Pages Navigation Menu

Interview with 1960 Scholar Philip Young AM

Conducted by Nicola Raymond, Communications Manager

  • This interview was held on Monday, 30 March at his home in Adelaide.
  • Philip was born and bred on a wheat farm in the Lower-North of South Australia.
  • Philip was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 1960.

Awards and Appointments

1959-1965: Member of the South Australian Advisory Board of Agriculture
1962-1966: Member of the Advisory Council of CSIRO and member of the committee for cooperation between CSIRO and the Australian Universities.
1972-1975: Members of the Roseworthy Agricultural College’s Agricultural Courses Advisory Committee
1980: Appointed a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (FAIAST)
1986: Appointed a General Member of the Order of Australia for services to agricultural development in Australia and developing countries
2008: Roseworthy Old Collegians Association (ROCA) Award of Merit

Please confirm family history and members including children, grandchildren?
I have three children, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. I have been married to Margaret for almost 70 years – our anniversary will be held in November 2015. On my mother’s side, her family were very early settlers, coming to Australia in 1838. On my father’s side, my grandfather came out to Australia so I’m third generation Australian. He died when I was six-weeks old. He came from Northumberland in England and was a stonemason. He assisted in the building of the cathedral in Adelaide and then went off to Ballarat to make some money. Apparently, he returned to Adelaide on foot with a wheelbarrow. He called into Penola (south-east South Australia) on his return and helped build the pub there. Eventually he went onto the land 50 miles north of Adelaide.

Please outline a brief version of your business history?
I graduated from Roseworthy College in 1939. I went to the University of Adelaide to do an Agricultural Science degree. Just 18 months into that, I joined the army.

Army Life
I joined the army in 1940. I was in the 2nd 7th Australian Field Regiment (artillery) in the ninth division. We went to the Middle East in late-1940 and I was there for two-and-a-half years. I served in Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and then ultimately, and the most significant part of the service, we went back to Egypt and fought in the Battle of El Alamein. There were two battles, one in July and one in October (1942) and they were pretty vicious. I went all through those battles and came out alright but it was a pretty tough time. We came back to Australia in early 1943 because of the Japanese threat. The artillery wasn’t nearly as useful in general warfare as it was in open warfare – like the desert in the Middle East. Therefore, we were sitting around doing nothing for a year or two in Queensland as they couldn’t use the artillery very effectively in jungle warfare. So, one day I got called into the office. He man said that there was a request for me to leave the army and re-start my agricultural training at the university. I remember he said: You’ll have to agree and sign to it? and I immediately said Where’s your pen? So after four-and-a-half years in the army I returned to the University of Adelaide in about 1944.

Philip graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1939 with first class honours, the gold medallist and multiple award and scholarship winner, being awarded the John Ridley Memorial Scholarship. This, together with a cadetship in the Department of Agriculture and a part-scholarship to St Marks University College, he then completed his Agricultural Science degree with meritorious results in 1946. He gained employment as a Field Supervisor for agricultural land development for War Service Settlement in the SA Government.

Agriculture
So I was first involved in agriculture and land clearing in Port Lincoln and I did the initial work of opening up land for soldier settlers on Kangaroo Island, and then transferred to the south-east of South Australia. I was in charge of all land development there for 18 months then I took a soldier settler block myself in 1951, at Kybybolite. The block was 600 acres and totally grazing. You could crop a bit of it but it would often be too wet in the winter for cropping. We ran 1,500 sheep, mostly crossbred ewes for lamb production. We harvested some clover seed occasionally and sowed some phalaris on heavier soils and sometimes harvested seed from that. We were fairly short of money. In about 1955 I got on top of the block, and got more interested in farmer organisations.

He played a major role in re-establishing the Kybybolite Branch of the Agricultural Bureau and revival of the South Eastern Branch the Roseworthy Old Collegians Association.

