Maturin Ballou.

Under the Southern Cross



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It is believed that the interior of the continent, which is largely embraced within the territory of South Australia, was at a comparatively recent period covered by a great inland ocean. Here are found the mammoth bones of animals of the marsupial species, now extinct, which have afforded much interest to scientists. On some portions of these plains it is said that the heat absorbed from the sun in the daytime is radiated from the soil at night to such a degree as to be insufferable to human beings. The soil is represented to be at such times like burning coal; and when the air moves over it, an effect is produced as from a furnace, or from a sirocco blowing off the coast of Africa. The effect of these winds is occasionally felt in Sydney and Melbourne; and while it lasts, humanity becomes inert, and exertion impossible. It rarely continues, however, more than three days, and in the vicinity of Adelaide is seldom experienced more than twice in a season.

Several lakes are represented to exist in the interior, as shown by maps of Australia, – among them Lake Torrens, Lake Eyre, Lake Gardiner, and Lake Amadeus, apparently covering large areas; but these localities are little more than muddy swamps or salt marshes, which are completely dried up in summer. Their level is believed to be considerably below that of the sea; and it has been proposed to cut a canal from Torrens to Spencer Gulf: if that proved advantageous, then Lake Eyre could be connected with comparatively little labor. Spencer Gulf is the deepest indentation upon the south coast, and would flood these swamps with permanent water, rendering them not only navigable, but producing a favorable change in the climate. At present, during the summer season the thermometer rises in the lake region to 110° and even to 115° Fahrenheit.

This district is regarded as a desert waste because of its want of a permanent supply of water, being "eaten up," to use a local phrase, with drought. And yet this want of water at certain seasons while there is an abundance at others is a matter so obviously within the ability of the people to remedy, that one cannot sympathize much with them in their present deprivation. Why the intelligent means of irrigation so well known and so thoroughly tested elsewhere are not adopted here, it is difficult to understand. We heartily agree with the position assumed in regard to this matter by a certain English Bishop, of whom we were told. He came to Australia to make it his home; and being applied to in a dry season to issue a circular-prayer for rain, he answered that a fair average quantity of water fell upon the land already, and that he declined to petition the Almighty to work a miracle until the colonists had themselves done what they could to preserve the rains by constructing proper reservoirs and sinking artesian wells. These people must not expect that Hercules will help them, unless they first put their own shoulders to the wheel.

The river Darling shows well upon paper, and judged by its aspect on the map it is a river which might rank with the Volga and the Amazon.

But the truth is that it forms a watercourse dependent at present upon floods, admitting of navigation for hundreds of miles at certain seasons, and at others being as dry as the Arno at Florence or the Manzanares at Madrid. By a series of dams and canals this river might be navigable all the year round. The same remark applies to several of its tributaries, and to rivers generally running toward the inland centres and flowing into the Murray. The governments of the several colonies have long realized the importance and the necessity of a grand and comprehensive system of irrigation. They seem to be never tired of talking about the matter; but the time has now come for action. Some of the most enterprising of the pioneers as they have advanced inland have built dams on the small tributaries of the two rivers named, and have found it to pay them tenfold. Some have sunk artesian wells, and have in their turn reaped commensurate advantages. We were shown great reaches of country where ten years ago cattle would have starved had they been turned out to find a living there, but which now support large herds of domestic animals.

Africa's interior is scarcely less mapped out and explored than Central Australia. There are thousands of square miles upon which the foot of a white man has never trod. Tartary has its steppes, America its prairies, Egypt its deserts, and Australia its "scrub." The plains so called are covered by a low-growing bush, compact and almost impenetrable in places, composed of a dwarf eucalyptus. The appearance of a large reach of this scrub is desolate indeed, the underlying soil being a sort of yellow sand which one would think could surely produce nothing else. We were told of one large section of South Australia ten thousand miles square, which is solely covered with this scrub. "Yet," said our informant, himself an agriculturist of experience and a large landholder, "experiment has shown that if a watercourse were turned upon this ground and the scrub cleared away, it would give us a soil nearly as fertile as the valley of the Nile." And he added: "After a year or two more of useless talk, irrigation will be applied in all directions."

