The Coming Colony/Chapter 19


Cinderella again—A Melbourne Banker's Account of the Capital—His View of the Colony generally—Describes the Railway System—The Yilgarn Goldfields—A Mining Population migratory—The Sort of Emigrant the Colony Wants—Bright Prospects for the Surplus Britisher—The cry is not, "Come over and help us!" but, "Come over and help yourselves!"

I shall devote the present chapter to a paper recently written on Western Australia by Mr. Henry Gyles Turner, the widely esteemed general manager of the Commercial Bank of Aus­tralia. It has been kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. A. Patchett Martin. In some respects it involves a repetition of facts which I myself have already stated in another form, but in a work like the present, confirmatory testimony is more desirable than continuous narrative or single authorship.

In other directions besides those referred to, I have avoided touching, in the body of the work, on topics which Mr. Turner is vastly more capable of treating than I can pretend to be. Mr. Turner writes:—

"The present Governor of Western Australia, Sir William Robinson, is fond of calling the colony over whose destinies he is the first constitutional ruler, the Cinderella of the Australias.

"That she is poor, that she has long been neglected, and that she is now about to assert her claims to consideration, are facts generally recognised in the eastern colonies; but it is only within the last few years that any appreciable interest has been taken in her or her belongings. To thousands of people in England, Australia means New South Wales, and anything outside Sydney or Melbourne is hardly deemed worthy of consideration. But how few persons in the British Isles realise the fact that, eliminating the Russian Empire, and lopping off the Scandinavian, Italian, and Spanish Peninsulas, the whole of the rest of the continent of Europe could be put down in Western Australia, with plenty of room left to walk round it. A coastline of over 3,000 miles, the greater part of which is forbidding in its appearance of sandy desolation, bounds it on three sides, and as its 1,500 miles of length extends from the temperate latitude of 35° south to within 13° of the equator, it embraces within its area almost every variety of climate which the gigantic continent of Australia has to show. For some 300 miles north of King George's Sound the climatic conditions are all that can be desired for at least ten months in the year, February and March alone being those in which the heat is felt oppressive. Even for a considerable distance further north a pleasantly cool sea breeze prevails almost daily, and tempers the fierceness of the sun's rays for some 50 or 60 miles inland; but from the North-west Cape round to Cambridge Gulf the sweltering atmosphere is very trying to Europeans for the greater part of the year.

"Looking down upon the picturesquely situated capital of the colony from the heights of Mount Eliza, where a noble park of nearly a thousand acres has been reserved for the recreation of the people, it seems almost in credible that such a prize should have been allowed to fall from the hands of the exploring Dutchmen who visited the country in the seventeenth century. Approaching the city from Fremantle by the river, the view on entering Perth Water, as the broad expansion or the Swan River is called, is almost equal to that of Hobart from the Derwent, and far more beautiful than any aspect in which Melbourne, Adelaide, or Brisbane can be seen. Of course it would be rank heresy to compare it to Sydney harbour, with its majestic proportions and crowded shipping; nor has Perth any of those stately mansions that adorn the heights of Port Jackson. But its comfortable and substantial, if somewhat old­ fashioned, houses are embowered in luxuriant foliage, and the public buildings, rising on gentle slopes from the water's edge, give it the aspect of a long-established and well-to-do place. On the highest point of vantage, as is so often the case in Australian cities, the Roman Catholic cathedral, an ill-designed but huge edifice, rears its white bulk against the sky-line. On a slightly lower level, a handsome Anglican cathedral, just completed, is one of the ornaments of the city, and close by, the town hall, with a tower of most decidedly ecclesiastical character, indicates the wealth and importance of the civic government. Adjoining the town hall, and covering fully an acre of land, is a handsome block of buildings, devoted to the various Government departments, including the Treasury, Railways, Lands and Survey, Public Works, and Post Office. The latter has a handsome rectangular hall for the transaction of business, which is of really magnificent proportions, wherein daily bulletins are displayed relating to shipping, telegraphic weather reports, mail movements, and kindred subjects, after the manner adopted in Adelaide.

