Under the Southern Cross
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The widespread plains of this part of Australia, so specially adapted for sheep-runs and cattle-ranches, are largely improved for that purpose; and it is estimated that there are over twelve millions of sheep upon them to-day. Wool is one of the most valuable raw materials known to commerce, and that shipped from Queensland has had a preference, owing to its adaptability to manufacturing purposes. Sheep-farming is here carried on upon a scale exceeding that of all other parts of the world. Single individuals hold even larger flocks than those of New South Wales. We have not seen an official statement of a year's clip for the whole country since that for 1883, which gave as the aggregate value of that year something over twenty million pounds sterling. Besides sheep, the plains also sustain large herds of horned cattle. One owner told us he had over fifteen thousand cattle on his ranch, and that some of his neighbors had a still larger number.
The coast portion of Queensland is the most desirable of all the colony. It is well wooded, and the climate is equable. The entire shore is studded with picturesque islands and has numerous excellent harbors. The three summer months – December, January, and February – are hot; but as plenty of rain falls at this season, tropical moisture and heat are agreeably combined. Cool southerly winds also prevail during this season, so that it is rarely oppressively hot. The famous Great Barrier Reef of Australia belongs entirely to this province, and is twelve hundred miles in length, extending along the coast from Port Brown to Torres Strait, the average distance from the shore being about sixty miles. Though the sea on the coast is made smoother by this giant reef, navigation in other respects is undoubtedly rendered precarious by it. Scientists think it indicates the former outline of the coast and continent, about one fifth of which is supposed to have sunk beneath the ocean.
Leaving out West Australia, which is at present so little developed, the country may be divided thus. Queensland is the best and most extensive pastoral section; in this respect New South Wales comes next. South Australia should be characterized for its grain-fields, and Victoria is richest in auriferous deposits; but there is gold enough in all the colonies to afford constant stimulus to mining enterprise, fresh discoveries in this line being made every few weeks.
Many young men belonging to the better classes of England's youth, filled with poetic ideas, come out here to seek employment on sheep-runs, having imbibed certain notions of a free out-of-door life, and the charm of a half-wild career in the open country. But the reality often amazes them. Some of these young men have been accustomed to a life of elegant leisure, soft beds, dainty food, and plenty of servants to do their bidding; but actuated by a desire to attain to a condition of independence of family control, a wish to pay their own way, to earn money by manly labor, or by some other of the thousand incentives that not infrequently sever family ties, they have resolved to seek a new field.In Australia they find freedom, but it is coupled with hard work. There is no chance for drones in the business of sheep-raising, or for those who would languish on downy beds of ease. The competitor in this field must be in the saddle at daybreak, must learn to ride all sorts of horses, and to catch and saddle the one he does ride; for all the horses are turned out to get their own feed at large, and are never stabled. They also get no grooming, except what their riders give them; they are not even shod, and are sometimes addicted to bucking, which will require all a man's knowledge of horsemanship to overcome. The ranch-man has ten hours a day in the saddle, and must often ride fast and far to round in his flocks. He must acquire the art of counting them, of judging correctly of their condition, of shearing, and often of killing them. For all this he may get five or six hundred dollars a year and his rations, with the advantage, however, of living in the open air, of having an unobstructed digestion and a ravenous appetite, and of sleeping the sleep which no opiate can produce. The life upon a sheep-run will be likely to make a man of him if he has the right material in him, with plenty of endurance and adaptability.
The idyllic notions of shepherd life which may at first have attracted him, and the real thing as encountered in the neighborhood of the Darling Downs of Queensland, are two quite different things. There are some who experience all this and with their first year's earnings purchase sheep and go on adding to their flock annually, until by natural increase and purchased additions they become master shepherds and owners of great numbers. When success is thus achieved, which is quite possible under ordinary good fortune, the profit that follows is almost fabulous.
