Historical overview of the Australian food science and technology industry.
When the Europeans arrived in 1788, they were confronted with an arid land and food supplies far removed from what they had left behind. They encountered the Aboriginal people, a civilisation not expected, and in addition they discovered many new and varied techniques for hunting, processing and storing foods. Techniques included: leaching poison from nuts that could take days or even weeks; catching fish with nets made from natural fibres; or storing seeds wrapped in grass then covered in mud. Farrer (2005) tells how the European’s decided to ignore the knowledge of the Aboriginal people and continued their attempt at transplanting what was familiar to them. With them they brought many skills, but basic knowledge. They didn’t understand the science behind growing the produce, nor for storage, but they brought with them the technology of Britain that would later become the history of Australia. Although Governor Phillip had access to grain and four millstones were landed at Sydney Cove in 1788, there was an unfortunate return to primitive milling techniques, using 40 iron hand mills, due to a lack of skill and knowledge. These mills were blunt within a year and the colony turned to querns and pestle & mortars – a method, Farrer (2005) warns, that had to suffice until the mid-1790’s. From man-powered treadmills to man-powered capstan mills, to horse driven mills, to Sydney’s first windmill in 1797. Without the right men to operate the mill, it was not a great success. The first successful watermill dates from 1812 and in 1815 the first steam mill opened, though as Farrer (1999) explains, for most of the nineteenth century the motive power was water or wind. This technology was a runner stone revolving on a fixed bed stone that ground the grain, until the introduction of roller technology in the 1880’s – almost 100 years later. Loss of time & product associated with slow transport, plus the cost, saw mills emerge in the country. Eventually the railway, better road transport, and a new milling technology destroyed the country millers and led to centralisation of modern milling. Milling and baking were interconnected and were subject to direct government supervision until well into the 1820’s (Farrer, 2005). The Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre (ASTHC, 2000) explains that due to high temperatures and the scarcity of labour, the wheat stripper was developed in 1843. It soon became apparent that it would be advantageous if the stripping and winnowing could be combined into one machine, and therefore the stripper-harvester was developed in 1884. This was followed by the header-harvester some time later in 1913. In the 1890’s Farrer, a wheat breeder, and Guthie, a chemist, laid the foundations for ‘cereal science’. Farrer (2005) describes how they were able to establish how the wheat would behave commercially and were also able to genetically modify it. Through advances they determined the milling and baking properties of new varieties of wheat – such as yield, colour, gluten content/ strength, water absorption and baking quality. The government investment in railways and the passing of a series of land settlement acts (directed at settling people onto wheat farms), also enabled wheat cropping in the drier areas of the Mallee and other regions (ASTHC, 2000). Water supplies were often polluted and it was thought to be safer to drink ale or beer. Farrer (2005) suggests that brewing began almost as soon as colonists settled with James Squire becoming Australia’s first commercial brewer in 1790. In 1804 the first brewery was established in order to supply an alternative to spirits – which were thought of as unwholesome, and led to social problems. Squires is also believed to be the first to grow hops in 1805, but it was not until 1822 that hops was firmly established as an agricultural industry in the Derwent...
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