The climate of Adelaide and the surrounding country is of much greater warmth than that of the region about Brisbane, Sydney, or Melbourne. It is not uncommon for the thermometer to register 100° in the shade during the summer months. The vegetable products are almost identical with those of South Africa, and the soil is equally productive, yielding crop after crop with no signs of exhaustion. The food of the common people is cheap, abundant, and good. Mutton and beef do not cost one tenth as much as is charged for them in England or America, while bread is but four cents per pound. The flour produced here we were told won prizes wherever it was exhibited, and was considered as ranking with the very best manufactured anywhere. All kinds of vegetables are also cheap, and thanks to the Chinamen they are also in good supply: no one but John pretends to raise them. Everybody eats meat three times a day, rich and poor; but of the cooking, – well, as we cannot say anything complimentary about it, we will not dilate upon this theme.

The large number of German residents in and about Adelaide is particularly observable, and whole villages were found to exist in South Australia where German was the one language spoken. This people form the best class of settlers, for they come hither with a well-considered purpose, almost always in the direction of agricultural enterprise; and this they pursue undeviatingly. Many of them are from the Rhine districts of Germany, and interest themselves in the planting and culture of the grape and in winemaking, having brought with them a special and valuable experience obtained in their native land.

The large, well-kept parks which surround this capital of South Australia form a magnificent drive, eight or ten miles long, outside of which are the villas and pleasant flower-gardens of the citizens, where one sees tropical fruits growing in great abundance, – including the orange, lemon, citron, pineapple, and the like. Some of the floral displays were truly gorgeous, embracing the flaring warratah and the glowing banksias, decked with curious and lovely foliage. Here and there were to be seen the Norfolk Island Pine, of which one never tires, and which is a great favorite all over this country. It branches straight out from the trunk with a succession of hard prickly leaves inclining upward at the ends. Its color is always of the deepest green.

The Botanical Gardens of Adelaide cover a hundred and thirty acres, the hedges of which are formed of a picturesque variety of yellow cactus, acacias, magnolias, and myrtles. Here we first saw the Australian bottle-tree, which is native only to these colonies. It receives its name from its resemblance in shape to a junk-bottle. This tree has the property of storing up water in its hollow trunk, – a well-known fact, which has often proved a providential supply for thirsty travellers in a country so subject to drought. Here also was seen the correa, with its stiff stem and prickly leaves, bearing a curious string of little delicate pendulous flowers, red, orange, and white, not unlike the fuchsia in form. The South Sea myrtle was especially attractive, appearing in flower with round clustering bunches, spangled with white stars. The styphelia, a heath-like plant, was a surprise to us, with its green flower, the first of its species the author had seen. We were shown a specimen of the sandrach-tree from Africa, which is almost imperishable, and from which the ceilings of mosques are exclusively made; it is supposed to be the shittim-wood of Scripture. The Indian cotton-tree loomed up beside the South American aloe, this last with its bayonet-like leaves, ornamented in wavy lines like the surface of a Toledo blade. The groupings of these exotics, natives of regions so far apart upon the earth's surface, yet quite domesticated and acclimated here, formed an incongruous picture and an interesting theme for contemplation.

West Australia, of which Perth is the capital, is eight hundred miles in width and thirteen hundred long from north to south, actually covering about one third of the continent. It embraces all that portion lying to the westward of the one hundred and twenty-ninth meridian of east longitude, having an area of about one million square miles, – or, to make a familiar comparison, it is eight times as large as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It has but few towns, ports, or settled districts, and Perth itself has less than eleven thousand inhabitants. The city is represented to be an attractive place, possessing a fine climate. Its oranges and tropical fruits generally are said to be excellent. It is situated on the Swan River, better known locally as Perth Waters. This river runs from Fremantle to Perth, and is a noble water-way, commercially spoiled however by a dangerous ledge of rocks about six feet under water, which shuts off the entrance from the sea. Of course, in due time dynamite will settle the business for that ledge.

The population of the entire colony known as West Australia is at the present writing hardly forty thousand, scattered along the seaboard or within a hundred miles of it. The results accomplished by this small number of inhabitants show very clearly of what the country is capable, and indicate what it would doubtless yield under more generous cultivation. The colony exported last year over a million dollars' worth of wool, besides copper, sandal-wood, timber, cattle, and so on. Late statistics show that there are over two millions of sheep in this section of the country, and we were told that it could support as many more as are found in Queensland and New South Wales united.

