Mr Peter Waite

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 17:22 :55 ): I move:

That this council—

1.Notes the centenary of Peter Waite's donation of the Urrbrae estate to the University of Adelaide for the study of agriculture;

2.Acknowledges the significant outcomes delivered by the University of Adelaide and, in particular, the Waite campus, as a result of this philanthropic gift; and

3.Recognises the position of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute to contribute positively to ensuring global food security and providing Australia's agricultural, wine and food industries with innovative research-led developments.

Mr Peter Waite was a truly remarkable man. He was someone who has had a profound impact on South Australia, particularly in the agricultural sector, where he made his fortune as a pastoralist or squatter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was an innovator, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, as well as being a prominent pioneer of agricultural research. It has now been a century since Waite's original gift of the Urrbrae estate, and I feel that it is vitally important that we recognise the magnitude of Peter Waite's gift and the enormous impact it has had on South Australia in the years since the foundation of the Waite Institute.

Peter Waite came to South Australia from Scotland in 1859 aboard the vessel The British Trident. Aged just 25 years, Peter arrived in Australia having left his widowed mother and fiancé of two years to explore the significant opportunities the new South Australian colony presented. Unaccustomed to the harsh weather of the Australian outback, the summer of 1859 no doubt presented a rude initiation to Australian life but, as became his legacy, Peter Waite adapted quickly and soon established himself as one of the state's leading pastoralists, businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, in 1834, Peter Waite was the youngest of three sons in the Waite family, his brothers being James and David. Peter was only a baby when his father, James Waite Senior, was tragically killed in a riding accident, leaving Peter's mother, Elizabeth Waite, to raise the children by herself whilst also running the family farm. Armed with a sound upbringing, a respectable education and an apprenticeship in ironmongery, Peter and his brothers were inspired to emigrate to South Australia due to the exploits of a certain family by the name of Elder. The two families would soon be synonymous with South Australia and their names forever part of the state's history.

In the mid-1830s, George Elder Senior encouraged his 24-year-old son to start a business in the newly established colony of South Australia. Alexander arrived in Port Adelaide, or Port Misery as it was then called, in 1839, only three years after the arrival of the first settlers. The iconic South Australian company Elders was soon founded on Rundle Street and began to flourish in the new colony. After a number of years, three of the Elder sons returned to their homeland where word spread of the significant opportunities in the South Australian colony for enterprising and able individuals.

Inspired by the exploits of the Elder family, Peter made the arduous journey to South Australia where he joined his eldest brother, James Waite, at the Pandappa Station near Terowie. In the semi-arid north of South Australia, in conjunction with Elder, Stirling and Co., Peter and his brother James managed a 2,000 sheep property. Such was Waite's ability and intuition that barely three years after his arrival he took over the adjoining station, Paratoo, which carried 5,000 sheep. Not long after, Peter also took over the Pandappa Station, which brought his local holdings to some 1,975 square kilometres, or 488,000 acres, or 197,000 hectares, which is a staggering parcel of land, as any landowner or farmer will tell you.

In 1864, Peter's fiancé arrived from Scotland. They were married that same year and they had eight children, presumably not in the same year. The Urrbrae property that was to be the everlasting gift of Peter Waite was purchased by Thomas Elder in 1875. Thomas had already made private arrangements with Waite regarding the future ownership and Peter became the official owner of the property seven years later in 1882.

With the tragic disappearance of the son and heir to that property, David, on 24 May 1913, Peter Waite made the decision to pen his now famous letter to the Hon. A.H. Peake, premier of South Australia, confirming his decision to hand over his Urrbrae estate of 134 acres to the University of Adelaide. Additionally, Waite left a parcel of land to the state government for the creation of an agricultural high school, which would become Urrbrae Agricultural High School in 1932. To this date, the donation of the Urrbrae estate remains one of the largest public benefactions in South Australian history. When Waite bequeathed his property to the University of Adelaide he specified that he wanted it to be used for two things: the establishment of a research and education institution to promote agricultural science and a public park or garden—both still flourish today.

There is no doubt that Peter Waite was an incredibly generous man. Throughout his life he participated in various philanthropic ventures, but his everlasting legacy was that of his drive and commitment to innovation and the ability to develop new ideas with vigour and intelligence. He regularly embraced and fostered new technologies and advancements and was one of the first to recognise the benefits of fencing, as opposed to open runs, which led him to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds developing vast tracts of fenced-off areas. His ability to adapt, innovate and thrive in testing conditions made him one of the most successful businessmen in South Australia at the time and he was a true pioneer of the state.

