PRICKLY PEAR HISTORY PART 2: Following on from PP History Part 1
(New South Wales) Prickly Pear Destruction Commission 1924-1987
The spread of prickly pear in New South Wales first started to cause concern in the 1870’s, but it was not until 1886 that the first Prickly-pear Destruction Act (NSW) was passed (Act 50 Vic. No. 2, 1886). This Act placed obligations upon owners and occupiers of land to destroy the pear. It also provided for the appointment of inspectors to implement its provisions. The 1886 Act was replaced by the Prickly-pear Destruction Act 1901 (Act No.32, 1901), which in turn was replaced by the Prickly-pear Act, 1924 (Act No. 31-1924).
1924 Passing of the (NSW) Prickly-pear Act (Act No. 31, 1924), making provision for the constitution of a New South Wales Prickly Pear Destruction Board, later to become the Prickly-pear Destruction Commission.
1924/5 Appointment of first Prickly-pear Commissioner, former Lands Department Senior Surveyor Mr Arch Lockhart, with headquarters at Moree NSW. Prickly-pear Destruction Commission staff structure formed – Inspectors, Supervisors and Operators – to administer the Prickly Pear Act and to undertake treatment work. [Image, right, cover of “Prickly Pear Destruction In N.S.W” released 1924.]
1924/5 Introduction of “Prickly Pear Leases” – Crown lands so heavily infested with prickly pear as to be unproductive. The blocks were granted to lessees for an initial period of 21 years (many were later extended) at a very low rental on the condition that a specified number of acres were cleared and maintained until the total lease was cleared of prickly pear. At that stage they could then apply to change the title to freehold and it became their land. (As it happened, for many of the lucky ones that took over these blocks, the cactoblastis (biological control agents) eventually wiped out most of the main prickly pear anyway!)
1926 Release of Cactoblastis. After many years of research and exhaustive trials headed by Queensland to ensure there could be no impact on desirable plants/ crops, the cactoblastis was released en masse. The eventual success of cactoblastis is still regarded as one of the most spectacular successes of any biological control program anywhere in the world. [More information on cactoblastis is available on the common pear page elsewhere in this website.]
1932 Six years after the initial release of cactoblastis most major stands of prickly pear have been virtually eliminated. Commission staff numbers reduced, but still facing problems with prickly pear in geographical areas where cactoblastis were not effective eg south of an east-west line through Scone NSW. Tiger pear now causing serious problems in grazing land along major river systems.
1932 Appointment of second Prickly-pear Commissioner, Mr Norris J. Small (1932-1946). By this time 1932, Head Office relocated from Moree to Lands Department, Bridge Street, Sydney.
1940’s World War 2 impact – winding down of spraying operations because of shortage of manpower, motor vehicles, petrol and chemicals – “skeleton” crew only, heavy reliance on biological control methods.
1946 William (Bill) Lee appointed Prickly-pear Commission (1946 to 1951).
1950’s Major increases in prickly pear infestations because of wet summers and ineffective biological control – it was estimated at the time that 1 in every 10 properties was infested with prickly pear of one species or another – resumption of major spraying programs throughout the State in areas where cactoblastis was not effective – work force returned to full strength of between 40 and 60 – introduction of four-wheel-drive vehicles to facilitate entry into previously inaccessible terrain.
1953 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission 52/53 annual report states staff numbers Head Office 7, Field 31 (Inspectors 3 [Jack Cox at Scone, Clive Harris at Moree, Jack Bailes at Tamworth], Supervisors 8 [including Alf Britton (Parramatta), Alan Miller (Scone)and George Kays (?)], Operators 20 – Billy Bell (Scone), Jim Coss (Bingara) etc].
Expenditure for the year £37,540.11.3. A total of 57,324 lbs of arsenic pentoxide used/supplied by the Commission in that year. Sales of spraying equipment included 59 atomisers, 22 pear guns and 10 pear stabbers. Image (above right): calico warning signs for arsenic pentoxide – introduced by the then new Commissioner Vic Gray, the calico posters ended up with the nickname “Mr Gray’s handkerchiefs“…
1956 Introduction of hormone herbicide type spray mixtures 24-D and 245-T for prickly pear, leading eventually to the end of arsenic pentoxide as the main chemical. This heralded a new era in chemical treatment. A “safe” chemical, permitting spraying operations to be continued all year around without danger to cattle and other animals as was the case with arsenic pentoxide.
