The Coming Colony/Chapter 8


Account of West Australian Land Company's Concession (continued)—Climate­—Water Supply—Markets and Products—The Poison Plant—Prices of Town Allotments and Rural Lands—Long Terms and Deferred Payments—Purchasers' Improvements—An Expert's Opinion.

It may be interesting to the would-be settler to know that an abundant supply of stone suitable for building can be obtained almost throughout the whole of the West Australian Land Company's concession, whilst timber for building, fencing, and firewood is very plentiful. As regards climate, the south-western portion of Western Australia is believed to be one of the healthiest countries in the world, not subject to excessive heat or cold, but temperate and healthful. Water is readily secured by tanks and dams, and sufficient rain falls during the winter to last the summer through when stored. In most parts water can also be obtained at a depth of from 10 to 25 feet, and in districts where ring-barking has been carried out not only does grass grow in profusion, but springs frequently make their appearance. As the Company point out in one of their prospectuses—

"A great variety of fruits are grown in the colony, amongst which may be mentioned the grape, apple, orange, lemon, pear, fig, peach, apricot, gooseberry, Cape gooseberry, plum, loquat, banana, quince, strawberry, melon, mulberry, currants, cherries, almond, and olives. All these are capable of being produced in large quantities, particularly grapes, oranges, apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, &c. Large areas of the Company's lands are highly suitable for fruit-growing, and one day fruit-preserving will be a profitable industry."

To quote from the same source—

"The vine grows anywhere well between latitudes 29° and 34°, and the Company has a large extent of land suited for the various kinds of grape required for the white and red. wines, raisins, currants, &c. Vine culture is at present in its infancy. In 1888 only 891 acres were under cultivation, producing 135,888 gallons, or an average on the whole (including newly planted vineyards) of 152 gallons per acre. One grower writes that his are the 'Muscatel' variety, and his average yield is about eight tons of grapes and about 400 gallons to the acre. Another that his consist chiefly of the 'Burgundy' and 'Hermitage'; that he gets about three tons of grapes and 250 to 300 gallons per acre. Some day the manufacture of wine is destined to assume very large proportions, as the climate and soil are specially suited to its production, and it is notorious that West Australian grapes are finer and better than those grown elsewhere. The olive grows luxuriantly in the same districts, and olive oil will no doubt form an important item of export. Sheep, horses, and cattle thrive well throughout the colony, India providing a ready market for any number of good horses fit for military purposes. The export of wool is increasing rapidly. In 1881 4,107,038 pounds were exported, whilst in 1888 it had reached 8,475,240 pounds, and it is a fact that West Australian wool fetches a very high price in the European markets. A great deal of misapprehension has been raised in the other colonies against Western Australia on account of the poison plant growing in certain districts. The lands selected by the Company are to a very great extent free, but where it does exist it can be easily and cheaply eradicated, in proof of which a large employer of labour recently offered to clear the Company's land at sixpence per acre. Western Australia is celebrated for its valuable timber forests, the most useful being jarrah, karri, York gum, yate, sandalwood, and jam tree. In the Company's selections several ranges of extensive forests have been included, and the timber will form a valuable article of commerce. The area of the colony is so great and the population so small that practically very little is known as to its mineral resources, but rich gold discoveries are continually being made, showing that this colony is likely to prove as rich in reef gold as Victoria, thus bearing out the opinion of Sir R. Murchison that Western Australia would prove to be very rich in precious metals. Tin, lead, and copper have also been found of great richness, and coal has been discovered in various parts of the colony. In the Company's selection of land are included some ranges in which there is every indication of valuable mineral properties, including tin and gold, offering great inducements to prospectors and others. The Government of Western Australia allows immigrants to introduce to the colony, free of duty, tools and instruments of trade to the extent of £10 value for each statute adult."

Having generally described the quality and situation of the West Australian Land Company's lands, it only remains to say that the terms on which allotments, varying in size, may be acquired by would-be settlers, are fully set out in Appendix G.

