Under the Southern Cross
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The heavy clouds of fuliginous coal-smoke which envelop Melbourne are caused by the steam-launches, ferry-boats, coasting and ocean-going steamers, and manufactories, all which create their motive-power with Sydney bituminous coal, – a good steam-producing article, but which covers everything in its neighborhood with a fine black dust, the formidable enemy of clean faces and white linen. The smoke and dust nevertheless are significant of life and energy. They indicate that business is active, that the channels of trade are not blocked; and therefore they are cheerfully submitted to. "Dirt," said a certain shrewd philosopher, "is not dirt; it is something in the wrong place."
The finest site near the city has been selected for the residence of Vice-royalty; so that quite a prominent feature of the suburbs is the Government House, which is situated about a mile from the city proper, and is an imposing but ugly-looking building. It has a central tower twenty-five feet square more or less, and of considerable height. It is pleasanter to say a good word concerning any object than a harsh one; but the Government House in Melbourne is irredeemable ugly, though it must have cost a mint of money. This immense edifice is only half improved on the inside, being large enough for a European royal residence requiring accommodations for a large number of retainers; the Governor of Victoria, however, finds it necessary to count the cost as regards his manner of living, since his official salary is by no means sufficient to keep up a royal court. The ball-room of this residence is somewhat famous for its size and general appointments, being of such proportions as would easily accommodate a marching regiment under arms. It is however on certain occasions thrown open and lighted throughout for its original purpose. The public park which joins the grounds of the Government House is beautiful indeed, being a botanical garden in itself, and the one redeeming feature of the establishment.
Victoria is the special gold-field of Australia, and has produced two thirds of all the precious metal which statistics credit to the country at large. One of the localities which has proved to be most prolific in gold is Ballarat, now a charming and populous city, and next to Melbourne in importance. It lies nearly a hundred miles north of the capital, at an elevation of some fifteen hundred feet above sea-level, and is accessible by rail. This is thought to be the centre of one of the richest gold-producing districts in the world. Beechworth, one hundred and seventy miles northeast of Melbourne, at a higher elevation than Ballarat, is nearly as populous and well-nigh as prolific in the precious metal. The diggings of Maryborough district, situated a hundred and fifty miles northwest of Melbourne, are also of great extent and quite famous. There are over eight thousand miners at work here. Castlemain, some seventy-five miles north of the capital, has proved to be very profitable in its yield of gold.Nearly forty square miles of auriferous lands are being worked by Europeans and Chinese in the district of Ararat, about a hundred and fifty miles from Melbourne, northward. From these several sources of mineral wealth there flows constantly toward the capital a stream of riches, making it the greatest gold-producing locality on the globe. There are about fifty thousand people in all engaged at gold-mining in the several parts of Victoria, at least ten thousand of whom are Chinese. The latter operate almost entirely in the alluvial workings, while the Europeans are occupied almost wholly in quartz-crushing. Some of the shafts sunk for procuring paying quartz are over two thousand feet in depth. The Stawell mine is, to be exact, two thousand four hundred and twelve feet below the surface of the ground, from which depth is brought up stone yielding over four ounces of gold to the ton. We have by no means exhausted the list of noted diggings in this region, but have only mentioned a few of them, such as came most readily to mind; moreover, new deposits of recognized value are being discovered every few months. Still, we repeat here that reliable figures show that in the aggregate the corn and wool of Victoria alone are of more monetary value than is the result from all the alluvial and quartz-yielding mines within her entire borders.
Three days from Melbourne will suffice for visiting the interesting and handsome city of Ballarat. It is now a place containing over fifty thousand inhabitants, owing its existence entirely to the finding of gold on the spot which it occupies; indeed, it has not inappropriately been called the city of Midas. Where thirty years ago the land was covered with miners' tents and log-huts, an arid and treeless expanse lying between two low hills, there is now a fine modern city. It is a metropolis with broad boulevards, substantial stone buildings, massive warehouses, sumptuous residences, elegant official structures, and good schools, supplemented by many philanthropic and religious institutions. The environs of Ballarat are also beautified, having many choice trees planted all about them, especially California pines, which are great favorites here and multiplying continually. Trees grow in this climate with such rapidity as to encourage their planting. They are particularly desirable here, where the surroundings were redeemed from such original crudeness, as they impart a certain grace and home-like appearance to otherwise desolate places.
A glimpse only may be had of Ballarat in the time we have named, but let no one who comes hither neglect the Public Garden, which the reader of these notes has by this time learned is one of the prime necessities of each of these colonial capitals. The wealthy citizens of Ballarat have expended freely of their gold upon this delightful park, which, if it does not rival in some particulars those of Sydney and Melbourne, certainly comes quite up to them in general excellence and beauty. There is plenty of water to be had in the city for irrigating and all other purposes, an artificial lake having been created in the hills not far away, whence pipes bring the water to every one's door. This reservoir is of admirable workmanship, and of inestimable value to the town. The pleasant streets are rendered shady and attractive by long lines of bordering trees. The mining here is carried on in the environs, not in "every man's back yard," as is said to be the case at Sandhurst, another famous mining point of which we shall speak further on. All the ground upon which Ballarat is built, however, has been faithfully and profitably dug over and passed through the sieve or over the amalgamating tables. Surface mining is no longer prosecuted here to any extent. These deposits are naturally the first to fail in productiveness, but the neighboring hills are formed of a gold-bearing quartz which is being crushed, night and day, by hundreds of powerful machines; and the works still pay ten thousand miners fair day-wages, besides giving the organized companies who employ them satisfactory dividends. Thus mining has been largely robbed of its adventurous character in this neighborhood, and perhaps also of most of its alluring charm, having become a sort of regular industry, like coal-mining, or even brick-making.
Ballarat being situated on elevated ground, the air here is particularly bracing and healthful, so that Melbourne physicians sometimes send invalids hither. It is plainly the centre of a former volcanic region, and in many places near at hand extinct volcanoes can be counted by the score, – some filled up to their summits with the d?bris of ages, some forming deep depressions, and some filled with small lakes of bitter water. There is plain evidence of these volcanic cones and craters having discharged basalt, lava, scoria, cinders, and the like within a comparatively modern period. The natives who were found in this region had legends of eruptions having taken place hereabout, but as to how long ago they could give no idea, having no means of measuring periods of time.
Although gold-mining, as we have said, is a prominent feature of the general industry of Ballarat, the prevailing business of this immediate district is farming. It is now a great agricultural centre as well as a gold-producing one, and this legitimate pursuit is becoming daily of more and more importance, – thus once more demonstrating that even in Eldorado gold-mining is a means to an end, not the grand object itself. We were told that the great wheat-fields in this district have been ploughed, planted, and reaped for fifteen consecutive years, without the least thought on the part of the occupants of using any fertilizer. To-day these fields yield as uniformly as at first, and seem inexhaustible in their fertility.
Five million pounds sterling in gold is annually produced in Victoria; yet it is perfectly well known that the cost of its production, in labor and money, amounts to about the same sum. The original cost of the mines, the expense incurred for machinery, the daily wages of the thousands of miners, and the interest upon the capital invested, are each factors in the calculation, not forgetting that there are frequent expensive exigencies sure to occur. For instance, we were told of an accident which happened in a Victoria mine just previous to our visit, resulting in the loss of the lives of eight miners. Owing to a defective metallic rope, a "lift" containing eight men suddenly fell while ascending a shaft, killing instantly every one of its occupants. The court held that the company was responsible for the lives of these men, because it permitted its agent to use a defective rope. The agent promptly settled with the representatives of the unfortunate men at a thousand pounds for each life, making an aggregate sum of forty-five thousand dollars; and it cost another thousand pounds to repair the injured machinery of the mine.
The author looked somewhat carefully into the subject of gold-mining with the desire to arrive at a correct conclusion concerning it, and was fortunate in meeting intelligent men who were ready to impart their experience in this field of enterprise, – among them being some who had been personally interested in all departments of mining for many years. At the risk of some repetition, we would here say that gold-mining has profited most those who have never engaged in it; that the cool-headed traders, brokers, bankers, and agriculturalists have reaped the real benefit growing out of the gold discoveries in Australia, not the eager, hard-working, excited digger himself. In short, we believe that the same amount of patient labor and steady application bestowed upon almost any other industry would yield a better return to the toiler.
We have spoken incidentally of Sandhurst, one of the famous gold-fields of Victoria, which was originally known by the name of Bendigo. This place, situated a hundred miles from Ballarat, more directly inland, has matured into an attractive and important city, well laid out into broad streets lined with ornamental trees, and containing many fine public and private edifices. Sandhurst possesses all the elements that go to form a progressive and intelligent community, having ample school facilities, churches, hotels, and charitable organizations. The population is an increasing one, and already numbers some thirty-five thousand. Its array of well-furnished shops affords a bright and attractive feature. The environs, unlike those of Ballarat, are rough and uncared-for, presenting many acres of deserted diggings, with deep holes, broken windlasses, ruined quartz-tubs, rusted and useless pieces of machinery, and a profusion of other mining d?bris. Alluvial or surface mining is entirely worked out in the vicinity of Sandhurst, but quartz raising and crushing still gives employment to thousands of laborers; and as there seems to be a comparatively unlimited supply of the gold-bearing rock, we can see no reason why the place should not go on prosperously for any length of time to come. There are here some of the most extensive works for reducing the quartz-rock that have ever been erected. The principal mine of the neighborhood has reached a depth of twenty-six hundred feet, fresh reefs of rich quartz having lately been struck and developed, concerning the existence of which there were no signs whatever at the surface of the land. We were told that a true reef had never been exhausted, or worked out in Australia, though alluvial deposits often cease to yield in a few months. The deep mine of which we have just spoken is the property of a wealthy Englishman named George Lansell, a noted gold-miner of Victoria.
About five miles from Sandhurst is the town of Eaglehawk, perched upon an eminence, having its own municipal government, and even aspiring to be a rival of Sandhurst; but it is really at present scarcely more than a suburb of that city. At Eaglehawk there are some exceptionally rich gold mines, where quartz is raised which we were told yields from four to five ounces of pure metal to the ton of rock handled. There are shafts here varying from five hundred to one thousand feet in depth, with the usual drifts and galleries. The depth of the shafts is being steadily increased, and new lateral workings started. The depth to which these mines in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia may be profitably worked is not yet demonstrated, though geologists until within a brief period have confidently asserted that beyond one hundred feet the quartz rock would not be found sufficiently rich to pay for the labor of raising it to the surface and crushing it. Theory and fact, however, have come into collision upon this point, as demonstrated both in California and Australia. The laws which govern these deposits are not understood, and the best-informed often find themselves at fault in their calculations. The mines do not invariably grow richer as they descend, but vary near the surface. "Twenty-five years of mining experience," said a Victorian to us, "have taught me that no one knows at what depth quartz lodes or reefs will be found to pay, and there is nothing to show that the quality or quantity of the yield of metal depends upon the depth from which it is taken." Statistics show all sorts of yield of gold at all depths; it is indeed as the working miners say regarding the gold, "Where it is, there it is, and no rule applies." We were told of the appointment of a Government commission in Melbourne not long ago, whose members travelled over the colony to inspect personally the mining operations, and make a proper report thereon. After due consideration these gentlemen prepared and published their report, with much official flourish, each member doubtless tincturing it with some favorite theory of his own. The result was simply ridiculous, as within a twelvemonth, and by practical results at the various mines which they had inspected, every deduction of their report was proved to be entirely wrong.
It is in this colony of Australia that the traveller finds the giant trees, considered to be one of the great wonders of our times, and which exceed in dimensions those grand conifers of California in which Americans feel such pride. These big trees of Victoria are called the mountain ash, though why so named we do not understand, as they are not of that family. But they are certainly the tallest trees in the known world, often measuring four hundred feet and more in height, and from fifty to sixty feet in girth a couple of yards from the ground. When we say that these trees exceed in dimensions those of California, we refer especially to their height, inasmuch as the American trees equal them, if they do not in some instances surpass them, in circumference. The Australian trees rise a hundred feet more or less from the roots without putting forth a lateral branch. On beholding them one is not at first impressed by their exceptional size or monarch-like appearance; but they grow upon one by further observation. A trip of a hundred miles from Melbourne due east to Sale – a remarkably pleasant town of between three and four thousand inhabitants, situated on the Gippsland railroad – takes one to the region where these immense forest giants are to be seen, and at the same time introduces the traveller to some of the finest scenery in the mountain range of this district.
It is in this neighborhood that one finds the kangaroo in his wild state; but a good local guide is necessary to insure success in the search for these animals. Though the kangaroo, like everything else aboriginal, is gradually disappearing in Australia, the onslaught and ceaseless war which is waged against the wild dog, the only enemy except man which the kangaroo has to fear, leaves the latter a chance even for increase in some districts, as we found to be the case in Queensland. It is calculated that one kangaroo eats as much grass and consumes as much food generally as do five sheep, and consequently he is looked upon as an enemy, to be hunted with the one idea of exterminating him altogether. In roaming the woods one is almost sure to fall in with more or less of these animals. They are usually found sitting upright in circles of a dozen or more, as grave as though engaged in holding a formal council. Their short fore-paws hang limp before them, while their restless heads and delicate ears turn hither and thither in watchful care against surprise. Notwithstanding their huge paunch, big hind-quarters, and immense tail, there is something graceful and attractive about these creatures, even with all their proverbial awkwardness. When they are young they are as playful as kittens. Even when running away from pursuit, – a process performed by enormous leaps, often covering a rod at each flying jump, – there is a certain airy grace and harmony of movement attending their motions. Dogs and horses have more power of endurance than the kangaroo, and are thus enabled to run them down; but neither horse nor dog can achieve the same degree of speed for moderate distances. If the chase occurs in a wood where there are numerous obstacles, like heavy logs, the kangaroo is safe, since he can surmount all such impediments without diminution of speed.
In the forest glades of Victoria one becomes acquainted with some of the most interesting of the birds of Australia. It is said that very many of those which are now abundant are not indigenous, but have been introduced from time to time by the new-comers from Europe and elsewhere. At all events, the birds of this region are abundant enough now and of great variety, adding much to the charm of inland districts. The shrill whistle of the blue-jay saluted us constantly; and equally frequent were the monotonous notes of the green thrush. Now and then the confused utterances of the leather-head were heard, a peculiar bird resembling a small vulture. As to the screams of the cockatoos and parrots, they are at times quite deafening. There was observed one diminutive feathered creature called the diamond-bird, arrayed in gorgeous plumage, and having a rich dark crimson tail, while the body was mottled like the iris colors upon a blue pigeon's throat, or the surface of an opal. Now and again the small pheasant wren flitted by, lighting upon some delicate branch of tree or bush, with its long tail trailing behind it. One specimen of the lyre-bird was seen, though it is so shy and wild as to be seldom captured.
It is mainly to behold the big gum-trees, however, that one visits the Fernshaw Mountain district; and they alone richly repay the trouble of going thither. We were told of one fallen monarch which was measured by a government surveyor, which had a length upon the ground of four hundred and seventy-four feet. The Pyramid of Cheops is not so high as was this tree when it stood erect. The average height of these marvels is from three hundred and fifty to four hundred feet. They are situated in a valley protected from winds, and are favorably located to promote their growth, and also to preserve them from destruction by gales or sudden tornadoes, such as have prostrated some of the largest trees in our own valley of the Yosemite.
There are some picturesque lakes in Gippsland which deserve mention, separated from the sea only by narrow necks of land, though in some instances there are passages between navigable by small steamboats. The largest of these lakes is that known as Lake Corangamite, which is salt, though it has no visible connection with the sea. The great amount of evaporation which takes place here in the summer months leaves on its shores large quantities of salt crystals, the gathering of which forms an important local industry.
In these inland excursions large districts were seen devoted to the raising of grapes and the production of wine therefrom. We were told that the wine made from these Victoria vineyards was admitted to be the best produced in the country. Much land is also given up to the raising of hops, which recalled the thrifty fields of Kent, in England. There were seen here immense expanses of oats, which are mostly cut green, – that is, just before ripening, – for fodder. Together with these several interests, there were also plenty of copper and tin mines being worked; and we were informed by good authority that one third of the total area of the colony is believed to be occupied by gold-bearing quartz. Extraordinary as this assertion appears, it is fully credited by the author.
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