Where did primary industries begin?
Historic Macarthur merinos
Before the arrival of settlers in 1788, Australian lands had not been used to raise livestock or grow large-scale crops. However, these practices were widespread back in Europe, so when the settlers arrived they brought agriculture with them.
Australia’s climate was very different to what the settlers were used to, so at first, growing anything at all was a challenge. Luckily they found that sheep raised in Australia did very well, and that the sheep's wool was of a high quality. Sheep farming was one of Australia’s first successful primary industries, and the first hint of how much primary industries would help the new economy.
From 1900 onward, wheat became a successful crop in Australia, while at the same time the beef and dairy industries were growing rapidly. It soon became obvious that with the right farming techniques, there were many different crops that would flourish in the Australian climate.
A census was held in 1901 which showed that 14 per cent of the Australian workforce were primary producers. That figure did not include Aboriginal people, who often worked as stockmen, farmhands and in domestic roles on farms, or as timbergetters and miners. Indigenous Australians played a large part in making the Australian primary industries sector what it is today.
Forestry and mining industries were established after settlers built homes and set up farms to supply the sorts of food they were familiar with.
In 1788 half of NSW was forested. The settlers used timber for homes and boatbuilding or cleared forests for farming. By 1820 timbergetters of 'good character' were issued licences by the government to cut down trees on Crown Land.
Coal was first discovered in Australia in the 1790s at the mouth of the Hunter River in New South Wales near what is now known as Newcastle. In the early years of the colony coal was mainly used for domestic heating and cooking.
By 1799 enough coal had been transported to Sydney from the Hunter to make up a shipment for export. This shipment went to Bengal.
The first economic minerals found in Australia were silver and lead in 1841 near Adelaide in South Australia, followed by gold in 1851 near Ophir in New South Wales.
Heading into the 20th century, Australian agriculture was producing so much that the export market became the best place to sell produce. Soon enough, Australia was considered one of the world’s biggest food exporters. Hundreds of thousands of people the world over were being fed with Australian grown and farmed produce.
Aboriginal people and primary industries
Aboriginal people lived in Australia for over 40 000 years before white settlers arrived. They used the land in a very different way to how it is used today. This is because Aboriginals were often nomadic people, moving to harvest seasonal foods from different areas.
Though Australia may have seemed like a very harsh country to the white settlers when they first arrived, Indigenous Australians proved that there was plenty of food if you knew where to look. Native animals such as the kangaroo provided many meals to settlers, while some of the stranger foods such as witchetty grubs would have seemed far too strange for the white man to eat.
Aboriginals were masters of finding food and water, and also for making what seemed inedible and often poisonous into a proper meal. Many of Australia’s native berries and roots are completely edible after preparation to make them safe to eat.
Being a nomadic people, Aboriginals would travel from place to place depending on how much food or water was available at certain times of the year.
The ways of the new settlers would have seemed very odd to the native dwellers, who had never seen or heard of the practice of planting crops such as wheat and then coming back to harvest them later, nor keeping animals such as sheep in the one place and fencing them in.
The ways in which early settlers and Aboriginal people used the land to survive and thrive clashed. Fences and crops stifled the nomadic lifestyle and the spiritual connection Aboriginal people had with the land. Aboriginal people were forced to change the way they had always lived.
Food for Australia's early settlers
When the first settlers came to Australia, the country they found was nothing like where they had come from. Australia was a huge dry country and with the hot sun beating down on their backs they must have felt like they were on a different planet! So it is not surprising that they would try to bring some of the industries from their homeland to make this new country seem more familiar to them.
Though the Australian landscape would have been teeming with food, from kangaroos to the fish available in the rivers and oceans, the settlers chose to grow the same types of foods and raise the same types of animals they had produced at home. Here and there people tried the local food such as wombat or kangaroo, but for the most part it was too different from their normal food to be enjoyed.
A very basic diet of meat, bread and tea was the usual fare, with a good dose of rum each night just to keep things interesting. The meat was mainly beef or mutton, while the bread was a thick kind of doughy bread called damper, and tea was considered one of the basic necessities of life.
