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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

"The Australian Irrigation Colonies

page 31

"The Australian Irrigation Colonies.

"The establishment of irrigation colonies after the pattern of those which have for many years been so successfully carried on in Southern California has recently been commenced in the great island continent of the Pacific—Australia—where the climatic conditions are almost identical with the former, both being characterised by an exceptionally small and irregular rainfall, and by a sufficient degree of summer heat to bring to perfect maturity such valuable fruits as the olive, orange, lemon, grape (raisin and wine), fig, apricot, peach, &c.; while from the dryness and salubrity of the atmosphere, outdoor occupations can be agreeably carried on throughout the year—an Australian winter having been frequently described by those who have enjoyed the advantage of experiencing it as altogether 'superb.' The 'Colony' system of settlement has hitherto been carried out chiefly in connection with irrigation and the cultivation of fruit. It affords many advantages beyond those attainable by ordinary settlers upon the land, the arrangement of 'close' settlement with 'intense' culture involving the formation of a community of cultivators, who are thus enabled to act together in providing all that is necessary for their common welfare and prosperity.

"The Australian Irrigation Colonies are situated upon the River Murray, which affords an unfailing supply of fertilising water for irrigating the fruit plantations throughout the year. The legislatures of Victoria and South Australia three or four years ago passed special Acts enabling two of the most successful and experienced Colony founders from Southern California—the well-known Canadian brothers, George and William Benjamin Chaffey—to establish two such settlements upon areas of excellent land, carefully chosen for the purpose, amounting altogether to half a million acres. The land is granted from time to time in blocks of one square mile and upwards, as the conditions (which involve periodical official inspections, and an extensive outlay in the construction of irrigation works, pumping machinery, fruit preserving factories, &c., are progressively fulfilled. Upwards of ninety miles of main irrigation canals and 140 miles of subsidiary channels have been constructed, about 4,000 to 5,000 horse-power pumping-engines provided, and some six or seven thousand acres of fruit orchards planted, while the area under cultivation is rapidly extending—some 15,000 acres having been already allotted at the Mildura Colony alone. The settlers to whom the land is thus being continuously transferred through the agency of Messrs. Chaffey—holding their properties (which consist of ten-acre blocks and upwards) in fee-simple—now number upwards of 1,000 at the Victorian Colony (called 'Mildura'); that in South Australia ('Renmark') is not so far advanced. They consist largely of persons drawn from the wealthier classes of the mother country, including noblemen, professional men, retired officers, &c.; the extent of each settler's holding depending on the amount of capital at his disposal, and page 32 varying from ten acres upwards, involving investments in the formation of vineyards, fruit orchards, olive and orange groves, &c., of from a few hundreds to several thousands.

"The settlements—the oldest of which, Mildura, is only in the fourth year of its existence—have already afforded substantial promise of the excellence and abundance of their future productions, and of their likelihood to realise the universal prediction (which was lately expressed by Mr. Christie Murray, the well-known writer, who, having visited Mildura, gave glowing descriptions of its progress and of the river scenery, &c.), that in a few years they would become 'the fruit garden of the world.' Some samples of this season's produce, in the form of raisins and currants, apricots, &c., dried by the sun's heat, were on exhibition at the Royal Agricultural Society's Show at Doncaster, where they attracted considerable attention.

"The general testimony of the Australian Press and of many who have visited the settlements from Great Britain is fully corroborative of the most sanguine expectations of the settlers and promoters. The growth of the trees is described as being most remarkable; some of the young lemon-trees, for example, showing in the third year from planting as many as ninety-six well-matured fruit, while the vines have yielded as much as twenty pounds of grapes per vine. There are orange-trees on some of the old homesteads on the Murray which have recently yielded upwards of 2,000 fruit per tree in one season. The early and substantial remunerativeness of the fruit plantations is confidently assured, as well by the well-known facts of fruit production in Australia hitherto as from the specially favourable conditions of production afforded by irrigation which the settlers at these Colonies so exceptionally possess. Instances have been known where under similar conditions an income of £1,000 per annum has been derived from ten acres of land. The present large and extending demand for the wines and fruits of Australia in the markets of Great Britain, and the rapid increase in the colonial and home populations which is constantly proceeding, afford substantial guarantees that, however abundant the production in the not distant future, it cannot be more than barely commensurate with the proportionately increasing consumption of these commodities. A very noteworthy feature of the Australian 'Colony' scheme of Messrs. Chaffey Brothers is that of the Agricultural and Horticultural College which is to be established at each settlement, and is liberally endowed to the extent of one-fifteenth of the entire estate. A high-class general education, as well as scientific and practical instruction in agriculture, horticulture, &c., will be afforded at these establishments."

For further information regarding these remarkable settlements the reader may be referred to a copiously illustrated and descriptive work compiled by Mr. J. E. Matthew Vincent, Chief Commissioner in Europe for the Australian Irrigation Colonies, and published at the London offices, 35, Queen Victoria Street, E.C.