The Felton district is just 30km south-west of Toowoomba and is a particularly picturesque part of the Darling Downs. Felton boasts magnificent scenery, clean air, rich fertile black soils and a climate that enables it to grow food crops all year round. We feed the world! Felton is a large scale agricultural production area with Felton farmers producing a wide variety of crops including sorghum, corn, wheat, barley, chickpeas, mungbeans, sunflowers, lettuce, cabbages, beetroot, celery and onions. The district is also a significant producer of beef, lamb, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs.
A sense of belonging
Food is an important thread continuously woven into the fabric of Felton's history - from the time of the original Indigenous inhabitants, through early selection and closer settlement, until this very day.
In the Dreamtime...
Felton was home to the Giabal or Gomainguru tribe who roamed the land bounded by (now) Dalby, Millmerran and Allora and extending over the range to Gatton. The Felton Valley with its timbered ridges, grassy plains and permanent water pools, was a reliable source of food for the Indigenous People. Kangaroos, emu, fish and oysters/mussels were readily available.
From Hodgson to Tyson Country...
Allan Cunningham's exploration from the Hunter Plains of NSW in 1827, saw him reach the Great Dividing Range at the escarpment, now known as Cunningham's Gap. From a hill looking out across the southern Darling Downs, Cunningham named several points including an area he noted as the Peel Plains.
The Leslie brothers explored the southern areas of the Downs, selecting a large tract of land they named Toolburra. Meanwhile Arthur Hodgson and Gilbert Eliot moved further north and discovered a perfectly fertile valley they named Eton Plains and the creek that flowed through it Hodgson Creek. Hodgson claimed vast tracts of land including the Peel Plains and Beauaraba Run. However, in 1842 when Hodgson was unable to comply with his 'depasturing licence: Felton on the Peel Plains and the Beauaraba Runs were sold to Captain Mallard for £500. Subsequent lessees; Messrs. Whitchurch and Sandemann ran into financial trouble at the same time that legislation, in the newly formed state of Queensland, changed to favour agricultural settlement over squatters.
It was at this time that James Tyson, was able to secure the mortgages over the properties of Felton and Beauaraba. In 1872, Tyson used his personal wealth and 'business savvy' to acquire these properties; 160,000 acres (more or less) including 24,000 acres of freehold land that he regarded as 'the Garden of Australia'. He was essentially a pastoralist not interested in agriculture. He spent considerable amounts of money in setting up Felton Station as a fattening and grazing property.
Felton had rich soil, excellent water supply (Hodgson Creek) and an enviable location with lush natural Bluegrasses which are still prevalent in Felton today.
And then the Families came...
The first families that tried to establish themselves as farmers faced great difficulties because they were inexperienced, they lacked sufficient capital and the weather was unreliable. With the Land Act of 1868 the Government made it easier for a man with limited capital to acquire land for mixed farming. The Government acted in 1874 to encourage further agricultural settlement by resuming leasehold land. Once a man acquired land, it had to be fenced, cleared of trees and scrub, machinery to work the land purchased, livestock bought and shelter built for the family.
After James Tyson died, Felton Station was purchased by Mr. J. M. Greenaway. In 1911 he agreed to sell every acre of it (34,500 acres) for subdivision. About 700 attended the auction held in a paddock in front of the Masonic Hall in Cambooya. Even before this auction, some families had moved into Felton in the early 1900s - the Hanlons, Bryces, Dowricks, Mengels and the Fishers. After the auction came the Frees, Fitzgeralds, Gilmours, Naumanns, Ryans, Hinzes, Clearys, Droneys, Whites, Fowlers, Trotts, Coopers and the Holmes families. Every family began a dairy farm with horses to pull the ploughs and some pigs to supplement their income.
The Cambooya Dairy Association built a cheese factory in Felton in 1914. The local milk suppliers were dissatisfied with the administration of the Cambooya Company and formed the Felton Cooperative Dairy Association in 1917. The local Cheese Factory became the social hub of the district each morning as the cans of milk were delivered - for years by horse and cart, later by vehicle.
The land, on which the Felton Hall stands, was donated by the Fitzgerald family. Built entirely by voluntary labour, the Hall was opened on 10 October 1931. The community had a place to come together for a common cause.
Consolidation of Farming...