The casual visitor may get a good general idea of the country through merely driving or riding through it, but when he comes to the responsible task of advising others he is glad to have his opinion supplemented by the pronouncements of expert authorities. The following is therefore taken from the report of Professor Brown, for many years head of the Ontario College of Agriculture, Canada, and now Principal of the Longerenong Agricultural College, Victoria:—

During the month of February, 1890, I had an opportunity of examining a considerable portion of the extensive lands that belong to your Company in West Australia, ranging all the way from Albany to Beverley, a distance of 243 miles. The first most noticeable fact is the judicious selections made by the company. In a country of such extent there is necessarily great variety in the character of the soil and herbage, and anyone familiar with these and the other things that go to make up the most suitable conditions for settlement cannot fail to recognise how well the selections have been chosen for your Company, so that without doubt you hold a great deal of the best of that district of the colony. I have ascertained from official sources and the evidence of several old settlers, as well as from personal observation, that the southern portion of your property possesses a climate of the most delightful character for residence and certain agricultural productions. An examination of the map will show how this is secured. As all the southern portion has a large water frontage in the proportion to the area of land thereby affected, with much timber, and a great variety of aspect by hills and valleys, there are some of the most favourable conditions for rainfall and its conservation. The average annual is about 40 inches, and is distributed over no less than 130 days, which, with the unusual fact, for Australia, that the thermometer seldom gets over 85°, and never under 35° in the shade, tells of a south of England climate. Further north it gradually increases to the ordinary seasons of this continent. A prominent feature of a great deal of the country is quantity and value of timber, with the other flora so characteristic of West Australia. The smaller herbage in some parts is not the most suitable for live stock, but in the more open lands and along the plains the natural grasses are increasing in quantity and value. But the question is not one of want of favourable conditions for the best pasture, but simply of nature having to be brought under in order to give it a chance. The karri and jarrah timbers occupy a place of high value upon your property, which, with the sandalwood, are already developing into great wealth. There are soils of all kinds, from the pure sand up to the brick-making clay, and a large proportion consists of that light clay loam so suitable for a variety of purposes. The conformation of the country into numerous hills and valleys gives in many cases a variety of soil in small area, and also affords abundance of water. There are several valuable fresh-water lakelets and creeks that never go dry all the seasons through. The natural drainage of the country is, therefore, of a decided kind, and will aid materially the reclamation and settlement of the valley soils that are made up principally of vegetable deposit with the sand. With such a geographical range, then, as you possess, the variety of soil and shelter, the water supply, sea coast resorts, together with abundance of timber and open valleys, there are attractions of the most substantial sort for settlement. Indeed, the question is one of 'What is it you want?' and not of 'What can I get?' Of course, as in all lands of great extent, there are poor soils and unfavourable conditions for settlement, but I have no hesitation in saying that these are not what regulate your extensive domains. It is evident, then, that any branch of farming and gardening can be entered upon under proper choice. On the sea coast and along the southern selections English grasses and green fodders will luxuriate, and thus induce to dairying as a leading pursuit, though there are also culinary crops and some fruits will be successfully cultivated. The international seaport of Albany cannot fail in drawing out the capabilities of that district. Mount Barker, with its more suitable soil and climate, will unquestionably look to the production of fruit; the Stirling Range is decidedly one best adapted to sheep raising; while those of Broomehill and Katanning are evidently for the cereals, and, indeed, if required, for any other thing in agriculture and gardening. The latter selections are of high value. I have pleasure in acknowledging that my examination of your property has entirely swept away my own preconceived views, and those of many others, of the possibilities of agriculture in Western Australia, for much ignorance still prevails about this new colony. Very little has yet been done to show that a great deal of it is one of the best portions of this continent."

I have entered at more length than would otherwise have been justified into the particulars of the West Australian Land Company's concession on the ground that what applies to their land applies equally to a considerable portion of the far greater area in the same locality which the Government retains in its own hands, and which is obtainable on the terms and conditions of which a summary is given in Chapter XII. of the present work. When the Government railway from Perth to Bunbury is completed there will be a second line running parallel with a great portion of the Great Southern Railway, and between it and the coast. The whole of the intervening country to the westward will thus be opened up and given optional access to the ports of Albany and Fremantle, to say nothing of Bunbury itself, which a reasonable expenditure would vastly improve as a harbour.

The Land Corporation of West Australia, too, which pos­sesses a territory extending in blocks from south-west of Broome­ hill to north-east of Perth, has planned a connecting railway from Broomehill on the Great Southern line to Bunbury, which would afford additional facilities for the opening up of this fertile portion of the South-western District. It would also have the additional advantage of connecting it with what may, if the investigations now being conducted under the auspices of the Government eventuate in success, become a great coal­ field on the Collie river. It lies on the track between Broomehill and Bunbury, and specimens of the coal taken from it have been favourably reported on by English experts. If the latter is proved to be obtainable in reliable quantity and quality the conditions of life in this portion of Western Australia would be revolutionized after a fashion which would petrify the old identities.

