Current Issue

Murray Mallee: A Riverine Geography of Aboriginal Labor RICHARD BROOME

Agricultural societies have precursor societies that can be misrepresented in the process of writing agricultural history. Also, the interest in environmental history on labor and nature is rarely applied to Indigenous workers. This article addresses these two issues in the conxtext of Aboriginal people of the Murray River in the region of the Victorian Mallee in southeastern Australia, now premier wheat country. It argues through a close examination of work within a "geography of labor" along the river, that Indigenous people at European contact in the 1840s and long before, labored in a far more successful and sustainable manner than humans did for most of the farm history of this region.

Self--Sown Crops, Modernity, and the Making of Mallee Agricultural Landscapes ANDREA GAYNOR

This paper examines self-sown crops as agents in the agricultural development of Australia's southern mallee lands from the 1890s to the 1940s. Self-sown crops suggested ways to farm and provided the enticement of an occasional windfall. They assisted with expansion and consolidation of holdings and provided moral lessons in the value of persistence. In the context of the rise of modern, scientific farming characterized by strict regimes of crop rotation and fallowing, self-sown crops encouraged farmers to maintain more adaptive, less regimented approaches. Ultimately, modernist systems triumped, and by the mid-twentieth century self-sown crops were all but excluded from mallee agriculter. For a time, however, these plants played a significant role in shaping approaches to farming in the mallee lands and sustaining agricultural enterprise there.

Agricultural Settlement in Victoria's Last Frontier: The Mallee, 1890-1951 CHARLES FAHEY

In the 1890s agricultural settlers moved into the Victorian Mallee, an area characterized by low rainfall and a deep-rooted eucalyptus mallee scrub. By rolling, cutting, and burning this scrub, large areas could be rapidly brought under cereal crops. The key to success on this agricultural frontier was cheap land and the cropping of broad acres using labor-saving cultivation and harvesting machinery.From the 1890s to the early 1920s, settlers successfully farmed the southern regions of the Mallee. In the 1920s settlement pushed north into drier regions, but settlers were allocated blocks too small to be viable, and in the 1930s world commodity prices collapsed. From 1938 to 1944 settlers across the Mallee experienced a run of very dry years, and dust storms became a feature of Mallee life. Government intervention resulted in the consolidation of blocks, which enabled settlers to less intensively cultivate their land and to combine cropping with sheep farming. Government research encouraged new methods of cultivation in the 1940s to arrest sand drift.

All Aboard for Modernity: The Better Farming Train KATIE HOLMES and KYLIE MIRMOHAMADI

Between 1926 and 1935 the Better Farming Train made seven trips to the Victorian Mallee region. Modeled on North American examples, the mission of the Train was to spread the “doctrine of better farming” to this wheat-growing region. The Train carried to the Mallee ideas about the promise of science and the hopes of modernity. It championed particular ideas about agricultural development, settlement, and the role of female labor in carrying out the yeoman ideal of the small farmholding. Although the product of a specific time and place, it also tapped into a long-standing belief that the mallee lands could be developed through correct settlement, the advances of technology, and the application of science. The Train was more than a moving collection of exhibits; it also freighted a way of imagining the Mallee that saw in the prospect of golden fields of wheat a way of redeeming the land and forging a modern nation.

Book Reviews

Latin America

Burnard and Garrigus, The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica, by Justin Roberts

Howard, Black Labor, White Sugar: Carribean Braceros and Their Struggle for Power in the Cuban Sugar Industry, by Urmi Engineer

Southgate and Roberts, Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs: How One Banana-Exporting Country Achieved Worldwide Reach, by Dario A. Euraque


Gilmartin, Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History, by Rohan D'Souza


Cumo, Plants and People: Origin and Development of Human-Plant Science Relationships, by Joel B. Hagen

Wheat, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Carribean, 1570-1640, by Juan J. Ponce-ázquez

Imbert, ed., Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation, by Cindy R. Lobel

Hopper, Slaves of One Master: Globalization and Slavery in Arabia in the Age of Empire, by Chris Conte

Hazareesingh and Maat, eds., Local Subversions of Colonial Cultures: Commodities and Anti-Commodities in Global History, by Jennifer L. Anderson

Murton, Bavington, and Dokis, eds., Subsistence Under Capitalism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, by André Magnan

Elofson, So Far And Yet So Close: Frontier Cattle Ranching in Western Prairie Canada and the Northern Territory of Australia, by Gerhard J. Ens

Loewen, Horse-and-Buggy Genius: Listening to Mennonites Contest the Modern World, by Brian Froese

North America

Wilson, The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture, by Noeleen McIlvenna

Wilson Moore, Sweet Freedom’s Plains: African Americans on the Overland Trails, 1841–1869, by Tisa M. Anders

Sandwell, Canada’s Rural Majority: Households, Environments, and Economies, 1870–1940, by Shannon Stunden Bower

Emmett, Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of U.S. Garden Writing, by William Major

Obach, Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States, by E. Melanie Dupuis

Weise, Corazon de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910, by Simon Delerme

Jimenez Sifuentez, Of Forests and Fields: Mexican Labor in the Pacific Northwest, by Timothy Paul Bowman

Bowen, Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production, by William H. Beezley

Bégin, Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America’s Food, Anthony J. Stanonis

Laudun, The Amazing Crawfish Boat, by Andy Harper

Mart, Pesticides, A Love Story: America’s Enduring Embrace of Dangerous Chemicals, by Amy Hay

Tomkins, Ghostworkers and Greens: The Cooperative Campaigns of Farmworkers and Environmentalists for Pesticide Reform, by Michelle Mart

Hill, Country Comes to Town: The Music Industry and the Transformation of Nashville, by Darren E. Grem

Butler, Raise: What 4-H Teaches Seven Million Kids and How its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever, by Amrys O. Williams