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Prell, Charles Ernest (1865–1946)

by D. B. Webster

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Charles Ernest Prell (1865-1946), pastoralist, was born on 15 August 1865 at St Kilda, Melbourne, fourth of eight children of Frederick William Prell, merchant from Hanover, and his English wife Jessie Ussher, née Dunlop. After attending Hawthorn Grammar School, he began work at 17 as a jackeroo on the vast Peak Downs station in Queensland. From about 1887 he managed his father's Richmond Downs station and other Queensland properties. He married Caroline Ivy Chave at St John's Church, Toorak, Melbourne, on 9 April 1896 and in 1898 took up Savannah Downs, an almost waterless 2000 sq. mile (5180 km²) property in the Queensland Gulf country. After sinking bores successfully he ran cattle. In 1904 he bought Gundowringa, about 4500 acres (1821 ha) near Crookwell, New South Wales; later purchases added 2500 acres (1012 ha).

The land was mainly uncleared, with native grasses; it carried less than one sheep to the acre and cut 6-7 lb (3 kg) of wool per sheep. After seeing intensive farming during a visit to England and France, Prell built rabbit-proof fences, cleared the land and planted a potato crop, which was harvested mechanically and sorted by a grader of his own invention. He then planted wheat or oats for two years, followed by a pasture. Finding the introduced grasses difficult to establish, he began to experiment with subterranean clover and, acting on Department of Agriculture advice, fertilised it with superphosphate. Gradually the soil improved and such grasses as phalaris, cocksfoot, sheep's burnet and perennial rye were established. He later found that natural pastures could be improved more cheaply by top-dressing with a mixture of clover seed and superphosphate.

Prell carefully costed every process and sought the assistance of departmental experts in monitoring flocks grazed on improved and natural pastures. The results were widely publicized in the rural press: by the late 1920s he had increased the carrying capacity of his land almost threefold and wool production to about 12 lb (5.4 kg) a sheep. Excess pasture was harvested for silage and erosion was retarded. In 1931-33 he co-operated with the F. D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in experiments involving internal parasites of sheep and the effects of improved pastures on the quality of wool. He successfully competed in pasture competitions and wrote and spoke on the topic: the book Pasture Improvement in Australia (1926) had been dedicated to him.

In 1916 Prell had bought two rams and 110 ewes of pure Lincoln-Merino blood from H. T. Little in New Zealand, and established a Corriedale stud which he ran with his son Harold Fairbairn. The flock was self-contained except for the purchase of three Australian-bred sires in 1930, 1931 and 1940. Severe culling was practised to ensure correct type and the stud won many prizes at the Sydney Sheep Show, including the grand champion ram five times in 1934-39. Prell was president of the State branch of the Australian Corriedale Sheepbreeders' Association and of its federal council and a founding director of Goulburn Woollen Mills Ltd.

During the Depression Prell strongly advocated closer settlement, urging State and Federal governments to settle groups of young men on 200-acre (81 ha) blocks for five years to improve the pasture and learn progressive farming methods; they should then be offered individual ownership on thirty-year terms. Active in community affairs, he was a Freemason, foundation president of the Rotary Club of Goulburn, president of Goulburn Agricultural, Pastoral and Horticultural Society for seventeen years, and a director of Goulburn Pastures Protection Board. A rower in his youth, he later worked for the local cricket association and golf club, and supported the Junior Farmer Movement. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1937.

Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, Prell died on 1 July 1946 at Gundowringa and was cremated. His son Charles William had been killed in World War I. Prell's estate was valued for probate at £47,797.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Bayley, Gundowringa (Crookwell, 1951)
  • Agricultural Gazette (New South Wales), 1 Feb 1925, 1 Jan 1929
  • Journal of the CSIR, 6, no 1, 1933
  • Australian Corriedale Association, Corriedale Flock Book, 12, 1938, 18, 1947
  • Pastoral Review, 16 May 1941
  • Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 22 May 1922
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 24 May 1930
  • Sun (Sydney), 12, 13 Feb 1936
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Mar 1934.

Citation details

D. B. Webster, 'Prell, Charles Ernest (1865–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prell-charles-ernest-8102/text14143, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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