In a country where there are such enormous sheep-runs and where owners count their herds by twenties of thousands, there must at times be a glut of meat, and at all times an endless supply of it on hand. The cattle-ranches, though not nearly so numerous, nor carrying such large numbers of animals, yet produce relatively an immense supply of meat, since one average steer is equal in weight to eight or ten sheep. Before the present method of shipping fresh meat to Europe was perfected, it was often the case that tens of thousands of sheep and horned cattle were boiled down simply to produce tallow; and this practice is even now resorted to, though to a more limited extent than heretofore. Tallow was and is very easily packed and shipped. There were at one time over forty boiling-down establishments in New South Wales alone, and statistics show that three hundred thousand sheep and some hundreds of bullocks were in one year converted into tallow by these establishments. The carcasses of the animals for any other purpose were absolutely wasted, while the poorer classes of England were denying themselves meat because of its high cost in their own country. It was a realizing sense of these facts which first led to the meat-canning process, which is still a thriving industry here, and afterward to the building of ship refrigerators, which make it possible to ship entire carcasses fresh to Europe, where they never fail to arrive in the best condition for the market.
The very name of Australia has a flavor of gold, and yet not one half of its auriferous diggings have been discovered, – every twelvemonth bringing to light new deposits of rich quartz, and fresh alluvial diggings. While the author was in Sydney, a gold nugget was found at Maitland Bar and brought to that city, for which the Commercial Bank of the metropolis paid the finder the handsome sum of seven thousand six hundred dollars. It soon after passed into the possession of the Government, and is now held by it for the purpose of being exhibited at the forthcoming centennial exhibition to be held at Melbourne. At the museum of this latter city we saw a cast which was taken of the largest nugget ever found in Australia. As it was perfectly gilded, it seemed in its large glass case as though it might be the real article. It weighed originally two thousand three hundred ounces, and was valued at forty-six thousand dollars. It is known by the name of the "Welcome Nugget." It seems that the finder had heretofore sought in vain to make a living at gold-digging, having worked long and patiently in search of the precious metal. Finally he had reached a condition of poverty and desperation which had led him that very day to resolve upon throwing up his claim (nobody would give him anything for it), and to seek work in the nearest city as a day-laborer; he would thus secure at least food and a shelter. It was in this frame of mind, weary and hungry, that he chanced upon this marvellous discovery; and hence he appropriately named it the "Welcome Nugget." These remarkable "finds," as the miners term them, happen once in a series of years; but in getting at the average success of gold-mining the larger number of those who have not been able to realize even a laborer's day-wages at the business, must be taken into the account. It is safe to accept the conclusion which every intelligent person in Australia, New Zealand, and California has arrived at; namely, that the cost of getting gold out of the earth is as much as its intrinsic value. To put it in other words: in the long run, the average laborer, working at any other calling for three dollars or even less per day, will realize more money in a twelvemonth than the average gold-miner in the same period. Nevertheless, gold-mining seems to be the active agent which Providence has employed to people the waste places of the earth. The Western States of America are ample proof of this.
In glancing at a printed record of the finding of golden nuggets, we see that among others one of pure gold was found in 1502, in Hayti, which weighed forty-six pounds troy. Another is mentioned as having been found in Bolivia in 1730, weighing fifty-five pounds troy. But the wonder of its time was found in the Ural Mountains in 1842, and weighed ninety-seven pounds troy. This specimen the author saw, two years ago, in the Museum of Mining at St. Petersburg. The largest single mass of pure gold found in the United States came from California, and, if our memory serves us correctly, weighed a little over twenty-six pounds troy. All these examples, however, have been placed in the shade by numerous nuggets that have been found in Victoria in later times. The "Welcome Nugget," already mentioned, came from Balarat, in Victoria. A nugget was also discovered here, which should be mentioned even in this by no means complete list. We refer to that found in 1857, called the "Blanche Berkeley," after the Governor's daughter, and which weighed one hundred and forty-five pounds troy.
Far-seeing political economists do not hesitate to pronounce the coal mines of New South Wales and Queensland of far more value than the gold mines of Victoria and South Australia; and they claim that these coal deposits are the most extensive in the world. The government of Queensland (and we believe the governments of the other colonies also) pays a gratuity of five hundred pounds sterling to the first discoverer of gold-diggings, provided the new place be twenty miles away from any previous discovery. The governments are not affected by the glamour of the gold; that is a secondary consideration with them, for they know that it is not the glittering metal itself which enriches the country, but the vitality imparted by its agency. Men are brought together from near and far in large numbers, and those are induced to work who have never worked before. All must live, and to enable them to do so there must be busy hands and brains occupied in other lines than that of actual mining. The consumption of many articles is stimulated, and fresh life infused into new and legitimate channels of trade.