Until 1940 or so, every farm in Felton was a dairy farm. Engine-driven machines for milking the cows were becoming commonly used, making the milking process faster and less labour intensive. There was a change too at the Cheese Factory as most of the milk began to be supplied to the Brisbane market after cooling and pasteurisation. Less cheese was made, until manufacture of cheese ceased in 1966. The advent of machinery to pull ploughs resulted in an increase in the cultivation of grain crops mainly wheat, barley and corn (maize). The first sorghum crop was grown in the Felton District by Stan Cochrane and his father in 1937. As this sorghum variety was an open pollinator, the Cochranes were able to harvest the seed and sell it to neighbours, thus starting production of one of the valley's mainstay crops.
Today's agriculture has a significant investment in machinery to ensure timeliness of operations. Technologies employed include GPS guidance of tractors, on-farm grain storage, decentralised marketing of grain, and precision planting and spraying equipment.
Felton has for many years been valued by research organisations for its reliable growing environment and productive soils. Toowoomba based Seed Company Pacific Seeds has conducted research and marketing trials evaluating sorghum, corn, sunflower, forage and oats on the properties belonging to the Frees, Naumanns, Kelehers, Pipers, Postles and Mengels. The Naumann and Free families have been hosting trials for 35 years and 36 years respectively. Likewise, Pioneer HiBred Australia has an ongoing relationship with the Bryce family, evaluating sorghum on their property for the last 20 years.
Today's farmers have the opportunity to grow a wide range of summer and winter cereals, oilseeds and legumes. But grain is not the only production in the valley. Animal enterprises include beef, dairy, pork, lamb, goats, eggs and Thoroughbred horses. Vegetable producers are drawn to the well-drained slopes and reliable irrigation. Over time, many farming properties have changed hands, but there has also been a strong family continuity, with some families having resided in the valley for up to six generations.
What doesn’t kill us makes us Stronger!
In January 2008, our small but stable community of Felton was suddenly confronted with a grave threat to our way of life and the valley we love so much. A mining company called Ambre Energy announced plans to build a massive open-cut coal mine, 3 kilometres to the west of the Felton Hall, right next to Hodgson Creek. To make matters even worse, they also planned to build a petrochemical plant to convert the coal into liquid fuel. Clearly this project would have serious impacts on agricultural productivity, the environment and the people of the valley and beyond.
Our first reaction was disbelief - surely an operation like this would be forbidden in such a closely settled, productive valley. But soon we realised that the threat was real and we were in for the fight of our lives.
No community group in Queensland had ever stopped a coal mine, but we didn't let that put us off. We formed Friends of Felton, and ably led by Rob McCreath, met fortnightly at the Felton Hall for the first year, and monthly after that. Our main strategy was to raise public awareness of the threat we faced.
We staged many fun and eye-catching protests, including a sit-in at Premier Anna Bligh's office, a parade across Toowoomba's main intersection with wheelbarrows full of vegetables, and took part in a huge combined protest with other community groups at Parliament House in Brisbane.
As a community, we worked hard to raise money to fund our campaign, using some of the funds to produce promotional material and a website, which we used to spread the word far and wide. Connections were formed with people across the country who offered skills and expertise, and people within our own ranks took on challenges they never thought possible. Submissions were made to numerous Government enquiries. We were fighting not only for ourselves, but for the numerous other communities and agricultural precincts under threat by inappropriate resource development.
The huge momentum built up by our campaign won us the support of the opposition Liberal National Party, who promised not to allow mining at Felton if elected. Shortly after the 2012 election, Premier Campbell Newman kept his word, declaring 'To be absolutely clear, no company, whatever it chooses to call itself, has a right to develop a mining operation in the Felton Valley, and companies will not be able to secure such a right under the Government.'
After four and a half years we'd won, and had reason to celebrate.
A David and Goliath Story… and we won!
We celebrate our victory every day!
One major highlight is the Felton Food Festival which has been held annually since 2012. It has been the perfect way for the Felton community to showcase the beauty of the Valley, the importance of agriculture and the strength of its people.
In 2014 more than 7,000 people came from far and wide to celebrate with us.
We continue to hold Friends of Felton meetings as they have become a great way to maintain bonds of friendship. We also make an effort to enjoy the Valley’s natural resources and what better way than a paddle on Hodgson Creek or a game of cricket in the paddock!
Then last year, we had a Pop-up restaurant where Rob and Sally McCreath held a stunning dinner for over 50 people in the middle of their wheat crop.
Friends of Felton, as a group, were given many labels during the period of the ‘Mine Fight’ – Radical Greenies, Fringe Dwellers, Anti-Development to name a few. What many underestimated was the strong sense of belonging that residents’ had with the Valley and the impact that the fight would have in uniting and strengthening a community.
To read more about the history of Felton and enjoy the Flavours of Felton, add our cookbook to your collection today.