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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Article on the Progress of Australia

Article on the Progress of Australia

"Mr. Rider Haggard's imagination has not produced anything more marvellous than what history has already to record about the progress of Australia. Everybody knows the fairy tale of the gold fields, and the sudden growth, as between sunset and sunrise, of the great city of Melbourne. But there is another story of conquered difficulty and brilliant achievement which it is more bracing to read. A hundred years ago that vast territory was a region comparatively unknown and despised by civilised mankind, given over to the 'black fellows' and the kangaroos, and for long afterwards regarded as of no more use than as a fit abode for the moral refuse of this country. Now, the story of its wealth, in flocks and herds, in minerals, in agricultural products, and in commerce, is one of the wonders of a century that has been more prolific in marvels than any of its predecessors. Statistics do not usually possess the charm of romance, however ficticious they are sometimes proved to be; but the trustworthy statistics of Australian progress constitute so many chapters of a veritable romance in figures. What the coming chapters in the bright serial are likely to be may be surmised from the fact that Australasia, which is nearly as large as the whole of Europe or the United States of America, is as yet peopled by only some 4,000,000, nearly all of British descent. This nucleus of nations, inheriting the energy which has long led the van of Western civilisation, has scope enough within its vast domains to dwarf by future achievements all it has already clone, even if its energies should have to be confined within the 2,000,000 square miles of its territory lying within the temperate zone. The eminent Government statist of New South Wales reports that the climate of Australasia is milder than that of corresponding latitudes in our northern hemisphere. Over one-half of its extent the mean temperature ranges from forty to sixty-four degrees, and over the other half from sixty-four degrees to eighty degrees, while for natural salubrity, and the comparative mildness of summer and winter, the Pacific slopes of New South Wales excel the Riviera.

"Sheep were among the first colonists of this favoured region. A number of rams and ewes, a gift from the King of Spain to the Dutch Government, were page 37 purchased by an Australian pioneer, Captain Mac Arthur, and from these along with others of the same breed, which his Spanish Majesty had presented to George III., and which were also secured by the same enterprising person, most of the present flocks have sprung. What energy and a favouring climate have done for the growth of pastoral industry is told by the fact that at the beginning of last year the capital value of all pastoral property, freehold land, stock, plant, and improvements included, was estimated at £417,000,000. The pastoral produce of 1890 was about £35,000,000. Sheep in that year numbered 100,000,000; cattle, 9,500,000; horses, 1,500,000; and swine, over 1,000,000. Dairy produce was estimated at over £7,000,000. The builders of this great industry have had many difficulties to conquer. Drought is the great enemy of the Australian pastoralist. In the years 1880-1889 in New South Wales alone the loss from this cause through deaths and deficiency in the lamb crop came to nearly 20,000, 000 of sheep. More than one-third of Australia has an annual rainfall of less than ten inches, and the rainfall is very irregular. But this difficulty is in a fair way to be overcome. In New South Wales a water-holding chalk formation is found to underlie 40,000 square miles of dry country at a depth of about 1,000 ft. By boring to this depth the colonists obtain abundant supplies of water for their flocks. The vast herds are most economically managed. There is no artificial grassing in any of the Colonies except New Zealand. Sheep and cattle pasture on the indigenous grasses over square miles of wire-fenced paddocks, supplied with water, and the few boundary riders have only to keep the fences in repair and occasionally muster the stock. It is estimated that Australia could support an increase of 180,000,000 sheep, an addition which would be equal to the number Europe now possesses, and be more than the number in both Americas.

"The agriculturist is now encroaching upon the past or a list, and in consequence a yet greater future is opening up for Australia. A good authority has just slated that whereas only 10,000,000 acres are as yet under cultivation, he thinks that 25,000,000 acres of good arable land still await the plough. Strange to say, the most valuable farms are often at altitudes of 2,000 feet above the sea-level, as there is there a more equable climate, a richer soil, and a better rain all. The trouble is not so much the scantiness of the rainfall as its irregular distribution over the season. Conservation of water and irrigation are the problems of the immediate future, and it is pleasing to learn that in this private enterprise is showing the way."