Stump Jumping

stumpjump

Tree stumps in the paddocks were so ubiquitous in Australia, not only in the semi-arid regions in the south, but everywhere in this land that had never been tilled, that a couple of brothers made their fortunes inventing the stump-jump plough in 1876. Richard Smith invented it and his sibling Clarence perfected it. Perhaps the men adopted the old “If you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. Or did they have a thought as simple as; “The stumps are too hard to remove and they destroy every piece of equipment we try to use, so if we can’t pull them out, perhaps we can go around (or over, as it turned out) them.”

The best land clearing method on offer at the time was a process that became known as Mullenizing (after a farmer from Wasley named Charles Mullens). This was a slash and burn method of land clearing. It involved using a heavy chain to drag an enormous roller over land that had already been fairly roughly cleared. This crushed the young shoots and discouraged any regrowth. This was just the start, after this the area was burned, and then a spiked log was rolled across the field. A crop of wheat could then be sown. After the wheat was harvested, any Mallee regrowth with the remaining stubble was torched again. This annual cycle of crop and burn went on until the Mallee died out completely. This still left behind the stumps hidden underground, which proved unexpected and potentially destructive traps for any standard equipment used to plough for the wheat crop. Mostly effective, it was still not a quick enough process for the newly expanding populace to accelerate the opening up of new land to cultivation (particularly wheat) and grazing.

Their idea had such merit that the brothers went into commercial production of the invention in 1880. The South Australian Government awarded Richard a 500 pound bonus and a one square mile land grant at Ardrossen for his invention in 1882.

The brothers’ idea came about after they broke a bolt on their own plough and found that as a result, the plough rode over a stump (or ‘jumped’ it) rather than getting stuck behind it and damaged or destroyed – as was often the case. The Mallee scrub that predominated in the region of what was to become South Australia proved extremely tough to tame for cultivation. Wheat was the wonder crop and all Australian governments sought to cash in by sowing huge tracts of land with the grain.

The Mallee tree/bush (a member of the eucalypt family), although comparatively small, was incredibly tough with extensive root systems that happily re-sprouted after the main trunk had been removed. It often proved more resilient than the land holders will and/or stamina to destroy it.

The culmination of the Smiths work was a machine that could plough nine furrow’s in a single pass, was able to ‘jump stumps’ independently, and delivered seeds and fertilizer behind it, a one stop shop. This, like their prior incarnations would go on to take many first prizes at the Adelaide and country shows. The business finally closed in 1934 as the company, run by descendants, failed to deal with the vicissitudes brought on by the great depression and went into receivership. Yet the legacy was the ‘Stump Jump Plough’ we all recognise today.

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