Roseworthy Agricultural College

31 December 1886

Some 157 experiments have been carefully tried with regard to the effect of manurial substances. Taking the results obtained as a guide, combined with information regarding the composition of soil obtained from various districts, generally speaking the great deficiency appears to be phosphates and potash. The result of the application of phosphatic manures has always been an increased yield; and it is only reasonable to say that a cheap supply of soluble mineral phosphates would be of immense advantage to farmers, and also to the colony.

Farmyard manure, seaweed, ashes, and all refuse should, where possible, be carefully preserved and applied to land intended for root and fodder crops, these crops being horse-hoed, the land would be brought to good condition for wheat growing.

The value of minureal substances when properly preserved and applied is, I believe, becoming more generally recognised. The effects of manure on various crops have been clearly shown to the students and visitors by the crops on the experimental plots this season, notably the effect from superphosphate, guano and farmyard manure.

The important question to be considered is the cheap supply of dissolved mineral phosphate on an extensive scale, because I am confident that farmers would use it in large quantities could it be procured for say £3 to £4 per ton.

28 August 1859


Mr. William Wade writes as follows to the Argus concerning his experience of the application of guano as compared with farmyard manure:

"Bedford, August 12.

" When last season I wrote of the application of guano to the various crops as a fertiliser, I mentioned that it had seemed desirable to me to institute a comparison with the ordinary manure obtained from the farmyard, as to cost and advantage to be obtained by each - say for five years. The commencement of this experiment last year was made in the midst of a piece of potatoes - about 27 acres, about 25 acres being manured with farmyard dung, and a quantity (amongst which was some desiccated night-soil) from the Depot, Melbourne, and two acres with guano alone. The guano was applied at three times, somewhat less than three cwt. being sown in the drills with the seed, a further 1 cwt. per acre at the first hoeing, and another 1 cwt. when the potatoes were earthed up; and the crop was equal to any part of the field except that manured with the night-soil, averaging eight tons to the acre. I may state for general information the piece was what is known as new land, or virgin soil, of only middling quality, but favoured with an unusually showery season, which I think advantageous for guano.

"I would also mention a piece of oats, which being sown on a piece of wet and poor land, received about 2 cwt. of guano per acre last year, and produced more hay than could stand up, caused no doubt by the constant showers, and which I thought would be better without any of this year's sowing, but the starved, miserable appearance of the crop showed very plainly - 1st, that the extra crop of last season had exhausted the guano thoroughly; and 2ndly, without some special manure, such as guano, our prospect of a paying crop would be very poor indeed. I have top-dressed this piece with about 1½ cwt. per acre, and in a fortnight the alteration in colour and growth is astonishing.

"I consider the chief value of such an assistant is that we are (through the portability and comparatively small cost-say 23s. per acre for 1½ cwt.) enabled to crop profitably land which would otherwise be worthless.

"I remain, gentlemen, yours respectfully,

"William Wade."

22 July 1872


Amongst the acquisitions of agriculture during the past century, not the least is that of Peruvian guano, the value of which to the farmer is fully appreciated.

Up to a comparatively recent period the exportation of this material was rigidly prohibited by the Peruvian Government, who were well acquainted with its fertilising properties. But " necessity has no law" and the heavy debt incurred by the Peruvians in establishing their Republic and driving out their former masters, the Spaniards, induced them to throw open for sale the the stores of guano on the Chincha Islands at a certain price, and under certain conditions.

As may be supposed a large share of the purchase of this novel merchandise fell to the British traders, who soon found it a profitable investment; and the immense accumulations of guano in these islands are now said to be sensibly diminished, if not almost exhausted. But so many "experiments" have been practised upon this material that at length the agent of the Peruvian Government in England has received instructions not to sell guano to any person who will not undertake neither to mix it with any other material, nor to resell it to any other person excepting on the same conditions.

Amongst these arbitrary conditions the dealers in artificial manures are combining, especially in Ireland. The ostensible object is the putting a stop to the extensive adulteration in that country as well as in England - an object which every one can appreciate; but with this, a monopoly is sought to be established in favour of the Peruvian guano, which, as it appears from the reports of Drs. Apjokn and Cameron, is not now worth more than £4 per ton, although still charged at £10 to the farmers, who purchase it on the strength of its hitherto accredited excellence.