I was made a member of the South Australian Advisory Board of Agriculture, in about 1959. And then I applied for and won the Nuffield Scholarship in 1960 along with Stan Dilkes from WA. After that, a group of people who were assisting to develop land for the AMP Scheme (land clearing) got in touch with me about being more involved. I gradually joined with them in 1962.

How did you hear about Nuffield Farming Scholarships?
Bert Kelly won the first Nuffield Scholarship in Australia and everyone was aware of Bert Kelly! And then I think Alan Hookings was number two but I didn’t know him very well. Then Geoff Giles was awarded a scholarship and he went to Roseworthy College after I did so I knew him. Bert was very prominent through the Advisory Board of Agriculture. I suppose I felt that I could make a successful application as I’d done pretty well at Roseworthy College and won scholarships to the university. And I was doing pretty well at the university for about 18 months when I joined the army.
Please confirm your topic and why did you choose this topic?
I think the topic was about pasture development, farmer organisations and sheep breeding. I was very interested in pasture development through my Roseworthy, University and the Waite Institute studies, which was all part of my academic training. Farmer organisations were also an interest of mine. I became interested in the Stock Owners as they were pretty strong in Naracoorte. I was a member of that as well as the Advisory Board – as previously mentioned. And overall I think this interest was there because of my bossy nature! Those were the three themes but whether I carried them out successfully in Britain I don’t know
Can you confirm who was on your state and/or national selection panels?
I don’t think there was a state panel, although I cannot recall. I was just advised to go to Melbourne at a certain time and be interviewed. There were two or three others from SA also invited to Melbourne but I cannot recall their names. I’m sure that’s the only interview we had.

What questions were you asked and were any particularly memorable?
The interview took place somewhere at the Melbourne University and the panel consisted of some from the Faculty of Agriculture from the University of Melbourne. I don’t recall there being any Nuffield Scholars on the panel, but the organisation was only 10 years old then, so there weren’t many scholars. I recall that the interview was fairly congenial. And then the two winners – one from WA and SA only, announced us winners there and then, NT didn’t nominate scholars during that time. There was a panel for Victoria/Tasmania one year, New South Wales/Queensland another year and SA/WA/NT the third year and they went in a three-year rotation. I don’t think the interview was very tough. After they announced us as the scholars, we were taken to the Melbourne Club for dinner.

Which countries did you travel to as part of your study?
United Kingdom. It was usual, but not totally sanctioned to nick off to Europe for the final month, which I did. That was virtually a liberty that a scholar would take and the Nuffield organisation didn’t look after anything or any contacts in Europe. At that time there was a scholar from Rhodesia, Kenya, two from New Zealand (north and south island I suppose), two from Australia and two from Canada. I think that made up the group. And we all met from time-to-time at Nuffield House in London and met what was apparently a British Isles Nuffield group or committee, based from Nuffield House. The Chairman was someone from Cambridge whose name I cannot recall but we used to meet up with them occasionally and they helped us. But mostly when arranging the programs were helped by the National Farmers Union which was very strong in Britain in those days as they were still dealing with all sorts of subsidies after the war It was highly subsidised agriculture as they had to stimulate farming. And the National Farmers Union was very strong in agri-politics.

What dates did you travel and how long were you overseas?
I had six months in the UK. We were not supplied with a car we had to find cash for a car. Our itinerary was helped by British Nuffield Scholars as they had a good many. In the UK they sent them to Europe for one or two months and they had more variety in their scholarships than we had. Some went to America and some came to Australia. There seemed to be a lot more of them than us, but I don’t remember how many were awarded scholarships but we got good help from them. If you didn’t have a car you couldn’t move around much. It was an expensive exercise to find a car for yourself when you are a solider settler. When travelling, I went by ship to the UK, which took about three or four weeks and returned to Australia by air. The toughest part of the whole thing is that we didn’t have enough money for Margaret to join me there. She was on the farm on her own with just one girl living with her and one bloke looking after the farm for six months. This was very tough for her and she hasn’t forgotten that!

