Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/999

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intact after nearly fifty years’ trial. The following figures show the high density of Australian timber:—

Grey iron-bark
Red iron-bark
Forest oak
Tallow wood
Grey gum
Red gum
British oak

The resistance to breaking or rupture of Australian timber is very high; grey iron-bark with a specific gravity of 1.18 has a modulus of rupture of 17,900 ℔ per sq. in. compared with 11,800 ℔ for British oak with a specific gravity of .69 to .99. No Australian timber in the foregoing list has a less modulus than 13,100 ℔ per sq. in.

Various “scrubs” characterize the interior, differing very widely from the coastal scrubs. “Mallee” scrub occupies large tracts of South Australia and Victoria, covering probably an extent of 16,000 sq. m. The mallee is a species of eucalyptus growing 12 to 14 ft. high. The tree breaks into thin stems close to the ground, and these branch again and again, the leaves being developed umbrella-fashion on the outer branches. The mallee scrub appears like a forest of dried osier, growing so close that it is not always easy to ride through it. Hardly a leaf is visible to the height of one’s head; but above, a crown of thick leather-like leaves shuts out the sunlight. The ground below is perfectly bare, and there is no water. Nothing could add to the sterility and the monotony of these mallee scrubs. “Mulga” scrub is a somewhat similar thicket, covering large areas. The tree in this instance is one of the acacias, a genus distributed through all parts of the continent. Some species have rather elegant blossoms, known to the settlers as “wattle.” They serve admirably to break the sombre and monotonous aspect of the Australian vegetation. Two species of acacia are remarkable for the delicate and violet-like perfume of their wood—myall and yarran. The majority of the species of Acacia are edible and serve as reserve fodder for sheep and cattle. In the alluvial portions of the interior salsolaceous plants—saltbush, bluebush, cottonbush—are invaluable to the pastoralist, and to their presence the pre-eminence of Australia as a wool-producing country is largely due.

Grasses and herbage in great variety constitute the most valuable element of Australian flora from the commercial point of view. The herbage for the most part grows with marvellous rapidity after a spring or autumn shower and forms a natural shelter for the more stable growth of nutritious grasses.

Under the system of grazing practised throughout Australia it is customary to allow sheep, cattle and horses to run at large all the year round within enormous enclosures and to depend entirely upon the natural growth of grass for their subsistence. Proteaceous plants, although not exclusively Australian, are exceedingly characteristic of Australian scenery, and are counted amongst the oldest flowering plants of the world. The order is easily distinguished by the hard, dry, woody texture of the leaves and the dehiscent fruits. They are found in New Zealand and also in New Caledonia, their greatest developments being on the south-west of the Australian continent. Proteaceae are found also in Tierra del Fuego and Chile. They are also abundant in South Africa, where the order forms the most conspicuous feature of vegetation. The range in species is very limited, no one being common to eastern and western Australia. The chief genera are banksia (honeysuckle), and hakea (needle bush).

The Moreton Bay pine (Araucaria Cunninghamii) is reckoned amongst the giants of the forest. The genus is associated with one long extinct in Europe. Moreton Bay pine is chiefly known by the utility of its wood. Another species, A. Bidwillii, or the bunya-bunya, afforded food in its nut-like seeds to the aborigines. A most remarkable form of vegetation in the north-west is the gouty-stemmed tree (Adansonia Gregorii), one of the Malvaceae. It is related closely to the famous baobab of tropical Africa. The “grass-tree” (Xanthorrhoea), of the uplands and coast regions, is peculiarly Australian in its aspect. It is seen as a clump of wire-like leaves, a few feet in diameter, surrounding a stem, hardly thicker than a walking-stick, rising to a height of 10 or 12 ft. This terminates in a long spike thickly studded with white blossoms. The grass-tree gives as distinct a character to an Australian picture as the agave and cactus do to the Mexican landscape. With these might be associated the gigantic lily of Queensland (Nymphaea gigantea), the leaves of which float on water, and are quite 18 in. across. There is also a gigantic lily (Doryanthes excelsa) which grows to a height of 15 feet. The “flame tree” is a most conspicuous feature of an Illawarra landscape, the largest racemes of crimson red suggesting the name. The waratah or native tulip, the magnificent flowering head of which, with the kangaroo, is symbolic of the country, is one of the Proteaceae. The natives were accustomed to suck its tubular flowers for the honey they contained. The “nardoo” seed, on which the aborigines sometimes contrived to exist, is a creeping plant, growing plentifully in swamps and shallow pools, and belongs to the natural order of Marsileaceae. The spore-cases remain after the plant is dried up and withered. These are collected by the natives, and are known over most of the continent as nardoo.

