SYDNEY, Apr. 30 1901




SYDNEY, Apr. 30 1901; Jun. 4 1901.

By far the most important event of the week has occurred outside the political world, gently agitated by speculations as to the legislation which the Barton Cabinet is preparing in Melbourne. The really fruitful and memorable occurrence has been in the physical world, where we have been enriched and inspirited by abundant rains both along the coast—Sydney receiving four and a half inches on Sunday—and inland, where no such welcome fall has been experienced for years. The political and physical spheres are, of course, intimately related, for the prosperity resulting from a good season will have a marked effect on proceedings in our Parliaments and on the policy of every Government. As to the particular form of the proposals to be made to the Federal Legisla­ture we are left more in the dark than usual. It has been customary for the Press and the public to be taken into the confidence of State Ministries more than the Commonwealth Administration appears inclined to allow. All we know of the New Hebrides negotiations is that Mr. Chamberlain has lent a friendly ear to our remonstrances against the present con­dition of affairs. It is at last admitted that an invitation has been received for the despatch of a legal representative to a conference in London called to consider the proposed new Court of Appeal for the Empire. The probability is that the man selected for Australia will not be chosen from any of the State judiciaries, unless it be some member of the Bench who happens to be on leave in Europe. Nothing definite has yet been done to confirm Mr. Fegan’s appointment as Under Secretary to the Home Office. Politics are in the background, the royal visit now close at hand fills the public eye to the exclusion of all else. The rejoicings about to be begun will be much more lighthearted to many because of the revival now assured to our great rural interests—the greatest we possess.


Though the area of Australia is so vast that it is quite possible for one part of it to be freezing and another roasting, yet the inhabited East has a certain physical unity, despite climatic differences, which renders it subject to the same weather at the same time. The drought that has devastated the interior for the last five years has extended over a great tract at some distance from the coast, touch­ing the Gulf of Carpentaria to the north, and crossing the Murray to the south into the Victorian Mallee. This broad belt has all suffered severely, though not equally. One portion of it in the West of New South Wales has not enjoyed a thorough soaking for the last ten years. We are always liable to the incursion of Antarctic disturbances capable, even in the height of summer, of sending the ther­mometer down with a run, sometimes drop­ping thirty degrees in an hour or two, and almost always laden with rain. When, as hap­pened last week over the mountainous south-eastern angle of the continent, a disturbance of this character finds itself hemmed in, so to speak, by anticyclonic areas on either hand, it not only comes, but stays. The result is as if the windows of heaven were opened and spouting so vigorously that they could not be shut. Gullies long dry fill fast. Intermittent streams which have been chains of water-holes or dry and dusty depressions across the plains for months or years are turned into brimming streams. The rivers themselves are lost to sight. Their floods are out all over the surrounding country. Raging torrents emerge from the “foot-hills” carrying destruction to cultivated fields, while down the valleys on a broad bosom of fast-flowing turbid liquid float hay­ricks, stock, and debris of dwellings, one long panorama of ruin sweeping on to the engulfing sea. Such was the havoc a few days ago in Gippsland, one of the richest provinces in Victoria. Along its coast two or three ships were driven on the shore, while others rode it out with difficulty, dragging their anchors for several days.


Floods were not unknown further north and west, but were not serious. Indeed, heavier visita­tions there would have been welcome. The parched stretches of bleached loam, barren of all vegeta­tion, spreading for hundreds of miles, would have been the better if they could have been steeped in the welcome fluid so as to thoroughly satisfy the thirst of the subsoil, and lay up a store of moisture for future use. The nine inches of rain which fell towards Gabo Island dwindled to half an inch far inland in the Darling River district, but, still, away to the North, all through the drought-stricken belt, there were refreshing falls of an inch and an inch and a half. It came to the intense relief and gratification of the much tried farmers and graziers who have somehow endured, despite the bad seasons, and have held on to what had become mere wilderness, hoping against hope. Riverina, barren and desolate two or three years since, is now in full fertility of fecund growth. Queensland, where the financial position has been going from bad to worse and becoming almost desperate, has at last had a share of good fortune. Some districts, now revelling in a second bath, are rich in grass, springing a foot high. Nothing seems more miraculous than the rapidity of recovery displayed by what appeared to be before the downpour simply sandy wastes, herbless, grassless, and lifeless. The showers skim their surface, and almost at once they are clothed and carpeted with luxuriant and succulent verdure.


