Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Yuill, William John (1885–1960)

by L. Lomas

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

William John Yuill (1885-1960), dairyman, was born on 10 October 1885 at Sebastian, Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, son of Victorian-born parents John Yuill, miner, and his wife Agnes Jane, née Cowie. William left school at 10 and at 16 became the bread-winner for his widowed mother and her six younger children. His interest in dairying arose from frequent visits to grandmother Yuill's farm-store farther out in the district. On 19 December 1911 at California Gully, Bendigo, he married Maude Stewart Prowse with Methodist forms.

After completing an examination, in 1917 Yuill was accepted as a dairy supervisor by the Victorian Department of Agriculture and appointed to Mirboo North where he campaigned against measuring the value of dairy herds only by breed and appearance. Persuaded by his arguments and his enthusiasm, district farmers established the Yinnar Herd Testing Association in 1920. Yuill accompanied an official on his rounds through the pioneering settlements in an open buggy, helping with the Babcock test on which his claims for herd improvement were based. From these practices there developed the Gippsland United Cow Testing Association, later the Victorian United Cow Testing Association and later still the Victorian Herd Improvement Association.

A self-made man, Bill Yuill believed that work was the means of salvation; his outgoing, irrepressible personality, tolerant attitudes and flair for language and public speaking made him a popular figure wherever he spread his gospel. In 1921 he introduced the first Young Farmers' Club: he was to remain on the central council of the State-wide organization for many years. In 1925 he travelled Victoria with the Better Farming Train, forming herd test associations at stops on the way. He was an originator in 1930 of the Dairy Farm Competition which held annual educative field days and was an early contributor to radio broadcasts for farmers. Under the pen name 'S. C. Macarthur' he wrote for a variety of newspapers and contributed to the Victorian Journal of Agriculture.

Yuill kept in touch with the progress of dairy-farming abroad, particularly in America and New Zealand. As the struggle to introduce herd testing was won, he broadened his view of dairy improvement, adopting and popularizing the slogan of 'Breed, Weed and Feed'. His drive for testing the progeny of sires brought him into conflict with established breed societies, but his integrity and dedication enabled him to achieve his goals without losing their respect.

Despite his minimal education, Yuill progressed within the Department of Agriculture to become supervisor of herd testing for Victoria in 1937. Feeling the strains of intense commitment and constant travel, he retired in 1948 to join the Australian Jersey Herd Book Society as publicity officer. He was recognized as 'the father of dairy herd testing' and published a memoir in 1958. Apart from attending his local Presbyterian church and growing dahlias, Yuill made his work his life. He died on 5 October 1960 at Parkville, Melbourne, and was cremated. His wife, son and four daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Sillcock, Three Lifetimes of Dairying in Victoria (Melb, 1972)
  • Journal of Agriculture (Victoria), Apr 1923, Aug 1928, Nov 1960
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Oct 1960
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 12 Oct 1960
  • letters from E. P. Prentice (United States of America), 10 Dec 1936, 2 Dec 1939, 25 Apr 1942 (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. Lomas, 'Yuill, William John (1885–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/yuill-william-john-9223/text16297, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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