The Coming Colony/Chapter 6

VI.


Conditions of Concession to West Australian Land Company—Suitability for Settlement—Three Million Acres to select from—Eight Town-sites proclaimed—Lord Brassey's Property.


To return to the conditions under which the railway from Albany to Beverley was constructed. The West Australian Land Company received a land grant of 12,000 acres for every one of the 243 miles of line they built. This they were per­mitted to select within a belt of 40 miles east and west of the line, subject to the important condition that the Government retain half the frontage to the line in blocks alternating with those chosen by the Company. The latter thus had a wide area of selection for the 3,000,000 acres odd of which their concession consists. The West Australia Land Company have sold the comparatively small acreage of which they have yet disposed at an advance of about 50 per cent. on the Government price of 10s., but they have done "bigger" things out of the town-sites, which they have laid out at judicious intervals along the line. These are up to date eight in number, and in each case give their names to stations, viz.: Lakeside, Mount Barker, Cranbrook, Broomehill, Katanning, Wagin, Narrogin and Pingelly. Taking them in order—

Lakeside, so called from being situated on a large fresh-water lake, is about nine miles from Albany. Here a town-site has been laid out upon the northern slopes of the lake, affording a healthy and excellent site for residential purposes. A reserve of 100 acres, on the west side of the lake, has been set apart by the Company for a public park and for recreation purposes, and land has been offered to the Albany Horticultural Society as a show ground. Steps are also being taken to make Lakeside a holiday resort, the banks of the lake, which is admirably suited for boating, affording capital facilities for picnickers. A distillery has been established for the extraction of oil from sandalwood, &c, within sight of Lakeside. The station is the junction for a branch line constructed by the contractors for the Great Southern Railway, Messrs. Millar Bros., of Melbourne, with the view of establishing connection with and developing a great timber concession which they have taken up at Torbay, a few miles away on the coast to the west of Albany. Here they have a large freehold, and their idea is, after clearing the ground of the timber, to dispose of the land to small cultivators in a partially prepared state. Mr. C. G. Millar, the head of the firm, is the owner of the fine yacht Saide, and is a member of the Royal Yacht Club, to whom he has recently offered for competition a fifty-guinea cup, to be known as the Australian Cup. He is plucky in all his ventures, and it was due to his pecuniary fostering that Mr. Louis Brennan, C.B., the able mechanical inventor, was enabled to bring to fruition the well-known torpedo which bears his name. The titbits of this district (as a whole, a somewhat barren land), which the Company has been able to secure, consist principally of alluvial flats of humus, or peaty mould, well watered and sparsely timbered, and specially suited for root crops, garden produce, and dairy farming. The close proximity to Albany, with its present and, still more, its prospective markets, are the main attractions at this point. Mr. T. W. Powell, of the firm of Heseltine & Powell, 1, Drapers' Gardens, London, is one of the largest shareholders in the West Australian Land Company, and was the first Chairman of the Board of Directors in London. He came to Western Australia in 1889, and was so impressed with the character of the country traversed by the railway for agricultural purposes that he resigned his chairmanship, purchased large areas of land from the Land Company, and is now engaged in making such improvements as will enable farmers with moderate capital to start at once by putting in crops on land ready prepared for their reception, thus saving the pioneer the usual heavy primary outlay, and ensuring him a quick return for his money. One of Mr. Powell's purchases is the "Eastwood" Estate, of 5,000 acres, situated in the Lakeside district, about seven miles from Albany, on the Great Southern Railway. It has been cut up into farms varying from 10 to 100 acres. The land in the valleys is a rich peaty soil suitable for potatoes, onions, and all sorts of market garden produce, maize, oats, barley, lucerne, and rye grass. The hills are timbered with banksia, sheaoak, and jarrah. The soil on them is of a lighter nature, but owing to the heavy rainfall it is very productive, and well adapted for the growing of fruits of all sorts. The terms on which the improved farms can be obtained are easy. The land can either be bought outright, leased, or paid for by equal instalments on the deferred payment system. The climate is everything that can be desired; in fact, it is admitted to be about the best in Australia.

As Mr. Powell has gone to great expense in improving and laying out the Eastwood estate, he naturally seeks to recoup himself in the price of the land, and it thus requires capital to come to terms with him. As, however, the better parts of the property are rather suitable for gardens than for farms, a small area only is requisite, and the returns are likely to be much heavier than in the case of ordinary agriculture. I can­ not disguise from myself that Mr. Powell will have more or less to act the philanthropist in relation to this portion of his land purchases, as he has gone to an outlay with steam ploughs, and other "latest" cultivators, for which he is hardly likely to be speedily or, indeed, ever recouped. His work at Eastwood has been one of experiment and exploitation, and I do not think I misjudge him in believing that it was not wholly the idea of personal profit which induced him to go in for a venture which, he may have the satisfaction of feeling, will benefit the colony even if it leaves him somewhat out of pocket. I may add that in addition to the general local and colonial market for garden produce, there are the mail and other steamers to be supplied with fruit and vegetables by the future horticulturists of Eastwood and other similar localities. It is true that at present the P. & O. and other great liners replenish their stocks at Adelaide and the eastern ports; but this has only grown into a custom through the impossibility of getting regular supplies at Albany, which, as the last and first port of call on the Anglo-Australian voyage, should very soon be able to establish a flourishing traffic with the shipping.

