The Queensland-British Food Corporation (QBFC) of 1948 – 1956, a broadacre farming project between the British Government’s Oversees Food Corporation and the Queensland State Government, was a monumental undertaking with a two fold purpose: one, to feed the British population whose basic foodstuffs were still rationed; and two, to open up more of Queensland’s interior for closer settlement and cropping.
On April 2, 1948, the Queensland-British Food Corporation Act was granted Royal Assent and became law. Personnel to operate the scheme were sought from both Queensland and the United Kingdom.
The first property resumed by the government was the 92,596 acre (37,474ha) Peak Downs. There were two magnificent homesteads on the property, Magenta – built in 1890, which became the QBFC Field Headquarters, and Peak Downs. The Peak Downs homestead was built by George Fairbairn in 1869 when nails were not readily available and tedious to make. Consequently the homestead walls were constructed from local pit-sawn spotted gum timber, adzed and shaped into 8 inch by 1¼ inch planks. These were dropped into morticed 4½ inch wall studs without the use of nails. The planks were cut on a 12 degree angle to deter weather entry. This homestead was relocated to the museum in Capella on 19 November, 1988, and restored.
QBFC machinery arrived by train or by road, however the first official ploughing began on Peak Downs on 22 May, 1948, when Theiss Bros started their Caterpillar D8 and pulled seven 14 disc Mackay Sundercut ploughs. The Corporation’s own tractors gradually came into service and 31,405 acres (12,710ha) were readied for the first planting. In the QBFC’s fourth annual report, it states that as at 30 September, 1951, there were 130 wheeled tractors, 8 construction tractors, 130 ploughs, 137 combines, 106 headers and 111 vehicles. It is known that there were also numbers of four wheel 4 ton McGrath Freighter trailers, fire harrows, tandem disc ploughs, scarifiers, Comet fire harrows, 6 cubic yard scoops, a pile driver, tractor and horse drawn mowers, a reaper and binder, a hayrake, a Clyde power driven chaffcutter, powered and towed graders, lighting plants, a Hannaford seed grader, a Robinson hammer mill, bag slides, Munro bag elevators and pumping plants on bores.
A total of 29,286 acres (11,852ha) of sorghum was planted over the 1948/49 summer (wet season), with an area of 200-300 acres (81-121ha) around the Peak Downs homestead devoted to experimental crops and grasses. These first plantings prospered until frosts bit in early May causing serious lodging (plants falling over). However, harvest produced 316,000 bushels of sorghum all sewn into 3 bushel grain bags (13 bags to a ton). Cattle were fed on the stubble. The bags were trucked to Capella and stacked into the three newly constructed 100,000 bag grain sheds, to be then loaded onto rail wagons that were pulled up alongside. These took the grain to storage close to Port Alma and Gladstone ports.
Between July and November 1949, 13 ships carried 89,681 bags of grain to the UK for a return of almost £A106,126 ($212,252). The balance of the grain was used in the Corporation’s piggeries or for seed.
By 1949, the QBFC held 492,171 acres (199,182ha) of land across the Central Highlands. The properties were from west of Rolleston (Inderi & Orion Downs) to Cullin-La-Ringo and Marmadilla south of Emerald to Peak Downs and Retro at Capella to Wolfang north of Clermont. The Operational Headquarters were at Peak Downs and a machinery workshop was set up there in a huge surplus aircraft igloo that was acquired at auction from Breddan RAAF base.
By 31 March 1950, a waged workforce of 329 was employed across the Corporation’s lands.
A very wet 1950, wild pigs, a mice plague, rats, frost, drought and fire were some of the difficulties encountered by the QBFC, but lack of understanding of the local climate and less than efficient management systems were its biggest problems.
By 1950, food restrictions were being eased in Britain. The 1951 annual report indicates the financial results from the QBFC operations were disappointing, and, on 30 September, 1952, all the Corporation’s assets and liabilities were transferred to the Queensland Government who paid the British Government £A1,200,000 ($1.4m) in settlement. The Queensland Government was granted assent for its QBFC Winding-Up Act on 18 December, 1953 and proceeded to wrap up the scheme. This was done so successfully that by 1955 the debt had been paid off.
Limited cropping activities were allowed on Peak Downs only while the lands were surveyed into 69 farm settlement leases and 17 grazing selections ready for balloting. These crops yielded a return and the success of this smaller scale enterprise was a pointer for the future.
August 1956 saw the 31 blocks of the Peak Downs and Retro aggregation balloted. Ballot winners had to pay for the value of any fixed improvements remaining on their blocks. The new settlers benefited from the experience and research that the QBFC had provided and they went on to establish today’s dryland broadacre cropping operations across rolling downs of the Peak Downs district.
Information courtesy of ‘Tractors Under The Sky’ by Isabel Hoch and Andy Plunkett. 2000.