Wednesday, 18th July 1928

18th July, 1928


My dear Prime Minister,


In my last letter [1] I mentioned this subject to you and told you the impressions that I had gathered from Orr’s [2] letters. Orr got back to London on Monday last and we dined together last night and had a solid four hours talk on Australian problems. It is, in some ways, one of the most interesting talks that I have ever had.

It causes me very real regret to find that it was not possible for you to see Orr a day or two before he left, when he could have expressed his real views about Australia after he had had a very rapid rush round which the shortness of his trip necessitated.

Since he left Australia, he has had a week in New Zealand discussing Animal Husbandry problems with the authorities there and about a week in Ottawa. After these experiences, he has arrived back convinced of the immense importance of the development of all three Dominions but emphatic in the view that the development of all the branches of the Pastoral industry is the biggest immediate thing that can be done for the development of primary industries within the British Empire.

He gave me a number of examples but I will only mention one or two. He said that on the south coast of New South Wales in the dairying districts he saw cows standing knee deep in apparently magnificent pasture but the cows showed obvious physical signs of suffering from mineral deficiency and he found that the milk yield was going steadily down each year. In Queensland he found pastures that would fatten prime cattle but on which it was impossible to get sheep to breed, probably owing to some unascertained mineral deficiency. He saw country where one sheep was being carried to 25 acres which, with an improvement in the mineral contents of the soil, the carrying capacity could readily be doubled. He, of course, cited the better known example in the good rainfall districts where land that has been carrying one sheep to 3 acres could, with superphosphates and the right clovers and grasses, be converted to a carrying capacity of 3 sheep to the acre. He said that he was convinced that, given a great organized drive, it would be possible, within five years, to add at least 10 million to the value exports of pastoral products without increasing by one act present devoted to pastoral production.

We then got on to the discussion of what was necessary to achieve these objectives and here I think comes the most interesting part of what Orr has to say. He is very favorably impressed with the veterinary people whom he met in Australia and he suggested there would be no difficulty in forming firstclass teams to work on the practical application of the problem. He further says that, so far as the bulk of the work that is needed is concerned, already ascertained scientific knowledge-ascertained in many parts of the World including Australia-only requires to be collated in order to give not all that may be needed but certainly sufficient for an immense advance in pastoral conditions to occur.

He points out that whereas in Scotland or in England the practical scientist must be content to work with 20 or 50 sheep or cattle, in Australia arrangements could readily be made for carrying out comprehensive trials by thousands. He was impressed with the interest shewn in this subject by Pastoralists, Veterinarians and by the Pastoral Companies; in short he feels that we have the problems-the information to solve them-the firstclass types of men for the applied scientific work which will be necessary and the will to undertake the campaign. What he feels is needed is someone to bring all these factors together and to plan the forward advance which would mean so much to Australia and to the Empire.

It was but natural that, when I had extracted from him all these opinions, I should ask whether anyone in Australia had suggested to him that it was desirable that he should consider rendering that important service. He told me that Julius [3] had urged him to consider the possibility of doing this work. I asked him what his view about it was and he said that his commitments to the Rowett Research Institute at Aberdeen were of such a pressing moral nature that he very much doubted whether it was at all possible but the attraction of lending a hand in this great stage of Australian development was very great indeed.

We talked for a very long while about the position and I made the suggestion that we should attempt to visualise a plan whereby a really firstclass second-in-command should be appointed at the Rowell: Institute and that, under a joint arrangement between C.S.I.R. and the E.M.B. Dr. Orr should be seconded for a year, eighteen months or two years to Australia to get this general scheme underway. After further discussion Orr agreed that, without any commitment on his part, he thought it was desirable that all possibilities of such a scheme such as I mentioned should be canvassed.