It was not just in agriculture that Waite was ahead of his time. Waite's Urrbrae property was the first private house built to be lit by electricity, it was the first to have a tiled roof and the first to contain a refrigeration plant. He was also the second individual in South Australia to register a car. In every facet of his life Peter Waite was testing the limits, looking beyond the horizon to seek out technological advancements and embrace new and innovative ways of living and working.

Peter Waite was described as an innovative and enterprising pastoralist as well as a remarkably successful businessman. He was a generous benefactor and a person of vision, who saw the value and importance of science and agriculture working together to face the food production challenges of the future. Waite stated in his letter to the premier:

We have now reached a point when it behoves us all to call science to our aid to a greater extent than hitherto has been done, otherwise we cannot hope to keep in the forefront.

In my mind, this passage truly exemplifies how far ahead of his time Waite was in recognising the vital importance of research and development to agricultural advancements.

Since Waite's gift, the institute has also benefited from an number of other philanthropic gifts, and in 1927 the pastoralist, John Melrose, donated £10,000 to establish the first group of permanent laboratories. In 1930, Harold Darling gifted £10,000 for the establishment of another laboratory, and in 1926 Andrew Tennant Mortlock gifted £2,000 and then, with his mother, gifted a further £25,000 in 1936 to establish the Ranson Mortlock Trust to support research into soil erosion and pasture regeneration.

Many more gifts followed in the years to come, and the Waite steadily grew, gaining a number of new laboratories, research centres and educational buildings. Not only was Peter Waite's original gift from the Urrbrae estate a huge boost for agricultural research around the globe but it also served as a catalyst for an outpouring of collective industry support for research excellence.

In recent years, the institute has grown considerably, with hundreds of millions of dollars of laboratories, equipment and research now being located at the site. From the mid-1990s to 2010, more than $100 million have been invested or committed to new buildings and advanced research at the Waite. The Plant Research Centre was constructed by SARDI in the mid-1990s, the Wine Innovation Cluster Building in 2009, and the Plant Accelerator Node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility in 2010. Of course, in 2003 the Australian Centre for Plant Genomics was set up, and in 2011 the Australian Council's Centre for Excellence in Plant Cell Walls was established.

The Waite Campus is now home to the University of Adelaide School of Agriculture, Food and Wine; the CSIRO divisions of plant, industry, ecosystem, sciences, land, water and computational infomatics; the South Australian Research and Development Institute; the Wine Research Institute; the Australian Genome Research Facility; Arris Pty Ltd; the Urrbrae House Historic Precinct and Waite Arboretum; the Australian Centre for Plant Genomics and Australian Plant Phenomics facility; the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, the FOODplus Research Centre and the Wine Innovation Cluster.

This means that the Waite Institute now is the largest agricultural research and teaching precinct in the Southern Hemisphere, with 12 world-class research organisations and centres, over 1,000 research and postgraduate staff, over $100 million in research and income expenditure per annum and $265 million of research and teaching infrastructure. The term 'the Waite' is a globally recognised research brand that has presented excellence in research and teaching for more than 90 years.

Over those 90 years, the Waite has delivered an unquantifiable amount to global agricultural and food security. The Waite's researchers were significant contributors to the establishment of South Australia's durum wheat industry. In 1990, Waite researchers, Mr Jim Lewis and Mr Tony Rathjen, who, sadly, recently passed away, brought the first durum wheat into South Australia and began adapting it to thrive in South Australian conditions. By the year 2004-05, South Australia's annual durum crop was estimated to be worth some $200 million.

In 1999, Yitpi (a variety of wheat), was released, which had better stripe rust resistance and yielded much higher than other varieties. Over the years, the Waite has released dozens of new varieties for the agricultural industry, many of them named with the WARI tag, indicating its Waite origins.

Barley breeding was also transformed by the work carried out at the Waite. In the mid-1960s, David Sparrow and Keith Finlay developed Clipper, a variety of barley. Released commercially in 1968, Clipper would go on to dominate the barley growing areas in all mainland states in the 1970s and was soon to be used by growers in Greece, South Africa and India, such was its strength and adaptability. A number of new varieties with different characteristics followed, including Ketch in 1970, Corvette in 1976, and Cutter in 1979.