I said to Brigadier Huxley that I had trouble finding money to buy car. And after that Huxley arranged for the dairy board to lend cars to Nuffield Scholars. I think this ceased after 20 years, but they did lend cars to scholars. He was a nice old guy Brigadier Huxley, an old British army man.

What were your most memorable travel experiences?
I met many people, a person who helped a good deal was John Cherrington he was an agricultural writer and commentator of some stature and was very close to Bert Kelly. Bert introduced me to many opportunities as he was there ten years before me. John’s son wasn’t a scholar but had come out and worked in Australia for experience, from memory he might have worked on the Kelly’s farm. There was a good link between Bert’s contacts, Cherrington and other people which made it easier for me as it opened many people. There was also an MP, Kay I think his surname was. I always remember him saying No wonder the Australians are such a successful country with scholars because they are all especially selected by English judges!

As a result of your study, what management practices changed in your business?
I didn’t make a great deal of changes on the farm but I became pretty active in farmer organisations and said a few things that raised the eye of some, such as the President of the Stock Owners Association. We had quite a public argument about things I’d said about farmer organisations being too conservative and should do more for members. He didn’t like that and there were a few letters in the paper and what not. It became a bit irksome but we patched it up after. Then I was invited to become a Member of the Advisory Council of CSIRO, and I was still on Advisory Board of Agriculture.

The Nuffield experience opened up my mind to the bigger issues in agriculture, in particular in agricultural organisations. But I was only back for two or three years, then I got a much greater role in land development, which became a very big part of my life after that.

Philip joined a land development/property management group in the upper south-east called Hugh Robinson and Company when it was formed in 1953. In 1965, Philip took-over this group in partnership with the late Newton Tiver. This partnership expanded rapidly to the formation in 1971 of the Australian Agricultural Consulting and Management Company (AACM), one of Australia’s first and eventually the largest Australian and international agricultural consulting company. Philip was Chairman and Managing Director of this company.

Agricultural Consulting
Hugh Robinson developed land in the south-east for absentee owners. You see, for 20 years there was a tax ruling that people who spent money on prime agricultural development got a tax deduction. So this encouraged many like doctors and industrialists with a lot of money and a tax problem to get into developing virgin land. That was the basis of nearly all my land development experience. A client would come to us and express interest in investing in land for a tax deduction. We first set it up in the south-east then almost all over Australia we – and the organisation that I set up – looked after investment in agricultural land development. In WA, we employed contractors, did all the decision making as to what we would clear and what would be farmed, and took over the whole enterprise for a fee only – we never accepted a commission so we could never be accused of going to the highest bidder. We always maintained a professional approach. We had land development in Esperance, the Northern Territory, MacKay, some in New South Wales and some in in Western Victoria. We also took over land associated with mining. We ran two properties in the Kimberley for the mining companies. One is soon to be turned into a National Park. Its sandstone country – poor for agriculture. The soils are not too good up there. The Ord and Barkly Tablelands are good, but it’s mostly shallow, impoverished soils, like most of Australia. I envisage that bringing the water down south may be a future option.

By the mid-1970’s, AACM had planned and implemented over 100 private enterprise projects involving the conversion of approximately 200,000 hectares of scrub land into agricultural and livestock production units across southern Australia. In addition, extensive areas of sub-tropical and tropical legume based pastures had been established across northern and north-eastern Australia. A broad-based, Australian-wide agricultural consultancy was established with offices in Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, MacKay, Brisbane and Tamworth. In 1970 AACM was appointed principal agricultural consultants to the Australian Government’s national program for the advancement of Aboriginal people. Philip took a lead role in reviewing the agricultural and livestock production potential of millions of hectares of Aboriginal reserves and alienated land.

