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- The Bushman - 50/51 -


just before the commencement of the winter rains.

Since the above passages were written, I have read an account in the Perth journals of January, 1847, of the discovery of coal by the Messrs. Gregory, about forty miles east of Champion Bay. These gentlemen relate, that in journeying towards the coast, they passed through a tract of country capable of being settled. This may possibly be Captain Grey's luxuriant district; and yet the district which he describes was close upon the coast. It is also stated, that there is now ascertained to be a corner of Champion Bay in which small vessels may find a safe anchorage; and this is conjectured to be that Port Grey whose existence has been so long denied. But, although a few miles of country may be found in this neighbourhood capable of supporting a limited number of flocks and herds, it is certain that there is no such district here as would suffice for the purposes of a colony of the magnitude contemplated by the Western Australian Company. The advice, therefore, given them to change the site of the operations from Australind, or Leschenault, to Champion Bay, or Port Grey, was the most pernicious that could have been bestowed.

But it may certainly be doubted whether the principles on which the settlement of Australind was founded were in themselves of a sound and permanent nature. They were those propounded originally by Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and applied with extraordinary success to the formation and to the circumstances of the colony of South Australia. The most prominent features which they present are, -- the concentration of population, and the high price of land.

The land in the immediate neighbourhood of Adelaide is very fine, and capable of supporting a dense population; it was therefore perhaps, good policy to divide it into eight-acre sections, valued at one pound per acre, which supported a body of agriculturalists, who found a ready and near market for their productions in the rapidly rising town. But there are few theories that will bear universal application; and the mistake made in the case of Australind was, in expecting to obtain the same result from principles which were to be applied under very different circumstances.

The land adjoining the town-site of Australind is generally very indifferent, though the flats of the Brunswick and Collie Rivers afford perhaps some thousand acres of excellent land, but still not sufficient to maintain a large and dense population. The Company's property was divided into farms of 100 acres, and these were valued at 100 pounds each to the emigrants, who drew lots for the choice of site.

When the settlers arrived and took possession of their respective grants, they soon discovered that if they all produced wheat, there would certainly be plenty of food in the settlement, but very little sale for it; whereas, if they intended to become sheep-farmers, and produce wool for the English market, one hundred acres of land would not suffice in that country for the keep of fifty sheep. The sections of one hundred acres were, therefore, far too small for the wants of the settler, who found that, although he might probably be able to supply his table with vegetables, he had but small prospect of ever applying his capers to boiled mutton, or initiating his family into the mysteries of beef a la mode. Disgusted with the narrowness of his prospects, and recoiling from the idea of a vegetable diet, the sturdy settler quickly abandoned the limited sections of Australind, and wandered away in search of a grant of some three or four thousand acres, on which he might reasonably hope to pasture a flock of sheep that would return him good interest for the capital invested.

The Western Australian Company gave far too much for their land in the first instance, and were therefore compelled to set a much higher value upon it than it would bear. The ministers of the Crown, who have adopted the principles of Mr. Gibbon Wakefield, require one pound per acre for waste lands; and the Company, though they purchased their property from private individuals at a somewhat lower rate, expected to sell it again at the same price. There is very little land (in proportion to the vast extent of poor and of entirely worthless land) throughout the length and breadth of all New Holland, that is worth twenty shillings an acre. In the more densely populated parts, arable land is worth that sum, and often much more; but in the pastoral districts, three shillings an acre is in truth a high price.

It has long been acknowledged in New South Wales, as well as in other parts of Australia, that it takes from three to five acres to support a single sheep throughout the year. An ewe-sheep is worth about nine shillings; and if you have to buy three and a half acres of land, at three shillings, to keep her upon, the amount of capital you invest will be nineteen shillings and sixpence. The profits on the wool of this sheep, after paying all expenses of keep, shearing, freight, commission, etc., will be barely two-pence, or about one per cent upon the capital invested. But then you have her lamb? True, but you must buy an additional quantity of land to keep it upon. Still there is a gain upon the increase; and in process of time the annual profits amount up to ten and even twenty per cent. But suppose the three and a half acres of land, instead of 10 shillings and 6 pence had cost 3 pounds 10 shillings and 6 pence, it would then be perfectly absurd to think of investing money in sheep.

The course pursued by the home Government, in fixing the uniform extravagant price of twenty shillings an acre upon the pastoral lands of Australia, is probably more the result of ignorance of their real value than of a desire to check or prevent emigration to that country. It is an ignorance, however, that refuses to be enlightened, and has therefore all the guilt of deliberate injury.

