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Chapter 10 Nineteenth-Century Australian Pastoralists and the Origins of State Veterinary Services John Fisher In 1993, Sylvie Lepage spoke to a French couple who had bought a tenthousand -acre property at Cargo in central New South Wales in 1983.Asked why two Parisians became sheep farmers in Australia, Frederic explained: Space and climate. You don’t have to grow fodder here unless there is a drought. The animals stay outdoors all year round. The only building you need is a shearing shed. We don’t have veterinary expenses either, whereas in Europe diseases become more contagious because animals are packed closer together. They have to be looked after. Here we practise natural selection.1 The contribution of space to the success of livestock production in Australia has long been clear, but the low cost of veterinary care also played a major role from the beginning of white settlement. At first this was because most of the infections and infestations that livestock suffered from in Europe found it difficult to survive in the distinctive ecosystems of Austra- Australian Pastoralists and State Veterinary Services |  lia. As this freedom from disease did not persist, however, action to control introduced diseases and to prevent further imports was necessary. The evolving response to disease led to the formation of organizations that came to be called “stock branches” in the Australian colonies. They appeared soon after the middle of the nineteenth century, roughly contemporaneous with the appearance of state veterinary services in western Europe and other regions of European settlement and performing similar functions.2 They differed, however, from the European model in two important respects. In the first place, although the stock branches were government bodies, with their powers established by legislation, their policies and actions were paid for and largely decided by their clients, the livestock owners themselves. In the second place, while in Europe the new services were staffed by professional veterinarians, the latter were markedly absent from the Australian stock branches. These features arose out of the nature of Australian pastoralism as it evolved after 1788. The response to disease was one part of the evolving strategies of pastoralists as they sought to adapt Old-World technology and modes of production to meet the challenges that came from operating in the unfamiliar ecosystems of a New World. Their ability to adapt successfully , as will be seen below, reflected the particular characteristics of a distinctive group of large capitalist producers. Evolution of Australian Pastoralism The first white settlement in Australia was intended to be a jail, and this remained its primary official function until the 1820s. Nevertheless, many of the early settlers, notably John Macarthur, were attentive to the potential for economic gain.3 Opportunities came first in supplying the jail at Sydney Cove with basic necessities (including rum), in facilitating Pacific trade, and in harvesting the marine resources (primarily whales and seals) of the South Pacific. It was soon evident, however, that the longer-run economic future of New South Wales lay in utilizing its most abundant factor—land—for livestock production. Colonial governors and private individuals both played a role in the early introduction of domesticated livestock into New South Wales, but it was the latter who dominated the development of Australian pastoralism . After initial problems in getting horses, cattle, and sheep to Australia, the white settlers were encouraged by positive feedback from the processes Alfred Crosby terms “ecological imperialism.”4 Livestock flourished in Australian ecosystems in the early colony; they benefited from a relative absence of predators and disease agents, exhibiting high reproduction rates  | John Fisher and excellent health. The problem for white settlers was how to extract maximum value from this success. Despite a sharp rise in convict numbers after 1815, the jail was too limited a market to provide much of a prospect for colonial entrepreneurs. A number of them, however, were already experimenting with sheep breeding . John Macarthur, long considered the “Father of the Australian Wool Industry,” was, in fact, only one of a number of entrepreneurs involved in the early development of Merino wool production.5 However, the point here is that the successful pioneers were men and women with capital and vision combined with the ability to participate in the wider economic and social networks necessary to realize the fruits of their efforts. Their success also reflected their capacity to operate on a large scale of production.Although there were numerous small farmers in the white settlement , mainly ex-convicts, these made little contribution...


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