Mount Barker, the next combined station and town-site, is about 40 miles from Albany. The land in this neighbourhood consists of several qualities of soil, and is specially adapted for fruit-growing and general produce. Mr. C. G. Millar has pur­chased 5,000 acres in this district, which he intends clearing, improving, and putting under cultivation. About seven miles to the east of Mount Barker is the Porongerup Range, covered with a remarkably fine growth of karri timber. Many of the trees are of immense size, some measuring 100 feet to the first branch and being 18 feet in girth. From Mount Barker onwards there is a great improvement in the quality of the country.

Cranbrook is the third station and town-site on the railway, and here the traffic from the Blackwood River district will join the line. A large tank, containing 2,250,000 gallons, has been excavated by the Company for the purpose of the railway, and is full of pure fresh water, showing how easily water can be gathered and conserved at a moderate outlay. From indications in the ranges in this district, it is confidently anticipated that valuable mineral deposits will be discovered.

Broomehill, the fourth station and town-site, is 104 miles from Albany, and is the centre of a fine agricultural district. Three miles to the west of the line is the settlement of Ettacup, where there are several fine farms, the principal being Goblup, recently purchased by Lord Brassey. The climate and rainfall in the district are so regular that settlers state they are always certain of an abundant crop, eighteen to twenty bushels to the acre being looked upon as an ordinary occurrence. On the east of the line is the Martinup district, where Mr. Powell and Mr. Hassell have together purchased 34,800 acres, which are being cleared, fenced, and brought under cultivation. In Mr. Hassell's purchase water has been obtained, by ordinary sinking, within twelve feet of the surface. The Company contemplate establishing a training farm here, where young men will be trained to colonial life, and be placed on farms suited to their means when considered capable of managing on their own account.

At present, to quote from the prospectus, no system is adopted with a view of placing young men on suitable colonial farms when they have completed their course of training at the agricultural colleges in Great Britain, the students being left to select their own colony, land, &c. This want the Com­pany proposes to supply. Believing it is impossible to give a complete colonial training on English soil, and in an English climate, the Directors of the West Australian Land Company, with a view of working in connection with these colleges, have established, at Broomehill, a training farm, at present 1,000 acres in extent, but capable of unlimited expansion, where students will receive one or more year's practical training, prior to being placed on selected farms suited to the amount of capital they have at command. It is assumed that the scientific and theoretical part of the students' education will have been acquired before leaving England; it is therefore intended to give a thoroughly practical training in clearing, fencing, ring­ barking, tank excavating, erecting their own houses, out-buildings, &c.; also in sheep-farming, wheat-growing, dairying, vine and fruit culture, and general agriculture. The services of a practical man as farm manager have been secured. Part of the students' training will consist of clearing and preparing portions of the land selected for purchase by the senior students, so that each one on starting for himself shall have a house erected, and a certain number of acres cleared and prepared for cultivation, the intention being to place the students on their own selected farms as soon as the Company's farm manager considers they have acquired sufficient experience to be trusted to start on their own account; at the same time they will always have the great advantage of being able to fall back upon the farm manager for advice and assistance whenever required. The students will be met at Albany, and at once taken up to the training farm, thus placing them under control from the time of their arrival in the colony, the railway company granting them free passes to their destination. The moral well-being of the students will be carefully looked after, and arrangements made for clergymen of various denominations to periodically visit the farm, and hold religious services. Farms can be selected suited to a capital of £200 and upwards, and the Directors propose that parents or friends shall, if they so think fit, deposit with the Company the amount of capital they can give the youths, the Company undertaking to select and place them on farms suited to their means, and after paying the purchase money, or the first instalments thereof, hand over the balance as required for the further development of the property. Parents and friends would thus be certain of their money being judiciously expended for the object intended, which might not always be the case if the lads were entrusted with the capital. As it is not wished to make the training farm more than self-supporting, it is intended to fix the annual charge for board, residence, and tuition of students, at a very low figure.

The pecuniary necessities of the Company in the embryo stages of its operations induced it to alienate several large blocks of its territory to single large holders, with the view of obtaining an immediate return in ready cash. Lord Brassey, at Ettacup, a settlement three miles away to the west of the line, has thus become possessed of 26,000 acres at, I understand, 13s. 3d. per acre, Mr. Hassell (who manages for Lord Brassey), and Mr. Powell, of London, dividing another area of nearly 35,000 acres to the east of the line at Martinup. Lord Brassey is fencing his property, and erecting dams for water storage, and it is understood that he is willing to set an example in the way of subdividing his large holding into suitable farming lots, and assisting the right class of tenants to take them up on a basis of time payments, both for the land and the needful primary improvements. Lord Brassey has always shown him­ self a public-spirited as well as a practical man, and great hopes are entertained that he may see his way to illustrate both characteristics by initiating a colonisation scheme which will benefit the colony, a deserving class of immigrants, and his own pocket into the bargain. The thing could be managed on much the same lines as have been so successfully followed in the case of his lordship's Canadian properties, and from what Lord Brassey himself has told me, I gather he is by no means adverse to assisting a well-considered scheme of the kind. It is essen­tial to the interests of the West Australian Land Company that small settlements should be encouraged along the route of their railway, as what they want to make traffic for their line is not a few wealthy proprietors, but a numerous and thriving population, embracing all sorts of interests in addition to the pastoral. Then, too, as regards the fructification of their estate, there is all the difference in the world between the value of arable as distinguished from mere grazing land.