This transformation scene in the back blocks is followed by a similar resurrection of fortunes on the part of the pastoralists. Half of our State has been enriched by a plentiful rain, such as has not been seen over most of it for many seasons. Our losses in New South Wales bear eloquent testi­mony to what we may look to in the way of recovery. During the dry decades our totals of sheep and cattle have declined in the one case by twenty-five millions, and in the other by half a million head. Our western borders are responsible for a decrease of ten million sheep. One district in Queensland, that of the Gregory, is minus seven hundred thousand bullocks. The difficulty will be to re­place them. We shall now have abundant pasture far beyond our consumption, but as we cannot import to any considerable extent we shall re­quire to await the natural increase to be obtained by breeding from our depleted flocks and herds. The price of meat is high, and likely to be higher. With ten million cattle and seventy million sheep in Australia we find ourselves by comparison very lightly stocked. If, as is hoped, we are about to enter on a cycle of fat years, these figures are sure to be rapidly increased. With every promise of a good lambing, a prosperous dairy season, and the probability of heavy crops, the rural industries of Australia have to-day a brighter promise before them than they have enjoyed for a very long while.


Such vicissitudes cannot but affect the mental cast of our country population, classes which in most parts of the world are noted for their settled and sober type of thought. With us, at least, they cannot afford to be inert. Grazier and farmer alike require to maintain an active conflict with the fickle Nature which at one moment overburdens them with gifts and at another starves them out or strikes savagely at their holdings with flood or flame. They will not provide properly against drought, their deadliest enemy, but they are better equipped in many other respects. The rust and locusts that formerly devoured our har­vest have been little in evidence of late. The march of invention in agricultural machinery enables the dense scrub to be conquered cheaply, and has thus hugely extended the cultivatable area. The “tick”, so dreaded on Queensland cattle runs a short time back, is now as readily provided against by inoculation as was the pleuro-pneumonia which threatened all the pastoralists with imminent bank­ruptcy a generation ago. The next most important class of country dwellers, often the most intelligent and public spirited, are the miners. Our gold yield in this State and in Victoria is not increasing. There is much need of new fields or of new discoveries in old fields to in­spirit investors. The newest are doing best. Western Australia has a long lead over Queensland and Victoria. So far, New Guinea has not justified the prophecies of those engaged in prospecting there some of whom still entertain the largest ex­pectations of her development. In mining, also, great advances in method are being made. Inflows of water, such as would have caused the immediate abandonment of shafts even a few years ago, are now easily mastered by superb pumping machinery. The cyanide process is not only making much ground profitable that a short time back would not have paid expenses, but has caused the hills of “tailings” cast aside after being passed through the imperfect batteries of the early days when subjected to chemicals, to yield in many cases better results than when they were originally treated. In Victoria electricity is beginning to be largely em­ployed, not merely for lighting the drives but as an energy. On one field half a dozen companies have clubbed together to ob­tain their motive power from a common centre. Reefs are pursued down to depths far greater than could have been economically worked of old, and where, indeed, according to scientific teaching current twenty years back, auriferous deposits did not, and could not, exist.


His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York is to visit Ballarat, probably the most famous gold-producing district in Australia, and will descend one of its mines to pay a royal tribute to the royal metal. It is unfortunate that he will not be able to see more of the interior of the country there or elsewhere than the programme of his visit allows. We are pro­perly proud of our cities, and especially of the size and stateliness of our capitals. But, after all, they are only important because they serve as inlets to and outlets for the vast interior. There lie the sources of our wealth. There, in mine and field, are bred the men who must be depended on to build for us something more than a half-exotic sea shore civilisation. The products on which we rely to pay our way and ensure our advance come through their labours. Though bucolic, they are not unprogressive. The life they live is studded with trials and privations, with adventures and masterful conquests, with risks and endurances likely to shape in the long run the most distinc­tively Australian character.

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