This curved knife with a wooden handle is a sickle. It is typical of the curved reaping hooks used since ancient times to harvest wheat, barley, hay and other cereal crops. Its design changed little over thousands of years and has been used for harvesting in Australia right up until the 20th century. Cutting wheat with a sickle was slow, backbreaking work.
Reaping refers to the combined cutting and gathering of the crop and was the first step in harvesting. The design originated independently in many parts of the world and came in a variety of styles. Illustrations of farmers reaping with sickles survive from Egyptian and Roman times while the sickle was mentioned in the Bible. The earliest sickles were made of clay but bronze or copper alloy ones were used in Anatolia, (Turkey) around 2000 BC.
In Australia in the nineteenth century the harvesting of cereal crops was undertaken by hand. Often women used the smaller sickle while men harvested with a long-handled scythe. Hand reaping was a slow process and only about half an acre to an acre could be harvested with a sickle during a hard day's labour. The light slender blade made it necessary for the worker to stoop and only a few stems of wheat could be cut with each stroke. These were held in a bunch by the other hand. The cut stems were later bound into sheaves.
A debilitating lack of labour for the harvest in South Australia saw the development of the horse-drawn stripper for harvesting from the mid-nineteenth century but some of the other States were notoriously slow in harvesting advances and hand harvesting with a sickle and scythe continued until the early 20th century.
Blandford, Percy W. "Old Farm Tools and Machinery An Illustrated History", David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, 1976, pp. 113-114.
Quick, Graeme, R. & Wesley F. Buchele, "The Grain Harvesters", American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St Joseph, Michigan, U.S.A., 1978, pp.2-7.
Wright, Philip A., "Old Farm Implements", David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, 1974, pp. 39.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry