Share farming and the development of the dairy industry in New South Wales 1890‐1940



Publication Details

Castle, R. & Hagan, J. (1999). Share farming and the development of the dairy industry in New South Wales 1890‐1940. Journal of Australian Studies, 23 (61), 187-197.


This article assesses the role of share fanning in the NSW dairy industry until the second world war. It examines the origins of the industry and the effects of the 'Dairy Revolution' on the production of milk, cream and butter in the context of the NSW government's policy of 'closer settlement'. It considers the advantages and disadvantages of share farming for both landlords and share farmers and traces some of the social and economic consequences for the industry and the people involved. In doing so it offers a new explanation for the expansion of the industry and the problems that later developed. Few historians have written on share farming. Dunsdorfs considers its influence, but only in the wheat industry. On writing about the impact of dairying on family life in Victoria, Lake makes only passing reference to it. Davidson examines the dairying industry during the Depression, and argued that its expansion occurred as beef and sheep zone fanners changed over. He does not consider the role of share farming, and for that reason we find his explanation deficient. We argue that share farming was crucial to the expansion of the dairy industry as the means whereby those with little or no capital entered it. In times of prosperity, dairying 'on shares' offered a modest prosperity; in depression, it offered subsistence and an alternative to the dole. After 1890 dairying spread rapidly in New South Wales, assisted mainly by changes in technology and land legislation and the development of overseas markets. Initially dairying developed through owner occupation, but, by 1916, share farming was sufficiently established and its consequences enough appreciated to attract the attention of a royal commission, and subsequently, to prompt ameliorating legislation in the Rural Tenants' Improvements Act 1916. It was the subject of a select committee in 1920-1 and further legislation in 1941, when it was estimated that at least 36 per cent of dairy farms in coastal New South Wales were operated by share. We argue that share farming is the key to explaining the dynamics of the dairy industry, especially after the first world war. It explains the expansion of the industry despite many years of low farm incomes, and failing prices during the Depression of the 1930s

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