In 1981, Galleon was released, which had the unique trait of being the first barley with resistance to cereal cyst nematode. Galleon also had a yield potential 15 per cent higher than Clipper. Schooner and Chebec, with their premium malting qualities, soon followed, along with the high-yielding Skiff. These varieties became the crop of choice for farmers across the nation. Nowadays, more than half of Australia's barley varieties have been bred at the Waite Campus, such has been its importance.

In 2005, the achievements of the South Australian Cereal Breeding Team, led by the members from the Waite Institute, received the inaugural South Australian Premier's Science Excellence Award for Excellence in Research for Commercial Outcomes. The four scientists honoured had been responsible for breeding 40 new crop varieties, which at the time made up 80 per cent of the state's cereal crop. Today the Waite's greatest strength lies in grains, soil and wine, as reflected by the strengths in our state's primary industries.

I could go on about the impact that the Waite Institute has had on the commercialisation of agriculture, but unfortunately I do not have the time tonight to list every achievement. The Waite has delivered so much to global food security that it is impossible to fully quantify and understand its true value. What I have listed is just a tiny amount of the work the institute has done and, without its work, we would not be where we are today.

Today, I received a copy of the recently released book The Waite: a social and scientific history of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute by Lynette D. Zeitz. It is a fine piece of work, documenting the extraordinary achievements of the Waite as well as the people and the personalities behind the institute. I encourage everyone here today to get themselves a copy and read of the remarkable history of the Waite Institute.

Yet none of what is contained within that book could have happened without Peter Waite. To say he was before his time is underselling the intuitiveness of the man. He was not just before his time: he was a visionary who had a unique ability to recognise the importance of scientific research in agriculture before anyone had ever posed the question. Peter Waite's dedication to scientific excellence in agricultural advancement is responsible for placing South Australia at the forefront of global agricultural research.

When he left his Urrbrae estate to the University of Adelaide, Peter Waite most likely had no idea that his gift would blossom into the world-class centre that it is today. I am sure, however, that Peter Waite would be immensely proud of what the Waite has become and that he would have been humbled by the magnitude of its achievements. When Waite bequeathed his property to the state, agriculture and pastoralists were the backbone of the economy, and I believe that agriculture, while its status may have slipped in the public eye, is still as important to the economy as it ever was.

Even today, the entire food industry employs one-fifth of the state's workforce. South Australia remains the largest producer of wine in the nation and it is the second largest producer of citrus. We still produce millions of tons of grain every year, and exports remain an integral part of our economy. All these industries are underpinned by the critical work that has been done at the Waite. It is vital that we recognise the value of the Waite Institute and the benefits that can be gained from science and agriculture working together.

I am fearful that our Minister for Agriculture is against any form of technological advancement and blind to the benefits it offers. What he fails to realise is that our ability to produce what we do today is entirely down to science. A new variety that increases yield by 15 per cent could be just around the corner; it could be our next Clipper, Galleon or Yitpi, but we will never know if we withdraw funding from this area, which, sadly, has been the government's position of late. If our agriculture industry were suddenly able to produce 15 per cent more food, then it would be a huge boost to our economy.

If we do not invest in this industry, then we will stop seeing the increases in production, in yields and in tolerances to pests and diseases. Without investment, our ability to produce food and contribute to global food security will be severely compromised. Agriculture around the world faces a great challenge to feed the ever-growing population, but without Peter Waite there is no doubt that we would not be as close as we are today to finding a solution.

Peter Waite is the grandfather of research and development and his enormous generosity has allowed our agriculture industry to take leaps and bounds over the past century. Thanks to his vision and the work undertaken at the Waite Institute, global agriculture has benefited immensely and will continue to benefit in the future, provided we continue Waite's legacy and invest in this important sector. On behalf of us all, I express my gratitude to Mr Peter Waite and the Waite Institute for all they have done for South Australia.

I would just add also, on a personal note, that my uncle, whom members on my side know quite well and who is still with us and well into his late 80s, worked at the Waite from about 1960 to the late seventies. He harvested some seeds from a tree called a bulloak (Casuarina luehmannii) on his property in the north of Wolseley, and they grow today in the Waite Arboretum, which I mentioned in my major contribution, with a little plaque saying that they were grown from seeds collected from Mr Ian Ridgway's property at Wolseley, so there is a long-time family connection. With those few words, I commend the motion to the chamber. I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It’s easy. Just click “Edit Text” or double click me to add your own content and make changes to the font. Feel free to drag and drop me anywhere you like on your page. I’m a great place for you to tell a story and let your users know a little more about you.

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