Field of dreams

17 August 2017

Hugh King was a city boy who went country. By taking opportunities that came his way, and through a lifelong appreciation for technological innovation, he found success in academic study, farming and business.

Hugh King

Putting new ideas into practice helped Hugh King weather some hard times and make the most of his farm. 

Hugh King (BScAgr ’58) wasn’t a farmer when he purchased Nilgie Park, a sheep station at Mungindi, some 600 kilometres north-west of Sydney.

He was prompted to move to the country – far from where he lived in Sydney’s Manly – by a city clerking job at one of Australia’s most important pastoral firms, Australian Mercantile Land & Finance. It was 1949 and he was just 20 with three years as a jackaroo under his belt when Nilgie Park came on the market for £13,500. King had just £300 but raised the finance to purchase.

Luck was on his side. The early 1950s saw the massive ‘pound for a pound’ Korean War wool boom. King’s second wool cheque was double the amount he had paid for the property.

With the loan on Nilgie Park paid and two men employed to run the farm, King returned to Sydney to study in 1953. “I left school at 15 and felt it was too early,” he says. “I wanted to know more about what made the world go around and why people did the things they did.”

King worked on his farm during university holidays, putting his knowledge to work through new practices such as flock testing, whereby flocks are bred to emphasise genetic traits such as fleece weight. “Previously, flocks had been bred for a standard look,” King explains. “Flock testing was unconventional at the time because it emphasised breeding for financial return.”

Majoring in animal nutrition under Professor Franklin, a pioneer in drought-feeding research, helped King when the drought hit in 1965. “Farmers used to spread their drought rations on the ground for the stock to eat, but that had real downsides,” King says. “I decided to move my stock into feed yards and feed them using troughs. This way they put on weight and I was able to sell them.”

The drought foreshadowed the end of the good times: prices fell, costs rose and droughts became more frequent. King sold Nilgie Park in 1969 and moved to Sydney where he helped establish a successful futures broking firm.

With a small farm on the NSW Central Tablelands, King maintained a life on the land until 2013 when he sold – at the age 85, the physical demands of the job were too difficult. Still, he appreciates the contribution of new technologies such as drones and robotics. “The current use of technology in farming is utterly amazing,” he says. “Perhaps the present era should be labelled ‘the IT Farming Revolution’.”

Written by Dr Kerry Little
Photography by Mark Quade

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