In the meantime intelligence has been received that immense deposits of guano have been discovered on the coast of Patagonia and the Islands of Chile, another of the new Republics of South America, and the most southern.

That part, however, on which these deposits are found is situate at the southern limits of Chile Proper, and is bounded to the south by the Straits of Magellan, the land of Terra-del-Fuego forming its southern shore. Patagonia, therefore, is a continuation of Chile, and the Chilean Republic has, since its emancipation from the Spanish rule, exercised authority over it, although it is inhabited only by the original Indians. The Andes, which separate Chile from the eastern coast, form an insurmountable barrier to all free intercourse, there being only a few passable roads across them, and that only during the summer months, being all the rest of the year blocked with snow.

On these inaccessible mountains not less than 135 species of land birds are found, besides incalculable numbers of species of sea fowl; and these all, in immense flocks, are the sources from which the deposits of guano have for unknown ages been accumulating.

The Chilean Government, of course, claim these deposits by virtue of their exercising a nominal jurisdiction over the country of Patagonia; and according to the custom of nations, we do not see how England or any other nation can with any degree of justice attempt to show a prior claim, and the only course to be taken is to make the best bargain we can with the Chilean Government.

There is said to be great difference in the value of this new discovery and Peruvian guano from the Chincha Islands, originally valued at from £10 to £12 per ton, and that from Ichaboe at £18 per ton. The difference is easily accounted for. At the Chincha Islands rain is almost un known, as long a period as seventeen years having recently been known to intervene between rainfalls.

On the contrary, in Patagonia, or Southern Chile, and the adjacent islands, there are extensive woods, and the rains are frequent and heavy even in the summer - in fact, all the year round - and this is quite sufficient to reduce the amount of ammonia and increase that of water, and therefore a diminution in intrinsic value is the consequence. At present, however, this calculation is premature and hypothetical, and it will require numerous chemical analyses to ascertain the real value.

26 December 1844


We have already asserted that guano is often an abominable mixture of all sorts of brown ingredients that are worthless. Here is the analysis of some which a near-sighted gentleman purchased lately at £15 a ton.

It contained one half per cent, of ammonia, not a trace of urea, minute quantities of alkaline sulphates and phosphate of lime; in short, the largest estimates that could be made of the real guano present in the sample, amounted to 3 per cent, including feathers, which, however, appeared to have belonged to sparrows and pheasants.

On the other hand, there were 50 per cent, of stone and yellow earth. In this case the buyer was near-sighted indeed, for this guano cost him nearly £400 a ton.

These must be first-rate times for farmers, when manure can be bought at such a price. A quantity of guano sold at Manchester has been found to contain 75 per cent of brick dust; another sort from Derbyshire contained 10 per cent, of sawdust, and 6 per cent, clay; and another Derbyshire specimen was doctored with ground bark to the extent of 12 per cent.

....it is most incomprehensible why farmers will not throw themselves into the hands of the chemist, who alone can help them...

Farmers must look to themselves, and get their manures analysed before they buy them, or they must purchase under warranty, as they do with their horses.

21 March 1919



The story of Nauru Island, if it is ever fully written, will provide a fascinating chapter in the military and diplomatic history of the war (says the Sydney 'Sun' ). It was technically captured by Australia after an interesting competition between the warships of the two Allies, Australia and Japan.

Rival Cruisers.

Everyone knows how in the early days of the war there were both Japanese and Australian cruisers available to attack Germany in the Pacific, and naturally the Governments of both countries strove to move the more quickly towards German possessions. Both of them helped in the great ocean "drive" which finally forced Von Spec round Cape Horn to his destruction off the Falklands, though not be- fore the disaster to a British squadron off Chili. Incidentally the cruisers, Japanese or Australian, landed to destroy the German wireless stations and lower the German flag on all islands where they had been planted.

