Early History of Tobacco Growing in Tumut District
The Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural & Mining Advocate.
By H.W.M. [Dr. Mason]
15 September 1927
A boom in tobacco growing took place just 40 years ago.
In the year 1888 a great deal of river flat land was ploughed; much of it had never been ploughed before. In the year 1887 three big floods took place, on the 27th and 29th October, and 3rd November, caused by melting snow in the mountains. Grasses that were two feet high were flattened out, and buried under mud and flood water deposit. Next year (1888) a great deal of these flats was ploughed and planted with tobacco - the season was favorable - and at no time since has such a magnificent crop of tobacco been grown.
Some reasons for this:- In the month of September when the seed was planted we had a fall of rain - not excessive, very much like the present rainfall - then October to November was dry and fine from the middle of October.
The plants were transplanted into the paddocks from the nursery beds; those plants transplanted from the middle of October to the end did not grow so well on account of weather being too cold as those transplanted from the beginning of November onwards, nearly to Christmas. Hardly any rain fell from September until a day before Christmas. There was a beautiful fall of thunder rain - this was followed by another before the end of the year and so on each two weeks until the ripening of the plants.
The present writer visited every paddock growing tobacco in the Tumut district. The crops were a pleasure to see - no misses of plants, all meeting from row to row and plant to plant so that you could not walk down the rows without injury to the growing plants. The writer had 23 Chinamen working on about 100 acres of land and the crop grown was 54 tons. And this magnificent crop had to be kept for three years and then sacrificed to Mr. Dimond, of Sydney, for 4½d per lb. for the second grade. Is it any wonder this gentleman died a wealthy man. A shrewd business man, he personally visited every shed of tobacco all over this district, - Mr. Richardson's, at Deltroit, Mr. Bardwell's, Oberne, - and after counting up the tonnage found seven years' supply was grown in one year. The harvesting of this fine crop was favored by the continuously fine weather, week after week fine, dry, and sunny, so that the drying out in the open was carried on successfully; not being injured by wet weather. The resulting aroma or smell of the dried plants was most attractive.
The variety grown was of the heavy type, and the color, more dark than the fashion now (flue cured), of a golden or yellow tinge. The leaf was more pointed - the mid-rib and subordinate ribs thicker and heaver. A defect in the open shed drying was that in a wet winter a good deal of waste resulted from a mouldy condition of the tip of the leaf, as the primitive drying by small fires in the open shed was unsatisfactory.
The New South Wales Government would not protect the N.S.W. grower by a reasonable duty, the price given by the manufacturers was unpayable, and a valuable industry was permit ted to decline. At that time we had plenty of Chinese labor. That labor has gone. Compare 4½d per lb. with present price of 1/6 to 2/6 per lb!