1959 Minor detail only but reckoned I’d throw it in – Les Tanner started work as an operator (pear sprayer) with the PP Commission 17 March 1959. Went into in Bon Carver’s gang, one of three (3-6 man) gangs at that time operating out of Hill End NSW (the other two were run by Tommy Thompson and Jack ?). Nine months later Les was offered a Supervisor’s job at Bingara NSW vacated by Bill Young. Les started there in Jan 1960, under the guidance of Inspector Jack Bailes (based in Tamworth).
1960 As at 1 February 1960, Prickly-pear Destruction Commission supervisors were on £19.19.0 week, operators (pear-poisoners) in charge of a gang (2-10 men) were on £16.15.6 week, and under-operators were on £15.3.0 week. All 40 hr weeks. Operators’ camping allowance 9/- per night “when compelled to remain in camp on both working days and week-ends”. Supervisors received a slightly higher camping allowance. (All field staff were each supplied with a 9′ x 9′ marque tent, a steel stretcher and a hurricane lantern – sometimes even a camp oven.)
1960’s Continuation of major chemical treatment work throughout the State in conjunction with biological control programs where appropriate. This period also saw major improvements to spraying and other equipment. Construction of Mudgee Prickly Pear Depot. (NB, editor of this webpage Les Tanner transferred from Hill End to Bingara Jan 1960. Bingara PP staff at that time comprised Jimmy Coss, Joe Pomfrett and Ted Bartholomew).
1961 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission Scone Depot relocated from old Scone Court House to a site (a former bus depot) in Waverley Street, Scone. Supervisor Eddie Foote was the storeman. Scone Depot was the main store and distribution point for the Commission for prickly pear poison and equipment throughout NSW.
1961 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission 60/61 annual report states staff numbers Head Office 7, Field 73 (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18, Operators 50). Total expenditure for year £117,534.14.8. New chemical, Weedazol Prickly-Pear Poison (amitrol) brought into use for common pear – worked slowly over a 12 months period, minimal damage to cactoblastis and cochineal insects…
1962 Prickly-pear Operator Len Walsh (Mudgee) died as a result of a road accident near Gulgong on his way home from work 2/3/1962. He had been employed with the Commission since 1955. He left a widow and 8 children.
1962 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission 61/62 annual report states herbicides turnover included 62,540 lb arsenic pentoxide, 1,225 gallons hormone spray, 1,525 lb of Weedazol concentrate, 36 atomisers and 23 pear guns. Total expenditure for the year was £121,630.
(Photo on left shows Garry Ryan (later to become Prickly Pear Commissioner 1980-87) spraying tiger pear with a misting machine – “Midkin”, Moree NSW area, circa 1962 – photo V.H. Gray, Sydney.
1966 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission 65/66 annual report states staff numbers Head Office 7, Field 67 (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18, Operators 44). Total expenditure for year $290,022.45.
1967 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission 66/67 annual report states staff numbers Head Office 7, Field 68 (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18, Operators 45). Total expenditure for year $346,364, including $50,000 Drought Unemployment Relief funds. Value of poison and spray equipment sold/supplied was $61,196.
1968 Inspector John T Bailes (Tamworth) retired 12 July after 37 years with the Prickly-pear Destruction Commission. Position relocated to Bingara and subsequently filled by Les Tanner.
1969 Prickly-pear Destruction Commission 68/69 annual report states staff numbers Head Office 7, Field 72 (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18, Operators 49). Total expenditure for year $281,145.07.
1969 As at 19 December 1969, the NSW State wage base was $36.90 per week. Prickly-pear Destruction Commission supervisors were on $57.20 week, operators (pear-poisoners) in charge of a gang (2-10 men) were on $45.55 week, and under-operators were on $41.55 week. Plus a camping allowance $1.50 per night (tents). All 40 hr weeks.
