Farming

Looking more. Can you ...

  • Find any vintage machinery on the panel?
  • Identify a Yam Daisy - a traditional food of the Wathaurong people?
  • Remember the date of the annual Bellarine Agricultural Show?
  • Count the total number of windmills on the panel?
  • Create a new light-hearted contest for the Bellarine Agricultural Show?

Learning more. Do you know ...

  • What happens at the Bellarine Agricultural Show?
  • What have been the changing crops on the Bellarine?
  • The importance of Wurdi Youang, at the foot of the You Yangs?
  • When Europeans started farming the Bellarine Peninsula?
  • How Aboriginal people have used fire to farm and create landscapes?

Learning more

Farming OVER TIME

The quality of the soil on the Bellarine Peninsula varies from a rich sandy loam to an exceptionally fertile black volcanic soil. Before Europeans arrived, Wathaurong people collected seasonal fish, seafood and plants and hunted the animals and birds that visited the area’s many water sources. One food source that was actively cultivated was the yam daisy (Myrnong) which is featured on the panel. Fire was used by the early Indigenous farmers in its cultivation.

From the mid-1830s, European settlers moved into the Bellarine Peninsula, raising stock and growing crops; and local farming businesses were established, such as a butter factory and flour mills in Drysdale and Portarlington. The opening of Portarlington’s first public jetty (1859) enabled farmers to ship produce directly to Melbourne; 1869, cargoes included grains, fruit and a range of vegetables.

Today, the Peninsula is noted for its vineyards, olive farms and canola. Smaller farms specialise in speciality sheep and cattle, llamas and angora goats, while others produce cheeses, jams & chutneys; and the Bellarine Taste Trail invites people to enjoy local produce direct from the farm or in local restaurants.

ABORIGINAL FARMING ON THE BELLA WEIN

Since their arrival on the Bellarine Peninsula, Europeans have manipulated the land so extensively – first for agriculture, then for housing – that if any evidence of Wathaurong ‘farming’ existed, it has probably been destroyed or buried. However, just across Corio Bay at the base of the You Yangs, evidence of Wathaurong ‘farming’ does exist, associated with the stone arrangement known as Wurdi Youang.

Wurdi Youang is a roughly egg-shaped formation of about 100 basalt stones arranged along an West – East axis. The stones vary in size from 200mm rocks to 1m standing stones, with an estimated mass of about 23 tonnes. The formation’s purpose is not known for certain, but archaeologists have suggested that it may be an observatory, used to define the seasons of the year in terms of the solstices and equinoxes*. Carbon dating of nearby sites suggests that Wurdi Youang could be 11,000 years old. If true, it would be the world’s oldest observatory – older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

Around the site are remnants of semi-permanent stone villages and of agricultural terracing for crop growing; and a waterhole is located conveniently 500m away. All this suggests that the Wathaurong, far from being nomads, lived in settlements that were at least semi-permanent and were near permanent sources of food and water. It has been suggested that Wathaurong people used Wurdi Youang to keep track of the seasons using the movement of stars, possibly for agricultural reasons.

As Wathaurong elder Reg Abrahams has argued, "If you're going to have a stone arrangement where you mark off the seasons throughout the year with the solstices and equinoxes, it kind of makes sense if you're at least most of the year in one specific location to do that.”

* At its western end, the three largest stones appear to mark the positions of the setting sun at the equinoxes (when the sun lines up with the Earth’s Equator) and solstices (when the sun reaches its most northerly or southerly point in relation to Earth) to within a few degrees; and straight lines on the formation’s north-east and south-east sides appear to mark the position of the setting sun at the two solstices when viewed from the formation’s eastern end.

In his book, Dark Emu (2014), Bruce Pascoe highlights repeated references in the journals of early European explorers to Aboriginal people across the continent manipulating the landscape for their own purposes. They built dams and wells; they planted, irrigated and harvested extensive grain crops; they ground grain into flour; and they stored any surplus flour in houses, sheds or secure vessels.

Those early European explorers reported seeing women clearing huge areas to cultivate and harvest yams (Yam Daisies) and onions. Similarly, when explorer and surveyor Major Thomas Mitchell ventured into Australia’s inland in the early 1800s, he recorded seeing expanses of bright yellow herbs, nine miles of grain-like grass that had been cut and stooped, and earthen clods that had been turned up, resembling ‘ground broken by the hoe’.

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia

Historian Bill Gammage read early European explorers’ journals, too, leading him to conclude that they had found “a farm without fences”. In his book, The Biggest estate on Earth (2012), he argued that while Aboriginal people were certainly hunters and gatherers of food and other resources, they manipulated the landscape to ‘produce’ their food and resources.

In other words, ‘hunting and gathering’ wasn't just an activity in itself - it was the culmination of a very sophisticated process of ‘farming’ the local plants and animals. For example, clearings provide grass for grazing animals like kangaroos and forests give them shelter. So Aboriginal people used fire to create clearings next to open forest; then they burnt the grass again. A fortnight later, the resulting sweet, fresh new grass lured animals to the clearings, making them easier to hunt. So hunting was but the culmination of a sophisticated The biggest – and earliest - fish farm on earth?

The first fish farm

Archaeologist Heather Builth has excavated the remains of an enormous network of fish and eel traps at Budi Bim, in the Lake Condah area of south-west Victoria. The local Gunditjmara people created the system more than 6,000 years ago, transforming a vast tract of swampland into a network of ponds and canals, stretching more than 75 square kilometres inland from the ocean. Similar fish trap structures can be found on the Barwon Darling River in western New South Wales.

Significantly, the Budi Bim network includes the remains of three hundred permanent round stone huts. This shows that while the Gunditjmara people may have been at least partly nomadic, they were also partly settled, practicing one of the first instances of aquaculture.

On 6 July 2019, Budi Bim became the first landscape in Australia to receive world heritage protection solely for its Aboriginal cultural importance. UNESCO made the announcement at its meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, following a decades-long campaign by traditional owners, some of whom were present at the announcement.

The Budi Bim site isn't on the Bellarine Peninsula. However, its existence reinforces the lessons of the Wurdi Youang site across the bay: rather than being nomadic hunters and gatherers, local Aborigines were at least partly settled in one place, where they manipulated their environment - farmed - in various ways.

The Bellarine Agricultural Show

What better way to understand contemporary farming on the Bellarine Peninsula than a visit to the annual Bellarine Agricultural Show?

The Bellarine Agricultural Society holds the show in Portarlington on the Sunday of Labour Day long weekend from 9am. Show organisers proudly describe it as “a traditional country show reflecting old-fashioned country values”.

The local rural community gathers together at the Show to showcase its art and handicrafts and, of course, its farming produce. The Show includes demonstrations of country skills, from sheep-shearing to lace-making, while the Hay Roll and Gumboot Tossing Competitions add lighter notes.

Each Show also features a demonstration of vintage machinery, presented by the volunteers of the Bellarine Vintage Machinery Group.

SOURCES

Relevant organisations