In 1898 Sir William Crookes, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, gave a public address urging the ‘bread-eating’ nations to find a way to grow more wheat – for wheat was the plant that gave white people superior brains. He warned that the ‘coloured races’ were increasing their populations and the ‘bread eaters’ must find a way to secure their food supply.
We know the practical and economic reasons for wheat growing but what explained the obsession with wheat in Australia, the veneration of wheat, for taking it to extreme environments where it shouldn’t grow? Partly it is to do with wheat’s symbolic connection to Western civilisation. Wheat and definitions of ‘agriculture’ became ways of classifying and ordering groups of people to justify dispossession, injustice and inequality.
‘Panorama of Harvesting Wheat’ Narramine Station, Narromine, 1903.
A convoy of five stripper harvesters and ten strippers make short work of 5500 acres of wheat grown on the property of Mack and Austin.
Photo by Melvin Vaniman. A different perspective: Vaniman, the acrobatic photographer, State Library of New South Wales.
Abandoned railway station at Girilambone (near Coolabah), 2008.
The Pera Bore, Coolabah, and Nyngan Experiment Farms gradually closed over the first few decades of the twentieth century.