Bill Boyd (1901-1998) grew up in the Wimmera and Mallee districts of north-western Victoria. His father was a bullock driver carting wheat through the districts to the rail lines, who in 1912 purchased a 640-acre allotment, Block 60 in Bimbourie Parish, north of Sea Lake. The 14 year old Bill moved with his family to the allotment in 1915, and became responsible for running the farm, while his father continued work as a bullocky.
It was a harsh life trying to create a viable wheat farm. The land had to be cleared of tough Mallee scrub, which kept reshooting and had to be cut back. Water had to be sent in open channels from the ranges in the southern Wimmera, and rainfall was unpredictable and often inadequate. The roads were sandy tracks, and the closest rail lines 20 kilometres away. Plagues of mice could destroy a year's work.
At the age of 19 Bill Boyd purchased a Kodak No 1 Autographic camera by mail order, film and a developing kit, and began to document life on the farm and in the local community. The barrel of the family's grain stripper became his darkroom, with superphosphate bags creating the lightproofing. By 1922 he had a larger folding camera with a faster shutter. Bill's photos are a remarkable record of the struggles of smallholder settlers in the wheat growing districts of the Mallee.
He photographed land clearing, ploughing, harvesting, the creation of irrigation ditches, bullock teams and loading wheat. But he also documented family life on the farm, neighbours, and the social life of the community, including sports day, the tennis club, and the Sea Lake agricultural show. Bill Boyd share farmed with his father during the 1920s, supplemented by rabbiting. When hail and dust storms put an end to farming, he became a mechanic and eventually established his own garage in Sea Lake in 1931.
Museum Victoria holds over 300 negatives taken by Bill Boyd in the 1920s. It also holds video interviews with Bill Boyd undertaken by historian Weston Bate in the late 1980s. Bate distilled Boyd's oral history and photographs into the book Having a Go! Bill Boyd's Mallee, Museum Victoria, 1989.
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