How did you disseminate your study outcomes to the wider industry?
We were required to submit a report within 12 months to Nuffield in Melbourne. And you were expected to routinely make yourself available to talk at various meetings. I went to many meeting, probably 20-30, and began to believe what I was talking about! It was a fair bit of public work. Back then it was not like it is today with a formal conference as there were only two of us, and only three other South Australians before me. When Nuffield UK couldn’t fund Australian Scholarships anymore, it was then it all began to really develop in Australia. George Wilson did a great job and kept it alive but he was very conservative. He seemed to dislike the idea of it becoming anything more than a discreet group! We got some money from Qantas and all of sudden it opened up to what it is today which is quite remarkable. I’ve often wondered about the expansion. Jim has done a wonderful job but I would hate it to lose its ‘oomph’. Yet it is a wonderful concept and the scholars have the capacity to make a real impact on their return which is far beyond where it was in my day. It’s great to see scholars popping up doing good things in lots of different areas.

Who has had a long-term positive impact on you within the Nuffield family and why?
Bert Kelly, and obviously Jim Geltch and George Wilson. George maintained it and it worked through the show society offices in Melbourne. I assume the show society staff did some of the secretarial work as well. When we started to visit each other’s states – I think the first state visit that the Nuffield organisation organised was to Tasmania – that was the first time I met George. It was on the plane over to Tasmania. From memory Ron Baillieu was also there along with Sir Robert Southey. That was George – keeping it upmarket! He did a good job keeping the dignity of the organisation and that’s been maintained. It’s important as things can become commonplace and lose their style.

Please outline industry/community leadership roles you have served.
Mainly the CSIRO and the Advisory Board. I was strong on the Institute of Agricultural Science at Roseworthy College too. I was also Chairman of SA Nuffield. I recall that Kim Kelly – Bert’s son – was going to apply and Bert told me he couldn’t be chairman if Kim wanted to apply, so that’s when I took that role on. With the AACM work we had a big office in Adelaide and so it was not difficult to do the Nuffield work, and the donkey work could be done by the secretaries. I was in that role for about 20 years. I think I might have passed it on to Brendon Smart. I recall that I’d occasionally ask the Nuffield blokes for $50 each to maintain the administration and costs associated with running it. We had a Nuffield bank account and that’s how it ran for many years.
What were the three major benefits of completing your Nuffield Farming Scholarship?

  1. Opening the scope, your mind and the feel for big agricultural issues.
  2. Picking up the technology for your own particular enterprise.
  3. If you take enough, you have responsibility to do something for agriculture.

Finally, what are your future plans?
We’ve been lucky to travel overseas many times. I did a lot of international consulting and I think I’ve worked in 33 countries in total. Both my sons joined the firm when I retired and they are pretty prominent international consultants now. We employed over 80 people offshore as well as Australian offices. It became a big show. I travelled a lot due to being the boss and founder of it.

International Success

In the 1970’s, AACM’s activities in Australia attracted the attention of the World Bank and other international agencies concerned with land development in developing countries. AACM responded and by the 1980s a significant international consulting capacity had been developed alongside the Australian activities. By the mid-1980s, the AACM employed up to 60 international consultants on project-related contracts. In 1985 AACM received a Commonwealth Government Export Award for completing projects in over 20 countries.

We are lucky to have this house, which we bought 47 years ago for $19,000. We both enjoy good health. I am now 96 years old and Margaret is 93. We met before the war and I was friends with her brother. After I returned from the Middle East I went to see then and there was little Miss Muffet! We grew to like each other and married in 1945 and Phillip, our eldest, was born in 1946. Margaret’s family were Adelaide-based. Her father was a doctor who died quite young, from war wounds from Gallipoli where he was a medico. Her brother also graduated as a doctor. We see our children regularly, they all live in Adelaide but the boys spend a lot of time offshore. Phillip got back from Tonga yesterday and David is somewhere in Africa at the moment. They look after us well and always call in…usually at drinks time!

Nicola Raymond
Communications Manager
April 2015

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This