In the late 1800s governments realised the survival of the Australian colonies depended on the expertise of farmers. Ploughing matches were organised to encourage excellence, and to inform farmers about new practices and machinery. The matches were competitive, but also had an important social role.
Ploughing matches, and the exhibitions held with them, were forerunners to Sydney's Royal Easter Show. 'The Show' still plays the important roles of bringing farmers together and showcasing new technologies today.
Sandra McEwen, Curatorial, 2008
In the 1870s and 1880s one of the most popular ways Australian farmers got together was with ploughing matches or competitions between ploughmen. They were a great sporting, educational and social event. Ploughmen often travelled great distances to attend with their supporters, to compete in championships in various districts.
Good ploughing was a skill requiring considerable practice with straight lines, neat crowns and evenly-cut furrows. At first the ploughing matches were privately organised but later held in conjunction with local shows organised by agricultural and pastoral societies.
The first ploughing match was held in 1828 at Sutton Forest, in the Southern Highlands not far from Sydney. By the 1870s and 1880s ploughing matches were very popular in Tasmania and New South Wales but especially Victoria where up to 80 men competed in teams. Any suitable flat land was used including paddocks, the centres of racecourses and on plains etc. There were three classes, A, B & C and a special one for boys under 18 years of age.
Class A was the championship class and Class C for those who had not won any prizes. Matches were often followed by a horse parade where prizes were awarded to the best turned out teams, best kept set of harnesses and the best ground team. Ploughing matches were governed by time and points awarded by three to five judges.
Two Inter-Colonial ploughing matches were held in Victoria at Werribee in 1882 and Ballarat in 1883. At the latter some 5,000 spectators attended with 22 teams in the single-furrow event. Champion ploughmen achieved hero status and many were known throughout Eastern Australia.
Ploughing matches not only gave farmers the opportunity to hone their skills but were important in the development of ploughs suitable for Australian conditions. Manufacturers showed great interest in the competitions and were also used to introduce new methods of machinery to farmers.
Ploughing matches began to decline during the depression and drought of the 1890s then later from labour shortages during and after World War I and eventually the decline of the horse-drawn farm implements. Ploughing with tractors did not require the same skill as manoeuvring one horse or multiple horse teams.
Margaret Simpson, Curator
This 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 there are a number of significant events from the 1900s covered by the collection including; Embarkation of troops for the Boer War, Hordens fire and 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
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