Potato growing has long been important around Ulverstone, and never more so than in the early twentieth century, when exports of new ‘spuds’ to the Sydney market began.

However, a problem with government regulation led to the following letter being sent to the Advocate, the regional newspaper often dubbed ‘The Spud Digger’;

The Advocate …..Friday, April 4 1919….TO THE EDITOR

Sir, a few months ago, when a deputation waited on the Commissioner of Railways at Ulverstone to ascertain his reason for compelling farmers to weigh their produce over the Government weighbridge, Mr Smith stated that it was essential for the department to have all the goods carried by the railway weighed accurately. Very recently a weight ticket was issued at the Government weighbridge showing the net weight of nine bags of potatoes to be 7cwt, 3 qr, 14lb. These potatoes were weighed in Sydney at 12cwt…..The net proceeds from Sydney for these potatoes amounted to ₤7/6/11. If these potatoes had been sold on the weight ticket issued from the Government weighbridge at Ulverstone the producers would have been underpaid about ₤2/9/-. If anyone doubts this statement he can see the weight ticket referred to, and also the sale note from Sydney, by applying to me personally. – Yours etc., JOHN F. WRIGHT, ULVERSTONE

John Wright was a pioneering farmer in the district, active in the Primary Producers’s Association. He was also a member of the Leven Harbour Trust


Another problem experienced over a number of years concerned the lengthy delays at the weigh station if it was unattended. Farmers may have travelled up to twenty miles, often by bullock or horse drawn drays. They were losing valuable time and arriving back home in the dark. One man spoke of leaving home at 2.00am in an effort to preserve every daylight hour possible. There was also the risk that their potatoes would miss the next boat to Sydney. Formal complaints had not been addressed, despite a deputation by aggrieved parties in Hobart. By now tempers were severely frayed. Many of those affected were returned servicemen, struggling to support their families on barely viable Soldier Settlement properties.

Bullocks hauling potatoes to the government weighbridge.
Unloading potatoes ready for the weighbridge at the Ulverstone Railway Station.


Finally, around midnight on May 8 1919, a person (or persons) took matters into their own hands and blew the weighbridge to bits! The Launceston Examiner reported that dynamite or similar had been used, and that the blast was so powerful that pieces of iron and timber were deposited 250 yards away; on Furner’s Hotel, the Railway Coffee Palace, and on a number of houses in the township. One resident stated his bed was raised several inches from the floor by the force.

Inspected the damaged weighbridge at Ulverstone .

The newspaper article continued; ‘It is understood that a watchman is not kept on the station at night, and as no-one was noticed loitering about the property at a late hour, the police seem to be faced with a somewhat difficult task to discover the perpetrator of the fiendish act.’ No-one was ever charged over the offence, though some hinted at involvement by the militant Industrial Workers of the World union.

If farmers hoped the problems associated with having their produce weighed had been solved, they were soon disappointed. The day after the explosion Mr Bye, the stationmaster, told The Advocate that a new weighbridge was already on its way from Hobart. Sure enough, it arrived the following Sunday. Installation commenced immediately, creating more friction; ‘Such unwonted haste on behalf of a Government gang was as unexpected as the explosion, and the Sabbath breaking part of it was just as unwelcome. Just what prompted the railway authorities to act in such haste is only known to themselves.’ (Mercury, May 23 1919)

We can only hope that the new apparatus was tested for accuracy. As for the ongoing problem of delays, that was solved early the following year.

From a report of the Ulverstone Council’s meeting published in The Examiner, Saturday January 17 1920; ‘With the opening of the produce season, the evergreen friction with regard to the delay in getting produce weighed has again been much in evidence, so much so that the council clerk, under instructions, wrote to the Commissioner for Railways calling attention to the inconvenience which farmers are caused. Yesterday the following letter was received from the Commissioner:- “Referring to your letter on the subject of attendance at the weighbridge at Ulverstone, I have now instructed that a lad be engaged to attend exclusively to the weighbridge.”

Now why couldn’t they have done that a few years earlier??

A history of potato growing in Tasmania.

For more information on Soldier Settlement CLICK HERE

  1. What complications farmers suffered; ones they could well do without. Just confirms there’s no such thing as ‘the humble potato’

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