History of Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute
GM McKeown and family standing on the verandah of the Manager's Cottage of Wollongbar Experimental Farm c 1896
In the 1880s the local Member of Parliament, Mr Thomas Ewing, made an appeal to the Minister of Mines, Mr James Fletcher, to select a site for an experimental farm in the Richmond, Tweed Rivers area. Mr W.S. Campbell was asked to choose a site and in May 1886 he started an expedition to secure a suitable location. The trip on horseback and foot took six weeks and covered between 600 and 700 miles. Mr Campbell’s description of the district over 100 years ago is worth quoting in brief:
“I found very little clearing of ground had been affected. The fertile volcanic soil was covered with the most luxurious vegetation of huge trees and dense undergrowth. Many of the roads of access were narrow tracks like tunnels bored through the vegetation. The district is simply magnificent and its natural fertility is almost unequalled. Nearly all of the county of Rous is admirably adapted, when judiciously cleared, for the rearing of cattle, horses, pigs and possibly some form of sheep, for dairying, for fruit and a great variety of economic plants.”
After selecting land at Marom Creek, in 1894, Wollongbar became the second Government Experimental Farm to be founded in New South Wales after Wagga Wagga. The original selection of 106.5ha was covered by dense rainforest vegetation referred to as the “Big Scrub”. This area was covered with “a dense growth of saplings, wild raspberry, inkweed, Scotch thistles, and other plants, which, in many places, formed almost impenetrable thickets presenting anything but an attractive appearance”.
In the first year, land was cleared “to plant a number of canes and other plants received from Kew Gardens (England)”. Despite water having to be carried half-a-mile in buckets, all but one of the cane varieties survived and the following season surplus sets were distributed to local growers.
Experimental work in the first few years of the farm’s existence dealt almost wholly with plants. A great variety were tried, including subtropical species, cereal crops, crops for oil and fibre, sugarcane, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Trials with pasture grasses, legumes and fodder crops were also undertaken.
Livestock was first mentioned in 1898, when an Ayrshire bull, imported from New Zealand was received at the farm. The initial experimental work on stock was on the disease tick fever, but in the early years of last century the emphasis shifted to dairying where it was to remain for many decades.
This large two-storeyed wooden house was built in 1901 to accomodate agricultural students at Wollongbar.
In accordance with the emphasis on education, a large two-storeyed wooden accommodation building was constructed in 1901 and the first students were enrolled in March 1902. Commencing in 1911, young boys from Britain came to Wollongbar as part of the Dreadnought Scheme. These boys received agricultural training for three to six months before moving into the local workforce.
Activities at Wollongbar between the wars continued along the same general lines of cattle and pig breeding, experimentation and education. Great pride was taken in the farm’s Guernsey cattle and Berkshire pig studs with animals regularly and successfully shown at the Royal Sydney Show.
After World War II there was a gradual move away from the studwork as the farm became much more orientated towards research. Early work involved the initiation of research into problems associated with the decline of soil fertility and the establishment and utilisation of legume-based pastures for the local dairying districts.
In the 1960s, the station was involved in pig-production research and the development, in conjunction with CSIRO, of a breed of dairy cattle (Australian Milking Zebu) suitable for tropical climates. In 1968, the Regional Veterinary Laboratory was established to provide a diagnostic and research service for the animal industries of the North Coast.
In the 1970s an extensive building program commenced which was to transform the station. Old buildings were demolished and new laboratories, offices and research facilities were built.
In the new century, as part of the Department’s rationalisation and consolidation program, the Chemical Residue Laboratory at Lismore was closed in December 2004 with staff and functions transferred to Wollongbar. The Fisheries Aquatic Habitat Unit was relocated from Ballina to Wollongbar in June 2005, with upgraded office accommodation provided in the Administration Building for eleven staff. Following 106 years of continuous production the Wollongbar Dairy closed in June 2005 with 105 high genetic performance cows transferred to Camden and 27 heifers transferred to Tocal.
With over 110 years of service to the local, national and international community, Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute - renamed in July 2008 to reflect the presence of fisheries officers - is continuing to provide high quality research, advisory, regulatory and laboratory services.