26 November 2021

When women were women, men were men - but only one could drive the tractor

| Sally Hopman
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Magazine cover

Front cover of the first issue of Farm Topics magazine, dated October 15, 1927. Photos: Sally Hopman.

Imagine your publication had a guaranteed circulation of 30,000 each issue, cost just a few pennies and had an annual subscription price of not much more.

We’re talking about a magazine called Farm Topics, the first issue of which was published on October 15, 1927, but could well offer marketing advice to some of today’s media moguls.

And, as far as its content is concerned, you can’t go past it. You could, actually, if you were a feminist, vegetarian or animal activist, but that’s another three stories.

This little piece of history was uncovered, as most good things are, while looking for something else, at an op shop. It’s the sort of thing that halts everything else once you read not only the table of contents but also the ads. There are rather a lot by Buzacott’s of 7/11 Market St, Sydney, which makes sense since they seem to publish the thing.

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“Here’s the machine that gives unqualified satisfaction” – in case you were wondering it’s a lime and fertiliser spreader, with 12, count ’em, 12 changes of speed.

Then there’s Cyanogas which will “kill the lot”, we’re guessing rabbits because there’s a lot of talk about warrens and breeding.

“There are no half measures with this powerful fumigant. Harmless enough in the open air, it emits a deadly gas when exposed to the damp atmosphere of the warren. It penetrates its remotest parts and deals certain death to all rodent life.” Phew.

It also asks the right sort of questions: a small chaff cutter or a big one? How to get out of the mud in a jiffy? Invest in The Digger motor pull-out for bogged cars. “The handiest little contrivance known for getting a car out of trouble. Bound to become a standard accessory.”

:age of magazine

When a woman’s work on the farm – is in the home, baking something with Aunt Mary’s help.

But some of the best commentary is saved for the Women’s Work on the Farm double-page spread. You know it’s the women’s pages because the ad is for Aunt Mary’s baking powder, rather than a piece of heavy machinery.

In a piece of perfectly balanced journalism, it tells the yarn of two farming women, one who raised between 50 to 60 pounds a year by keeping turkeys. The same housewife also had fowls, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, a cow and a butter churn – “so she was able to cut down on household expenses significantly”.

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“Not far away was a second housewife who had a house about the same size, whose husband was on a farm of equal size and productivity, but she did not like fowls around the house, detested cows and was too tired to garden. She bought the eggs, used condensed milk, depended on the rather uncertain visits of the grocer for butter and did without fruit and vegetables.

“Which woman, I wonder, could look back in the years to come and say conscientiously, ‘I have done something worth doing’,” the writer asks.

But wait, there’s more. Once you’re done killing rabbits, getting your car out of a bog, raising turkeys and baking something that will surely rise to the occasion, Farm Topics offers you the Six Essentials to Happiness, courtesy of a Dr William S. Sadler:

  1. Good health.
  2. Congenial work.
  3. Discipline or Self-Control.
  4. Human companionship.
  5. Reasonable leisure.
  6. Religious or Spiritual Philosophy.


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