Wool, not gold, is the real "King" in Queensland to-day. It is thought by many that by and by sugar may become the rival of wool in this section. Mackay, situated on the Pioneer River, is the chief centre of the sugar industry of the colony, which extends over a large acreage north of Cape Palmerston, and around the slope of Mount Bassett. Here the noise of the crushing-mills in the grinding season, and the busy whirl of the centrifugal machine greet the ear in all directions. So prolific is the soil here that the cane is said to grow like weeds, and without cultivation.
Brisbane, like the rest of Queensland, has not escaped the inroads of the Chinese; and here they are not favorites any more than elsewhere. This universal prejudice against the Asiatics is in many respects both reasonable and unreasonable. That the Chinaman never fails to introduce certain vicious habits wherever he appears, goes without saying; opium-smoking and gambling have become as natural to him as breathing. But he is frugal, energetic, industrious, and in some respects a very valuable member of a newly colonized country, filling a position which would otherwise be unoccupied. In Australia he is content to follow in the white man's footsteps, and utilize – as a miner, for instance – what is left by his predecessor. A Chinaman will obtain fair results and good wages by working over the "tailings" of the gold-fields, which are thrown aside as useless by the more impatient and ambitious English laborer. John is specially useful in many occupations, and is a natural gardener, raising the best of vegetables for market upon refuse grounds that no one else would think it worth while to cultivate. He reduces all fertilizing matter to liquid form, and industriously applies it by hand, destroying each insect pest with his fingers. No slug, caterpillar, or vicious parasite can escape his vigilance. He sacrifices himself entirely to the object in hand, and as long as there is sufficient light for him to see to work, he continues to toil: no eight-hour or ten-hour system answers for him. He is to-day essentially the market gardener of Australia and New Zealand; no one attempts to compete with him in this occupation. No European can bear the exposure to the sun or support his strength under the enervating heat as the Chinaman can do. And yet with all these qualities to recommend him, so undesirable is his presence held to be by the people, that a law has been passed by which each Chinaman landing in any of these colonies is obliged to pay the sum of fifty dollars "head money," as it is called; and no women of the race are permitted to land at all. Here, as in California and elsewhere, the dead Chinaman is embalmed by a cheap process, – the body being finally enclosed in a lead coffin, which in turn is put into a wooden box, and exported to its native soil. The poorest Chinaman rarely fails to leave money enough behind him to accomplish this purpose, and the friends of the deceased consider it a religious duty to fulfil his last wishes.
Judging critically from what we saw of this race of people in the various parts of the colonies of Australasia, we should say that they are individually and collectively superior to the average European immigrants, in the general characteristics which go to make up a desirable citizen. In industrial habits they far excel the common immigrant from England and Ireland. If the Mongolians have some bad habits, the Europeans have ten to their one. It is mostly the pugnacious British, striking, never-satisfied laborer who complains of the presence of the Chinese, because he cannot compete with them in sobriety, industry, frugality, and faithfulness of service. The Chinese are naturally very hospitable, and no lonely shepherd or roving prospector ever came to their cabins hungry, or in want of any special article, without receiving the needed aid gratuitously. John always marries when he can induce a European or American woman to have him for a husband, and there are many such instances all over the colonies. No one ever hears of a Chinaman abusing his wife; indeed, they are remarkable for being good husbands. They take particular delight in seeing their wives well-dressed, especially on all gala occasions, and cheerfully and liberally contribute the means for this purpose. Chinamen are never seen here in a state of intoxication; and they thus form a noticeable exception among a population of such incessant drinkers as one sees everywhere in these countries. Australasia affords unlimited scope for Chinese industries, and we hardly know how the colonies could get on without them.