1970’s Better employment conditions for staff, including roll-out of caravans to replace tents. Gradual winding down of spraying operations, and systematic return to programmed use of biological control agents. Construction of controlled-temperature insect rearing facilities at Scone, Mudgee, Tamworth and Bingara. Increasing commitment to biological control throughout New South Wales. New Prickly Pear Depot built at Singleton. Other (smaller) depots built at Ashford, Moree and Mungindi.
1970 PPDC 1969/70 Annual Report states expenditure for the year was $319,590. Staff numbers as at 30 June 1970 were 7 administrative staff and 72 employed on field duties. Introduction of system of wages and allowances paid to local staff by the five Inspectors at Bingara, Tamworth, Singleton, Mudgee and Dubbo.
1971 PPDC 1970/71 Annual Report states expenditure for the year was $356,134. Staff numbers as at 30 June 1971 were 7 administrative staff and 53 employed on field duties (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18 and Operators 30.
1972 PPDC 1971/72 Annual Report states expenditure for the year was $377,224.55 plus $39,382 from Dept of Local Government for unemployment relief. Staff numbers as at 30 June 1972 were 7 administrative staff and 110 on field duties (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18, Operators 87 including casual staff employed under Unemployment Relief Scheme). Trials commenced on new chemical from United States: Nopalmate (Potassium hexafluoroarsenate) – it had potential as a selective herbicide but although it didn’t quite work out on the major prickly pear species it was useful at the time for treating harrisia cactus…
1973 PPDC 1972/73 Annual Report states expenditure for the year was $644,854. Staff numbers as at 30 June 1973 were 7 administrative staff and 95 on field duties (Inspectors 5, Supervisors 18, 72 Operators – including casual staff employed under Unemployment Relief Schemes). Purchase of “Mole Mink” all-terrain vehicle for the Mudgee district (photo, right).
1975 Transfer of control of administration of the Prickly Pear Act (and the Commission) from Minister for Lands to Minister for Agriculture. PPDC Head Office relocated from Lands Department Building to Union Carbide Building, later to McKell Building near Central Railway.
Frank Spratt, head office administrative officer (& legendary smoker – on occasions in the office he would have 3 cigarettes going at the one time!) retired 11th April 1975 after 25 years with the PPDC (photo, right).
1975 Roll-out of caravans for all Prickly-pear Commission field staff.
1978 Entomologist Dr John Hosking appointed (July) to investigate methods of optimising practical application of prickly pear biological control techniques. Moree PP Supervisor Jack Neich retired 30/3/1978.
1979 Neil McDonald, PP Supervisor based at Moree, retired July 1979. He had been on the job for some 18 years.
Victor Hawthorne Gray, Prickly-pear Commissioner since 1951, retired at the end of 1979 (names of people in this photo).
1980 Garret E. Ryan appointed Prickly-pear Commissioner (1980 to 1987). Garry started with the Commission at Moree as an operator in 1948, advancing to Inspector-in-charge of Moree and later Tamworth districts. His distinguished service and leadership skills with the Commission qualified him for the top job.
1980 As at 14 July 1980, the NSW State wage base was $82.90 per week. Prickly-pear Destruction Commission supervisors were on $229.47 week, operators (pear-poisoners) in charge of a gang (2-10 men) were on $199.37 week, and under-operators were on $188.57 week. All 40 hr weeks. Plus a small camping allowance per night (caravans)
1980’s Transfer of Head Office from Sydney (McKell Building) to Fitzroy Street, Tamworth (GIO Building). Gradual process of further integration of Commission staff into Department of Agriculture. Further development of biological control programs and facilities and the move into biological control of other weeds such as St John’s wort and Paterson’s curse. Reduction of staff numbers from 50 to 35. Inverell Shire area PP Supervisor Warren McCowen retired 17/12/1980. Phillip Morris (Bingara) retired March 1986.
1984 Occupation Health & Safety requirements enforced: All spray operators to wear protective overalls at all times, hard hats when working in timbered areas, rubbers gloves and correct breathing apparatus especially when mixing chemicals (Note: in the first summer the overalls almost killed all the spray operators – the heavy-duty overalls were so bloody hot!).