Sheep, cows and other animals were shipped over to be bred and raised, and many different kinds of crops also made the long journey to be grown on Australian soil. Some of these animals, such as the rabbit, proved well suited to the Australian environment and thrived so well that they are today considered pests.
What role does research and technology play?
Can you imagine how hard it would be to plough a whole field by hand? Or dig deep into the earth with only a pick and a shovel, and a candle tied to your helmet to help you see? Or harvest timber with an axe and saw?
This was what it was like for early settlers working in primary industries. Everything had to be done by hand or with the help of animals like horses. It meant that everything took a very long time, and was often very dangerous for the men and women working in the fields, mines or forests.
Research and the use of new technology has gradually changed the way we use the land, making working in primary industries far more efficient, environmentally sound and safe for everyone involved.
For farmers it has meant that instead of having to plant and gather crops by hand, they can now draw on the latest scientific research tools such as mechanical harvesters, computers and satellites to get the work done. Irrigation and drought-resistant crops have made it possible to grow crops in far more places than was once possible in Australia.
Miners enjoy a far safer existence due to many advances in their safety gear and technology. One example is a new system developed by the CSIRO for underground mines which provides a continual live 3D-graphical view of the whole mine and a system for staying in touch with mine workers. Mine operators can now stay in touch with underground conditions, assess risk and locate and communicate with mine workers.
Fishers now know a lot more about aquatic habitats and the life and abundance of saltwater and freshwater species due to the many research projects carried out by scientists.
Early settlers wouldn’t have dreamed of fish farming or aquaculture. Aquaculture is the commercial farming of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants, in natural or controlled marine or freshwater environments. Aquaculture is also called 'underwater agriculture'.
NSW is at the forefront of applied research that is accelerating the development of the aquaculture industry. Some current aquaculture, aquatic ecosystem and wild fisheries research projects underway in NSW include:
- Studies into pearl production in NSW
- Health management of silver perch
- Aquaculture diet development
- Seagrass cultivation and rehabilitation
- Artificial reef research
- Identification of carp breeding 'hot spots'
- Great white shark tagging
- Molecular forensics on sharks
- Movement patterns of Australian sardines.
Much of this research is undertaken or driven by Industry and Investment NSW in collaboration with the commercial aquaculture operators and other research organisations.
Forest workers no longer walk and camp out in the bush, hand felling trees and using bullock teams to transport timber to nearby mills. Today, native forests along with plantations provide us with the timber we use each day. Forests scientists, called Foresters, manage forests for timber and many other uses and benefits such as biodiversity, clean water, recreation and carbon dioxide absorption. These days it can take up to a year to plan a forest harvest, and hi-tech tools such as satellite imaging are increasingly being used to inform forest management.
What are universities doing?
Universities play a very important role through their ongoing education and research into new technologies and sustainability.
They also play a pivotal part in policy development by working with the government and private sector to provide relevant information and research to those making decisions about Australian industries.
Also, the Australian Government will often fund universities to conduct research into projects such as improving techniques for production and environmental protection.
What are scientists doing?
Research carried out by scientists is essential for the growth and development of all primary industries and the health of the environment.
We need scientists to continually study what we do in order for improvements to be made. Scientific research is always happening because our environment is dynamic, meaning it continually changes, and the way we do things has to keep adapting. Scientists also look to what the future might be like and test new ways of doing things.
What are scientists in NSW up to?
A lot! Industry and Investment NSW is the largest provider of science and research services within the NSW Government. The department’s scientists are currently involved in over 900 research projects which underpin the growth, sustainability and biosecurity of primary industries in NSW.
Here are a few things I&I NSW scientists are doing:
- Calculating the amount of carbon trees can store
- Monitoring the condition of marine and estuarine systems
- Helping primary producers adapt to climate change
- Conserving and enhancing biodiversity
- Reducing the effects of insect pests and diseases.
For more information see: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/research/overview
What does the CSIRO do?
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia's national science agency. CSIRO works on new ways to improve our quality of life, as well as the economic and social performance of a number of industry sectors through research and development.
For more information see: http://www.csiro.au/