When Nicholas Player began to clear the timber from the top of Mt. Hardwicke in 1871, he had a one-furrow plough, one horse, and ploughed about one acre a day. He planted his first crop of wheat, broadcasting the seed by hand as he walked over the land.
In 1875 “The Observer” commented on the Warooka district – “the land, though very stony in places, seems capable of growing wheat of a very superior quality”.
In 1896, James Angas Johnson imported a drill and the whole complexion of farming changed. The new fertiliser, superphosphate, cost money and the farmer would need some capital to make a success of his operations. Thus the consolidation of farms began, and the man who could adapt to the new conditions survived.
Barley at this time was very much a subsidiary to wheat. The market for wheat was still assured, although the price fluctuated, and barley was a useful stock feed. As early as 1875 farmers had been urged to grow crops other than wheat. In times of drought, locust, or red rust, the later ripening wheat suffered more than barley or oats. But the farmers preferred the grain they knew would sell.
The early 1920s saw more grain buyers become active and competition for the best grain was keen. Only the ti-tree country was still being used for farming and the mallee was considered almost worthless. From 1926 – 30 Corny Point farmers and the Department of Agriculture carried out experiments to eventually find that the missing element in the light soils was manganese.
The gradual swing from wheat to barley came about when it was realised the climate and soil proved ideal for the growing of high-quality, low protein malt barley.
Ploughing competitions were held in Vigar’s paddock (the present bowling green) where an area of 10 chains by 1 chain was ploughed with a single-furrow plough and 2 horses, and then sown by hand with 1 bushel of wheat. The lines of ploughing were so straight “you could see a mouse run to the other end”.
The grain was delivered in bags to Point Turton, Corny Point, Carribie, Marion Bay, Foul Bay and later yards at Warooka.
In the ten years to 1939 the changeover from horses to tractors and thence larger farm machinery, was difficult for some but inevitable.
As Corny Point never gained a jetty or wharf, the only way to load and unload the ketches was by smaller boat and/or horse and farm dray. This was known as ‘lightering’. At Carribie bags of grain were sent, one at a time, from the cliff-top down a 90’ wooden chute to a boat of 40-bag capacity. The boat was then rowed out to a waiting schooner where 3 bags at a time were winched aboard. A slow, tedious, hard, and rough method for everyone involved, but it was the only way. Otherwise it was a day’s ride to Point Turton, and then another day to ride back.
With the advent of better transport, and rough tracks becoming graded roads, sea loading ceased in 1942. From then on the Point Turton Jetty was used.
With bulk handling of grain looming in the early 1960s, and the need for a deep-sea port on SYP, the District Council of Warooka became an enthusiastic supporter of the Port Giles project. The silos opened in 1968 but with bulk handling came new problems. Moisture content of the grain is now the factor that rules the working day of the farmer at harvest. The climate that gave its advantages now influences moisture fluctuation, as the grain is best stored with minimum moisture content.
There were, and still are, two great disadvantages in farming the foot of the peninsula. The stony ground is extremely hard on implements, and the trace elements needed are costly. During the 1973-4 harvest a new pest became a real problem. Small, conical snails about the same size as a grain of wheat or barley, and therefore difficult to eliminate, to this day still presents a challenge.
These disadvantages are offset by the dependability of rainfall and moist, cooler conditions of the “island” climate. Farmers west of The Peesey have learnt to live with and manage their conditions.
However, one can just ask a Warooka farmer how his crops are, and he is likely to answer “about average”. And that sums up his good fortune – because every year is “about average”.