Grassland frontiers:beef cattle agriculture in Queensland and Texas, 1870s - 1970s
Turner, Leland K.
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Semi-arid, but apparently lush, grasslands attracted pastoral settlers in the late nineteenth century to the frontier fringes of the Australian interior and American Southwest. Pastoral settlers and beef growers, particularly in Queensland and Texas, occupied similar environmental landscapes and shared a value system that embraced European informed agricultural production. In response to international market demand, beef growers set about transforming their natural landscapes. Beef producers drilled for artesian water, diverted surface waters, introduced exotic grasses, and exterminated native wildlife in a drive to produce ever more beef. They petitioned government to provide and/or subsidize transport to market and to expand market limitations through chilling and eventually refrigeration technology. Nature was not so easily held hostage to the economic prerogatives of beef producers. Babesiosis, Texas Fever in the vernacular, an often fatal disease in cattle and crippling drought challenged beef production in both Queensland and Texas. Persistent environmentally-driven difficulties led cattlemen in their quest on both continents to take dominion over arid lands to once again pursue scientific answers to continuing economic dilemmas. In an era when agriculturalists were devoted to scientific inquiry, cattlemen began, principally in Texas, to develop breeds that could endure harsh environmental conditions and produce marketable beef. In time, particularly in Queensland, many Australians adapted their breeding practices to the realities of their environment. Economic difficulties caused many to embrace uniquely Texas-born solutions to shared problems—Texas Fever and challenging rangeland environs. It was a biological response to difficult environmental conditions and disease. Nonetheless, a certain comfort level with traditional agricultural practices, cultural mores, and identity constructs sustained an Australian resistance to “mongrel” cattle breeds of American origin. Australian cattle raisers, intent on maintaining their “Britishness,” clung to English cattle breeds despite heavy losses to disease and sparse rangeland. In time, the Texas-bred beef breeds slowly gained acceptance in Australia as imperial identity constructs gave way to economic and environmental determinism. The diffusion of agricultural knowledge in response to global markets is indeed representative of early and persistent globalization.