Pearl-oysters abound on the coast of West Australia, and pearl-shells are a ready source of income to the people, being exported in large quantities. These are most freely procured at the north. There are merchants in Sydney who annually fit out boats of from six to ten tons each, and send them to this locality for the pearl-oyster fishing. This is best prosecuted nearest to Torres Strait, which separates Australia from New Guinea. Next to the great island-continent itself, New Guinea is the largest island in the world, being three hundred and sixty miles wide by thirteen hundred miles in length; but while Australia as a whole is so remarkably healthy, not even the African Gold Coast is so dangerous to health as New Guinea. Its flat, densely-wooded, swampy coast is simply deadly to white men, and even the natives suffer constantly from low fever. These natives are probably the most barbaric of any savages living in this nineteenth century; they have no notion of even the rudest agricultural operations, living altogether on fish, berries, and roots.

The pearl-fisheries of which we were speaking give employment to a singular class of laborers, consisting of Malays, Lascars, South Sea Islanders, Australian aborigines, runaway sailors, and West Indian negroes. Formerly the oysters were raised from four or five fathoms' depth solely by divers, but dredging has lately been adopted with good success. The pearl-oyster is a large mollusk, the shell weighing sometimes as much as eight pounds. The divers are paid fair wages, and whatever pearls they find become their perquisites, it being the shells alone that the employer seeks to secure. These, when properly dried and cleansed, he ships to Europe, where they bring an average of five hundred dollars per ton. When diving is depended upon for raising the oysters, a boat is very fully equipped, and the captain, who is the diver, descends in a full set of armor. Air-pumps supply the necessary atmosphere to enable him to remain for half an hour and more under water, during which time he fills the canvas bags which are sent down to him empty and drawn up by those remaining in the boat. Considerable capital is embarked in this business. One enemy the divers have to look out for is the shark. These dreadful creatures do not swarm on the coast of West Australia, but are nevertheless sometimes seen there; and when that is the case the diver signals his crew to draw him to the surface, for though he is armed with a long knife, he could hardly cope with these ravenous monsters in their own element.

The coast-line of the colony is set down as being three thousand miles in length on the Indian Ocean, and some hundreds upon the Southern Ocean. The country is known to be auriferous, but to what extent it is impossible to say. There are two or three hundred miles of railroad here belonging to the Government, and more is under contract to be built in this year of 1888, covering short routes between comparatively populous points. Immigration is encouraged by liberal appropriations, and the population is increasing steadily if not rapidly. The late discovery of gold-fields at the Kimberly district on the Fitzroy River has already turned public attention thither, and settlers and adventurers are sure to follow fast. Government survey has shown that on the territory traversed by the Mary, Margaret, Elvira, and Ord rivers an immense number of gold-bearing quartz-reefs exist, besides surface diggings along the river courses and valley from which "good color," as miners express it, can be got from the sand almost anywhere. Already diggers have gone to work successfully in this region, where it seems the country is well-watered most of the year, and where the Government surveyors say there is no trouble in storing water against possible drought. All these facts simply signify that Perth, the western capital of the colonies, is in the near future to go through the same experience as have Melbourne, Adelaide, Ballarat, and Brisbane, and that she is sure by and by to become like them a great and prosperous city. What is called a "rush" in the colonies has not yet taken place in the Kimberly district, but there is a steady trend of gold-miners thither, and one or two extraordinary "finds" would draw to this part of the country as eager a throng as ever swarmed in New South Wales or Victoria bent upon the same errand.

Were we to write more in detail of West Australia it would be simply from what we learned through intelligent persons at Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide. We did not visit Perth. A glance at the map will show the reader how great are the distances between the capitals of Australia, over which we traversed hither and thither three thousand miles and more. From Adelaide to Perth, overland, would be a distance of fifteen hundred miles, which would require to be accomplished mostly on horseback. By water across the Australian Bight and Indian Ocean, it would be a voyage of about the same length.