It is highly gratifying to see how thoroughly the cause of universal education is appreciated and supported in these colonies, as there can be no stronger evidence of legitimate progress than this fact furnishes. Brisbane is no exception to this remark. All education is secular in character, even the reading of the Bible being omitted in the primary and other schools. In New South Wales special Scriptural lessons are read; but in Victoria and South Australia Scriptural teachings can only be given out of the regular school hours, – and thus the various denominational prejudices are carefully respected. Victoria furnishes absolute free education. In the other colonies a very small fee is charged, which is apparently the best policy; since parents and children will naturally prize more highly that which costs them money, be the sum never so small, nor will they willingly neglect that for which they are required to pay.
The result of this educational zeal is obvious to any one, tending as it does to raise the character of the colonies at home and their good reputation abroad. The general population forms already a reading community which supports a large number of excellent bookstores in each populous centre, besides public libraries, many newspapers, and well-conducted local magazines. Concerning the newspapers of Australasia, let us bear appreciative testimony to their general excellence, to the able and even scholarly manner in which they are edited, and to the remarkable liberality evinced in the collecting of news from all parts of the globe. The mechanical appearance and general make-up of the colonial newspapers is fully equal to that of the best American and English dailies. In Auckland, New Zealand, with a population of not more than sixty thousand, including the immediate suburbs, we saw one of Hoe's large, rapid, completing presses, printing the "New Zealand Daily Herald" at the rate of fifteen thousand copies an hour, folding and delivering it automatically ready for the carriers. The whole work was done by machinery, the roll of paper being suspended above the press after the latest improved style, so that no "feeders" even were required.
One is sure to remark the large number of banking establishments in every city and considerable town throughout Australasia. We were told that there are thirty joint-stock banking companies in the country, with some eight hundred branches more or less. These companies pay an annual dividend of from ten to fourteen per cent to their stockholders. The existence of so many successful banks in so circumscribed a community is a matter not quite clearly understood by the author, though upon inquiry it was found that the style of banking business done here differed materially from that transacted in populous cities of the Old World. For instance, the banks here advance money freely upon growing crops, wool on the sheep's back, and other similar securities that would hardly be considered as legitimate collateral in America. The usual rate of interest to borrowers upon what is considered fair security, is never less than ten per cent, – twelve and fifteen per cent being most common. The speculative nature of nearly all kinds of business in the colonies impairs general confidence, and people come to be unduly sharp, requiring even heavier rates than those already named where there is any chance of getting them. They simply illustrate the axiom, that a high rate of interest signifies a high degree of risk. In the mean time the banks flourish, occupying the largest and most costly business edifices that are to be seen in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or Adelaide.
We did not chance to see any specimens of that curious animal the kangaroo while we were in Queensland, but this marsupial is represented to be more numerous and more of a pest here than in any other part of the country. We were told of a certain sheep-run known as Peak Downs Station, where the proprietor had been obliged to wage a long-continued war against them, instituting annual hunts over the extensive district which he held. He was joined by his friends and neighbors in an annual raid upon the animals, which lasted not infrequently for ten consecutive days. He kept an account of the number of kangaroos destroyed upon his lands, which had reached the almost incredible aggregate of thirty-eight thousand in a few years. That special district absolutely swarmed with these animals until the means mentioned for their destruction were adopted. The kangaroo is very prolific in its wild state, and would, if allowed to multiply undisturbed, soon drive the sheep from their feeding-grounds. Its skin, when properly cured and dressed with the fur on, makes good rugs suitable for domestic use. Leather is also made from the skin, and when well tanned and carefully prepared is available for many purposes, although as a regular industry the skin of the kangaroo has never been made much use of in the form of leather; it is considered very desirable as a fur robe, or when made up into a garment.
The Darling Downs of Queensland, several times alluded to in these notes, consist of broad, undulating, grass-covered steppes, with a rich black soil admirably suited for agricultural purposes. They are easily reached from Brisbane by rail in a few hours, and at Warwick, the principal town of the Downs, good hotel accommodations may be found. Stanthorpe is the centre of the tin-mining industry of this region. For a number of years surface diggings only were attempted here, but later many deep shafts have been sunken and are now profitably worked. In this more legitimate form of mining a permanent industry has been established. There are so many prolific and excellent tin mines in the colonies that these special deposits are held to be of no extraordinary value.
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