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Local agricultural bureau takes major prize at Camden Show

Menangle Agricultural Bureau

While I was visiting a historical contact at Menangle I was shown a framed photograph of a winning display in the district exhibition at the 1937 Camden Show. The photograph was bordered by the prize winning ribbon from the Camden AH&I Society awarded to the Menangle Agriculture Bureau. The photograph peaked my interest as I was not familiar with the local agricultural bureaux. A search in the archive files at the Camden Historical Society including those the Camden Show Society yielded light on the matter either.

A framed photograph of the winning district display organised by the Menangle Agricultural Bureau at the 1937 Camden Show. The photograph is surrounded by the winning sash from the Camden AH&I Committee and has been framed for preservation. The organiser of the display was  JT Carroll and the bureau president was  HE Hunt and secretary  F Veness. The framed photograph came to light in 2017 and was handed to Menangle resident Brian Peacock. This is rare photograph of an important day for the village of Menangle which was an example of an English-style estate village controlled by the Macarthur family’s Camden Park Estate.

So what happened at the 1937 Camden Show.

The Menangle Agricultural Bureau took out a first prize at the 1937 Camden Show in the district exhibit. The bureau had entered its agricultural display of fruit, vegetables and other produce. The Camden News reported the display was constructed with over 3000 apples. The Menangle Agricultural Bureau won against stiff competition from the Mount Hunter Agricultural Bureau. The only other competitor in that category.

So what is an agricultural bureau? When did they appear in the Camden district?

Agricultural bureaus were established in New South Wales in 1910 as an initiative of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, according to the State Archives and Records of NSW

The aims of the agricultural bureaux were to ‘connect with young rural people’. They were ‘to deliver lectures and demonstrations and special instructions to farmers, and to promote fellowship and social networks within rural communities’.

The bureaux appear to be one of a number of organisations that were part of an organised youth movement within the British Empire set up during the Edwardian period.

The State Archives maintains that the stated aims of the agricultural bureau movement fitted the general imperial youth movement of the time. In NSW ‘the main functions of the Bureau were to promote rural and adult education, to organise co-operative group effort to improve facilities, to train people in citizenship, leadership, and community responsibility’.

There was an anxiety amongst the ruling elites of the British Empire about the state of youth and there was a concerted campaign to inculcate the values of thrift, diligence and obedience. During the Edwardian period the youth movement spawned a number of youth organisations including Boy Scouts, Boys Brigade, Girl Guides, and a host of others. These organisations have been seen by some historians like Michael Childs Labour’s Apprentices as agents of patriotism, obedience and social passivity.

The agricultural bureaux were a farmer-controlled self-governing body which could received extension services from the NSW Department of Agriculture. They were apolitical and non-sectarian.

The state government kept firm control of the new organisation through the NSW Department of Agriculture initially provided lectures through the Department’s District Inspectors of Dairying and Agriculture. The state government went further and provided a subsidy to the bureaux members at the rate of 10/- per pound. In addition council members were reimbursed their expenses for attending meetings.

The activities of the early agricultural bureaus on the Camden district seem to indicate that the bureaus were less of a youth organisation and more of an adult farming group and included activities for the entire family.

One of the earliest agricultural bureaus to be established in the Camden area was at Orangeville around 1913.

The Camden News reported in April that members of the bureau were keen to gain all the scientific knowledge to develop their orchards. They had tried explosives in their orchards as a means of improving ‘sub-soiling’, initially under the trees and then next to the trees. The results of the experiment would not be known, it was reported, until the trees started to bare fruit.

In October 1913 the Orangeville Agriculture Bureau organised a picnic. Mr J Halliday organised the festivities for the ‘ladies and children’. There were 70 children present and prizes were organised for a number races and a competition amongst the ladies organised by Mr RH Taylor. The proceedings were livened up by Mr Joseph Dunbar on the gramophone. A tug-of-war was organised between the single and married men. Councillor CG Moore captained the married men and Mr AL Bennett ‘led the bachelors’.  The married men won. Both men were candidates in the upcoming Nepean Shire elections. A short political address was given by Mr WG Watson, which was followed by games until sunset. Mr Taylor, the vice-chairman, thanked everyone for coming and stressed the advantages of becoming a member of the bureau.

A women’s extension service was organised within the body. The bureaus organised farmer training courses, while the women’s extension service organised domestic training courses. The agricultural bureaus were affiliated with a range of other rural organisations including the Bush Nursing Associations, The Rural Youth Organisation and a number of farming organisations.

 The local agricultural bureaux disappeared after the Second World War, while the organisation carried on at a state level into the 1970s.

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