The history of its capture from the Germans in the early part of the war is as follows:-A month after the outbreak of war the Phosphate Company's British staff was expelled from Nauru by the German authorities and transferred to Ocean Island by one of the company's steamers then at Nauru. Two months later, in November, 1911, by arrangement with the Navy Department an armed guard from the Australian Expeditionary Force at Rabaul was carried to Nauru by one of the company's steamers and the British flag hoisted.

By the same steamer the company's British staff returned from Ocean Island, and the German Government officials and the 23 German employees were brought to Australia and interned.

The phosphate wealth of Nauru made it worth special notice.

A Day in Front.

The Australian vessel to take Nauru was the cruiser Melbourne. "Only one whaleboat was landed," say those who are opposing Australian claims as insufficient. But tho whaleboat appears to have done the work.

Japanese vessels had already ousted German rule from the Marshall Islands, and Japan then turned its attention to Nauru. The story goes that there was very little difference in time between the arrival of Australian and Japanese vessels.

The most picturesque story of all asserts that the cruiser Melbourne, with her boats, got to Nauru only one day before the Japanese came; when there was polite mutual acknowledgment of the result of the race.

Senator Millen Alert.

Probably the smartest things done by Australia in the first days of the war were the deeds of Senator Millen directing the military expedition to Rabaul. A legitimate rivalry had made Japan equally anxious to move towards German colonies in the Pacific. Senator Milien undertook the preparation of the expedition to New Guinea, raised a force of 1,000 men in a few days, and had the steamer Berrima fitted up as a transport in about one-fourth of the time which his Officials calculated to be necessary. Not only the occupation of Rabaul but the sub sequent establishment of the claim to Nauru are probably to be traced to the early activity of Senator Millen.

Diplomatic Tangle.

Now there is a pretty diplomatic struggle going on, and the brains at work are as keen as the naval and military brains, which in 1914 foresaw how much would depend, at the end of the war, upon immediate activity among the Pacific Islands.

Mr. Hughes wants Nauru included under the Australian mandate, and the foundation of his claim is particularly strong. The British claim is undoubtedly being aided by the support of, British investors in phosphate undertakings in the Pacific Ocean. Just as our own business magnates would urge Mr. Hughes to bring the island under Australian control, so there are British magnates, very highly placed and extremely influential in politics, who are elaborating their claims before Lord Milner's eyes.

Mr Masseys Leg

Where New Zealand comes into the picture is not very clear. It is even possible that Mr Massey, the New Zealand Prime Minister, has had the great wealth of the island dangled before him by the British magnates, who can feel sure that he would not be slow in claiming an interest in such a prize.

With Mr Hughes and Mr. Massey, at loggerheads, what more natural for the British representatives to step in and say, "To settle the question the British Government will take up the White Man's Burden". This would suggest that perhaps Mr Massey's leg has been pulled, to use an expressive vulgarism. One hopes not.

Phosphate for 100 Years.

Concerning the value of the island, Mr A W Locke wrote last week m the Melbourne Argus' -

"The island, which is about five miles long and three wide, is practically one vast phosphate field containing, at a rough estimate sufficient material to supply the requirements of this country for a hundred years or so These deposits are remarkable not only in point of quantity, but also in quality for Nauruan guano contains phosphoric acid equivalent to at least 8O per cent of tribasic phosphate of lime, and less than 2 per cent of oxide of iron and alumina combined. In its natural state this phosphate is hard as stone and quite odorless It is blasted out of the ground and then broken up and dried in the sun or in large artificial dryers, for the purpose of extracting the latent moisture. When sufficiently dry it is shipped in bulk.

Annual Value

"For the four years ending June, 1919, the total amount of phosphate guano imported from Nauru into Australia amounted to 147,000 tons, valued at £331,910 but it must be remembered that during this period shipments were greatly restricted through the scarcity of tonnage and other adverse circumstances arising out of the war Under normal conditions 100,000 tons could be imported annually without difficulty."

Varying Estimates

Mr. Tockes estimate is certainly moderate.

The ' Neueste Nachrichten ' of Munich some time ago declared that the total value of Nauru was £450,000,000! This seems incredible. Perhaps the translation into the English press put pounds sterling where he meant German marks (of 1/ each).

