Australian agricultural and rural life

Agricultural produce

When the First Fleet arrived in 1788, the settlers brought European farming techniques with them. They weren’t prepared for Australia’s poor soils and harsh climate and most of the crops they planted in the first few years of settlement failed.


Pioneering pastoralist John Macarthur and clergyman Samuel Marsden were the first to import, raise and successfully market Spanish Merino sheep. Australian wool soon became highly sought-after and fine Merino wool was Australia’s first successful primary industry, injecting much-needed money into the Australian economy. Sheep and cattle are still the main grazing herds farmed in Australia, with sheep and beef cattle found predominantly in the drier inland regions and dairy herds traditionally along the lusher coastal regions of the Eastern States.

For much of the 19th century Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’, but by the turn of the 20th century, pastoral land was being turned over to large-scale crop-growing, particularly in the Western Slopes districts. Wheat proved to be one of the most successful crops. Between 1896 and 1906, the amount of land devoted to wheat doubled, and New South Wales became one of the leading international exporters of wheat. It remains one of Australia’s biggest exports today.

Before 19th century industrialization, 'paddock to plate' food distribution routinely involved face-to-face contact between growers and consumers. Local farmers brought their excess produce into town for direct sale to customers in the marketplace. Nowadays, food distribution systems in Australia, and worldwide, are much more complex.

Promoting Australian-grown produce has always been a big part of marketing primary production, both here and internationally. From the late 19th century, government departments such as the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and the Immigration and Tourist Bureau, promoted Australian products , like wool and wheat  and producers through brochures, booklets and posters.


Agricultural produce


From the first decades of the 20th century, promotion and marketing organisations and co-operatives were set up to raise the profile of particular products and to act as lobby groups for the farmers in these industries. These included the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wheat Board in the 1930s, Queensland Cane Growers Association in the 1920s, and Dairy Farmers Co-operative Milk Co. Limited in 1900.

Now, according to the Australian Farmers' Federation, Australian farmers each produce enough food to feed 600 people. Ninety-three per cent of our food is produced in Australia and the agricultural sector contributes three per cent (approximately $48.7 billion) to the Australian GDP.


This story has been developed with the support of the State Library of NSW Foundation.

We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.

Supported by Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation