The stripper was an Australian invention which revolutionised the harvesting of wheat in the mid. 19th century. It was especially valuable in the hot, dry climate of South Australia where the grain dried on the stalk and the straw was of little value. The stripper not only enabled larger paddocks to be sown with wheat but solved South Australia's chronic labour shortages. Prior to its introduction the crop had to be manually cut laboriously with a sickle or scythe, tied into bundles and placed into stooks in the field to dry before threshing.
The stripper was a mechanically simple machine to make in small engineering workshops and inexpensive to purchase. It was so successful in South Australia that by 1864 nearly 90% of the wheat was being harvested with it and 10,000 machines had been sold by 1883. The machine made possible a remarkable expansion of the wheat belt in that State, from 1,000 acres in 1840 to 168,000 acres by 1856. It was the lightness and low cost of the stripper which enabled new farmers to get started on the land and grow wheat well into marginal areas.
In other States adoption of the stripper was slower. Western Australia continued using the scythe for harvesting well into the second half of the 19th century while in Queensland the farmers were even more conservative. In 1893 the Queensland Department of Agriculture despaired at introducing either the stripper or reaper-binder as they were thought too costly at 60 pounds each. Instead they urged farmers to use the scythe and cradle.
As well as South Australia, the stripper was commonly used in northern Victoria and western New South Wales. It required long hot summers to fully ripen the crops so the heads could be easily "knocked off" as its efficiency depended on the crop being ripe and dry. The machine did not work well in moist areas such as southern Victoria and the New England region of New South Wales where the reaper-binder was preferred. The stripper used less labour than the reaper-binder but the latter could also cut oats and barley as well as wheat and delivered the straw for use as fodder or stock bedding. The Australian farmer habitually burned the straw left standing in the paddock, for which the stripper was ideally suited.
The stripper remained in dominant use for harvesting cereal crops in Australia until about 1910 despite the invention of the more complicated and expensive stripper-harvester in 1884. Its popularity continued well into the 20th century until production finally ceased in the 1940s.
J. B. Hirst, 'Martin, James (1821 - 1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, pp 219-220.
Simpson, Margaret & Phillip, "Old Farm Machinery in Australia : A Fieldguide and Sourcebook", Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1991, pp.57-61.
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