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  • Writer's pictureDr Tony Brady

John Lane: Utopian Visionary, Agriculturalist, Teacher

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

The picture: John Lane showing children on a Rural School excursion the orange trees he had budded on Thompson’s farm at Yandina. Queensland State Archives, Item Id. 16780, Administration file, Nambour State Rural School.

John Lane showing agriculture techniques to school children from the schools around Nambour Rural School

Did you know that early in Australia's Colonial history a small group of dedicated Socialists, led by a newspaper editor and his brother, who later became a school teacher, attempted to create a 'New Australia' on land they purchased in Paraguay? More interestingly, there is still a contingent of the groups descendants living on the colony.

The 1000 words:

In the first half of the 1900s, Queensland faced problems like those across the rest of Australia, including how to populate the unpopulated regions and have farmers produce sufficiently to allow communities to develop around them. This same period coincided with major changes in agrarian methods brought about through scientific advances. New techniques existed in seed selection, fertilisation, crop rotation and tillage, along with dairy stock selection based on milk and cream testing. In Queensland, many primary producers were loath to change the way they had farmed and been taught to farm by their fathers before them. The education system was recognised as the vehicle to facilitate change in agriculture and a new type of school evolved to provide children in rural communities the opportunity to continue their education beyond the higher primary classes whilst incorporating a curriculum that would provide training more directly aligned with their future vocations. Nambour Rural School began in 1917 as the model Rural School; a uniquely equipped primary school teaching a distinctive curriculum. Nambour was the first Rural School in Queensland, and over the next three decades, twenty-nine schools followed the model it established.

Nambour however faced numerous teething problems. Foremost among these was the lack of space necessary for any serious agricultural experimentation due to the school’s proximity to the sugar mill. To alleviate this problem a system of four linked-up schools was utilised, with the head teachers from these schools, Joseph Thomas Wilson from Woombye, Francis Ernslie Watt, from Mapleton, John Lane from Yandina and Reginald G. Bartlett from Buderim Mountain chosen to participate.[1] Nambour’s head teacher, Thomas Fisher detailed that each of the linked-up schools would be engaged in the general scheme, but each would also specialise in defined areas. The aim Fisher stated was to establish a ‘carefully systemised’, ‘regular course of observation work’. Buderim Mountain was to be utilised for the observation of banana culture and its associated work, whilst pineapple growing would be the focus at Woombye, maize at Yandina, and Mapleton would concentrate on citrus fruits and the pests that attack them.[2]

John Lane

John Lane was the brother of William Lane, who was the Editor of the Worker, a monthly journal of the Associated Workers of Queensland and founder of the ‘New Australia’ Movement. In 1893, John and his wife sailed with William and his family to establish a Socialist colony in Paraguay called ‘New Australia’.

After a second contingent of colonists arrived, William became disillusioned over his ideals not being adhered to by some in the colony.[3] John and William formed a splinter colony in July 1894 and, with seventy-three colonists loyal to the ideals, they established ‘Colonia Cosme’ forty-five miles south of ‘New Australia’. John stated that the ideology of the new colony was ‘building up the home life combined with a modified form of communism’; for want of a better term, John called this Cosmeism.

Small-scale agriculture was the lifeblood of the society, with John noting that to produce quality crops required understanding the soils and climate. When a poor first year required purchasing food to sustain the colony, John Lane optimistically predicted a better outcome for the next year, stating ‘if we have not food of our own growing by that time we will deserve to starve’.[4] Despite glowing reports from the Lanes on the success of the colony it numbered less than a hundred after five years. The colony ultimately failed ‘as long-trusted comrades weakened and went, thinning the ranks’ and a flow of colonists who found the lifestyle too arduous made their way back to Australia.

William Lane moved to New Zealand in 1899 where he was lead writer and later editor for Auckland's New Zealand Herald. Bronchitis and heart disease ended his life on 26 August 1917. He is interred in Auckland.

John returned to Australia in 1903 and took up teaching in Queensland.[5] John’s time in the colony obviously helped him develop great skills in gardening. When inspecting Lane’s school at Yandina in June 1917, the teacher of Agriculture, James Stubbin, admiringly noted ‘the vegetable garden shows the handling of an expert’. Most of the produce from the gardens supplied the cookery classes at Nambour Rural School and with a supply of water for the gardens, Stubbin wrote, Yandina would be capable of meeting all the needs of the cookery classes. Lane was also producing excellent results with his fruit trees and was conducting experiments in the use of ground lime to improve the soil. Stubbin wrote; ‘I am inclined to think that this school will take a permanent place among the “linked up” schools and will be a power for much good in this locality’.[6] With Queensland dependent of the survival of small-scale farmers and in turn they dependent on the education provided by the State; John Lane’s favourite axiom ‘each for all and all for each’ was an apt analogy the role of his linked-up school in the development of Queensland.

#history #australianhistory #queenslandhistory #historywithheart #colonialaustralia #colonialhistory #colonialteachers #ruralschools #agriculturaldevelopment #newaustralia #paraguay #school #historyofeducation #johnlane #lanefamily #williamlane #colonycosme

Notes and Bibliography

[1] "The Rural School System", Queenslander (Brisbane), Saturday, 2 June 1917, 15 | "The Nambour Rural School: Proposed Extension of Operations," Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Wednesday, 14 March 1917, 10.

[2] "The Rural School System", Brisbane Courier (Brisbane), Thursday, 24 May 1917, 6.

[3] Gavin Souter. "Lane, William (1861–1917)." Australian Dictionary of Biography (1983), accessed 6 February 2012.

[4] John Lane, "The Cosme Colony in Paraguay: A Letter from Mr John Lane," Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Thursday, 18 October 1894, 6.

[5] Lane, "The Cosme Colony in Paraguay." | John Lane, "News from Cosme," Worker (Brisbane), Saturday, 28 April 1900, 2 | ———, "The Paradise in Paraguay: Colonia Cosme, Described by Mr John Lane," Advertiser (Adelaide), Tuesday, 22 May 1900, 9 | "John Lane's Anniversary," Worker (Brisbane), Tuesday, 29 June 1937, 16.

[6] Queensland State Archives, Item ID. 995753, Correspondence re agricultural education, report of the teacher of agriculture for 1917, papers re milk and cream testing course at Gatton,1917, and Boonah, 1916 -1917, and applications by schools for strawberry plants. Report by the Teacher of Agriculture for Yandina, 7 June, 1917.

For more information:

Brady, Tony James, (2013). John Lane: Utopian visionary, agriculturalist, teacher. History Queensland, 8, pp. 26-27.


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