Potted Histories

Commission on Agriculture 1887 – 91

This Commission was appointed to enquire into the existing condition of agriculture, together with the factors influencing it, and to make ‘feasible’ suggestions of ways that were likely to promote it, and to ‘increase the prosperity of those engaged in agricultural pursuits.’

The members of the Commission were Messrs H.W. Venn, E.R. Brockman, A.R. Richardson, J.H. Monger and Walter Padbury.

The members took evidence on all parts of the agricultural districts and submitted two progress reports, the first dealing with the wheat-growing districts and the second with the lower south-western areas.

They took evidence in many centres and recorded the views of the witness.[1]

James Rogers [sic Rodgers] from ‘Cooks Park’ Australind was examined by the Commissioners in Bunbury on 3 December 1887. [2]

Q. What are you?

A. What am I? A farmer to be sure. I live at Cooks-park, on the Estuary, 10 miles from Bunbury. I went there in 1862.

Q. What did you commence on?

A. I had nothing but myself and my old woman. I came out on service with Mr. Pigott [sic Piggott], where I earned the price of 15 head of cattle, and got a bit of land under tillage lease. I was getting 50s. a month from Mr. Pigott – good wages in them days!

Q. And what landed property have you now, Mr. Rogers?

A. I have 6,000 acres in freehold, and 10,000 acres under lease at the head of the Harvey.

Q. Have you been able to do any improvements in the way of fencing your land?

A. All my freehold is fenced in, with one-rail and 3-wire fence. It is divided into several fields and paddocks, from 2 acres upwards.

Q. How much of it do you reckon is fit for agriculture?

A. 700 acres of it is fit for potato growing, or good wheat land. The rest is sandy. I take care to under-drain my land ; that’s what made a man of me. I have about 30 acres cleared for cultivation. I have 10 boys, and they are all good boys ; they work like slaves. I am now paying £5 an acre for clearing – partial clearing. To clear it fit for the plough is worth £10 an acre.

Q. What crops have you in this season?

A. 8 acres of wheat, 8 of rye, and about 2 acres of potatoes.

Q. How do you treat your land? Do you give it a rest sometimes?

A. I don’t cultivate the same ground every year, except potato ground which is swamp land. I generally sow wheat over my potato ground, and it averages about 30 bushels in this acre.

Q. That’s a good yield!

A. It’s the under-draining that does it. There’s nothing like underdraining ; It’s the mainstay of any farmer. I have seen 50 bushels to the acre grown on that same bit of land. This year I expect 40 bushels, it is on new land – all under-drained. It’s the under-draining that does it all.

Q. How do you manage with your under-draining?

A. At Home they use broken stone ; here I use broken mahogany chipped. Give us good mills, and under-drainage, and we’ll grow wheat and flour equal to any part of the world.

Q. Do you change your seed wheat at all?

A. Not every year ; it doesn’t require it. I use a bushel and a half to the acre. I use a weed from the Estuary for manure, and, the land being under-drained, the substance does not drain away. There’s nothing like under-drainage. Rye I grow a tremendous crop, averaging from 30 to 40 bushels to the acre.

Q. What live stock do you have on your farm?

A. I have 160 head of cattle and 20 horses. I make as much manure as I can from the dairy cattle; many of the others never come home. I only do enough dairying to supply our wants.

Q. Do you keep any pigs?

A. I keep a few, and cure their bacon and eat it.

Q. What about potatoes?

A. I generally make my money out of potatoes. I have grown a ton to the chain, or 10 tons to the acre. This year I have grown 47 tons off 8 acres of swamp land. It’s the under-draining that does it. I have always two crops a year. I plant my swamp crop in January and my other crop in July. I manure every third year. It doesn’t require it oftener, with under-drainage.

Q. Do you have any difficulty in finding a market for your potatoes?

A. I always find a sale for them. Last year I got £10 a ton, and the year before I got £8 10s. This year I only got £7 10s.

Q. Have you ever grown field peas on your farm?

A. Any amount, and I fed my pigs with them. Pig melons, too, grow fine with me ; they are splendid things for pigs, cattle or anything. If there was a market for them I dare say I could grow 100 tons a year, easy, and would do it.

Q. Coming back to your favourite crop, – do you cut your potatoes when you plant them, or leave them whole?

A. Put them in whole by all means, for the summer crop ; you may cut them for winter crop. The size of the seed makes no difference. It’s the under-drainage that does it. Half a ton of large seed won’t go any further than 7cwt. of small seed.

Q. What seed do you generally use?

A. Any mortal sort I can get. The old red potato is the best I have met yet ; I can grow them as large as that tumbler (pointing). So is the red and white a fine keeping potato.

Q. Have you tried any other root crop?

A. I could grow mangolds, but I think my potatoes pay me better, and I stick to them.

Q. Have you tried any artificial grasses?

A. Lucerne is very good, but I would sooner have other grasses – the “Yorkshire fog,” or a soft meadow grass. I picked up a handful of it in a neighbour’s field and put in my pocket for seed and I have now 5 acres of it, a splendid crop.

Q. Do you have any fruit trees?

A. Yes they do fine with me. I have peaches, pears, apples and oranges – splendid oranges, and I am going to put in a great lot of them. All this, mind you, is on drained land. There’s nothing like under-drainage.

Q. Have you tried the olive tree?

A. Yes, it doesn’t do very well with me. They are very good things for pigs or poultry, and I would sooner see them made into pork than into oil.

Q. You know the land about here, and know what a man can do with it, what, in your opinion, is the smallest-sized block upon which a selector could make a decent living, and bring up a family?

A. According to how they handle it. Any land that is drained would pay a man, if he could turn it to good account.

The witness withdrew.

[1] Maurice Cullity, A history of dairying in Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, Western Australia, 1979.

[2] First progress report and minutes of evidence / Western Australia Commission on Agriculture, 1888. Printed in Perth (WA) by Authority, Richard Pether, Government Printer, 1888. Presented to the legislative Council by His Excellency’s Command.