Imagine you are a farmer (let’s say 80 years ago) and you need to know how best to prune your vines and fruit trees, what varieties give the best yield, what’s the latest in ploughing, and how to get rid of the dreaded potato caterpillar. No Google to ask, so where do you go to find out?
If you want to know what works on the farm, start by asking a farmer! And if you were a farmer in Light Pass from 1923 onwards, a great way to do that would be by joining the local Agricultural Bureau.
In 1887, the SA government formed a committee to “inquire into measures to encourage among farmers …. products specially adapted to the soil and climate of South Australia that would give the greatest profits, promote employment and increase the railway traffic”.
One of the six outcomes was to create an Agricultural Bureau movement. Its aim was to improve and develop agricultural practices through the sharing of information and research. Other outcomes included the establishing of the Department of Agriculture, and the setting up of experimental farms. (The only outcome not achieved was the establishment of a farm school for ‘neglected’ boys who would be trained as farm labourers – apparently there weren’t enough neglected boys motivated to take up this offer!)
Initially, the best 12 farmers in each district were invited to form a branch of the Agricultural Bureau of SA. At its peak, there were 400 branches. Today, 150 branches still operate.
Branches met monthly, and their discussions were reported in the Adelaide Chronicle, so that all could benefit. For example, in March 1900 the Port Elliot branch discussed and reported the following useful information:
“The best means of protecting potatoes from the caterpillars of a small moth which gets into the bags, however closely they are tied. Mr. Fischet kept his potatoes free by putting them on a bed of seaweed and covering the surface with seaweed and soil. Attention was directed to the necessity for care in the selection of seed. For wet ground whole seed was approved, though the largest tubers were obtained from cut setts. A variety known as North Pole is coming into favour in this district.
The Light Pass local branch
The Light Pass Branch was formed in 1923, and ran for 90 years, finally closing in 2013. Meetings were held in the local state primary school. It was an important forum for sharing knowledge and improving the skills of farmers.
Tom Reuther, who grew up in Light Pass in the 1930’s, says “The farms then consisted of orchards (apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines), picking fresh fruit when ripe and drying fruit, pruning by hand and selling produce. Very labour intensive! Nearly all farmers had vineyards requiring planting, pruning, picking grapes, transporting to wineries in horse drawn wagons. Nearly all farms had cows providing milk, butter, cream and cheese; pigs providing sausages, ham, bacon and pork; fowls and other farm birds providing eggs and meat – a self-sustaining life-style requiring hard work, long hours and many skills. The Agricultural Bureau provided a necessary support for this rural farm life and management”.
Skills were improved through talks by visiting speakers, demonstrations on everything from the latest tractors to new pruning methods and by running competitions. Junior competitions were also established, to improve skills and engender interest amongst the young.
Local research into farming techniques was an important part of the Bureau’s work. The Light Pass farmers regularly conducted trials, researching the efficacy of products such as gypsum and white oil, the best use of fertilizers, and ways to deal with pests such as codling moth, starlings and sparrows. (A novel way they dealt with controlling the sparrow population was by paying local children one penny a dozen for sparrow eggs and three pence a dozen for heads).
The bureau also allowed farmers to take action as a group, especially when dealing with government departments. In the 1920’s, Gummosis (a condition where sap leaks from the wound in a tree) was causing a lot of concern, In the Minutes we are told “a strongly worded protest was sent to the Department for not making an effort to deal with Gummosis. This resolution brought Mr Samuels of the Waite Institute post haste into the district to investigate.”
Conferences of local branches were held, and this also gave further opportunity for them to take action as a group. For instance, the Light Pass branch put forward a resolution in 1928 that “Conference pledge itself to use its influence to prevent the control of dried apricots, peaches, pears and prunes being vested in the AOFA”.
It was not only farmers who attended – Pastors JJ Stolz and Bert Reuther were also members. As Pastor Reuther’s son, Tom, remembers “my father wanted to know and understand his people’s needs, their challenges and their lifestyle”. In 1923 Pastor Stolz gave an interesting talk on his trip to Central Northern Territory, giving his impressions on the land, people, and development in the region.
The Women’s Agricultural Bureau.
The women of Light Pass did not want to miss out. In 1953, some ladies began attending meetings with their husbands. I don’t know what the men thought of their sacred men’s group being infiltrated, but they did politely suggest that the women might like to form their own Women’s branch. (The first Women’s Agricultural Bureau was formed in 1917, and this was the first rural women’s group of its kind in Australia. At its peak there were 84 branches with 2565 members).
It did not take long for the Light Pass women to form a branch and to find a free venue in which to hold their meetings, with trading tables and supper for those who came from long distances. There was often a guest speaker, and visits were exchanged with other branches. Some of the topics discussed in 1954 were ‘women’s activities on the land in Southern Germany’ ‘seed raising and growing plants from cuttings’ ‘First Aid’ ‘the making of Wills’ ‘show cookery’ and ‘home aid’. Although these topics weren’t directly related to agriculture, they certainly would have been helpful for those living on the land.
The aims of the Women’s Bureau were:
- To stimulate interest in the development of rural life, particularly in agriculture.
- To acquire knowledge concerned with matters having importance in and around the home.
- To encourage cultural interests among members.
- To develop in women an awareness of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.
- To promote goodwill, friendship and understanding through service.
They raised money for charities through activities such as ‘trash and treasure’ stalls and by publishing a recipe book. They had a great time going on outings and found time to cater for the supper at the Men’s Branch Annual Social.
The Women’s Bureau continued meeting until 2003. They were a talented, lively, and dedicated group of women, who gave many years of service to the Light Pass Community. The group recognized six Life Members, who had each given more than 20 years of service to the community.
The Influence of the two Agricultural Bureau’s in Light Pass.
For much of the 1900’s, the Agricultural Bureau played an important role in the community of Light Pass. It promoted friendships, service and community spirit, and was an important forum for community matters. It helped improve agricultural practices in the district and promoted the sharing of knowledge and working together to solve common problems. Now times have changed, and there are different ways to share knowledge and to be involved. Many community groups struggle for in-person attendance at meetings, but we hope the cohesiveness and common purpose which groups such as the Agricultural Bureau provided to their communities is not lost.
1.Report from the Adelaide Chronicle, 24th March 1900
2.The history of the South Australian Agricultural Bureau was sourced from the SA Government Department of Primary Industries and Regions website:
3.Photos and Information about the Light Pass branch courtesy of Luhrs Cottage.
4.Information about the Women’s Agricultural Bureau was taken from
Light Pass Revisited : a history of people, places and events at Light Pass, South Australia Ed. Winifred Groves, Light Pass, S. Aust. : Light Pass Revisited Committee, 1986 pp 37-39
5.Tom Reuther’s personal reminisces, shared February 2023.