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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

III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927
i Colleges of agriculture
ii State Departments of Agriculture
iii University faculties of agriculture and veterinary science
iv Community support for agricultural research

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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State Departments of Agriculture

Movements to establish Departments of Agriculture in the various colonies arose from the same pressures that had led to the setting up of the agricultural colleges. Indeed, a call to establish one was frequently linked with a call to establish the other, and often also associated with a call to set up experimental farms.

From the beginning of settlement the government had been involved in regulating access to land and, as the colonies grew, a range of rural matters such as the conduct of auctions, the control of diseases in livestock, and the eradication of thistles were brought under government regulation. Representatives from the growing number of agricultural societies sought government assistance for their activities and were frequently successful. When solutions were sought to specific agricultural problems, or inventions of new machines for specified purposes were desired, colonial governments offered premiums for prize essays or inventions, often in association with the agricultural societies. These approaches to problem solving and innovation copied similar activities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Government involvement with the promotion of agricultural technology and with the agricultural societies became more formalized in Victoria in 1859 with the establishment of a Board of Agriculture. This was set up by the government and was composed of representatives of the agricultural societies and a minority of government nominees. This Board then took over the distribution of grants-in-aid to the agricultural societies, management of the Experimental Farm, and other non-regulatory activities promoting agriculture. The Board, however, proved to be an unwieldy body and, by 1866, was regarded as ineffective; it was finally abolished in 1870.

By 1866, a Minister of Agriculture had been proposed and, in 1872, the first Minister was appointed and a Department of Agriculture established. Initially the latter was largely envisaged as an honorary advisory council to the Minister which could distribute the grants-in-aid to the agricultural societies and the funds to be spent on caretakers for State Forests, and would encourage the growth of new crops, such as flax, and disseminate information. The new Minister, J. J. Casey, thought that 'An intelligent department could collect knowledge from the experience of other nations, and distribute it so that it would reach all the farmers in the country.'[34] This notion of collecting and disseminating information had been an important aspect of the Bill to create the United States Department of Agriculture in 1862, and in the debates in Victoria the United States Department was presented by some speakers as an example to be emulated. Casey selected the first permanent head of the new Department by means of an essay competition -the same means that had been used to try and find solutions to catarrh and scab in sheep and the general question of agricultural development. Alexander Robert Wallis, a graduate of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, was the successful essayist and was duly appointed to be the first Secretary for Agriculture.[35] It proved to be a good appointment. The Annual Reports of the Secretary for Agriculture, Victoria, were widely read and were influential in promoting the idea of a Department of Agriculture in other colonies.

Parliamentarians and farming leaders in the other colonies frequently referred approvingly to the establishment of the Department in Victoria. In Victoria, however, parliamentary enthusiasm for the Department waxed and waned with frequently changing governments and the other colonies also suffered similar political instability. In South Australia a Minister of Agriculture was appointed in 1875, but the post was discontinued in 1877 and not re-introduced until 1892. Eventually departments of Agriculture were formally established in Queensland in 1887, New South Wales in 1890, Tasmania in 1897, and Western Australia in 1898; but such dates suggest a far more clear cut origin than was frequently the case. As in Victoria, joint organizations between agricultural societies and government, such as Councils of Agriculture, were frequently precursors of government Departments of Agriculture, though in South Australia the Agricultural Bureau, established in 1888, has continued to the present day. During the 1890s there were strong advocates for the establishment of a similar bureau in New South Wales but this was not brought into existence until 1910; it also continues to the present day. Although constitutionally different, both are voluntary associations of farmers, organized in Branches, which work closely with their respective Departments of Agriculture in developing and disseminating knowledge and skills related to farming. In the first four decades of the 20th century the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia for instance, contributed significantly to the development and use of superphosphate as a fertilizer for crops and then pastures, and to the introduction of subterranean clover.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Agricultural Bureau of S.A.; Victoria. Government Departments; Victoria. Government Departments

People in Bright Sparcs - Casey, J. L; Wallis, Alexander Robert

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 18 - 19, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher