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  • BAG History Group

Orchards and Market Gardens

"RECORDS records everywhere, but not a drop of rain ... October has been the driest and hottest on record" 

(The Blackwood Magazine, November , p259)

The year 1914 was in the middle of an extended drought period across Australia. A reliable water supply grew in importance as the Blackwood district’s population climbed to around 1,000 putting strain on the supplies from wells, tanks and the Sturt River. Early settlers of the district had been keeping rainfall records since the 1880s with recordings taken at the Old Biscut Factory in Coromandel Valley between 1891 and 1932 showing an annual average of 695mm (27.4”) while in 1914 the total was less than half at 310mm (12.24”).

As the drought bit, the Blackwood Magazine declared ...

“The lack of water is very serious to gardeners. The supply coming down the Sturt is extremely limited; in a good many places there is no flow whatsoever on the surface and very little is now available for irrigation, except at the head of the stream. The shortage in the wells throughout the district is also marked, and several growers are unable to put in half their usual area for autumn green crops ...”

(The Blackwood Magazine, March, p61).

In 1908 the government had established an experimental orchard to test the most suitable kinds of fruit to grow, introduce new varieties, treat disease, and try manures. (The Blackwood Magazine, April, p103). By 1914 there were 30 acres planted, including cherry, apple, pear, persimmon, citron, quince, strawberry, gooseberry, currant and raspberry.

The district was strongly involved in the horticultural business with market gardens and orchards providing not only the hills towns but also places further afield with fruit and vegetables, supplementing the produce grown in home gardens. Market gardeners and orchardists are today remembered around the district long after most of their properties have been taken over by houses. The Craiglee orchard was planted by Mr Alexander Murray (Murrays Hill Road); Mr Cullen grew potatoes and tomatoes; Mr Joseph Turner’s (Turner Avenue) orchard and garden contained about 14 acres, principally devoted to growing oranges, apples, strwberries and vegetables (principally cabbages, potatoes and tomatoes); Mr Williams grew peaches, apples and apricots, beans and tomatoes. Vast areas were devoted to grape growing hence the naming of many streets in Craigburn Farm.

One orchard still flourishing is Magarey’s which began in 1909 with plantings of apple and pear trees for fruit for export, and apricots and peaches for preserving. (The Blackwood Magazine, April, p102-103).

For these commercial gardeners the drought was disastrous however such was the community interest in gardening that we learn from the Blackwood Magazine, that the Boys Club organized Floral and Industrial Exhibition was a successful event despite the drought. Competitors displayed their flowers and vegetables and talks by Mr Edwin Ashby of Wittunga and Mr Robinson (a carnation and rose grower from Highgate) were given at the Literary Society of the Boys Club.

The strained orchard industry likely impacted on the vitality of the district. As 1914 came to an end the anxiety of war and the pending hot summer with little sign of rain would have created anxiety and a sense of helplessness.

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