"The city is laid out on those rigidly straight lines which seem to find so much favour with Australian surveyors. Taking St. George's Terrace, which extends for about a mile parallel with the river, and about twenty to thirty feet above its level, as the base line, the usual chessboard arrangement is followed. The central block of St. George's Terrace contains all the banks, the Weld Club, and the offices of the principal public companies. East and west of this block it is planted with handsome avenues of Cape lilac, and occupied by private houses, chiefly those of the older residents and prominent citizens. Government House, a pleasant and picturesque building, erected about twenty years ago, in the Tudor style, with gardens run­ning down to the water's edge, is on this terrace. Adjoining it, on the city side, the old Government offices are now temporarily doing duty as the Chamber of the Legislative Council, pending the erection of a Parliament House. The Legislative Assembly meets in a hall adjoining the new Government build­ings, formerly used by the old Council in the days preceding representative government. So far as legislative work is concerned the present accommodation is all that is required, but the signs of rapid development in the colony, and its expanding revenue indicate that a House of Parliament, on the palatial scale which even the most democratic colony in Australia seems to consider necessary, is a project of the near future. The main business avenue of Perth is Hay Street, wherein nearly all the retail shops are to be found. Some recent additions are lavish in plate-glass and attractive 'window­ dressing,' but for the most part this class of building is far behind the requirements of the city and the value of the land which they occupy.

"The total population of the metropolis is under 9,000, barely one-sixth of the population of the colony; certainly a more healthy state of things than prevails in Melbourne and Sydney, where those capitals embrace fully one-third of the inhabitants of their respective colonies. And this little handful of people have done good work for the land of their adoption. After a period of stagnation extending over half a century, the last decade has seen not only a stirring of the dry bones, but a continuous infusion of new life that has raised the population from 80,000 in 1881 to fully 54,000 to-day, and the weekly influx from the eastern colonies bids fair to show much larger figures by the end of this year. The period of the awakening has been marked by a successful gas company in the metropolis, though the coal has to be brought from Newcastle, a voyage of fully 8,000 miles; a telephone service that seems to be availed of in almost every house; and the complete reticulation of the city for a water supply brought from a huge reservoir in the Darling Ranges. A good deal of money has been spent, in rather a haphazard way, in endeavouring to make Fremantle a convenient port for the over-sea trade, but it is so much of an open roadstead that it is satirically described as bounded on the west by the coast of Madagascar. There are jetties sufficient for the requirements of the small intercolonial steamers, but ships have to lie a considerable distance off, and to submit to the delay and cost of lighterage. Like all Australian rivers, the Swan has a sandy bar at the mouth over which only small cutters can pass, but once inside the river is deep enough for good-sized vessels right up to Perth Water. But the opening of this inland navigation is not favoured by the Fremantle folk, who have great faith in the future of the port, and rather regard Perth as a hostile territory with pretensions which it is their duty to keep in check. The port is certainly a bright and bustling little place, more given over to commerce and its accompaniments than the placid metropolis—where nobody ever seems in a hurry—and is bound to grow in wealth and importance with the certain progress of the colony.

"Facility of communication both with and within the colony has made great strides during the last five years. The Govern­ment railways actually in operation have not, so far, yielded a profit on their construction; but they are limited in extent, and worked on conservative principles that no public company would entertain. The principal line, called the Eastern Rail­ way, starts from the port of Fremantle, and passes through Perth and Guildford easterly to York; there it takes a southernly bend to Beverley, where it junctions with the private line from Albany. With two short cockspurs into the rich agricultural districts of Newcastle and Northam, the entire mileage is about 130. On the line between the capital and the port, a distance of twelve miles, there are eight trains per day in each direction, at fares more than double those charged for similar distances in Victoria, and calculated to give pause to any enthusiast who contemplated building his suburban residence on the sandhills on the mouth of the Swan."

Mr. Turner then proceeds to treat of the railways constructed and in contemplation. Talking of the line from Perth to Bunbury, he speaks of it as connecting "the metropolis with the fine agricultural areas around Pinjarrah and Bunbury, where a temperate climate and an abundant rainfall offer the certainty of success to tens of thousands of settlers who have energy enough to wrestle with untamed nature. The other line," he continues, "starting eastward from York, will project itself towards the great unknown interior, and will pass through 180 miles of by no means promising country, mostly undulating sand plains. and hungry flats covered with granite boulders, to the recently discovered Yilgarn goldfield, where, over a vast extent of auriferous country, gold is being won from more than a dozen successful claims. Something like £50,000 worth of the precious metal has already found its way into Perth, and with improved facilities for transporting machinery to the field a great future is anticipated.