Last December it was estimated by Mr. T J McMahon (in the 'Scientific Australian that the Commonwealth received anything up to 300 000 tons a year from Ocean and Nauru Island together. The value would be about £400,000 per annum.


from CIA World Factbook

Revenues of this tiny island traditionally have come from exports of phosphates. Few other resources exist, with most necessities being imported, mainly from Australia, its former occupier and later major source of support.

In 2005 an Australian company entered into an agreement to exploit remaining supplies. Primary reserves of phosphates were exhausted and mining ceased in 2006, but mining of a deeper layer of "secondary phosphate" in the interior of the island began the following year. The secondary phosphate deposits may last another 30 years.

The rehabilitation of mined land and the replacement of income from phosphates are serious long-term problems. In anticipation of the exhaustion of Nauru's phosphate deposits, substantial amounts of phosphate income were invested in trust funds to help cushion the transition and provide for Nauru's economic future. As a result of heavy spending from the trust funds, the government faced virtual bankruptcy. To cut costs the government has frozen wages and reduced overstaffed public service departments.

Nauru lost further revenue in 2008 with the closure of Australia's refugee processing center, making it almost totally dependent on food imports and foreign aid. Housing, hospitals, and other capital plant are deteriorating. The cost to Australia of keeping the government and economy afloat continues to climb.

Few comprehensive statistics on the Nauru economy exist with estimates of Nauru's GDP varying widely.


NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Dr Dana Cordell and Professor Stuart White, University of Technology, Sydney.

For their research on how increasingly scarce supplies of phosphorus, a critical nutrient for food production, should be sustainably managed.

In order to make the above easier to read a few changes to the original paragraphs and headings have been made.

Chincha Harbour 1863

Peruvian guano harvest at dawn

Remnant infrastructure on Peru's now denuded guanu islands

More recently phosphorus has been mined from mineral deposits in Morocco and the Western Sahara.

Map showing the island of Nauru


Guano Mine in Nauru

Guano Mine in Nauru

Guano Mine in Nauru

Columns in Nauru after guano has been mined

Damaged accommodation after riots at the Australian detention and processing centre. Nauru.
Photograph: Reuters

Guano (via Spanish, ultimately from the Quechua wanu, meaning "dung") is the feces and urine of seabirds, cave-dwelling bats, and seals. Guano manure is a highly effective fertilizer due to its high phosphorus and nitrogen content and its relative lack of odor compared to other forms of organic fertilizer such as horse manure.

Guano was an important source of nitrates for gunpowder.

Guano consists of ammonium oxalate and urate, phosphates, as well as some earth salts and impurities. Guano also has a high concentration of nitrates. Bird guano has a fertilizer analysis of 11 to 16 percent nitrogen (the majority of which is uric acid), 8 to 12 percent equivalent phosphoric acid, and 2 to 3 percent equivalent potash. Bat and seal guano are lower in fertilizer value than bird guano.

The word "guano" originates from the Quichua language of the Andes and means "the droppings of sea birds". Andean peoples collected guano from small islands located off the coast of Peru for use as soil enricher. On the basis of archaeological objects recovered from some of the Peruvian guano islands, which display stylistic elements characteristic of the Moche people, Andean people had visited the islands for well over 1,000 years. Spanish colonial documents suggest that the rulers of the Inca Empire assigned great value to guano, restricting access to it and punishing any disturbance of the birds with death.

Guano has been harvested over several centuries along the coast of Peru, where islands and rocky shores have been sheltered from humans and predators. The Guanay Cormorant has historically been the most important producer of guano; its guano is richer in nitrogen than guano from other seabirds. Other important guano producing species off the coast of Peru are the Peruvian Pelican and the Peruvian Booby.

In November 1802, Alexander von Humboldt studied guano and its fertilizing properties at Callao in Peru, and his subsequent writings on this topic made the subject known in Europe.

The high concentration of nitrates also made guano an important strategic commodity. The discovery during the 1840s of the use of guano as a fertilizer and its Chile saltpetre content as a key ingredient in explosives made the area strategically valuable.

