Sunday, 4 March 2007

Grenfell district in early European settlement & subsequent times

After reading my recent blog titled “Ochre Arch Land Monitoring Sites Established” one of my contacts in the USA asked that I create a blog giving more detail on the history of the Grenfell district (in New South Wales, Australia) where "Ochre Arch" is located, including information on the landscape, vegetation and fauna when Europeans first settled the area. I referred the request to my uncle, Peter Diprose, who kindly researched the topic and documented his findings for me. What follows is what he sent through to me, which I’ve made into a ‘guest blog’. Thanks Peter!

Grenfell is located 380 kilometers West of Sydney, and is 350 metres (1150 feet) above sea level. The average rainfall based on personal / family records over 120 years is 21 inches per year (535 mms), varying from 9 inches to 44 inches.

The area was first settled around 1835 by “squatters” (ranchers) coming west from the eastern seaboard. The area was open woodland – widely spaced trees including eucalypts, some acacias, pines (callitris calumallaris and callitris calcarata) with a range of woody shrubs. The trees were fairly widely spaced with good grass between. Water was supplied by springs and, in good years, semi-permanent creeks.

When the first settlers arrived they were gratified to find wide open grassland with a good sprinkling of shade for their stock. The indigenous fauna included red and grey kangaroos, various wallabies, koalas, wombats, bettongs and bilbies and occasional quolls. It must be noted that all Australian native animals are soft-footed, unlike horses, cattle, sheep and goats, so that over time what were useful pastures for stock began to deteriorate and only the coarser grasses remained. The softer, more nutritious varieties couln not stand the hard hooves of the stock. (Editors note: There are some who argue it is not the ‘hard-footed’ herding animals that caused the damage to pasture species, but rather the way in which they were managed).

The introduction of fences (and the arrival of land laws!) and the consequent ability to control grazing helped to maintain reasonable grazing. It was not until imported grass and legume species were introduced that stock husbandry was assured. When gold was discovered in 1865 the local stock industry received a boost – there were thousands of miners and the usual entourage to feed.

By the late 1800’s farming had begun – mainly wheat and barley. With the introduction of farming and as a result of the “Great Drought” (1895 – 1915) accompanied by an economic recession most of the large stations (ranches) had become uneconomic and if the owners did not voluntarily sub-divide the governments of the day resumed them for “closer settlement”, that is for farming. Thus the day of the large holding was over in the district. Even though the seasons were drier than usual, by 1900-1910 Grenfell had become known as the “granary of the Southern Hemisphere”. In 1901 Rail arrived in the area and this made transport of produce much easier, and farming became profitable.

After WW1 there was an economic boom in agriculture – felt through the larger world. More sub-division of property occurred to cater for the demand for farms. As a result, by 1930 and the Great Depression, many of these farms became untenable, and only the better managers survived. A similar situation occurred after WW2 and this put more pressure on the land. Although some farmers abuse their land, most of our problems have been a result of bad government policy. Currently, land is being aggregated by better managers, and this may ease the pressure on the land. Hopefully we will have learned a lesson – but one can’t help wondering if, as the world population continues to increase at an alarming rate, we will survive.

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