Agriculture - Historical background

New South Wales was extremely isolated and it was critical that a constant food supply was established. Soon after settlement the soil around Sydney was discovered to be unsuitable for growing crops. Fortunately an appropriate site was established at Rose Hill, (now known as Parramatta) by Governor Phillip in 1788 and by 1790 a large area had been cleared and crops had been successfully harvested. Due to this achievement Phillip decided to establish a town on the site and further land was granted around the area.

During 1791 small grants were given to mainly emancipated convicts at Parramatta and the area surrounding including Prospect Hill, The Ponds and the Northern Boundary (North Parramatta). Several years later larger grants were made to ex-military, civil servants and to a smaller extent, free settlers. The soil at Prospect was quite fertile but access to water was sometimes a problem. The settlers in The Ponds and Northern Boundary districts were reasonably prosperous.

Land was first granted at "Liberty Plains" in the Auburn district in 1793. Although crops were grown in this area the land was not particularly fertile. Some of these early settlers sold their land and took up new grants when the Hawkesbury was established in 1794. The Government also established a Public Farm at Toongabbie and many hundreds of convicts worked here until it closed down around 1808.

The Hawkesbury district was settled in 1794 and the fertile floodplain produced much needed crops for the colony. The settlers, mostly emancipated convicts, were granted thirty acre lots and were very pleased with their farms as their crops were extremely productive. Unfortunately regular flooding meant that the Hawkesbury could not always be relied as the main food supply.

The first grants in the Liverpool district were granted from 1798 mainly along the George's River on the alluvial river flats. The town itself was established as a refuge for the settlers already living along the banks of the Georges River. Around 1800, several families settled without official permission, at Bird's Eye Corner, just north of Penrith. Official grants of land were made in 1803 along the Nepean River.

The fertile land was quickly taken up in the Nepean and Hawkesbury districts and because of the ban on land around the Cow Pastures (now Camden) settlers were then established in the vicinity of South Creek (now St. Marys). In 1801 the Government Farm was established at Castle Hill. Governor King selected land at Castle Hill for "public cultivation" and this was basically cleared by 1803 growing cereal crops. However following the Vinegar Hill uprising of convicts in 1804 the farm was closed. The Government Depot was located at Rooty Hill in 1813 and was mainly used for grazing by the government herd. The first grants in the Baulkham Hills district commenced in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The land varied in suitability for agriculture, wheat and oats plus fruit growing as well as grazing lands.

Life was not easy for these early settlers, they were living in an unfamiliar country with unpredictable weather and often far from any form of civilisation and support. The work was physically hard and few livestock and tools were available. Many of the settlers were inexperienced particularly with Australian conditions.

Most farms in the Western Sydney area were originally involved in small scale farming. At first settlers grew wheat and maize and later cultivated vegetables and fruit. Larger holdings were often established as grazing properties.

The government was responsible for establishing stores, selling crops, conveying goods etc until the economy developed and individuals took over.Until Macquarie arrived as Governor, the settlers experienced many difficulties including financial losses, extortion rackets, flooding and stand over tactics from some officials and larger landowners. Eventually most of these issues were rectified including moving settlers homes to higher grounds so that only crops were ruined during floods.

Campbelltown (originally named Airds), Minto and Appin were first settled in 1809 and followed the government's plan to establish settlers away from the flood plains. These grants ranged from small holdings to large estates. Although a route over the Blue Mountains had been discovered in 1813, opening up land in the west, only hotels and police stations lined the road west. Settlement came with the opening of the railways in 1867. At Mt Irvine and the Kanimbla and Megalong Valleys farms were establishing ranging from small scale farming to large grazing properties.

The main forms of agriculture included: