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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
i The land and its resources
ii Aboriginal use of resources
iii The arrival of Europeans with their technology
iv Technological adaption for human survival
v Technological adaption for economic survival

II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888

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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Technological adaption for human survival

One of Captain Phillip's first concerns on landing at Sydney Cove was to achieve independence from imported supplies of wheat and salted meat by ensuring a continuing supply of locally produced food. Government farms using convict labour proved unsatisfactory and, within five years, private farming was being encouraged, much of it undertaken by former convicts; by 1803 a grain surplus was achieved. As the settlement grew, the more affluent people, such as former army officers and officials and free immigrants with capital, tended to concentrate on livestock grazing, while the less affluent became arable farmers.

The farming technologies employed by the first generation of European settlers were a poor reflection of those left behind in the United Kingdom. As James Atkinson commented in 1826:

The first Settlers in the Colony were obtained from among the military and convicts; very few of these men had any knowledge of agriculture, being mostly derived from inhabitants of great towns, or from the very lowest orders of the people.[6]

These were the people who had become the small cropping farmers, but even among the

. . . better sort of Settlers -men who have either come from England with sufficient capital for their establishment, or have acquired it by patient industry and economy within the Colony . . . a most lamentable deficiency of agricultural knowledge and rural experience is observable: many have been tradesmen in great towns, others have been officers in the navy or army, and 1 do not believe it is possible, at the present moment, to name ten individuals in the whole Colony who can properly be called farmers.[7]

On the cropping farms which produced the wheat that was so essential to the sustenance of the colony, land was cropped year after year without regard to the maintenance of soil fertility. As Atkinson further remarked

even on the best cultivated farms, very little has been done towards introducing a proper rotation of crops; the same destructive recurrence of wheat year after year is too generally practised, without the intervention of green crops, and with little aid from manure to recruit the fertility of the soil.[8]

Atkinson, the son of a Kentish farmer, was not the last to comment in disparaging terms on the cropping practices employed by the majority of farmers. In 1833 Thomas Henty, a Sussex farmer, writing to a friend about farming at Launceston in Van Diemen's Land said that '[wheat] is the general crop, Wheat after Wheat without Manure for years together, the farming is intolerably bad, the Climate beautiful.'[9] The same exploitative practices were followed when cropping was begun around Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria. Indeed, throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, as each new wave of settlers occupied virgin land for wheat cropping the picture was much the same: exploitative farming followed frequently by the degradation of the land and the impoverishment of the farmers.

People in Bright Sparcs - Atkinson, James; Henty, Thomas

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© 1988 Print Edition page 4, Online Edition 2000
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