Thu 8 Sep 1932, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954)

Maitland: Gem Of The Peninsula Wheatbelt How Despised Country Came Into Its Own.


Maitland is an example of an old-old agricultural story — the land which was deemed good failed after a course of years to come up to expectations, and the despised broom bush country, which nobody would take as a gift, proved its superiority. Then, of course, everybody wanted it.

When you get down to Maitland you are liable to mix your historical localities rather badly. That is inevitable, because in the early days one or two families owned practically the whole of the peninsula.Thus if you write of the Rogers family you come up against it in Maitland, you rub shoulders with it again in Minlaton, and, unless you take special care to avoid it, you are liable to bump into it again in Yorketown, or even at the extreme end of the "toe" at Cape Spencer. The former Auditor general of the State, Mr. W. E. Rogers, is a descendant of this pioneer family. As I have got to tell its story, I might as well do so here. If you should encounter it again in later articles you will remember that its holdings were so large that several towns are now located on what was formerly the Rogers country.

It is curious how extensive are the ramifications of family history. I am about to give you the story of Maitland, but to do so it is necessary to take you back to the city, where the Rogers family had their first pastoral property close to Adelaide.

The original Rogers was William, and his wife, Ann. They came to South Australia in 1839. Their first property was close to Burnside. They called it Tusmore, after their home in England. Today it is an important eastern suburb. Cattle and sheep browsed over the country, which is now dotted with handsome villas and elaborate bungalows. William Rogers died, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Matthews, in Kensington. It was then that his widow, who seems to have been an excellent business woman, extended the family interests to Yorke's Peninsula. She was assisted by two sons, Walter and Samuel. Here is a list of the peninsula holdings of the Rogers family: — Corny Point, Carrabie, Warrenben, Para Wurlie, White Hut, Weetulta, Yorke Valley, Whitwarta, Kulpara, and Clinton, and later Oyster Bay (Weaver's former property) and another slice of Yorke Valley. I am not sure that this list is complete. But it is sufficiently extensive to justify my claim that the family held practically the whole of the southern portion of the peninsula. In addition, Samuel Rogers owned Urania and Ynoo, close to what is now Maitland.

I had not been half an hour in Maitland before I heard of Samuel Rogers. The town is portion of his former run, and the streets commemorate the family. These are Rogers terrace, which honors the family in general; Samuel street, after the owner of Ynoo; Elizabeth street, after Elizabeth Rogers; Alice street, after Mrs. Alice Gardiner, the old pastoralist's sister-in-law; Gardiner terrace, after the Gardiner family; Robert street (the main business street of Maitland), after Robert Rogers, and Walter and Caroline streets after other members of the clan. The only well existing between Kadina and Maitland in the time of Samuel Rogers, a country then notorious for the absence of water, was on Ynoo station. But when I went through the territory a week or two ago it was the dampest piece of land I had ever set eyes on. The truth is that the Peninsula has never shown brighter prospects than it does this year.

Council On Ancient History

In the council room of the Maitland Corporation I met the Mayor (Mr. C. H. King), the town clerk (Mr. V. F. Schultz), and Messrs. F. T. Pearce, W. Oatey, J. T. King, sen., John Thomas, and J. O. Tiddy, all old-timers. We had a long pow-wow about the early days, and I am sure Mr. C H. King, Mayor of Maitland those old people enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a sort of council on ancient history. When you look down Robert street today, a thoroughfare almost as wide as King William street, with handsome buildings on either side, you could scarcely credit that these elderly gentlemen before me remembered the blacks holding holding high festival on the land where the Church of England now stands. None of them looked as if they went back that far. It was only when they began to recite their ages that you came to know that their faces were younger than their years.

The Peninsula blacks were notorious for their ferocity. I learned in conclave this was largely the white man's fault. Our dusky brethren were tame enough when they were left alone. But when the white men filled them up with rum and stole their wives there was apt to be trouble. I imagine a white man's camp in similar circumstances would be no paradise.

The trouble about these early native outbreaks was that too often the innocent had to suffer for the guilty. King Billy did not worry about legal formulae. When he had a grievance he set out to remedy it, and those who got hurt in the process often wondered what it was all about. One of these incidents happened years ago in the bush where the home of the present mayor now stands. The blacks had been given rum, and the rum gave them exalted ideas. They set out to smash things up. In the process they encountered Trooper Dowling. They attacked him with stones and waddies. He was knocked insensible. The savages were intent on finishing him off when a local identity, Jim Hawes happened on the scene. Jim dashed into the thick of the fray and carried off the wounded policeman. But for his intervention Dowling would surely have been murdered. As it was, he recovered after a long interval,

Mr. John Thomas was one of the earliest residents of Maitland. When he arrived there in 1874 the town comprised a few houses of weatherboard and iron. I do not think there is a weatherboard house in the town today. They are all solid and substantial residences. You see, Maitland is a wealthy district. It includes some of the picked wheat lands of the State. To look down on Yorke Valley from the hill on which Maitland is built is to look into a veritable agricultural paradise. Mr. Thomas remembers when there was only one wooden store In Maitland. It was also the post-office. There must have been a good many postcards to be read in those days, for the sorting of the mail took an interminable time. To relieve the tedium the waiting crowd danced to the music of a concertina. When the first stone house was built by Mr. W. J. Noble it caused more excitement than the erection of a skyscraper would do today. The country at that time was largely covered with black grass and sheaoak. The roads were mere dirt tracks. It was not uncommon in walking across the streets to get hopelessly bogged.

