Learning the trade | State Library of New South Wales

A grounding in agriculture : learning the trade

In 1789, James Ruse was asked by Governor Arthur Phillip to establish an experimental farm in order to find out if a sustainable farm was a viable concept in the new colony. At this time the settlers didn't know how long it would take to establish a farm, whether it could support a settler and his family, or produce surplus products for sale, or even what sorts of crops and herds would thrive or die in the strange climate and soil conditions. Ruse's Experiment Farm at Harris Park proved that a farmer could become self-sufficient (it took Ruse about a year-and-a-half) and paved the way for ongoing agricutural experientation and education in New South Wales and Australia.

Selection from Catechism of practical agriculture by George W. Hay. Hobart Town : [s.n.], 1856 (Hobart Town : H. and C. Best, "Courier" Office)
Printed book MA 1 Q 75

This trial-and-error form of farming meant that most early settlers learned the trade by hard experience - either their own, or that of previous generations of settlers. Hundreds of publications aimed at educating young farmers appeared and by the late 19th century, farmers and graziers had built up enough expertise to sustain the colony. However new technologies and a new emphaisis on the science of agriculture created a need for formal education to give young people and newcomers a solid grounding in the trade of farming and farm management.

The first agricultural college was established in 1891 by the New South Wales government. The Hawkesbury Agricultural College was allocated 3.5 thousand acres near Richmond, encompassing land of all qualities, from river flats to lush pasture. It started with just 26 students who divided their time between theoretical lessons in the agricultural sciences and practical lessons on the College's working farm. Students could earn diplomas, and certificates for short courses.

 > View images of students and activities at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College

 Hawkesbury Agricultural College

Farm schools were established at several experimental farms across New South Wales including Wagga, Bathurst, Cowra and Yanco during the 1890s and early 20th century. Women were admitted to some schools during World War I, to develop farming skills while the men were away at war. Training farms were also run for returned servicemen as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme.

 > See a selection of photographs of Women students at Cowra Experimental Farm in 1919, via the Library's catalogue catalogue link

Several experimental farms later became agricultural colleges, including Wagga Wagga in 1949 and Yanco in 1967. The CB Alexander Agricultural College at Tocal opened in 1965 and the Orange Agricultural College in 1974. Several of these colleges were absorbed into universities after the 1970s, inlcuding Hawkesbury, which is now part of the University of Western Sydney (UWS). Due to low enrolment numbers, news reports state that UWS will not offer agriculture in 2012 for the first time in over a century.

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Prospectus, regulations, college rules and syllabus of instruction. Hawkesbury Agricultural College and Experimental Farm, Richmond, New South Wales. Sydney, N.S.W. : Government Printer. 1893
Printed pamhplet 630.7/4