The reason why I am writing to you so fully on this subject is because I feel that it has a very considerable political significance. I am sure that Richardson [4] or Sir Arnold Theiler [5] would immediately confirm all that Orr says. I have no doubt that what Orr maintains can happen, will happen but the question is in how many years and who will get the credit of it. If things are left to take their natural slow course, the improvements which Orr suggests can be achieved in five years will take twenty-five years. As the type of work which Orr considers necessary is work which would normally fall to the State Departments of Agriculture, the Commonwealth and the C.S.I.R. would not obtain the credit which one would like to see them achieve. I therefore suggest that the matter should be considered to be a great national enterprise in which C.S.I.R., assisted by E.M.B. in order to bring the whole Empire conception into the picture and indeed in order to get the necessary intellectual assistance from men such as Orr, should declare its readiness to assist the State Departments of Agriculture in every possible way. The C.S.I.R. could base its reason for coming in on this problem on the ground that, in order to make the rapid progress that was possible and that would mean so much to Australia’s whole economic position-team work, based on the cooperation of all the best available men in Australia, irrespective of States, was essential.

Orr tells me that Devereaux [6], of the D. & M. Commission, is intensely interested and of course Julius, Richardson and Rivett [7] are also extremely keen. He does not visualise any very great expenditure being necessary and he believes that an immense amount of work could be done without any further work in laboratories, so far as the improvements he has in mind are concerned.

I am, of course, writing fully to Rivett and to Julius in regard to this talk with Orr and at some shorter length to Gepp. [8] I have arranged for a further conference between Walter Elliot [9], Orr and myself on August 3rd when Orr will come up from Aberdeen in order to meet the Business Mission.

I am going to suggest that, in certain circumstances, it might be very desirable if you would consent to send a personal and private cable to Walter Elliot urging him as to the importance of securing Orr’s services to organise such a scheme. I shall find out whether Julius and Rivett agree. I propose to do this by cable but to get the British Authorities to consent to let Orr go for a year or two would need a tremendous effort and, unless we can get Elliot with Orr, all my efforts might be fruitless. Elliot regards Orr as his greatest personal friend and has many schemes in which Orr figures as the centrepiece. What I, therefore, have in mind is that if, on some date after the receipt of this letter, I sent you a personal cable suggesting that you send a private message to Walter Elliot, you should give it serious consideration. At this stage I think that a personal cable from you to Elliot would be much more effective than an official cable to the British Government-that might be necessary later.

As soon as the intense pressure of work, which always occurs in July, is over, I shall draft a general statement based on Orr’s ideas, shewing the direct way in which the accomplishment of what Orr believes to be possible in Australia would affect British trade.

You may think that I have written over enthusiastically but in extenuation I would say that Orr’s ideas are just the authoritative confirmation of what I have felt and have tried in a vague way to express for the last four years, namely that it is inadequate to consider Australia’s progress as sufficient just because it compares favorably with that of other countries and that, armed with weapons forged for us by modern science, we ought to be able to make much more rapid progress and that, in the first instance, progress should be on our already settled areas.

Orr’s hurried survey just confirms the things that men like Richardson, W. S. Kelly [10] and many Pastoral Companies have been feeling after and which, in fact, is being demonstrated by the exciting results achieved by top dressing in the southern parts of Australia.

I should be particularly grateful if you would try to let me have your reactions to this letter as soon as you conveniently can.


Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 Letter 174.

2 J. B. Orr, Director of the Rowett Institute for Research in Animal Nutrition, Aberdeen.

3 George Julius, Chairman of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

4 A. E. V. Richardson, Professor of Agriculture and Director of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, University of Adelaide;

member of the Executive of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

5 Director of Veterinary Education and Research in South Africa until his retirement in 1927. Theiler visited Australia in 1928 at the invitation of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

6 W. P. Devereaux, Vice-Chairman of the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission.

7 David Rivett, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

8 H. W. Gepp, Chairman of the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission.

9 Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Scotland; Chairman of the Research Grants Committee of the Empire Marketing Board.

10 Pastoralist; former Chairman of the Advisory Board of Agriculture, South Australia.

11 In a letter dated 27 August (file AA:M111, 1928), Bruce replied that he had been very impressed with the results of Orr’s visit and had cabled Elliot in support of McDougall’s suggestion that Orr be seconded to work in Australia.