Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smart, Sir Eric Fleming (1911–1973)

by John Gladstones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Sir Eric Fleming Smart (1911-1973), wheat-farmer and grazier, was born on 12 October 1911 at Narridy, South Australia, third child of Australian-born parents Percival Horace Smart, farmer, and his wife Lilian Louise, née Rogers. Educated at Washpool Public School and (as a boarder) at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Eric worked on the family farm at Jamestown. By the age of 18 he was share-farming and running a thriving business delivering salt. Responding to a landowner's advertisement in a newspaper calling for a share-farmer with plant, he travelled to Watheroo, Western Australia, in 1935. He had only £200, and spent all but £25 in making a deposit on a tractor and buying a utility truck. The landowner paid for a seeder and fuel, a friend lent a plough, and a lad helped in return for payment after harvest.

With fair crops but low prices in 1935 and 1936, Smart barely covered his costs. In 1937 an opportunity arose for larger-scale share-farming on Tootra station at Bindi Bindi. A 3500-acre (1416 ha) crop and better prices yielded a profit of £10,000 which became the springboard for further expansion on leased and purchased land. On 15 September 1938 at the Pirie Street Methodist Church, Adelaide, Smart married Jean Constance Davis. He bought Mount Rupert, a 10,000-acre (4047 ha) station at Wongan Hills, Western Australia, in 1940. Six years later his bank invited him to buy 25,000 acres (10,117 ha) near Mingenew, comprising Fairview station, on heavy soil to the east of the town, and an adjoining, virgin, sand-plain block known as The Dip. He renamed the station Erregulla Springs, moved there in 1949 and built a new homestead in 1950. Further purchases of unimproved light land brought the area to 80,000 acres (32,375 ha), in addition to which he leased another 7000 acres (2833 ha) of heavy land.

The Western Australian blue lupin had been long naturalized and sown on the red soils around Geraldton and Gingin for feeding sheep. Smart showed that, by using superphosphate, lupins would also thrive on sand-plains and build up fertility for cereal cropping. The Department of Agriculture showed little interest in lupins and at first did not share his vision or welcome his field-days. For his part, Smart supported scientific research and hosted departmental trials at Erregulla Springs which showed how, after initial fertility build-up, introduced clovers gave a more diversified and productive agriculture. The practices pioneered included aerial spraying of insects and fertilising of cereals with nitrogen.

In 1950 the grain production from Smart's properties set an Australian individual record of 102,000 three-bushel bags (8200 tons). This figure regularly increased and passed 500,000 bushels (13,400 tons) in 1967. That year Smart also produced nearly 3000 bales of wool from 105,000 sheep. By 1955 Erregulla Springs had twenty-four houses and a resident population of 120; it boasted a swimming-pool, a tennis-court, a cricket field and a community bus.

Smart detailed his methods and philosophy in a booklet, West Australian Wasteland Transformed (Geraldton, 1960). Two points stood out. First, the importance of appreciating the value of labour—to look after one's employees, to pay them well, and to give credit where due. Second, the need to make the best use of machinery. Underlying his success was a firm Protestant ethic, born of his Methodist background, of hard work, integrity, and community involvement. He served on the Wongan-Ballidu (1947-49) and the Mingenew (1950-56 and 1958-60) road boards, and on the Mingenew Shire Council (1961-67). In 1955 he was appointed O.B.E. He was knighted in 1966.

Of middle height and solid build, with brown receding hair and a florid complexion, Sir Eric had piercing blue eyes. He possessed restless energy, a quick mind and the capacity for lightning calculation. Although generous, he could be impatient. Devoted to his family, he loved tennis, golf, the company of friends, travel, his pipe, a fine cigar and a good whisky. Ill health forced him into semi-retirement in Perth in 1966. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died of a coronary occlusion on 10 June 1973 at his Dalkeith home and was cremated with Anglican rites. He bequeathed $200,000 to the University of Western Australia for continued research on the West Midlands light lands, with particular attention to the role of lupins.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Hunt (ed), Westralian Portraits (Perth, 1979)
  • West Australian, 31 Dec 1960, 25 Jan 1966, 11 June 1973, 23 Oct 1973
  • Countryman (Perth), 10 Jan 1963
  • private information.

Citation details

John Gladstones, 'Smart, Sir Eric Fleming (1911–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smart-sir-eric-fleming-11715/text20941, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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