In this context the United States passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856, giving citizens discovering a source of guano the right to take possession of unclaimed land and entitlement to exclusive rights to the deposits. The guano, however, could only be removed for the use of citizens of the United States.[1] This enabled U.S. citizens to take possession of unoccupied islands containing guano.

Control over guano played an important role in the Chincha Islands War (1864 - 1866) between Spain and a Peruvian-Chilean alliance since Spain occupied with its navy the Chincha Islands depriving Peru of lucrative income.

In the second half of the 19th century guano extraction was eclipsed by saltpetre in the form of caliche extraction from the interior of Atacama Desert, not far from the guano areas. After the War of the Pacific (1879 - 1883) Chile seized much of the guano as well as salpeter-producing area making its national treasury grow by 900% between 1879 and 1902 due to taxes coming from the newly acquired lands.

What has Australia done to Nauru?
Article by Nic Mclellan
24 July 2013

What has Australia done to Nauru?
Nic Maclellan
Wednesday 24 July 2013

As Kevin Rudd trumpets his 'PNG solution', it's worth thinking about the price Nauru has paid for hosting detention centres

At the height of the recent riot in the asylum seeker detention centre in Nauru, the government of that country dismissed the Nauru police commissioner - Australian federal police officer Richard Britten.

People may be surprised that an Australian was leading the Nauru police force. But the process of warehousing asylum seekers in the small Pacific nation has meant Australian officials have taken up key positions within the country's administration. Australian personnel head key Nauru government departments in finance, police, utilities and planning.

As Kevin Rudd trumpets his "PNG solution", it's worth thinking about the price Nauru has paid for hosting detention centres. The legitimate focus on the plight of refugees on Nauru has overshadowed the impact of Australian policies on that island nation, a closely integrated society of just 10,000 people.

Most reporting on Nauru ignores Australia's historic role as the administering power before independence in 1968. In 1993, Nauru and Australia reached an out-of-court settlement when the government of Nauru discontinued its claim for damage to phosphate lands mined while Australia was administering Nauru under a UN trusteeship.

By the end of the 20th century, Nauru's phosphate boom was over. A country that had never relied on donor aid hit a financial wall just as John Howard was looking for a place to dump asylum seekers beyond the administrative and judicial protections of Australian law.

Australia's offshore refugee policy had the effect of bailing out the government of then president Rene Harris and delaying urgently needed political and constitutional reforms. Since the Howard government first signed its deal with Harris in September 2001, there have been 11 changes of leadership in Nauru and four states of emergency.

As asylum seekers arrived again in 2012-13, resignations and a sacking left president Sprent Dabwido with just two cabinet ministers and a parliament split into three factions. After months of parliamentary manoeuvres, the president declared a state of emergency on 27 May 2013 and brought forward the election date to 8 June. But the elections have resolved little, and the recent rioting that destroyed much of the detention centre has created new administrative and legal headaches for the new government.

Given Nauru's desperate economic situation, there is an urgent need to improve essential services in health, water, energy and telecommunications. But since the 1990s, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have promoted the corporatisation and privatisation of state-owned enterprises in the country.

After 2001, a series of Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between Australia and Nauru on management of the detention centres set out requirements if the island was to continue to receive aid. These included a study on the privatisation of the state telecommunications authority and an "agreement to implement the preferred option identified through the ADB Technical Assistance on reforming power and water services", as well as the "phased introduction of a broader user-pays system for power services". The 2005 MOU explained that ongoing aid was conditional on "implementation of the public sector reform strategy, resulting in implementation of an affordable scale of salary payments and design of a strategy for a substantial reduction in the size of the Nauru public service".

By 2008, Nauru's Public Works Department had been disbanded and replaced by a quasi-private sector body operating under a business plan prepared with Australian technical assistance. To address public debt burdens, the Bank of Nauru was wound up. There are no banking services on the island today, limiting private sector activity and making it difficult for ordinary people to save or manage their finances.

With a population of 10,000, there's limited opportunity for competition between providers - so privatisation means a shift from public monopoly to private monopoly. Even a 2005 ADB research report acknowledges this: "Options for privatising water and electricity services may be meagre, short term and require high returns to cover risk. The country also lacks the capacity to regulate and monitor a private sector monopoly."