1987 The (amended) Prickly Pear Act, 1987 passed by State Parliament.
1987 The final PPDC Annual Report states expenditure for the year 1986/87 was $1,606,177. Staff numbers as at 30 June 1987 totalled 45: Commissioner 1 (Garry Ryan), administrative staff 3 (Darryl Brown, Paul Smith, Ann Hornshaw), Bio-control research staff 2 (John Hosking, Paul Sullivan) plus 38 field staff located as follows (all photos here were copied directly from the 1987 Annual Report): Tamworth Jeff Ajani, Alan Maguire, Peter Nolan, Les Quickenden, Doug Hatch, Neville Brady, Ron Sippel. Bingara Les Tanner, Mark Riggs, Leigh Dixon, Kevin Whitton, Phillip Morris, Stan Fletcher, Harold McLean, Denny Miller, Claude Fraser, Bob Smith, Peter Hodge Dubbo Ron Ajani, Gary Grimshaw, John Mobbs, Glen Jager, Edgar Lee Mudgee Bob Holzigal, Paul Lutschini, Maurie Moore, Peter Proctor, David Keith, David Dowler, Les Glazier Singleton Vince Waterhouse (photo with Jeff Ajani at Scone), Sandy Wilson, Jim Quinn, Ray Hall, Barry Sampson Scone Allan Miller, Bill Cooper, Ray Hancock, Philip Christian.
1987 Cessation of all contract prickly pear spraying and biological control work. Harold McLean (Bingara) retired 26/6/1987. Also before the disbandment: Vince Waterhouse, Alan Miller, Doug Hatch, Denny Miller (23/11/87), Garry Ryan 31/12/1987. Neville Brady resigned 12/09/89.
1987 Disbandment of the Prickly-pear Destruction Commission (31/12/1987).
1988 Integration of staff and resources from the former PPDC into Department of Agriculture 1/1/1988. Some staff resigned. Most moved into either the newly-formed Prickly Pear Surveillance Unit (to continue administration of the Prickly Pear Act) under Senior Inspector Les Tanner or into the Weed Biological Control Unit (a specialist unit dedicated to development, monitoring and promotion of new weed biological control programs) led by Dr John Hosking.
1988 Cessation of supply of chemical spray to landholders. Supervisor Maurie Moore (Mudgee) retired 9/03/1988 – approximately 28 years on the job.
1988 Expansion into other areas of weed biological control including programs on Paterson’s curse, Scotch broom, bitou bush etc. Photo right shows staff (Garry Ryan [assisting at that time as a consultant], Kevin Whitton and Peter Hodge) involved in a major trial to test effectiveness of biological control on harrisia cactus in the Boggabilla (NSW) area.
1990’s Joining of the Prickly Pear Surveillance Unit and the Biological Control Unit into a single Weed Biological Control Unit – further staff reductions, mainly through natural attrition. Progression of some staff into Noxious Weeds Act activities. Kevin Whitton (Bingara) retired medically unfit 27/4/90. Sandy Wilson (Singleton) retired 30/9/1990. Ray Hancock (Scone) transferred back to Bingara 21/5/1990. Peter Hodge (Moree) transferred to Scone 25/5/90, then to Canberra 1/10/1990 to work on a Scotch broom biocontrol project with CSIRO. Mick Kane (Moree) started 27/8/90. Ron Ajani (Dubbo) retired 22 July 1992. Stan Fletcher (Bingara) retired April 1995. Claude Fraser (Bingara) retired 24/4/1996. Leigh Dixon (Bingara) retired 1996? John Mobbs (Curban via Gilgandra NSW) retired 26/4/1996. Jeff Ajani (Tamworth) retired 26/10/1996.
Photo (right) shows “prickly pear” aka Weed Bio Control Unit staff assembled at Mudgee for the 1994 annual conference.
1996 Responsibility for administration of legislation to control prickly pear transferred from NSW DPI to local government. Prickly pear species declared as “noxious weeds” and subsequently dealt with under the Noxious Weeds Act 1993.
1996 Prickly Pear Act 1987 repealed. All prickly pear “front-line” management issues now with NSW local government councils.
