Maturin Ballou.

Under the Southern Cross



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It is proposed, as we were informed at Brisbane, to separate the north of Queensland from the south, at the twenty-second parallel of latitude, and to form the northern portion into a separate colony. This purpose seemed at one time to have very nearly reached consummation, but it has not been pressed for some unknown reason. As Queensland is larger than England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, Holland, and Denmark added together, there can be no want of territory for such a political division. It is only about thirty years since this province, as it now stands, was separated from New South Wales.

From Brisbane we returned to Sydney on the way to the southern cities; and here the journey was broken by a day's rest, as it is nearly twelve hundred miles from Brisbane to Melbourne.

CHAPTER VIII

An Inland Journey. – The Capital of Victoria. – Grand Public Buildings. – Water-Supply of the City. – Public Parks and Gardens. – Street Scenes. – Dashing Liveries. – Tramways. – Extremes. – Melbourne Ladies. – Street Beggars. – Saturday Half-Holiday. – Public Arcades. – The City Free Library. – The Public Markets. – China-Town, Melbourne. – Victims of the Opium Habit.

Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, lies nearly six hundred miles southwest of Sydney. The journey from one city to the other by rail is rather a tedious one, as there is very little of interest upon the route to engage the attention of the traveller. Soon after leaving the latter city the road runs through a level country, which is sparsely inhabited, but quite heavily wooded with that wearying tree the eucalyptus, presenting hardly one feature of attractiveness to recommend it to the eye. It is always dressed in a sober, funereal garb, which by no effort of the imagination can one reasonably call green. Miles and miles were passed of houseless monotony, the land often denuded of trees, and showing only a low growth of wattle, or some small shrub of the eucalyptus family. Most of the settlers' cabins seen inland were mere shells, consisting of frames of wood covered on roof and sides with corrugated sheet-iron, unpainted; while others presented a still ruder appearance, being frames of wood covered loosely with bark, only one degree better than the bark shelters of the aborigines in northern Queensland. At some of the railroad stations a faint effort is made at the cultivation of flowers, and occasionally pretty effects are produced by planting California pines in groups or borders, mingled with some other species of imported trees, mostly of the conifer family, – their foliage, by its choice verdure, putting the native trees to shame, though they are known as evergreens: there are indeed no deciduous native trees in Australia. Here and there a small orchard of orange-trees was seen, the fruit in its deep-yellow glow standing out against the surrounding foliage in bold relief. The traveller meets with no more delightful experience than when approaching an orange-orchard in full bloom.

For a mile before the place is reached, the fragrant atmosphere foretells the coming pleasure to the senses. This is oftenest realized in the West Indies, or in Florida. Here it was not the season of the bloom but of the fruit. A few gardens of tropical aspect, with groups of bananas, were also observed; but to see this most generous of all fruit-trees in perfection, one must go north toward the Equator, into Queensland.

Now and again a few thousand sheep were seen, and some small herds of horned cattle feeding on the hillsides or browsing among the forest glades; but the true pastoral districts are much farther inland. At Albury the Murray River was crossed, which here makes the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria, though which side of the watercourse belongs to the former and which to the latter is a constant source of dispute between them. An examination of baggage took place at Albury, as though the traveller were passing from one European nationality to another. The two colonies, however, have tariffs materially differing from each other, and duty is demanded upon all merchandise passing either way between them. The custom-house officers are quite discriminating, and unless they have reason to suspect a person of designs against the customs they do not put him to unnecessary trouble in the examination of his effects.

Not until one comes to within fifty or sixty miles of Melbourne upon this route does the country become attractive; but here it begins to open into broad green fields and rich meadows, forming a choice succession of agricultural districts, affording the best of pasturage and showing upon a large scale the careful cultivation of root-crops, corn, oats, wheat, and barley. Government owns and operates the railroad with a fair degree of liberality, though the prices charged for transportation are much higher than with us in America. The cars are often of the English style, formed into coaches which are cheaply upholstered, though they are reasonably comfortable.

It is but little more than half a century since an Englishman named John Batman ascended the Yarra-Yarra and bargained with the chiefs of the native tribe located here, to sell "to him and his heirs forever" so many thousand acres of land as now embrace the area occupied by the city of Melbourne and its immediate environs, covering six or eight miles square. For this grant of land Batman paid the chiefs in goods, which are said to have consisted of one dozen cotton shirts, a dozen colored woollen blankets, a handful of glass-bead ornaments, twelve bags of flour, and two casks of pork. These were all otherwise unattainable articles to the savages, who, however, had land enough and to spare. It is said that the aborigines pleaded hard for one or more guns to be added to the payment, but Batman was too wary to supply them with weapons which they could in an emergency turn against himself or other white men. The Englishman came and settled upon his purchase, built a stock-house, and proposed to surround himself with friends in order to form a sort of small independent State. But only a brief period transpired before an authorized agent of the English Government appeared upon the spot and declared the bargain between Batman and the savages to be null and void; in justice, however, to the purchaser, Government paid him some thousands of pounds sterling, and he turned over all his right and title to the authorities accordingly. Neither party could possibly have anticipated that in so few years this land would be valued at many millions of pounds sterling. Five years ago a monument was erected to Batman's memory, he having died in 1839; this monument stands in the old cemetery of Melbourne. To-day the site once so cheaply purchased, with the population now upon it, is classed by English writers as forming, in point of wealth, numbers of inhabitants, and general importance, the tenth city in the world!

The first sight of Melbourne was quite a surprise to us, though we thought we were fairly informed about this capital of Victoria. No stranger could anticipate beholding so grand a city in this far-away South-land of the Pacific. Where there was only a swamp and uncleared woods a few years ago, there has risen a city containing to-day a population of fully four hundred and twenty thousand, embracing the immediate suburbs. This capital is certainly unsurpassed by any of the British colonies in the elegancies and luxuries of modern civilization, such as broad avenues, palatial dwellings, churches, colossal warehouses, banks, theatres, and public buildings and pleasure-grounds. It is pleasant to record the fact that one fifth of the revenue raised by taxation is expended for educational purposes. Of what other city in the New or the Old World can this be said? Universities, libraries, public art-galleries, and museums lack not for the liberal and fostering care of the Government. No city except San Francisco ever attained to such size and importance in so short a period as has Melbourne.

The public buildings of the city are mainly constructed of a sort of freestone brought from Tasmania, as the local quarries, being mostly of a volcanic nature, are too hard for favorable working, though some use is made of their material. The new and elaborate Roman Catholic Cathedral, now nearly completed, is entirely constructed of this stone. Melbourne covers a very large area for its population; indeed, we were told by those who should be well informed in such matters that its extent of territory is nearly the same as that of Paris. In the environs are many delightful residences, embowered with creeping vines and surrounded with flower-gardens. These dwellings could hardly be made to look more attractive externally, though simple architecturally. They are mostly vine-clad; Flora has touched them with her magic finger, and they have become beautiful. Many of these suburbs are named after familiar European localities, such as Brighton, Kew, Emerald Hill, Collingwood, St. Kilda, Fitzroy, and so forth. The streets of St. Kilda must have been named about the period of the late Crimean war, as the following names were observed among them: Raglan, Sebastopol, Redan, Cardigan, Balaklava, and Malakoff.

Lake Yan-Yan supplies Melbourne with drinking-water by means of a system embracing a double set of pipes. This water-supply for domestic and general use is beyond all comparison the best we have ever chanced to see. The valley of the river Plenty, which is a tributary of the Yarra-Yarra, is dammed across at Yan-Yan, nearly twenty miles from the capital, by an embankment half a mile long, – thereby forming a lake nearly ten miles in circumference, with an area of over thirteen hundred acres, and an average depth of twenty-five feet. It holds sufficient water, as we were informed by an official, to furnish an ample supply for the use of the city during a period of two years, allowing fifteen gallons per head per day for the present population. This grand piece of engineering was expensive, but is fully worth all it has cost; namely, between six and seven million dollars.

The river Yarra-Yarra runs through the city, and is navigable for large vessels to the main wharves, where it is crossed by a broad and substantial bridge. Both the harbor and the river are being dredged by the most powerful boats designed for the purpose which we have ever seen. Above the bridge the river is handsomely lined with trees; and here, notwithstanding a somewhat winding course, the great boat-races take place which form one of the most attractive of all the local athletic amusements, – and Melbourne is famous for out-door sports of every form and nature, but principally for boating and ball-playing.

A whole chapter might be written describing the public gardens of the city and our inspiring visit to them. The variety of trees here collected is marvellous in its comprehensiveness. Oaks and elms of great size were observed among other exotics; one would hardly have thought they could have found time to acquire such proportions, but all trees grow with marked rapidity in this climate. Some very beautiful fern-trees were noticed, twenty feet in height, their fronds measuring fourteen feet in length, drooping plume-like about the graceful bending stems. Here were seen fine specimens of the magnolia-tree, bending to the ground under the weight of great yellow blossoms. The collection of tropical fruit-trees was remarkably complete. Wherever there are gardens in front of the dwellings in the environs of the city one is sure to see an abundance of the little pink and white daphne, fragrant and lovely as the violet, flourishing in great luxuriance. The abundance of maiden's-hair fern, in various sizes down to little leaves of pin-head dimensions, gives occasion for its very free use in bouquets. The variety of color found in this species of fern is quite noticeable here, the shades running from a deep dark green, by easy gradations, to almost an orange hue. The charming little daphne is the favorite button-hole flower of the Collins Street beaux, backed by a tiny spray of light-green fern. We saw some bouquets of cut-flowers in floral establishments on Swanston Street, exhibiting a degree of artistic taste in the arrangement which could not be excelled. The most delicate branches of maiden's-hair fern were so intertwined among the various colored flowers as to form a gauze-like veil, so that one seemed to behold them through a transparent cloud of misty green. Such combinations of tangible beauty cannot be equalled by the finest paintings.

This capital of Victoria, as we have intimated, is a city of public gardens. It is astonishing what an air of elegance, space, and wholesomeness is imparted by them. Besides the Botanical Gardens there are the Fitzroy Gardens, situated in the eastern suburb of the town, which contain some seventy-five acres of ground beautifully laid out and ornamented with a grand collection of trees, shrubs, and flowers, especially in the department of ferns. Fountains, rocky basins, and artificial waterfalls add picturesqueness to the place. The Zo?logical Gardens are in the Royal Park, containing a really fine collection of animals as well as a well-furnished aviary. We had as "fellow-passengers" on board the "Zealandia" a pair of young California lions designed for this collection, which arrived safely at their destination. These baby lions were quite sea-sick on the long voyage, but were in fine condition when we saw them in their new and spacious quarters at the Zoo-zoo.

Carlton Gardens are in the northern suburb, near the Parliament House; here also stands near by, the Exhibition Building, erected at a cost of over half a million dollars. It is now improved as a place for public amusements of various sorts, and contains a well-stocked and particularly well-arranged aquarium, somewhat after the style of that at Brighton, England. There are five or six other parks or public gardens more or less extensive, all charmingly laid out and beautified with trees of native and foreign species, with miniature lakes, aquatic plants and birds, and possessing picturesquely arranged fountains. Albert Park, in the eastern suburb, contains a lake so large as to render it available for sailing-boats and pleasant rowing-parties, for which purpose it is daily improved by both sexes and entire families.

The streets of Melbourne present a busy aspect, and there is ample space afforded for all legitimate business and pleasure purposes, these thoroughfares being each one hundred feet in width, – a gauge which is maintained throughout the city. They are all laid out at right angles, with mathematical precision. This liberal allotment of space for public use is carried out even in the suburbs, calculation having been made in advance for the growth of the city which is sure to come. The streets are for the most part paved either in blocks of granite or of wood, being in a few instances macadamized; but all are kept in admirable condition, both as to use and cleanliness. The stream of humanity pouring through them at all hours of the day is indeed vast and varied, though the population, while it consists of a mingling of nationalities, is yet distinctively English. It seemed to the writer that more Americans were to be found in this capital of Victoria than elsewhere in the colonies, quite a number being prominently engaged in speculative enterprises, and maintaining agencies for firms whose headquarters are in the United States. Several of our popular Life Insurance Companies are thus represented.

