Monday, 13 January 2014

Small family farms

This is our 200th blog post - the first one was on November 5, 2007 - six years ago! How time flies and I still love this blog, it is the best thing I have ever done in my working life and thank you to everyone out there who reads it!  As it is our 200th post I'm going to tell you about small family farms, which were the main stay of the rural economy of this area from around the 1880s to the 1970s and also part of my heritage. The first settlers in the area were the squatters and large (often absentee)  landowners such as the Ruffy Brothers at Cranbourne, The Reverend Hussey Burgh Macartney at Eumemmerring and Sir William Clarke of Berwick. But from the 1850s the big squatting runs were broken up, Government land sales took place and other farmers moved in. Later on these farms were subdivided again (basically 1880s onwards)  and this gave small farmers the opportunity to purchase land - this would be the pattern of settlement for the areas around Cranbourne, Berwick, Hallam and Pakenham.

These are the cows on the Rouse farm at Cora Lynn; typical of the many small dairy farms that once proliferated in the Casey Cardinia region. Photograph taken in the 1930s. 

Government land schemes to break up the large farms such as the Closer Settlement Board and Soldier Settlement subdivisons were also undertaken. Local examples of these were the  Soldier Settlement at Narre Warren North and on the Clarke land at Berwick.  The other big Government land scheme in this region was the draining of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp, which began in 1889, with the main works finished in 1893 although various drainage works continued until the 1960s. This land was sub-divided into farms as small as 20 acres (8 hectares). And this is where my family steps into the picture - in 1903 my great grandfather James Rouse, selected 55 acres (22 hectares) on  Murray Road at Cora Lynn. He worked this land with his son, my grandfather, Joseph Rouse. Joe was nine in 1903 when they arrived and I'm not sure if he ever went to school after they arrived, if he did it would only have been for  a few years until he left and worked on the farm. Later on, in 1922,  Joe married my grandmother, Eva Weatherhead. Eva's father Horatio Weatherhead and her brothers had arrived in Tynong North in 1909 and operated saw mills - so they are representative of the many timber workers who operated mills in the hills from the 1880 onwards, but that's another story.  Joe and Eve raised their six children on the farm. Small family farms all relied on the generally unpaid labour of all the family members - my dad and my aunties and uncle all worked on the family farm - feeding the hens, weeding the vegetable garden, feeding the calves, milking the cows, collecting the eggs, ploughing the paddocks, planting crops, fixing machinery - there was a never ending lists of tasks  - often this work was done before they went to school and after they came home.


All small family farms would have had chooks - this is my grandmother, Eva Rouse, and her eldest daughter, Nancy, photograph taken about 1930. It's one of my favourite family photographs.

The growth of the family farm was encouraged by the establishment of railways in the area as they provided a means to send off produce to market and also provided the families with a means of transport when it was too far to go by bike or horse. In its turn, the growth of the small family farms lead to the establishment of butter and milk factories such as those at Bayles, Lang Lang and Cora Lynn; it encouarged the establishment of schools and the  growth of the towns which serviced the local farming communities. In turn, this meant that there more off-farm employment opportunities for members of family farmers and brought new people into the area.

Most small family farms also had pigs - this is my great aunt, Lucy Rouse, and my aunty Dorothy, taken around 1930.

There are very few small family farms remaining - the small soldier settler allotments at Narre Warren North, which were about 16 to 25  acres (6 to 10 hectares) are now covered in houses, the Andrews farm at Hallam is long gone replaced by houses and factories. In the 1970s when I was at High School, you would go past operating dairies on nearly every farm; in the same area (Cora Lynn) now,  I could count the dairy farms on one hand. Farms have grown bigger everywhere and  the time has past when a small family farm is viable. Changes in society have also contributed to this - children have more opportunities in employment and education and perhaps aren't as willing to work for nothing on the family farm. However, in this 200th blog post, I am paying tribute to the small family farm that sustained the economy of the Casey Cardinia region from the 1880s to the 1970s.


Finally, even though this may have seemed like fun to my Dad, Frank (aged about 3) and his brother Jim (about 5) by the time they were in their early teens they were ploughing the paddock with horses on their own. That'a my grandfather, Joe Rouse, behind the horse. Photograph taken about 1936.

2 comments:

Infolass said...

Congratulations on your 200th post! Well done on all your efforts to promote the local history of Casey Cardinia. Liz

Heather said...

Thanks Liz!