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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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Importation, adaptation and innovation in cropping (continued)

During the 1800s the world wide growth of agricultural machinery manufacture gave a strong impetus to the mechanization of Australian farming, in addition to the labour and economic circumstances which prompted developments in that direction. American developments in mechanization were also becoming more relevant to Australia, and Australian developments more relevant to America, as farmers in both countries sought low cost production from extensive areas of land. In both countries close co-operation between practical engineers and farmers led to the successful design, manufacture and marketing of new machines. Later, large machinery firms were developed by successful innovators which came to play a more prominent role in introducing further improvements in farm mechanization in the 20th century.

A particularly strong interaction between Australia and North America arose with the development of harvesting machines. As the use of the stripper spread through the hot, dry wheat growing areas of southern Australia, it became apparent that there would be a major advantage if the stripping and winnowing operations could be combined in one machine; just as cutting and winnowing were being combined in huge combination harvesters in California. Current practice in Australia was to strip the crop until the stripper box was full and then take the mixture of wheat heads, grain and chaff to a stationary winnower for winnowing. James Morrow, of Nicholson & Morrow, a Melbourne farm machinery firm, patented a successful stripper-harvester in 1884, and in the following year Hugh Victor McKay, a farmer's son, patented his stripper-harvester. McKay built his machine on his father's farm at Drummartin in central Victoria, and is widely credited with being the inventor of such equipment, partly because of the success of his Sunshine Harvester Works in the early 20th century -for many years the largest factory in Australia. Both Morrow and McKay developed the manufacture of their stripper-harvesters, but they were not sold in large numbers until the turn of the century after the depression of the 1890s.

Early in the 20th century the competing companies greatly increased their local sales and began exporting overseas. H. V. McKay went on to manufacture the headerharvester, which was patented in 1913 by another farmer's son, Headlie S. Taylor, who joined McKay's firm in 1916. This machine had a cutter bar in the comb and a rasptype threshing drum which also incorporated the fan, allowing for a lighter and simpler machine than others with cutter bars. Nevertheless it was able to handle lodged and tangled crops, which the stripper-harvester was not able to do, and this development was another important step in the evolution of the combine harvester; an evolution not free of dissent, with accusations of copying both Morrow and McKay patents being made against Canadian and American manufacturers and tariff protection being invoked.[28]

By the end of the 1880s mechanisation had been adopted widely on Australian cropping farms and this enabled much larger areas to be cropped, under an extensive system of husbandry, than would otherwise have been possible. In the high rainfall areas mixed farming systems had been evolved which served a stable market and enabled the maintenance of soil fertility in the long term. This was after the experience of disastrous impoverishment during an earlier phase of monoculture wheat production. Meanwhile mechanisation had enabled wheat cropping to be transferred far into the drier areas of the Mallee and other regions. This development was increasingly aided by government investment in railways (see Chapter 7) and the passing of a series of land settlement Acts as part of overall policy to settle people on wheat farms. In these new wheat-growing regions, however, stable farming systems which maintained soil fertility had yet to be developed. The principles of good husbandry were again being ignored; indeed, it is probably fair to say that to most of the new farmers they were unknown. Many of these farmers were to have a hard struggle to survive before more stable systems of farming were developed for the dry-land areas in the 20th century by farmers working together with the early generations of agricultural scientists.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Sunshine Harvester Works

People in Bright Sparcs - Branson, Charles; McKay, Hugh Victor; Morrow, James; Taylor, Headlie S.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 12 - 13, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher