Tasmania is known for growing apples, wool and potatoes, but its short-lived tilt at growing tobacco is all but forgotten.
- Tasmania’s tobacco industry peaked in the 1930s
- Farm diaries from Arundel Farm in the Derwent Valley detail the growing and picking of tobacco leaf
- In 1937 Tasmania grew 100,000 pounds of tobacco leaf
Historic farm diaries from Arundel Farm in the Derwent Valley have given a rare insight into the growing and drying of tobacco leaf in the 1930s.
The farm at Macquarie Plains grows wool and lambs, but from 1931 to 1936 it tried its hand at tobacco production, like many other properties in the region seeking to diversify into the lucrative industry.
The original tobacco kiln is still standing, and farmer Fi Hume has been delving into the property’s history through diaries kept by her father and grandfather.
“I’ve always loved the building and I love the farm diaries, so I’m just on a bit of a thing at the moment,” she told ABC Radio Hobart.
“I’m trying to look at what we were doing back in the 1930s and doing some historical research.
A new diary keeper
Ms Hume’s family has run Arundel Farm since 1894.
The detailed diaries document the farm’s operations from 1919 onwards.
“Dad has diaries from the 1970s through to a couple of years ago and then he passed the batten over to me,” she said.
“So now I’m the diary keeper.”
Ms Hume grew up on the farm and then worked on it with her father from 2001 until his death last year and she now runs it with the help of a stockman.
She says she finds the diaries invaluable in understanding the land.
Friday, 8 April 1932
We again were tobacco picking and got kiln going about 5pm, a full kiln of 700 sticks
Restoring a relic
The tobacco kiln is a tall, rustic wooden building with a spire at the top.
It was originally used for drying hops, which the farm has grown since 1906.
Inside the kiln are timber drying racks.
The tobacco was picked and tied in bunches onto poles, or ‘sticks’ as the farm diaries call them.
The kiln was later used as storage and now contains other historical items, like farm tools and cart wheels.
Ms Hume said the property once had several tobacco kilns, and devoted 30-50 acres to growing tobacco.
“We’d like to one day restore it,” she said.
“It’s still up, which is fantastic.”
The diaries reference other local farmers bringing tobacco to the farm to be dried.
“The plants are really quite beautiful, but you’re not allowed to have a plant these days,” she said.
Thursday, 7 April 1932
I took all hands except apple pickers and gather tobacco
Industry faced challenges
It seems the tobacco endeavour was short lived on Arundel Farm due to problems with disease.
“From what dad told me, it didn’t go very well because of something called blue mould,” Ms Hume said.
“Dad used to always say that it wasn’t until the Victorians started growing it up around the Bright area that they worked out how to tackle blue mould and the industry took off,” she said.
The Mercury newspaper references blue mould in 1938 as ‘wiping out some of the planting areas in Bushy Park’, but ‘the raising of plants in seed beds under special treatment’ had helped fight the disease.
Dreams of a booming industry
Tobacco was first grown in Australia in by Governor Lachlan Macquarie at Emu Plains in New South Wales in 1818, and was grown in Victoria and Queensland by the 1850s.
It is believed the early planting of tobacco was to also make a sheep dip, with nicotine used as a pesticide.
It was first grown in Tasmania in 1820 at Tinderbox on a small scale for local consumption.
Tobacco growing hit a peak in the 1930s when James Scullin’s Labor government reportedly introduced a high tariff on imported tobacco leaf to create a boom during the Great Depression.
The government also later brought in a requirement for manufacturers to use a set amount of locally grown tobacco to further stimulate the industry.
An article from The Mercury in August 1938 explored the possibility of expanding the industry in the Derwent Valley, and said it was of ‘great value to the district’.
It reports that in 1937 75,000 pounds of tobacco leaf of ‘marketable quality’ was produced in the Derwent Valley, and 25,000 pounds from other areas of the state inlcuding Scottsdale, Westbury, Edith Creek and Margate.
In the same year the Tasmanian Agriculture Department advertised for an Assistant Tobacco Officer.
The 100,000 pounds of Tasmanian tobacco leaf pales in comparison to the 6.5 million pounds produced in the Commonwealth, and 20 million pounds imported in 1937.
Records of tobacco growing drop off in the 1940s and 1950s, and it remains unclear whether it was due to growing conditions, disease, war or economics.