Group works to preserve SA ag history

Group works to preserve SA ag history

Life & Style
WORKING COMMITTEE: Rosemary Hawke, Kevin Gogler, Gerrit Schrale, Barry Philp, John Radcliffe, Greg Cock, temporary member Venton Cook and convenor Don Plowman. (Absent: Geoff Thomas and Deane Crabb.

WORKING COMMITTEE: Rosemary Hawke, Kevin Gogler, Gerrit Schrale, Barry Philp, John Radcliffe, Greg Cock, temporary member Venton Cook and convenor Don Plowman. (Absent: Geoff Thomas and Deane Crabb.

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The thought of comprehensively documenting the history of SA agriculture would be enough to exhaust some people, but thanks to the efforts of a small working group who are quite literally rewriting the history books, winding back the clock to days gone by is becoming increasingly easy.

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The thought of comprehensively documenting the history of SA agriculture would be enough to exhaust some people, but thanks to the efforts of a small working group who are quite literally rewriting the history books, winding back the clock to days gone by is becoming increasingly easy.

The group, comprised of about 10 members who collectively have a vast knowledge of SA agriculture, was first started in the 1980s, when then-agricultural policy stalwart John Radcliffe had an interest in capturing the history of the industry in the leadup to the 150-year celebrations of the founding of the colony.

Dr Radcliffe is still on the working committee, with a self-assigned "hang up" about preservation and history.

"Our feeling was there has been so much change through the years in agriculture, that it would be worthwhile keeping a record," he said.

"There was an interest in the group from a few people in the 1980s, but it took some time to develop, and now we've done it through the work of volunteers."

Convenor Don Plowman - who has held authoritative roles with PIRSA, Primary Producers SA and Wheat Quality Australia - said the committee had grown through the years, with a good core nucleus now forming the group.

"The challenge over time has been to identify people who have an interest and are able to contribute, and that hasn't always been easy to achieve," he said.

RELATED READING:Coonatto Station opens history to public

"We're increasingly going and saying we want work done on a certain area, and so we get someone to join us for a period of time, but the committee plays the role of setting the boundaries for a project as much as possible."

The history is readily available on the PIRSA website, separated under broad commodity categories.

Each commodity has information available in the form of papers written by the committee, with posters and photos from days gone by.

Working committee member Kevin Gogler, who has a background in natural resources and biosecurity, said research took multiple forms, including papers written by previous staff, digitised newspapers, government gazettes, digitised parliamentary speeches and personal recollections from retired people who worked on the agricultural scene.

"About 1400 different acts of parliament have been made relating to ag so there is quite a bit of information there," Mr Gogler said.

A citrus article recently written by Mr Gogler took three years to put together, while other compilations can be as quick as six months.

"You make a day here and there to get into the library and archives, to chase the information and start to stitch it all together," he said.

We've seen that there is an economic benefit in shifting responsibilities into the hands of beneficiaries, rather than through rules made by the government. - VENTON COOK

Through undertaking the research, the committee have been impressed by the bold visions of those involved in agriculture through the years.

"Looking back and realising how clever people were to figure things out, and publicly talk about their visions to trigger development in the industry, is so impressive," committee member Barry Philp said.

"We enjoy looking back, it gives us a perspective on what happened at the present day when you couldn't necessarily see the big picture - we have quite a unique view of what transpired," economist Venton Cook said.

Mr Cook is completing a temporary stint with the group, and said the shifting of power from legislative control to the development of industry groups has helped agriculture to thrive through the years.

"We've seen that there is an economic benefit in shifting responsibilities into the hands of beneficiaries, rather than through rules made by the government," he said.

Two papers on the history of pest and weed management and economics and marketing are the most recent projects completed by the group, with grains to be a key focus next year.

WEBSITE HITS SHOW POPULARITY OF GROUP'S WORK

THE popularity of the PIRSA website on SA's agricultural history - created by a dedicated working committee - shows there is a keen interest in how agriculture has changed through the years.

Committee convenor Don Plowman said the website gets about 16,000 hits per quarter.

"We try to determine what we should do next, based on the stats of what people are clicking on," he said.

A paper on potatoes and another on land development are consistently near the top of the ranks in terms of page clicks, with the group making a concerted effort to go further than providing brief summaries of what already existing in cyberspace.

That working relationship with fellow agriculturalists is great to be a part of. - GREG COCK

While the information available on the site is interesting in a sentimental sense, Mr Plowman said it also served a professional purpose, used by historians and in preparing briefings for parliament.

Committee member John Radcliffe said the work could potentially be useful to help forge connections with international entities.

"When PIRSA is trying to develop international commercial relationships with other entities, there is a record of sound management and growth of Australian agriculture in this collection, and that has some commercial value when talking to people from overseas," he said.

As an added perk to the work, committee members such as Greg Cock enjoy the social side of the committee, which meets fortnightly.

"It's a network of people who have worked together before and are doing so again now," he said.

"That working relationship with fellow agriculturalists is great to be a part of."

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