No speculation of hypothesis has been propounded to account satisfactorily for the origin of the Australian flora. As a step towards such hypothesis it has been noted that the Antarctic, the South African, and the Australian floras have many types in common. There is also to a limited extent a European element present. One thing is certain, that there is in Australia a flora that is a remnant of a vegetation once widely distributed. Heer has described such Australian genera as Banksia, Eucalyptus, Grevillea and Hakea from the Miocene of Switzerland. Another point agreed upon is that the Australian flora is one of vast antiquity. There are genera so far removed from every living genus that many connecting links must have become extinct. The region extending round the south-western extremity of the continent has a peculiarly characteristic assemblage of typical Australian forms, notably a great abundance of the Proteaceae. This flora, isolated by arid country from the rest of the continent, has evidently derived its plant life from an outside source, probably from lands no longer existing.

Political and Economic Conditions

Population.[1]—The Australian people are mainly of British origin, only 3¼% of the population of European descent being of non-British race. It is certain that the aborigines (see the section on Aborigines below) are very much less numerous than when the country was first colonized, but their present numbers can be given for only a few of the states. At the census of 1901, 48,248 aborigines were enumerated, of whom 7434 were in New South Wales, 652 in Victoria, 27,123 in South Australia, and 6212 in Western Australia. The assertion by the Queensland authorities that there are 50,000 aborigines in that state is a crude estimate, and may be far wide of the truth. In South Australia and the Northern Territory a large number are outside the bounds of settlement, and it is probable that they are as numerous there as in Queensland. The census of Western Australia included only those aborigines in the employment of the colonists; and as a large part of this, the greatest of the Australian states, is as yet unexplored, it may be presumed that the aborigines enumerated were very far short of the whole number of persons of that race in the state. Taking all things into consideration, the aboriginal population of the continent may be set down at something like 180,000. Chinese, numbering about 30,000, are chiefly found in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and the Northern Territory. Of Japanese there were 3500, of Hindu and Sinhalese 4600, according to recent computation, but the policy of the Commonwealth is adverse to further immigration of other than whites. South Sea Islanders and other coloured races, numbering probably about 15,000, were in 1906 to be found principally in Queensland, but further immigration of Pacific Islanders to Australia is now restricted, and the majority of those in the country in 1906 were deported by the middle of 1907.

At the close of 1906 the population of Australia was approximately 4,120,000, exclusive of aborigines. The increase of population since 1871 was as follows: 1871, 1,668,377; 1881, 2,252,617; 1891, 3,183,237; 1901, 3,773,248. The expansion has been due mainly to the natural increase; that is, by reason of excess of births over deaths. Immigration to Australia has been very slight since 1891, owing originally to the stoppage of progress consequent on the bank crisis of 1893, and, subsequently, to the disinclination of several of the state governments towards immigration and their failure to provide for the welfare of immigrants on their arrival. During 1906 a more rational view of the value of immigration was adopted by the various state governments and by the federal government, and immigration to Australia is now systematically encouraged. Australia’s gain of population by immigration,—i.e. the excess of the

  1. The statistical portion of this article includes Tasmania, which is a member of the Australian Commonwealth.