of introduced legume, grass and crop species. In drier areas, with rainfall down to 350 mm per year, some oaten hay was grown for city horses or the land was allowed to revert to native pasture and was extensively grazed by cattle or sheep.

When, during the 1850s, wheat prices were high and labour was scarce, the new portable, steampowered threshing machines had been imported from the United Kingdom by a few of the more affluent farmers and hired out by them for use around their districts. Mowing and reaping machines had also been introduced, although more slowly. But as wheat growing declined in these areas, the interest in complex and costly machines also declined and the cheaper, horse-driven threshing machine was generally favoured for the grain harvest. Mowing machines were improved in reliability during the 1870s and were used to harvest oaten-hay, then, in the 1880s, they were superseded by American and British manufactured twine-operated reapers and binders. During these years local manufacturers also began to redesign ploughs to suit local conditions.[25]

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 10 - 11, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher