The Mallee was the Land of Promise in the early 20th Century, after the failure of pastoralism in the 19th century. Economic prosperity would result from the land clearance, agricultural development and the building of railway lines to transport the grain. Agricultural communities had been dissipated by two decades of economic depression, war and drought, and the fate of the nation seemed to rest with their well-being. The Australian Government was keen to instil a sense of confidence in the nation’ s economic fortunes, and the wheatlands were to be part of the solution.
It was assumed that agriculture would be central to the economic and emotional revitalisation of the nation. The government’s strategy involved a variety of subsidies and bounties to assist farmers. The strategy coincided with an escalating demand for wool and wheat on international markets. It was a period in which technological and scientific advances offered farmers the means of increasing productivity and the means to address environmental problems such as the rabbit plagues and soil deficiencies.
The agricultural boom of the 1950s and 1960s took on the image of a ‘golden age’ that came to represent the full flowering of the closer settlement ideology and the pioneer legend. The wheatlands emerged as the public face of the post-war nation, invoking its true character and spirit. They were deeply inscribed with a colonial narrative about the heroic occupation of a difficult environment. This ‘national rural myth’ memorialised the story of settlers who arrived in the first years of the colony and later became selectors of rural land from which they struggled to make a living. The history of colonisation was neatly contained within a consensus of rural settler narratives that sought to erase the unsettling histories of environmental change and Indigenous belonging. The following stories explore this interplay of history and social memory in the wheatlands, suggesting ways in which these agricultural landscapes have become deeply mythologised.
The 1990s was the decade of the unravelling of communities’ social fabric of the settled landscapes of the Mallee. People relocated from the scattered farming settlements to the larger regional centres. The life of the small towns and village withered, with the ‘dying town’ syndrome dramatically represented in the dryland wheat region of the Mallee. In the 21st century people continue to vacate their farms and small towns, and to resettle in the regional centres offering greater social and economic opportunity.
This project has evolved into a collaborative project with its own website.