Because of its high rainfall, the South East is one of South Australia’s major agriculture and horticulture districts. The SA Department of Agriculture has had staff and an office at Mt Gambier for more than a century.
Early Mt Gambier Staff
The first officer appointed in the Mt Gambier district was Mr Rodney Fowler. He acted as a part time Orchard and Garden Inspector between January and March 1908, and was then appointed full time to this position on 9 November 1908. Although he initially lived and operated from Coonawarra, he relocated to Mt Gambier in 1910-11, concentrating on activities in the Coonawarra, Mt Gambier, Naracoorte and Penola districts. His early work focussed on inspection and quarantine services associated with fruit fly, codlin moth, phylloxera and other major pests, chaff quality, and registered fertilisers and chemicals.
Over time, the role evolved to include certification of potatoes (over 33,000 bags of seed potatoes approved in 1913-14) and other crops for export interstate, research into new pests such as curculio beetle, evaluation of new potato varieties, and delivery of horticulture advisory services from Bordertown to Port Mac Donnell. In 1916-17, he was covering much of this extensive region on a motor cycle. In 1918, Mr Fowler moved to the role of Manager, Blackwood Experimental Orchard, and was replaced by Mr John Harris, who held the South East position of Orchard Instructor and Inspector. In September 1920, Mr Harris transferred to this position for Northern Districts (Clare, Barossa and mid north) and was replaced by Mr Hector Orchard.
Loading potatoes into rail trucks at Mt Gambier, May 1959. Horticultural Inspectors have played a key role in facilitating export of produce from the South East region.
Mr Orchard served as the South East Horticulture Instructor and Inspector for 14 years, when he was transferred to the Southern District (south of Adelaide) to replace a retiring Mr C.H. Beaumont. Mr A.L. Warren replaced Mr Orchard as the South East Horticulture Instructor in February 1934.
An important role during the 1920’s and 1930’s was assisting WW1 Soldier Settlers as they developed their properties. Alternate crops like chicory (Rendelsham) and tobacco (Yahl and Kalangadoo) were also important to the South East during this period.
Delivery of services to grain and livestock industries were focussed from Kybybolite Research Station (rather than Mt Gambier), and commenced with appointment of the Superintendent of Agriculture, South East to Kybybolite in 1909.
Services have been provided from a series of Mt Gambier office locations, including:
Some of the major service programs delivered to South East agricultural industries from the Mt Gambier District Office during the past 50 years include:
While a considerable amount of information was distributed to farmers via “one on one” servicing, a range of other methods were used to improve farmer skills and productivity. This included:
Skeleton Weed field day, Penola 1971.