2000’s Last of the “prickly’s” continued employment with the NSW Dept of Primary Industries – including Gary Grimshaw (Gilgandra), Bob Smith (Bingara), Les Tanner (Bingara-Orange), Peter Hodge (Singleton-Canberra), Alan Maguire, John Hosking, Paul Sullivan, Phillip Christian (all of Tamworth), Barry Sampson (Leeton), Peter Proctor (Mudgee) and Jim Quinn (Singleton). Jim retired July 2001; Les retired 1996, made a couple of comebacks (Plant Diseases Act (based at Orange), Exotic Animals Act (out of Richmond office) and retired from the NSW DPI again October 2000 (then lined up for another 10 plus years as a Weeds Officer with Gwydir and Inverell Shires – still running websites!); Gary Grimshaw retired 22 Apr 2009; Barry Sampson (Leeton) retired Mar 2010, Peter Proctor (Mudgee since 28/2/75) retired 12 Jul 2013. Bob Smith, Peter Hodge and John Hosking have also retired (not sure of the dates) – as at 7 March 2014. Sadly, Phillip Christian (Tamworth) died very unexpectedly 29 May 2013.
Looking back Prickly pear in New South Wales and the stories of the many people who worked on the former (NSW) Prickly-pear Destruction Commission are all worth recording. The information on this web page (a lot of it taken from earlier Prickly-pear Destruction Commission booklets put together by Commissioners Vic Gray and later Garry Ryan) is a good start. Please also refer to the attached web pages Prickly-pear History Commission and the Prickly Pear History Images Gallery.
I have more information and photographs to add as time permits, but would welcome any other stories, photographs, or comments for consideration for this website…
|A Tribute to our Womenfolk
No piece of our history would be complete without acknowledging the contribution made by our womenfolk. We can
paint the picture of the hundreds/thousands of men who roughed it in their isolated camps, putting up with terrible conditions, and away from their families for weeks, even months at a time.
But, the lives of the womenfolk were pretty tough too! The money earned by pear poisoners was very ordinary. The women had to manage on meagre household budgets, and virtually rear the children on their own.
When the men did come home, they’d bring with them their love, but also an empty tucker-box to be filled up again and a bag of smelly, chemical-soaked clothes to be washed (how much poison were the mothers and wives also exposed to over the years?).
Times have changed, and conditions for most continue to improve, but hats off to our wonderful mothers, wives and partners for the role they played in all of this – and for their loyalty and support!
|BINGARA – A brief blurb on the local prickly pear history:
Bingara’s connection with prickly pear goes way back to the pre-cactoblastis days, when prickly pear was running rampant through Bingara, Gravesend and many other parts of northern NSW.Local Bingara grazier and then NSW Minister for Lands, W.E Wearne was witnessing this ever-increasing invasion of prickly pear and knew some government assistance was needed. In order to convince his fellow Parliamentarians of the urgency of the problem, he brought them by special train to the Moree-Gravesend area where they saw the prickly pear situation first-hand. They were amazed – and convinced! On their return to Sydney, Mr Wearne’s Prickly Pear Bill was passed without delay and the NSW Prickly Pear Act 1924 came into effect. W.E. Wearne’s grandson John Wearne, still lives on the family property at Bingara. (John kindly donated copies of various media items from that era – please check out “the train trip” on the PP History page).NSW Prickly-pear Destruction Commission was formed in 1924 – head office located with the Department of Lands at Moree. The Bingara area came under the charge of Inspectors from Moree and later, Tamworth. Inspector Jack Bailes had a lot to do with the Bingara area from the late 1940s until the 60’s.Pear sprayers in the 50s only got home every 2 or 3 months if they were seconded to other areas. The late Mr Jimmy Coss from Bingara was one of those original spray operators during the 1950’s and into the 60’s. Bringing it all slightly forward, PPDC Supervisor Bill Young was in charge of the Bingara PPDC district during 1958-59. Bill resigned late 1959.