Amongst the pioneer land companies of Western Australia this Land Corporation of West Australia, Limited, occupies an important position. The Company was incorporated in 1885 under the Joint Stock Companies Acts, and is managed by a London board of directors, at No. 5, Copthall Buildings, London, E.C. The Company had the good fortune to obtain from the Government in 1885, under the old land regulations of 1878, leases for about 1,250,000 acres, situated on the main Perth-Albany road and in proximity to the Great Southern Railway on the east and the Perth-Bunbury Railway on the west. Under these regulations the terms to purchasers were made very easy with a view of inducing settlers to take up and work the land, leases being granted for twenty-one years, subject to the nominal rent of £1 per annum per thousand acres, and on the condition of the lessees erecting a fence round each block and eradicating the indigenous poison shrubs which grow more or less over the colony. The leases thus granted are known as "conditional freeholds," and are readily transferred on payment of some small charges. The Land Corporation had the advantage of being associated with Mr. Alexander Forrest and Mr. W. H. Angove, who certainly showed sound judgment in selecting the lands in the South-west District. The quantity of land surveyed and selected by the Corporation was more than 1,800,000 acres, but the Government, in view of the very favourable terms on which they would be alienating their good land, hurried the Act of 1887 through the Legislature, the time allowed for obtaining the freehold being thereby reduced from twenty-one years to three years, and refused to grant leases for about 600,000 acres, thus reducing the quantity to be acquired by the Land Corporation to about 1,250,000 acres. Now that the colony has its own Government, and so many buyers of land are coming in, the granting of further similar leases has been discontinued on any terms whatever. The directors of the Corporation have turned to account a considerable portion of their leases at prices which have enabled them to pay during the past two years large and regular dividends. The tenure of the land ac­quired by the Land Corporation of West Australia was granted by the Government of Western Australia in 1886 in one hundred and eleven separate and distinct leases, containing from 1,000 to 164,000 acres. Each lease is a separate contract in itself, and is readily transferred on payment of a small ad valorem duty and fee; so that the work of clearing and fencing can be carried out on any block without reference to any other part of the estate (see page 141).

The land acquired under each lease has been accurately surveyed and measured, the plan with every line marked being attached to each lease and signed by the Commissioner of Crown Lands. The boundary posts are easily found on the land and purchasers from the Company of their rights have no difficulty in identifying blocks and erecting their fences.

The Land Corporation have dealt with several sub-companies, of which the most important is the West Australian Pastoral and Colonisation Company, Limited, which was incorporated in November, 1890, in order to acquire certain lands from the Corporation, with a view to clearing and fencing, and acquiring the freehold title, and cutting up into farms suitable to meet the requirements of intending settlers. Their idea is to import settlers who will carry out the Government conditions as to the extirpation of the poison plant, &c., and who in return will receive long leaseholds at nominal rents.

As we travelled along the Great Southern Railway towards Beverley, I saw something, and heard more, respecting the vast jarrah forests of the south-western portion of the colony. As regards the character of the jarrah wood (Eucalyptus marginata), which seems the prince of Australian timbers, it is of straight growth, attaining 100 feet in height, and yielding solid timber 40 feet long by 2 feet square. In appearance it somewhat resem­bles mahogany, and, like that wood, is capable of a very high polish, and having enough figure to make it suitable for cabinet-makers work. It is chiefly adapted for piles, sleepers, dock work, and shipbuilding, the peculiarity being its resistance to the teredo and white ant, so that copper sheathing in ship­ building is rendered unnecessary. It is classed at Lloyd's (for twelve years) in the third category of timber used for ship­ building purposes. It has recently been employed with success for street-paving purposes in London, and the surveyor of one of the great vestries writes thus regarding the respective qualities of jarrah and deal for that purpose:—"Jarrah is more expensive, and, therefore, a smaller area can be provided at the same cost, but is more uniform in texture and quality, which makes it wear with much more evenness than deal, as deal varies considerably even in the length of a plank, and is liable to wear into holes where soft or sappy. Jarrah will wear much longer, and, taking this into account, it will be found the more economical in the end, besides having the advantages of less scavenging and requiring little or no repairs. This, combined with infrequent renewal, causes considerably less inconvenience to the public."