“Napoleon Bonaparte observed that an army marches on its stomach. That is, the provision of adequate quantities of nutritious food is an essential prerequisite for the success of any military operation.”

So began a letter to the editor of the North Eastern Advertiser from Dr. Simon Oldfield to acknowledge the contribution of a visionary farmer, Bert Farquhar, to getting government support to set up a small but specialized research centre in Tasmania’s north-east.

Bert Farquhar - Scottsdale Tasmania
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Bert Farquhar, a visionary farmer and driving force behind the establishment of the DSTO’s Scottsdale Defence Nutrition Research Centre more than 50 years ago. Photo from his autobiography “Bert’s Story The Autobiography of B.A. Farquhar” published by Regal Press, Launceston ph: 03 6331 4222

Scottsdale Research Centre: Healthy Aussie Troops

by Mike Vanderkelen

For more than 50 years, the Defence Nutrition Research Centre in Scottsdale has played a major role in conducting research and development into nutrition and food science for our defence forces.

It owes its establishment and existence more to the late Mr. Farquhar than to anyone else says Dr Oldfield, chief of the division of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) which operates the facility.

Bert Farquhar - Defence Research Centre
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Scottsdale’s Defence Nutrition Research Centre is undergoing an $18.7 million facelift so it can continue to ensure Australia defence personnel receive nutritious and healthy food. Photographs supplied by Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and George Jones Photography

It’s an unassuming brick building which, when I drove by recently, was the centre of building activity – a bright spot no doubt in a small regional centre that is suffering the effects of the downturn in the forestry sector.

That the Research Centre continues is thanks to Bert Farquhar.

Bert Farquhar: In Defence of Aussie Soldiers

“Even when he was ninety years old, his concerns for our deployed soldiers led him to write to the Minister for Defence urging the Minister to visit DSTO Scottsdale and consider the expansion of the research program and production facility,” Dr. Oldfield wrote just days after Bert died at 91 years of age.

Soon after Bert’s death in March 2010, the Department of Defence sought tenders to build a new centre including test kitchens, constant temperature and humidity storerooms, open plan offices, new technology and communications network and associated landscaping.


 

Construction of the renovated Research Centre is underway at a cost of $18.7 million with an estimated completion date in late 2013.

The Scottsdale Centre researches the needs of Australian Defence Force members to ensure they eat healthy, nutritious food, whether in training or an operational environment.

Important Research Centres on Good Nutrition

Why is the research important? Well even in peace time good food and nutrition are challenged by the environments and conditions in which service personnel must operate. They may be in tents and frequently on the move or engaged in long range patrols over rugged terrain. Others may fly at high altitudes under confined conditions and some are in small ships subject to the incessant movement of the sea. The convenience of fresh food and refrigeration or the ability to prepare and serve it as one would in a civilian environment may simply not be possible.

And the research goes beyond simply making palatable and nutritious food available.

Bert Farquhar - Nutrition Research Centre
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Scottsdale’s Defence Nutrition Research Centre is no slouch when it comes to ensuring good nutrition for our service personnel. Photo by Mike Vanderkelen

It could be argued that service personnel need to have greater protection from food allergies than the average Australian at home. Enter researchers like J.E. Carins and K.J. Smith whose paper “Food allergies and Australian combat ration packs” is typical of the Centre’s output.

Bert Farquhar recognized the importance of good nutrition for service personnel early in life. Trapping rabbits and growing potatoes as a young man he first came to the notice of politicians when, during World War 2 at just 22 years of age, he devised a “common sense” vegetable contract as the basis of what processors would pay and farmers could grow to feed allied servicemen.

Bert Farquhar - Defence Personnel Rations
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Defence personnel today no doubt enjoy more exciting dishes than the freeze dried ham and beans with which writer Mike Vanderkelen was familiar during his military service. Photo by Mike Vanderkelen

Rushy Lagoon, North East Tasmania

He went on to become a very successful farmer. In 1986 he made the biggest purchase by an individual when he spent $10,000,000 buying a property called “Rushy Lagoon” on Tasmania’s north-east coast, more than doubling the mere $4million that Rupert Murdoch paid for his NSW merino stud, “Boonoke”.

How the Research Centre came into being is testimony to the perseverance of Bert Farquhar and the confidence he engendered in politicians, state and Federal, as well as in his fellow farmers and businessmen from the district.

During the early days of World War 2, the Commonwealth Dehydration Factory in Scottsdale was one of several across the country processing vegetables to feed Australian and US servicemen.

With the War’s end and the Commonwealth dismantling the dehydration factories, Bert pushed to keep the factory operating. Receiving support from the Tasmanian government and stretching his own personal overdraft to the limit, Bert convinced a group of farmers and businessman to invest in and expand the now privatized factory under the name Dewcrisp Steam Processed Vegetables Pty Limited.


 

By 1958 with the conflicts of World War 2 and Korea over, the Federal Government decided to terminate all defence food research in Australia except that associated with the development of rations. This research had been taking place in Melbourne but without access to laboratory facilities for the analyses of commercially-available processed foods and without the equipment for the production and testing of prototype containers.

Meanwhile in Scottsdale, in an annexe to the former dehydration factory, work had been ongoing into the compression of dehydrated vegetables for use in lightweight patrol rations.

Bert Farquhar: Champion of Scottsdale

In his autobiography Bert’s Story, Bert Farquhar describes how Scottsdale was well-positioned to host a Research Centre.

“We were the only commercial factory in Australia processing vegetables by dehydration, canning and quick freezing methods and we were very successful.”

In the face of the closure by the Federal Government of five other Research centres Bert swung into action, heavily lobbying Canberra including the then Minister for Defence Senator McBride and Country Party supremo Sir John McEwan who finally decided to keep one centre open to carry on research.


 

Simon Oldfield said Bert continued to show a strong interest in the establishment for the remainder of his long and productive life.

The memory of Bert Farquhar will no doubt live on when the renovated Research Centre is commissioned.

Since he was youngster Mike Vanderkelen has been a regular
visitor to Tasmania’s north-east where many of his relatives live
and work in primary production. He is a marketing and communications
consultant and former business journalist who consults to clients
in the information technology sector. For more information
please visit Infotech Marketing & Communications.

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Map: Scottsdale, Tasmania…