The first farm was established on the 338 acres (136.8ha) now occupied by Summit Organics in 1910, when Henry Thomas Southwood, plumber and dairy farmer (later Tyalgum postmaster) selected portion 40 in the parish of Tyalgum. This land, located just south of the Queensland border, adjacent to the Border Ranges National Park, was thought for a long time to be unsuitable for food production.
Weather, terrain, and farming practices combined to challenge early efforts: ‘I am instructed that two or three persons have attempted to make a living from Southwood’s holding, but have been compelled to abandon it. Mr Southwood himself is unable to personally work the holding1 and it has for some time past been occupied as a dry run for [neighbour, James Bainbridge] Graveson’s cattle, at an annual rental of under 7/6d. per acre. I am further instructed that Southwood’s holding is of no use excepting as a dry run; there is no land there suitable for cultivation; the land is very rough, and a large area thereof is even unsuitable for a dry run; and that there have been rather land-slips which make the holding dangerous, even for cattle. The whole of the land in the locality is very poor, and the holdings, although rather large, cannot profitable worked without additional land.’ In 1928 James Bainbridge Graveson was running 35 head of cattle on the land, which was described as being mostly ‘unimproved bush’ and ‘unimproved scrubby jungle’. Towards the south of the property, there was a small area of cleared grass, centred on two parallel permanent water sources. This small area contained ‘all necessary buildings for the purpose of dairying… sufficiently improved for dairying and this area will carry about 30 head. The remaining 175 acres, in its present state, has negligible carrying capacity.’ (AE Eyles, the District Surveyor, Local Land Board Office, Grafton, 1928).
The land was owned by Catherine Muriel Gray from 1936 to 1970, but changed hands several times in the 1970s before being purchased by the Bruin family in 1979. The cleared area that Southwood, Graveson and others made use of in the early 1900s has remained the central focus of the property, and corresponds roughly to the area currently being used for farm buildings and cultivation by Summit Organics. Contrary to the expectations of the early selectors, most of the ‘scrubby jungle’ that dominated the property was never cleared, and even now Summit Organics focuses on certified organic vegetable and herb production in a tiny fraction (approximately six acres or 2.5 hectares) of the land. Rod Bruin explains that using organic compost to improve soil conditions underpins their organic production.
See more of the property
Please visit the Summit Organics website, below.
Southwood’s son had suffered a fatal accident on the property in 1915, at 15 years of age, and his wife was unwell. They had occupied the property for a few years but left in 1917 when a variation to their conditions of purchase was granted ↩