Australia since Federation Defining Moments, 1901–present
Investigation 5: Significant people
5.2 1903 William Farrer: Feeding the world
Imagine that you are a farmer who grows wheat.
The wheat you grow is used to help feed people in Australia, and around the world.
But some years you cannot grow much wheat. Sometimes there is disease in the wheat that stops it from growing.
Sometimes there is not enough rain to provide water for the crop.
In those years you cannot grow much, you lose money, the food becomes much more expensive because wheat is scarce, and you cannot send any overseas to help feed others.
What if someone could grow a better wheat and overcome these problems?
Discuss this question, then see what happened with one person in Australia.
Read the information below and use it to answer the Significant people in Australian history questions at the bottom.
William Farrer information file
William Farrer was a scientist who was born in England in 1845. He migrated to Australia in 1870.
He was interested in developing wheats and grasses that were better adapted to the Australian climate and environment than the imported British ones, which had developed over thousands of years in different conditions to those in Australia.
He was most interested in wheat. Wheat seeds are turned into flour, and used to make various types of bread. Bread is a key part of the diet of many people throughout the world.
He began mixing the genes of different types of wheat, and seeing how they grew in different conditions, such as the amount of moisture, different temperatures, different wind strengths (wind could break the stalks), and different soils. He also had to take into account how well the wheat could be milled — that is, crushed and turned into flour.
He carefully recorded the results. He was using evidence to reach a conclusion, which is a good scientific method.
Eventually he developed a strain of wheat that suited the main Australian wheat-growing areas best. It did not get the most common diseases; it created a high yield of wheat; it had a strong stalk that would not break in the wind; it needed less water that other types of wheat; and it produced good quality flour. He called it ‘Federation Wheat’, in honour of the new Federation of the colonies.
Farrer’s wheat became the most widely planted variety of wheat from 1910 until 1925, when newer varieties were developed.
Farrer’s Federation Wheat led to new areas being opened up to wheat-growing.
Wheat is now Australia’s most valuable crop. William Farrer helped make that possible.
Significant people in Australian history
1. Who was the person?
2. When did they live?
3. Where did they live?
4. What did they do?
5. Why did they do this?
6. What problems did they have to overcome to succeed?
7. What happened to the person?
8. What was the outcome or effect of what they did?
9. What qualities did this person have?
10. Why was this person significant or important in Australian history?
11. If you could meet this person and ask them three questions, what would they be?
12. If you were advising the National Museum of Australia on an object that it could display to help tell their story, what would you suggest? You can see what objects the Museum has using the National Museum of Australia Collection Explorer.