I grew up on a potato farm at Cora Lynn, so I naturally have a fondness for the vegetable. Potatoes are grown worldwide, they are nutritious, relatively quick to grow and an effective use of land as 85 per cent of the potato plant is edible. Potatoes have been grown in the Andes for over 8,000 years and came to Europe via the Spaniards in the 16th century and then spread throughout the world.
There used to be many potato farms on the Koo Wee Rup Swamp. In the early days potatoes were despatched by rail from local stations, such as Garfield and Bunyip; Catani and Bayles and Koo Wee Rup. In 1912 it was reported that 35 tons of potatoes were trucked from Bunyip Station on one day (1) – that’s not even a B-double load these days, but that’s a lot of bags of potatoes to all be handled manually.
The Great Southern Advocate of July 1, 1926 had this interesting report, head-lined Koo Wee Rup Potatoes will return £500,000 and then a report of the tonnage sent from local railway stations, which indicates the importance of the vegetable to the Swamp - The potato crop in the Koo-wee-rup district was estimated to reach £500,000. This, according to railway trucks will be very nearly realised. The output of 29,404 tons was distributed: Kooweerup 6952 tons, Garfield 6451, Bayles 5591, Dalmore 3346, Tynong 2580, Bunyip 2057, Nar Nar Goon 1814, Lang Lang 443, Warragul 169. This would realise £294,030 at £10 a ton.
From December 1925 to April 30, 498 trucks (6945 tons) left Garfield and 600 tons during April. From January 1 to May 30, 156,929 bags of potatoes left Kooweerup station and there are still many thousand bags still in storage. (2)
The importance of the potato to the area was celebrated each year in the Potato Festival, held from 1973 until 2000 at Koo Wee Rup.
Here's a light-hearted look at the health and beauty aspect of potatoes as reported in the newspapers.
September 1909 - Few women know how essential certain vegetable and fruit acids are to the general health and the retention of a good complexion. For this purpose, the most valuable are potatoes, cabbage, cauliflowers, grapes, oranges and limes (3).
March 1916 - potatoes and lettuces, especially the latter, are excellent for those who suffer from scurvy skins (4). Scurvy, a Vitamin C deficiency, causes skin to bruise, bleed and a delay in the healing of wounds. 40 years later in March 1954 there was a potato shortage in Victoria which as a result an outbreak of scurvy could develop among Melbourne's young children unless the present potato shortage ended, Miss M. Honey, chief dietitian at Queen Victoria Hospital, warned last night. She said that potatoes were essential to young children to promote growth and to prevent scurvy (5).
In January 1918 an article said that It has been demonstrated that a butter and potato diet, together with fresh fruit, soon clears uric acid out of the system (6). Uric acid is a cause of gout, so possibly a diet of scalloped potato may well be the answer.
In May 1936 the League of Nations (a similar organisation to the United Nations) Health Commission Diet Committee released a report to the effect that the use of milled white flour should be decreased and its place partially taken by lightly milled cereals and by potatoes….Potatoes, according to the committee's report, contain more iron, calcium, and phosphorus than milled cereals, and also more of vitamins B and C (7).
October 1936 - A course of potato-water drinking for the sake of the complexion may cause you to open wide your eyes with astonishment. But if you suspect acid in the system, which usually affects skin as well as the general health, try this: Select old potatoes and scrub them thoroughly. Peel them about an inch thick and throw this peel into a saucepan. Allow two cupfuls of water to each potato. Boil for forty to forty-five minutes. Strain off the liquid and drink it warm or cold an hour or so before meals. Dietitians say that a course of this potato-liquid will not only banish acid from the system but will whiten and beautify the skin. Try it! (8).
In January 1937 potatoes were recommended as a cure for sunburn - Sea bathing on a hot day tends to make the complexion rough and red looking. The action of the salt and the sun make one feel like a lobster. At night, before retiring, sponge your face in warm water, no soap, please. Peel a raw potato, then gently massage the skin with it for three minutes. Use a gentle massage movement always moving in a circular motion. Allow the juice to dry into the skin and remain on until the morning. In the morning add a few drops of witch hazel to the water and wash the face. This will soon whiten and clear the skin (9).
In August 1937 it was suggested that if you want a complexion like a rose then you should eat a lot of onions; they are particularly good for your complexion. For people who don't like onions, it is a good idea to mix them with mashed potatoes; the onions hardly taste that way (10).
This beauty tip comes from January 1943 - Grated potato makes an excellent eye-pack for relieving tired or strained eyes. Wrap in a thin cotton pad, place over eyes, and lie down a while (11).
We will finish off with this beauty tip from September 1950 - the article shows a photo of a model, with her face covered in fruit and vegetables, with this caption. The cucumber on our model's forehead acts as an astringent and soothes her brow as well as smoothing out a few lines. The pears on her temples and in front of her ears nourish the skin. The banana on her eyes takes away that tired look. You can actually feel it coaxing out the tiredness. The potato on her nose makes it whiter. The peaches on her cheeks, above her mouth and on her chin, feed and revive the dry skin and help to give peaches and cream complexion. The carrots around her mouth take away the lines (12).
(1) The Australasian, February 3, 1912, see here.
(2) Korumburra Great Southern Advocate, July 1 1926, see here.