AusAID is well aware that the privatisation of public services has placed significant burdens on the Nauruan community. Its annual program performance report 2007-08 noted: "Community resistance to user-pays systems will be difficult to overcome and political will is necessary to pursue this critical element of utilities reform."

A prices regulation act was passed in 2008 to cap prices of some food items, but the arrival of hundreds of asylum seekers, police and camp staff in 2012-2013 has once again disrupted cost structures on the island, with rents soaring, imported food prices affecting nutrition for the unemployed, and renewed pressure on the already limited water supply.

The reform program has been maintained because Australian personnel work as in-line staff. By 2008, all Nauru government expenditure was managed by an Australian in-line finance team in the Nauru ministry of finance. To this day, Australian staff funded by Canberra act as the secretary of finance, economics advisor and budget advisor.

Australian staff also effectively control the management of water and electricity on the island. Canberra funds an Australian as the in-line chief executive officer of utilities to implement Nauru's utilities strategic plan (prepared with Australian and ADB support), the power station manager and a diesel fitter to refurbish Nauru's power and water desalination station.

As the "Pacific Solution" expanded in the Howard years, Australia created a police development program (PDP) in Nauru.

From 2005, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) deployed a senior officer in the position of Nauru Police Commissioner. He was later supported by an operations advisor who focused on mentoring and capacity development, and a logistics officer. Australia also funded salaries and costs for a deputy commissioner, manager of corporate support and a finance officer. The 2004 MOU for the deployment of Australian police officers made clear that they are governed by Australian rather than Nauruan law and report to the AFP Commissioner.

The focus of the police program is the staffing and training of the Nauru police force, with the supply of new infrastructure and equipment (by 2011, over $2m was being allocated to the program each year). The AFP also worked to address Nauru's role as an offshore tax haven, concerned over post-9/11 money laundering.

The AFP has organised riot and disorder training for the Nauru Police Force, who have the responsibility of keeping the peace at Australia's refugee processing centres. In August 2012, as new asylum seekers were to be sent to Nauru by the Gillard government, police were provided with a two-day refresher course in "public order management."

In line with the culture of privatisation, the AFP has also worked with the Nauru police force to hive off protection duties around the camps. In 2012, AusAID reported that the AFP is "providing strategic advice to the ministerial taskforce for successful privatisation of the Nauru Police Force Protection and Guarding Unit, which will result in the separation of 150 personnel".

Policing has been politicised in the small community. Nauru's police station was burned down on 7 March 2008 by protesters mobilised from former president Rene Harris' Aiwo constituency. The riots in July 2013 have highlighted the danger of leaving hundreds of young men on the island with little hope of resettlement, under the so-called "no-advantage" rule.

Many Nauruans welcomed the new jobs created as the camps reopened in 2012 but the process has largely benefitted outside contractors. The rushed construction of new facilities in Nauru has been a boon for Australia companies, with initial contracts worth millions to Transfield for running the detention centre, the Salvation Army for community services, Australian corporation Canstruct for construction work, and other contracts for security (Wilson Security), and physical and mental health (International Health and Medical Services).

In late 2012, the Gillard government decided to re-direct $375m from the aid budget towards the cost of processing asylum seeker applications. In a February 2013 report, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) detailed significant cuts to Australia's Official Development Assistance (ODA) program, with humanitarian and emergency programs losing more than $70m. Neighbouring island states saw cuts and deferrals to programs on water, sanitation, education, gender equity and climate change, while Nauru's aid held steady.

As we head to another election where refugee policy is deeply politicised, we should recall the words of Mohammed Sagar, the last refugee who remained on Nauru in 2007 under "Pacific Solution Mark 1".

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph last year, Sagar described the bipartisan nature of the chaos affected Nauru:

"I remember when we were on Nauru, when there was an election we were hoping for a Labor party win because they would take over and change things. Labor said there were human rights issues and Australia needed to have sympathy for people in need - but this now just looks like political bullshit."