Sunday, 14 August 2016

Challenges of Working on the Land

The Week Two topic for the National Family History Blogging Challenge is to honour our working ancestors and the challenges they faced in their occupations.
Read more contributions here
Many generations of my family have owned and worked on properties primarily in New South Wales and Queensland.The early settlers to the colonies were often granted or purchased parcels of land. When Dorothea Mackellar wrote of 'droughts and flooding rains' in her poem, My Country, the experiences she described were faced by family members who lived in outback Queensland and NSW as well as family members with smaller properties near the Hawkesbury River.

An example of how challenging being a landowner can be can be shown through the experiences of George Hutton (1850-1936). George was born in Bath, England and at the age of 19 came to Australia. Initially he worked on a number of properties in western Victoria and southern NSW before his father arrived in Victoria to investigate settling there. The contrast between life in Bath and life in rural Australia must have been dramatic for George however I suspect he treated it as an adventure, initially anyway, as he spent the rest of his life in this country.

George helped his father in the early establishment of a property in Lilydale before deciding, in 1874, to go north to Queensland to work as a cattle drover. The next time we hear of him he had purchased (with financial assistance from his father) a sheep station, The Troffs, near Parkes.

Articles in Trove refer to the prices obtained at the wool sales and also note that George was a Pasture Director of the Forbes Pastures and Stock Protection Board in the 1890s. There is also a report of George purchasing additional sheep in 1888.
Forbes Stock Report January 13 included information that 2000 ewes on the 6th January had crossed the river travelling from Grawlin Plain to The Troffs.
Australian Town and Country Journal Saturday 21 January 1888 p4
George's brother, Arthur, joined him to help run the property. Lack of water was a problem for property owners and in the early 1890s rain was limited. However worse was to come in the form of the Federation Drought which occurred between the years 1895 to 1902.
Federation drought 1895-1902
The five years preceding Federation had been intermittently dry over most of the country. Very dry conditions set in across eastern Australia during the spring of 1901, and became entrenched over the following months. As the drought worsened, enormous sheep and cattle losses were reported from Queensland, and many rivers dried up. The Darling River at Bourke virtually ran dry, while Murray River towns such as Mildura, Balranald and Deniliquin - at that time dependent on the river for transport - suffered badly. The Australian wheat crop was all but lost. Rain in December 1902 brought temporary relief, with a more substantial break in autumn 1903. The long drought and its severe climax in 1902 had devastated stock numbers, and began focusing attention on planning for irrigation, especially in the three states through which the Murray River flows. Australian Yearbook 2008 - Natural disasters in Australia.
The family property, The Troffs, was sold and George needed to find new employment. His wife, Annie, moved to Sydney and took their two daughters with her but George elected to remain in the Parkes area where he became a Rabbit Inspector for the Molong Pastures Protection Board.

As we all know the introduction of rabbits to this country was a disaster for property owners. Rabbit Inspectors were therefore appointed to check that property owners were complying with regulations to minimise the spread rabbits on their properties. Articles in Trove show that monthly meetings were held which included reports from the Rabbit Inspectors.
Rabbit Inspector Hutton reported that he had travelled 304 miles since the previous meeting, and had made 45 inspections. He reported ten holders to be unsatisfactory, and recommended three owners for prosecution. The board decided to lay poison in reserves at a cost of £25, and to prosecute three holders reported by Inspector Hutton.
Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 23 December 1914 p9
According to the Sands Directory, George was still a Rabbit Inspector in 1926. It was around this time that he left Parkes and spent the rest of his life living with his daughter and her family on their property in Western Queensland.

While trying to make a living from the land in his new country George discovered that the environment provided many challenges difficult to overcome no matter how hard you perservered.


  1. The farmers, especially in the early days, certainly faced so many extremes and challenges.

  2. Vicki - thank you for contributing to the NFHM Blogging Challenge. I am learning so much about Australian history reading these blogs. I hadn't heard of the Federation Drought until I read your post I am ashamed to say. I wonder what the name The Troffs stood for do you know? Is it a place back home in England?

    1. Alex, I haven't come across the name, The Troffs, anywhere else in the family history. I suspect it may have been the name of the property when it was purchased. George's family were from England but his father was in the Army in India so names of family properties often had Indian connections.

  3. Vicki, Whenever I read about the distances other bloggers ancestors traveled around Australia in time before decent roads and transport, it amazes me. Fran