Beginning Of The Wheat Era

The district was surveyed in 1872. The following year a few farmers started growing wheat. The earliest attempts were a failure. No one had any idea then that the peninsula was destined to become the granary of the State. Two bushels to the acre was a common average. Much of the land was neglected for years because it was considered too poor to produce crops. This despised country is the land which today is yielding the best wheat. This was broom bush country. In the seventies it was considered madness to buy it for a farthing an acre. Today, probably, you couldn't buy it at all. No one wants to part with it.

One man paid five shillings for his land, and another seven and six. Both these old pioneer wheat-growers now own the finest farms in the district. Superphosphate's did the trick. Once the fertiliser was applied to this "worthless" country it began to do things which made the farmers rub their eyes and ask themselves if they had been dreaming. That settled the fate of the broom bush land. Soon nobody wanted anything else. We can all be wise in retrospect. But it is curious today to read of the rich area stretching between Maitland and Ardrossan that "a man ought to be gaoled for fetching a woman here." The man who wrote that was not gaoled. Instead, he and his wife could write you out a nice fat cheque if they were so disposed. It shows the difference between the agricultural outlook of the seventies and the present day. Modern Governments have a strange method of "encouraging" farmers. A few years ago Mr. Thomas got a prize for producing the best crop in the district. It was promptly followed by a demand for additional taxes. It is a lop-sided arrangement which penalises the industrious man and rewards the sluggard. A saner method would be to tax the man who failed in normal circumstances to produce an average return. Then the State would benefit both ways, and the inefficient would have to give place to someone who could make better use of the land. There's a lot of good farming in South Australia—and there's a mighty lot of bad!

Early Maitland

You cannot sit in a room with half a dozen veterans for an hour or more without picking up some valuable titbits. When I got my "Council on Ancient History" fairly started, and they began swapping experiences across the table, I learned many interesting facts about early Maitland. I am passing them on incidentally for the benefit of the present generation but more particularly for the information of those who will follow us a few years hence. If, therefore, some of the stories related sound trivial to present day ears, you are asked to visualise their value fifty years hence, when those who lived these scenes have passed over to the great unknown, and none remain to tell the tales we tell now.

For the newspaper is history in the making; the news of today is the history of tomorrow.

In 1874 Maitland was already showing signs of being a busy town, even though the single-storeyed Maitland Hotel and Tiddy's shop were the only buildings of importance. The hotel was built by a man named Driscoll, who took out the foundations himself. About the same time Thomas's butcher shop was established in a sheoak tree, while the proprietor was waiting for his premises to be completed. Water was scarce. What wells there were were near the sea coast on either side of the peninsula. It had to be brought from Point Pearce or Parara, near Ardrossan. it cost 1/ per bucket, or £2 per tank. All the water required for building houses had to be procured in this manner.

Water is still a grave problem on the peninsula. I will have something to say on the present day aspect later on. Wild turkeys and kangaroos provided the bill of fare for the settlers, and emus were esteemed for the oil they yielded, which was used as an embrocation. I was assured that emu oil was the best thing known for external application, as "it would penetrate anything."

Saturday night was the great festival of the week. Everybody came into Maitland that evening. Forty-five traps were counted in front of Tiddy's little bush store one night. The hotel did a roaring trade, and had a skittle alley for the entertainment of its patrons. There was a fighting ring where the police station now stands, and this was the scene of some great encounters. As soon as one battle finished another took place. They were real fights, "with gore flowing by the bucketful." Saturday night in the seventies was a hectic experience. Sunday was a day of repentance.

The first post-office when Maitland attained the dignity of a township of four or five houses was Tiddy's store, a small wooden shanty. But prior to that O'Grady's hut, an isolated outpost on the track to the station, served that purpose. I saw the chimney of this old hut still standing in Yorke Valley, a mile or so out of Maitland. The post office of today is a handsome structure.

Maitland show was one of the biggest events of the year. For that matter it still is. This first exhibition of this kind was held on O'Brien's property in Yorke Valley. Now the Agricultural Society has its own extensive grounds. Mr. F. T. Pearce, one of the pioneers I met, attended the first show in 1878.

Stump Jump Plough Invented

I have not introduced this brief reference to the show without an object. Maitland is an agricultural district pure and simple. Superphosphate, as I have already related, was one of the factors in bringing it to the front as a wheat-growing area. But years before the advent of the fertiliser there was another invention which gave a remarkable impetus to the agricultural industry. This was the stump-jump plough. I do not think South Australians generally appreciate the importance of this invention to Australia. I certainly never did until I began to poke my nose into the affairs of Yorke's Peninsula.

The stump-jump plough, which has revolutionised farming in every State of the Commonwealth, is a South Australian invention. It was worked out on a little farm at Ardrossan by Mr. R. B. Smith, and perfected by his brother, Mr. C. H. Smith.