The monstrous demand of twenty shillings an acre for crown-lands, has not only had the effect of deterring capitalists from embarking in so hopeless a speculation, but has grievously wronged the existing land-owners, by raising the price of labour. When land was sold at five shillings an acre, a fund was accumulated in the hand of the local Government that served to pay for the introduction of labouring emigrants. That fund has ceased to exist in New South Wales and in Western Australia. The value of labour has therefore risen, whilst the value of agricultural produce, by the increase of the supply beyond the demand, has grievously diminished. The advocates of the Wakefield system triumphantly inform us that there never can be a labour-fund in any colony in which private individuals are able to sell land at a cheaper rate than the Government.

They point to South Australia, and bid us note how different is the state of things there, where land universally is worth a pound an acre or more. But to us it appears, that the character of the soil is much the same throughout these countries -- if anything, being superior in Western Australia, where there are no droughts, and where the wool produced, though the worst got up, from the want of labour, is stated by the London brokers to be pre-eminent in quality -- that colony would most naturally be sought by the emigrant in which the price of land is the most reasonable. It is not the high price of land that has caused the prosperity of South Australia. Every one who is well informed on the subject, is perfectly aware, that in 1841 and 1842, before the discovery of copper-mines, South Australia was universally in a state of bankruptcy. Never was a country so thoroughly smitten with ruin. Almost all the original settlers sank in the general prostration of the settlement, and never again held up their heads. The inhabitants slunk away from the colony in numbers; and property even in Adelaide was almost worthless. The holders of the eighty-acre sections produced far more of the necessaries of life than the non-producing population required; and the neighbouring colonies were deluged with the farm-produce of the bankrupt agriculturalists of South Australia. This model colony afforded itself the most signal refutation of the truth of the Wakefield theories; and the whole world would have been compelled to acknowledge the falsehood, but for the opportune discovery of the mineral wealth of the colony. It is to its mines that South Australia owes its good fortune, its population, and its riches, and not to any secret of political economy bestowed upon it by adventurous theorists. According to the opinion of these philosophers, New South Wales and Western Australia can never again by any possibility possess a labour-fund, because the private owners of large grants of land, which they obtained for nominal sums, can always afford to undersell the Crown. So long as the Crown refuses to sell for less than a pound an acre, this will certainly be the case; but the day will doubtless come when our rulers will condescend to enquire into the necessities of those over whose fortunes they preside; and will adopt a policy suited to the actual circumstances of the case, and not vainly endeavour to apply, universally, abstract opinions which have long been proved to be, in almost all parts of Australia, totally useless and inapplicable. THE ONLY WAY TO RAISE A LABOUR-FUND IN THESE COLONIES IS, BY OFFERING CROWN-LANDS TO THE EMIGRANT AT THE LOWEST MARKET PRICE. The Crown could always afford to undersell the private land-speculator, and might establish a permanent fund for the introduction of labour, by selling land at a low rate, AND RESERVING A RENT-CHARGE, IN THE SHAPE OF A LAND-TAX -- OF ONE HALF-PENNY PER ACRE. Thus, every grant of five thousand acres would pay an annual tax to Government of 10 pounds 8 shillings and 4 pence; and would, therefore, in a very few years, accumulate a fund sufficient to supply itself with a labouring population. When it is remembered how very small was the original cost to the owners of most of the lands in Western Australia, there will not appear much hardship in imposing this tax upon all the private property of the colony, as well as upon lands to be hereafter sold by the Crown. This course of legislation would infuse new vitality into the colony; and at the end of the short period of five years, the tax might be suspended as regards all lands purchased by individuals PRIOR TO THE PASSING OF THE ACT, but continued for ever upon lands purchased under the Act, and in contemplation of having to bear such a rent-charge.

This is the only way by which emigration can be insured to the colonies of New South Wales and Western Australia; and the time will sooner or later arrive when this suggestion will be adopted, though it may not be acknowledged.

Her Majesty's present Secretary of State for the Colonies is the first really liberal minister we have had; and to him the distant and struggling settlements of Australia look with reviving hope. THE OBJECTS MOST EAGERLY SOUGHT BY THOSE COLONIES ARE -- A NEW SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT, WITH LESS OF COLONIAL-OFFICE INTERFERENCE; A REGULAR POST-OFFICE COMMUNICATION WITH ENGLAND; AND A TOTAL REFORM IN THE EXISTING REGULATIONS FOR THE SALE OF CROWN-LANDS, WITHOUT WHICH, IN COUNTRIES PURELY PASTORAL AND AGRICULTURAL, THERE CAN NEVER AGAIN BE FORMED A FUND FOR THE INTRODUCTION OF LABOUR.

In the hope of making colonial subjects more familiar to the general reader, and more popular than they are at present, I have perhaps given to this little work a character so trifling as to make it appear unworthy of the attention of political philosophers; and yet, inasmuch as it points out some of the wants of a large body of British subjects, whose fortunes lie entirely at the mercy of distant rulers, who have but little sympathy with a condition of which they possess but a most imperfect knowledge -- it is a work (inadequate though it be) not altogether undeserving of the consideration even of Statesmen.


The Bushman - 50/51

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