Les Tanner transferred from the Mudgee PP District in January 1960 to take over the Bingara area (then, basically all of Bingara Shire and parts Barraba and Uralla Shires) and its staff of three (3) spray operators Jimmy Coss, Joe Pomfrett and Ted Bartholomew. There was no office or depot. Les set up an office in the rear of the Bingara Courthouse (1960-1970), and a depot (a shed in Maitland Street – now the site of Bingara Medical Centre). Over the next several years more operators were employed. In 1968 Les was promoted to Inspector and his area was extended to include a huge strip of northern NSW from west of Lightning Ridge east to the far north coast. Staff numbers increased accordingly; from the mid-1960’s to the late-1980’s staff numbers in Bingara varied between 10-25 (including 12 permanent positions), probably making it one of the main employers in town after Bingara Shire Council, the hospital and the sawmill. Without doubt, the Prickly-pear Destruction Commission’s contribution to Bingara economy during those years was significant. (Please see attached PDF document Bingara staff record 1960-2005.)
Better equipment, improved herbicides and other successes in biological control methods, coupled with the inevitable cutbacks in state government funding, all led to a gradual winding down of the Commission’s role in New South Wales.
The Commission was eventually disbanded 31 December 1987. Remaining staff transferred into weed biological control projects with NSW Department of Primary Industries. The Bingara Depot itself was finally closed in 2005. Bob Smith was the last Bingara man standing.
It is nice to be able to record that the old Prickly-pear Destruction Commission depot in Heber Street has since been extensively refurbished and is once again a real asset to Bingara, this time as the proud local branch of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Les Tanner, Bingara 2015
Two other pages on prickly pear history attached…
(1) PRICKLY PEAR HISTORY IMAGE LIBRARY – separate page of photos within this website… (2) PRICKLY PEAR HISTORY – separate page within this website – we still need photos of former PPDC staff, camp sites, vehicles etc…
former Prickly-pear Destruction Commission staff – includes: Andy Birrell (Tamworth) died result of snake-bite [1956?], Len Walsh (Mudgee) died 2 March 1962, Jimmy Coss (Bingara) died 8 April 1965, Wally Birrell (Mudgee) died 4 May 1972, Jack Bailes (Tamworth) died 6 February 1979, Lou Knight (Tamworth) died [date?], Neil McDonald (Moree) died [date?], Jack Neich (Moree) [died date?], Neville Brady (Tamworth) died 12 Sep 1989, Vince Waterhouse (Singleton) died [date?], Sandy Wilson (Singleton-Dubbo) died [date?], Eddy Foote (Scone) [died date?], Warren McCowen (Emmaville) died 21 June 1993, Bob Holzigal (Mudgee) died 25 Sep 1998, Alan Burns (Bingara) died 25 March 1999, Bill Cooper (Tamworth) died 1 July 2000, Harold McLean (Bingara) died 16 July 2000, Paul Lutschini (Mudgee) died 23 Aug 2002, Les Glazier (Mudgee) died 17 June 2003, Dan Lane (Tamworth) died 1 April 2004, Frank Spratt (Head Office Sydney) died 13 July 2004, Gordon Coss (Bingara) died 4 April 2005, Ted Bartholomew (Gilgai/Bingara) died 26 June 2006, Ron Sippel (Tamworth) died 28 Sep 2007, Alan Miller (Tenterfield) died Sep 2007, Kevin Whitton (Bingara) died 23 Feb 2010, Stan Fletcher (Bingara) died 15 June 2012, Vic Gray (former Prickly-pear Destruction Commissioner, Sydney) died 27 Nov 2012, Jeff Ajani (Tamworth) died 15 Mar 2013, Philip Christian (Tamworth/Gilgandra) died 29 May 2013, George Beeson (Hill End) died 6 June 2013, Jim Quinn (Mungindi/Singleton) died 2 Sep 2013, Garry Ryan (former Prickly-pear Destruction Commissioner, Tamworth) died 9 October 2014, Phillip Morris (Bingara) died 26 December 2015, Dennis Miller (Bingara) died 9 July 2016, Leigh Dixon (Bingara) died 25 March 2017…
Editor’s note: Can anyone help me with information missing here – dates and any names I have missed? Please email me on email@example.com or phone/text to 0488 490 026.
If I have failed to acknowledge a quotation, photograph or other object please let me know. Similarly, persons using this website are asked to acknowledge the source if they choose to purchase and reproduce any photographs or articles from this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs used in this website were taken by and are the property of the Editor – Les Tanner.