I have already told you that in the early days of the peninsula the country was so thickly timbered as to be almost impenetrable. You would never think so now as you motor mile upon mile over almost treeless landscape. One of the drawbacks to the development of the peninsula was the heavy cost of clearing the land. This ranged from £2 to £3 per acre. Buying the selection was a simple matter. Grubbing it was the bugbear.

Unexpectedly, on October 27, 1880—I think it was the third year of the society's existence— there appeared on the Maitland show ground a plough which, it was claimed, would do away with the necessity for grubbing altogether. Such a claim was regarded as preposterous. The farmers openly scoffed. But Smith's stump-jump plough gave them an exhibition of agricultural contortions which left them staring. More practical demonstrations were demanded and given. It was shown that land which cost pounds per acre to grub could be cleared for a few shillings. From that time dated the birth of Maitland and the surrounding country as a definite wheat-producing area. Today the South Australian invention is playing a similar important role in every State of the Commonwealth. The stump-jump plough, and its useful little brother, the scrub roller, are opening up the wild places of the continent.

Maitland people are very proud of their district. When you ask them what the land is like, they answer, "The best in the Commonwealth." I am not in a position to substantiate that claim. I am able to say that if there is any better it must be magnificent. Ordinarily you cannot buy land hereabouts unless you are prepared to pay fancy prices. Just now a number of the local farmers are suffering from depleted banking accounts, the result of speculations in real estate, which did not come up to expectations. Others have paid too high a price for their holdings. But these matters do not affect the quality of the country. Yorke Valley lies at the foot of the town. Anything more like the famous pastures of Devon it would be hard to find.

The population of the town is about 600. Recently its boundaries have been considerably enlarged by the Royal Commission on Local Government areas. Its area is now 810 acres in place of 250.


"One of the main difficulties of the peninsula," said the mayor, "is water." 'Too much or too little?" I asked, "Not nearly enough," he said. I hadn't noticed it. When I was over the country the soil was so full of it that it could not absorb any more. The roads were half buried under it, every depression had been transformed into a miniature lake, and as one walked the stuff oozed from the ground in the form of liquid mud. In such circumstances it was hard to believe that this was "dry" country. But the fact of the matter was that the season had opened better than was ever known before. With favorable vernal weather the wheat yield of the peninsula this year should be phenomenal. Everybody was optimistic.

Nevertheless, water is a problem, especially in the towns. The townspeople have got to conserve their own supplies. These are augmented by a small reservoir which holds about 3,000,000 gallons. In some years the water question becomes extremely acute. It was one of these periodical crises which recently brought into existence the Maitland Water Trust, to which the people subscribed over £600 for putting down test bores. Theorists told the trust they had no hope of finding water. Nevertheless they tapped a supply on the showground, yielding perhaps 2,000 gallons an hour. When I was there they were casing this bore with the object of shutting off the salt which was percolating through. The search is to be continued.

One result of the hunt for water was the discovery of indications of oil. I cannot give you much information on oil prospects, because, although the managers of the plant talked to me readily enough about the progress they had made, they did it confidentially— and those are the sort of confidences a newspaper man respects. You will see from the photograph, however, that the search is being seriously prosecuted.

Naming Of Maitland

Maitland is one of those unfortunate places which perpetuates the name of a person South Australia doesn't know. Governor Fergusson, in 1872, named it after Julia Maitland, a relative of his. He inflicted similar atrocities on other parts of the Peninsula. Why South Australia should thus honor the daughter of the Earl of Lauderdale is a question I cannot answer. The aboriginals called the place Madiwaltu (white flint). As I remarked in a previous article, the natives showed more intelligence than the whites in naming places.

No visitor to Maitland is ever allowed to leave without meeting the local aristocracy. It resides about five miles out, and Maitland is extremely proud of it. It comprises Great Count, Loudoun Marchioness, Beneficence, Mary Rose, and a number of other similar ladies and gentlemen of Australian and international renown. It is the famous Clydesdale stud, said to be far and away the best in the Commonwealth. I was introduced to about a dozen and a half long pedigreed animals of both sexes, and initiated into all all the points of a stanch Clydesdale. I am not a horsey man, and I am seriously afraid I was more mystified than enlightened. But even my untrained eye could detect strength, beauty and breeding in the great animals which were displayed for my benefit.

Two of these horses are certain to attract the attention at the forthcoming Royal Show. These are Great Count and Beneficence. The former only arrived from New Zealand last April. He was sired by Rosencraig, and his dam was Camperdown Countess. The names conveyed nothing to me, but from the look of reverence on the faces of my horsey friends I concluded I was supposed to regard the big animal with something of the awe which a mediaeval varlet exhibited towards his liege lord. What did impress me was that six aristocratic Clydesdale ladies were on their way from New Zealand to make the acquaintance of the noble Count. Beneficence comes from Scotland. He won the yearling class at Ayr before coming to the Antipodes. He has already appeared in the Royal Show ring in Adelaide. He has yet to be beaten. Not one of the animals at the Maitland stud can be purchased at under four figures. That should give you an idea of the "classy" kind of folk they are.