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Australian backyards productive places

WAY BACK IN 1992, the Australian Bureau of Statistics did something as unusual as it was useful. It assessed the productivity of Australia’s home gardens.

Why this was useful was that this type of do-it-yourself productivity is not counted in the national accounts, it does not appear in estimates of GDP. For the bean counters in distant planet Canberra, it belongs in the household economy (not that they would recognise it as such, their understanding of economy having to do with money rather than the anthropological understand of the term), and we all know that that is of little value, especially  monetary value. Right?


Admittedly, when you drive through the suburbs it’s hard to imagine that there is anything other than those hectares of sprawling lawn all shaved to uniform height but, apparently, there is. And it is producing fruit and vegetables, herbs and eggs, nuts, meat and wine. Australia’s home gardens, it turns out, are more than lawn and concrete — they are productive places.

This was disclosed in a 1992 survey of domestic food production in Australia by the federal government’s Australian Bureau of statistics (ABS).

The ABS report of 1992 — entitled precisely if unimaginatively Home Production of Selected Foodstuffs — found that non-metropolitan households accounted for a higher level of self-provisioning than capital city households. When you consider that garden space around homes is declining in area in the cities, that many younger people cannot afford the high prices asked for urban real estate and that many householders prefer to live in apartments, that’s not surprising.

The pity is that ABS has not repeated their assessment of home garden productivity because, if anything, there must have been an increase in the popularity of home food production if book sales, television shows and gardening courses are a reliable guide.

As well as disclosing that Queenslanders are greater boozers than NSW folk (wasn’t this obvious?) and that Italian families like their wine, here’s the rundown on what ABS found to be the situation in 1992…

Food by age

The ABS research indicated that the 55 to 69 year age group produced the most fruit, vegetables, nuts and wine around their homes.

The 35 to 44 year age group produced more eggs, beer, poultry and seafood.

It seems that the home gardening of food had little appeal to the younger demographic in 1992, something that is probably unchanged.

Domestic animals

Fowls were the most popular of the productive domestic birds, accounting for 1005 tonnes of home-produced meat in 1992. That’s a lot of chook on the chopping block. Fortunately, local government health inspectors have shown no interest in the practice.

Chooks as tasty, locally grown and processed protein far outweighed the mass of turkeys eaten, which provided 521 tonnes of dinner table meat.

But what about ducks? That they provided only 345 tonnes might not be so surprising as, compared with chooks, they are messy creatures to have roaming around the home garden.

The average figure for surveyed households keeping poultry was 24.8 kilograms of meat a year.

The wild harvest from the sea

Fishing takes the wild harvest, the edible products of our oceans. It proved a popular activity when the survey was made, being a traditional activity in this country, especially so to generations of the pre-boomer period and to coastal populations of the pre-European period.

That being so, the yield in 1992 for crabs and yabbies/marron accounted for 2800 tonnes and 1400 tonnes respectively.

Popular fruits

Lemons and limes were the most popular home grown fruits with apples, then oranges, bananas and plums following in order of popularity.

This does not imply that all of those fruits were eaten by the householders who grew them. Much of this produce goes to waste, as there are only so many lemons a family can eat, so many oranges, and few families today know how to preserve foods. It is turning this excess and unused produce into tradeable commodity that food swap initiatives such as CERES Urban Orchard have responded.

Breakdown by food type


As in most things progressive, it was Victoria and Queensland that led NSW.

Annual production:110, 000 tonnes

Average productivity per household: 48.9kg

Breakdown by state: Queensland (25.8%) Victoria (24%) NSW (21.1%).


Annual production: 153, 000 tonnes

Average productivity per household: 70.4kg

Breakdown by state: Victoria (28.7%) NSW (28%) Queensland (16%).


Annual production: 1541 tonnes

Average productivity per household: not available

Breakdown by state: South Australia (26.6%) Queensland (21.1%) Victoria (20.1%).


Annual production: 2000 tonnes

Average productivity per household: 24.8kg

Breakdown by state: Victoria (23.6%) Queensland (23.2%) NSW (18.2%).


Annual production: 26.1 million dozen

Average productivity per household: 63.5 dozen

Breakdown by state: Victoria (21%) Queensland (22.7%) NSW (22.4%).

Recreational fishing

Annual production: 31,000 tonnes

Average productivity per household: 27.1kg

Breakdown by state: Western Australia (16.8%) Queensland (23.5%) NSW (21.3%).


Annual production: 39.8 million litres

Average productivity per household:165.9 litres/ year; 3.2 litres/ week

Breakdown by state: Victoria (14.7%) Queensland (32%) NSW (27%).

Unfortified wine

Annual production: 3.9 million litres

Average productivity per household: 84.8 litres/year; 1.6 litres/ week

Breakdown by state: Victoria (40.5%) NSW (22%) South Australia (18%).

In Victoria, people of Italian descent brewed 2.4 million litres of total domestic production.

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