This photograph, printed from a glass plate negative, was taken in lucerne paddock in a cereal growing area of New South Wales, probably in the late nineteenth century. Hay was cut in the paddock and loaded onto horse-drawn wagons. This photo shows it being forked into a stationary baler, which compressed the hay into bales, to make it easy to carry, pack and store in a shed for stock feed. It is shown being powered by a steam traction engine via a long flat leather belt. Later, in the early 1900s, balers were driven by a small internal combustion engine mounted on the frame, or by a tractor's belt drive.
Hay balers powered by steam engines came into general use in America in about 1884. One particular type was the ram baler which was usually a large, heavy, long machine. Compression was provided by a gear-driven horizontal piston requiring about 15 bhp to operate satisfactorily, with energy stored in the flywheel. Power machines were often provided with a condenser to thrust the hay into the hopper between strokes. Small balers could be driven by a 3 hp to 5 hp engine mounted on the machine. The resultant standard size of bale was 18 inches (45.7 cm) x 23 inches (58.4 cm) x 3 feet 6 inches (1.1 m) long, though the cross-section was often smaller and lengths varied considerably.
The following information was provided by the hay baler expert, Murray Stokes, in November 2019. The baler or hay press shown in the photograph was made by Jas Smith of Ballarat, Victoria, called the 'Leviathan' and manufactured between about 1895 and the 1920s. It had a capacity to produce 30 tons a day. When it was first introduced to agriculture, this baler was called the 'perpetual' or 'continuous' type because of its continuously operating horizontal plungers (or 'rams') which repeatedly cleared the hay from the bale chamber allowing fresh hay to be continually added to it.
The American, P.K. Dederick of Albany, New York, was the first to patent these machines in 1872. His company revolutionised hay baling as a result. Many people copied P.K.'s idea, some finishing up in court, some not. One of Dederick's original standard bale sizes was 18" x 24", along with 14" x 18" and 9" x 12". This size did not become the norm however as the bales were just too big. By the mid-1880s the most common bale cross-section sizes were 14" x 18", 16" x 18" and 17" x 22" although there were some 17"x 20" and 18"x 22" balers around too (and indeed some 'one-offs' producing bales of 15" x 18", 16" x 20" and even 17.5" x 22").
The photographic negative was published by the Sydney firm Charles Kerry & Co. and is part of the Powerhouse Museum's Tyrrell collection which contains over 2,900 glass plate negatives by Kerry & Co. Although a few appear to be from the 1880s most were produced between 1892 and 1917. Over this period, and well into the early 1900s, prints from these negatives appeared in many Australian publications and albums of views. In 1903 the company began producing postcards from these negatives, further establishing the images as some of the most significant and best known early views of New South Wales.
Some of the more significant themes covered by the collection include; views of New South Wales, Queensland, country towns, Sydney, Indigenous Australians, the South Pacific, rural life, native flora and fauna, and sentimental views. In addition a number of significant events from the 1900s are covered by the collection including; embarkation of troops for the Boer War, Hordens fire, the Inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901, the arrival of the Great White Fleet and the Burns verses Johnson boxing match at Rushcutters Bay in 1908.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, January, 2009
Additions, Margaret Simpson, March 2014
Newton, Gael, Shades of Light; Photography and Australia 1839 - 1988, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988
David, Millar, Charles Kerry's Federation Australia, Sydney, David Ell Press, 1981
Tyrell, James, Australian Aboriginal and South Sea Islands Implements, Weapons and Curios, James Tyrell, Sydney, 1929