1947 – 1997: CSIRO Field Station
By the mid-1940s, about 115 million Australian sheep were producing more than half of the worlds fine wool. But, after World War II, cheap synthetic materials began to be produced which threatened Australia’s large wool export market.
This prompted the Australian Government to fund research into sheep nutrition and wool production. As a result, Glenthorne was purchased by the organisation we know today as the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). Between 1947 and 1997, the Glenthorne Field Station was used by the CSIRO to conduct studies into sheep nutrition, wool production, agriculture, and later, human nutrition and human disease prevention.
Since colonisation, farmers had noticed that healthy sheep in well-watered coastal areas, like the south-east of the state and Kangaroo Island, lost their appetite and wasted away. Scientists at Glenthorne helped investigate ‘Coastal Disease’ and contributed to the successful dosing of sheep in these regions with cobalt and copper, elements found to be lacking in the soil of these coastal scrublands.
Perhaps the most noticeable reminder of the CSIRO era at Glenthorne are the remains of Dr David Riceman’s glass house, used to study plant deficiencies in the Ninety Mile Desert, found between Coonalpyn and Keith in South Australia’s south-east. Dr Riceman’s research between 1944 – 1950 enabled nearly 300,000 hectares of infertile wasteland to be transformed into productive farmland. Other experimental research at Glenthorne involved sheep being fitted with radio “backpacks” to study grazing habits.
When Glenthorne was transferred from the Australian Army, the soil was impoverished and eroding. Cereal crops failed in dirt that should have been suitable, leading to a decade long effort to restore the fertility of the soil. The large dam and contoured hills are another reminder of the influence the CSIRO had on Glenthorne, created to drought-proof the property. Today, the riparion zone (land found alongside dams, streams, gullies and wetlands) is home to the most significant and diverse ecosystems in the park.
The sheep sheds and sheering pens found in the central hub are also reminders of the legacy of scientific research the CSIRO left at Glenthorne. By the time the field station closed in 1996, the Glenthorne property had been reduced from 228 hectares to the present 208 hectares by the construction of the Southern expressway along the western boundary. The next 25 years would be a tubulent time as competing interests wrestled for control of the property.