1897-1905: The Experimental Farm

Just before dusk on November 14, 1896 six months before Narrogin was officially declared a township, five men rode into the small hamlet and tethered their horses in the back yard of Michael Brown’s one-storey Hordern Hotel. The five were local settlers, men with progressive ideas who gathered for a meeting of the one-year old Narrogin-Cuballing branch of the Agricultural Alliance of WA.

The Alliance was a means of bringing together the comparatively few people engaged in agriculture, so they could discuss and promote agricultural education and improved farming methods. No institutions of agriculture existed at the time.

The state government was urged to reserve a number of blocks from which an experimental farm could be selected.  The blocks suggested included a group of nine in the Narrogin area and a further six miles to the west in the Dumberning agricultural area.  It is probable that the Government was already thinking along the same line, for at that time it was keen to attract many more settlers to the land that it was opening up in the Great Southern.  A positive reply was received three months later, and in July 1897 the Under Secretary for Lands further informed the Narrogin-Cuballing branch that Lots 59, 60 and 61 in the Dumberning Agricultural Area were reserved for an experimental farm. More lots were added shortly afterwards, and maps printed at the turn of the century show some 1729 acres labelled as the Experimental Farm.

Unfortunately, within a very short time problems became apparent.  The quality of land varied considerably with a lot of the area heavily infested with Box and York Road poison. The very uneven and patchy nature of this farm rendered experimental work very difficult.

Development of the Farm began in 1902 when E A Robinson arrived to begin preparing the block. He pitched his tent in a clump of stink bushes just north of the Coolgardie Road (now Williams Rd) where the manager’s house was built soon after, and set about organizing the available labour to clear the initial area for crop, ring bark the remaining timber and grub out the poison. Late in 1905, P D Nash’s 1112 acre property to the south was acquired, increasing the Experimental Farm to 2839 acres. The new property had good access to water and to the first stage of the new Collie-Narrogin railway line.

No formal training existed and the Experimental Farm staff had considerable difficulties in handling and instructing the labour force, which consisted of a few students and a greater number of immigrants from Britain. Living in tent accommodation, they were used for clearing and other farm activities until they found employment with local farmers.

A vigorous reorganisation approved by the Minister for Agriculture saw the use of itinerant migrant labour brought to an end, paid farm staff reduced to foreman only and domestic staff increased to allow up to 40 students, of minimum age of 16 to be taken in. These were to be young men who seriously wished to learn all aspects of farming, from clearing to cropping and stock raising. This new institution created at the Narrogin Experimental Farm in 1906 came to be known as the State Farm School.

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