The busy activity in the streets was remarkable. Hansom cabs rattled about or stood in long rows awaiting patrons; four-wheeled vehicles of an inexcusably awkward style, also for hire, abounded; messenger-boys, with yellow leather pouches strapped over their shoulders, hurried hither and thither; high-hung omnibuses with three horses abreast, like those of Paris and Naples, dashed rapidly along, well filled with passengers; men galloped through the crowd upon small horses, carrying big baskets of provisions on their arms; dog-carts driven by smart young fellows, with a flunky behind in gaudy livery, cut in and out among the vehicles; powerful draught-horses stamped along the way, drawing heavily loaded drays; milk-carts with big letters on their canvas sides made themselves conspicuous, rivalled as to the size of the lettering by the bakers' carts of similar shape; light and neat American wagonettes glided along among less attractive vehicles. Now and then a Chinaman passed by with his peculiar shambling gait, a pole across his shoulders balancing his baskets of truck; women with oranges and bananas for a penny apiece met one at every turn, – and still the sidewalks are so broad and the streets so wide that no one seemed to be in the least incommoded. The fruiterers' stands here and there, as well as the windows of the dealers in the same products, presented an array remarkable for its tempting variety. Among these fruits are the mandarin and navel oranges, apricots, figs, grapes, passion-fruit, pineapples, bananas, peaches, plums, and several other sorts, all in fine condition. With the exception of San Francisco, nowhere else can fruit of such choice character be found in so great variety and at such cheap rates as in Melbourne.

While driving in the environs of the city many plots of ground were observed cultivated by Chinamen, and kept in the neatest possible manner. As we have already said, John is a natural gardener. In the first place his knowledge of fertilizing materials suitable for the soil enables him to produce vegetables not only in abundance, but of the best quality. He is independent of markets, going personally to his customers, – thus making his body serve for both cart and horse, and accustoming himself to carry heavy burdens daily. By such means he realizes all the profit there is to be made on his products, not having to divide with the wholesale dealer or the middle-man. He thus shows business keenness as well as a capacity to endure great drudgery. So absorbed is the general attention, in other directions that only John attends to the raising of vegetables, – thus providing a necessary diet for those who would otherwise be liable to lose health and strength for the want of it.

One meets plenty of Jews upon the boulevards of Melbourne, with their strongly-marked features. There was an abundance of them also in Sydney; and indeed where are they not to be found, if there is money to be borrowed or trade to be vigorously pushed?

On the corners of the streets in Melbourne are to be seen a peculiar class of idlers. The eight-hour system of labor prevails here, and men hasten from work to the bar-rooms, there being one of these poison-dispensing resorts at every corner of the business thoroughfares. We calculated that there were four thousand "gin mills" in this city, and probably that is an under estimate. The common laboring classes of this city are not only universal drinkers, but they are also "hard drinkers." They are as a rule too ignorant or besotted to see, putting all other things out of the question, that the cup of any sensual indulgence if drained to the bottom has always poison in its dregs. They indulge grossly, and suffer accordingly.

The showy liveries worn by the retainers of some of the more wealthy (not the better) classes of the citizens of Sydney and Melbourne seemed to us strangely out of place. As nearly as we could get at the facts by casual inquiry, most of these buttoned and uniformed flunkies were in the service of persons concerning whose genealogy the less said the better, especially when we remember that the earlier residents of Australia were mostly composed of those who left their native country for their country's good. "You may safely calculate that the father of the latest Australian baronet was a nobody, or something worse," says a writer in one of the local magazines. Melbourne, however, seemed to us less open to any aspersions growing out of former penal associations than either Brisbane, Sydney, or Hobart in Tasmania, all which colonies were originally settled as penal stations. Victoria is one of the youngest of all these colonies, and was, up to the discovery of the gold-fields within her present borders, – that is, in 1851, – a portion of New South Wales; but to-day it is the metropolis par excellence of Australia. It has not the many natural beauties of Sydney, but it has numerous compensating advantages, and is undoubtedly the real centre of colonial enterprise upon the continent.

The admirable system of tramways in Melbourne is worthy of all praise, use being made of the subterranean cable and stationary engines as a motor. This mode of propulsion is safe, cheap, and clean. While we were in the capital tracks were being laid for several new and extended routes, one of which runs through Burke Street parallel with Collins. The public amusements of a large city often aid one in forming a just idea of its development in other directions. Those of this capital of the southern hemisphere are numerous, well conducted, and well attended, – a sure evidence of prosperity and general thrift. People from inland who have money to spend are attracted to such places as will afford them the greatest variety of reasonable amusements; and hence Melbourne, rather than Sydney, has become the resort of these pleasure-seekers.



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