"The value of a goldfield in attracting population to a colony is well understood in Australia, but the miner is a very migra­tory creature, and, unless he happens to strike something really good, he is always ready to move on towards some rumoured fresh discovery. And when he has 'made his pile' the hardships and the bareness of his surroundings do not invite him to settle down an d spend it on the spot. For the immigrant that Western Australia wants, the man whose mission is to make the wilderness blossom as the rose, the two private railways, built on the land-grant system, have been the necessary precursor. Take the Great Southern line as an example of how these com­panies have paved the way for settlement. The railway, ad­mirably built, carefully maintained, and well furnished with first-class rolling stock, traverses a country that ten years ago was practically unknown. From two or three centres settlement is changing the face of the country, and the interminable eucalypt is giving place to green pastures, and waving fields of grain. The townships are, as a rule, rudimentary and prosaic, but it is quite startling to find that one of these embryo towns, Katanning, possesses an hotel lighted throughout by electricity. The company has sold many thousands of acres, sometimes in large blocks, to English investors, who are building up estates of great future value, sometimes in small holdings to sturdy yeomen, who mean to wrest out of the willing soil the means to meet their deferred payments. The price realised ranges from 10s. to £2 per acre, and the terms upon which purchases can be made are so easy as to be within the reach of all but the absolutely destitute.

"In New South Wales and Victoria there is no disguising the fact that the so-called 'working classes regard any material addition to the population with undisguised hostility; but, away from the presence of concentrated city population, in the sparsely settled, and almost illimitable territories of the 'far west' a more generous feeling prevails towards the 'new chum' immigrant. If he knows anything about agriculture, understands the value of thrift, and possesses industry and health, he will be sure of a welcome; and even without appreciable capital will have no difficulty in getting started on the road that leads to independence, and in many cases to affluence.

"In the production of grain and fruit, in dairying, chicken­ farming, and market-gardening, two or three thousand families might readily find work without overtaking the local demand for their products. It is a severe reflection on the enterprise of the colonists that during last year £42,000 was expended in importing grain and flour, £21,000 in butter and cheese, and such items as bacon, potatoes, hay, and hops, figure for many thousands of pounds in the list of imports; and this in a country where from fourteen to twenty bushels of wheat to the acre from virgin soil is a common record, and where there is abundance of land that will yield from three to five tons of potatoes to the acre, with very little preparation. Surely the West Australians may cry aloud to the redundant population of Great Britain not, 'Come over and help us,' but, 'Come over and help yourselves.' The growth of a community that rests upon an agricultural basis is comparatively slow, but it is sure, and steadily progressive; and, in growing, it builds up a population "With staying qualities, with attachment to the soil, and animated by sentiments of respect for honest labour. The coming democracy of the west will have their theories of universal equality, but their practice" ill be tempered by the sense of responsibility which belongs to prosperity. The swarm of chevaliers d'industrie who prey upon the community in the eastern colonies, who poison the springs of confidence by their nefarious and wily speculations, will find small scope for their entangling devices amongst men who work hard for what they get and prize it accordingly. Nor need it be supposed that the enterprising immigrant who throws in his lot with the coming colony necessarily bids farewell to the comforts of civilisation. In Perth, Fremantle, York, Bunbury, and Albany there are all the necessary organisations for social enjoyment. There are clubs, literary societies and institutions, musical societies, horticultural societies, and a very pronounced leaning towards the turf and athletic sports. But most interesting of all to the artisan class, that great bugbear of the other Australian colonies, 'the unemployed,' is as yet an unknown quantity. There is work for all able to do it, and there is much work that ought to be done that is perforce left undone, for want of the willing and capable hands, that would be well paid for doing it.

"To the tourist in search of the picturesque, Western Aus­tralia has few attractions. There is no scenery in the easily accessible parts of the colony comparable with what may be found in a hundred places on the east coast of the continent. There are places that may be called 'pretty,' but nothing grand or majestic. But to the botanist the whole of the southern portion of the colony is a paradise of wild flowers, No other part of Australia produces them in such profusion or in such varieties. In the spring months, from September to November, millions of acres of wild bushland are carpeted with the most brilliant colours, which seem to light up the landscape in all directions. A very admirable description of the country under this aspect will be found in a little book by Lady Broome, entitled 'Letters to Guy.'

"Enough has been said, it is hoped, to rouse some interest in Great Britain in the progress and the welfare of this vast and sparsely populated colony. If the right sort of people are attracted to assist in its development, it needs no further prophet to say that within twenty years it will take its place on a footing of equality with the other n1embers of the great Australian commonwealth."