The climate of West Australia was represented to us as being extremely fine; and one great pride of the people there is the variety and abundance of the wild-flowers which cover hill and dale near the coast-line of the entire colony. The pearl-fisheries to which we have alluded produce some of the most valuable gems that find their way to the markets of the world; for though by general consent the choicest pearls come from Ceylon and the Persian Gulf, those found on the west coast of Australia are deemed by many equal to the best. Beautiful specimens were shown to us in Melbourne which we could not recognize as in any way inferior to the Oriental gems that bring such fabulous prices in Paris and London. In a jeweller's shop on Collins Street we saw several which had come from the region near Torres Strait, and which were valued at a hundred pounds sterling each, and one which on account of its size was prized at two hundred pounds, it having already been sold for that sum.

On preparing to leave Australia proper, some facts were noted as deduced from careful observation and diligent inquiry. It seems that this country can command the markets of the world in three articles at least, – wool, meat, and wine. For producing these she has the advantages of breadth of territory, of climate, and of general adaptation beyond those of any other land. At the present writing it would be safe to add gold to the other three staples, since Australia, in combination with Tasmania and New Zealand, is producing more of it annually than any other country in the world. In competition with the United States in the home market, – that is, in England, – Australia is handicapped by some eight thousand miles of distance, and must therefore count just so much relative additional cost of transportation. But Australia can produce two of the special articles named, – meat and wool, – at least ten per cent cheaper than our own country. As regards cereals, Australia is capable of raising at present double the amount of grain which she can consume. In that staple, however, the United States and some other countries can compete with her for reasons which favor them, independent of the additional distance she must overcome to reach a market.

CHAPTER XI

From Australia to Tasmania. – The River Tamar. – Bird Life. – City of Launceston. – Aborigines of the Island. – Tattooing. – Van Diemen's Land. – A Beautiful Country. – Rich Mines. – Mount Bischoff. – Down in a Gold Mine. – From Launceston to Hobart. – Rural Aspects. – Capital of Tasmania. – Street Scenes. – A Former Penal Depot. – Mount Wellington. – Personal Beauty. – An Unbecoming Fashion.

From Adelaide and Perth let us turn our steps toward another of this group of British colonies in the South Sea. To reach Tasmania one takes a coasting steamer at Melbourne, passing down the river Yarra-Yarra, the muddiest of water-ways, until Bass Strait is reached, across which the course is due south for a hundred and twenty miles. This is a reach of ocean-travel which for boisterousness and discomfort can be said to rival the English Channel. As the coast of Tasmania is approached, a tall light-house, one hundred and forty feet in height, first attracts the attention, – designating the mouth of the Tamar River. The land formed a lee for the steamer as we approached it, giving us smooth water at last, whereupon the strained muscles of the body gradually relaxed, and it was delightful to be once more upon an even keel. At sea the human body is constantly struggling in the vain effort to preserve its equilibrium. During our short but tumultuous voyage across Bass Strait our steamer was often surrounded by a great variety of sea-birds, – among which were the Cape-pigeon, the stormy petrel, and the gannet, which last is the largest of ocean birds next to the albatross. On drawing still nearer to the shore flocks of pelicans were observed upon the rocks, and that most awkward of birds, the penguin, was seen in idle groups. The penguin is a good swimmer, but his apologetic wings are not intended for flying. As these birds stand upright, they always suggest the unpleasant idea of men with arms amputated above the elbows.

The winding Tamar with its tree-covered islands, green headlands, and bold background of undulating hills affords a varied and beautiful picture. Beyond the nearest range of hills was seen a second and much higher series, whose tops were covered with snow. Our passage of the Strait had been partly made in the night, and as we entered the mouth of the river the sun rose, turning these frosty peaks into sparkling crowns. The rise and fall of the tide in the Tamar is quite remarkable, being characterized by a difference of some fourteen feet.

It is singular that no enthusiastic traveller has written of the great beauty of this river of Tasmania, which deserves the highest appreciation for its natural loveliness and interesting variety of scenery. True, it has the disadvantage of extreme tides, which at one hour of the day expand it into broad, lake-like proportions, and at another reduce it to a narrow, intricate channel, disfigured by unsightly mud-banks and half-submerged ledges; but nevertheless, for a large portion of the twenty-four hours it is a scene of diversified beauty. Even when the receding tide has left so much of rock and soil uncovered, one is rendered picturesque by varied birdlife, and the other by large reaches of bright-green sea-vegetation. Here and there isolated houses dot the shore, surrounded by well-cultivated fields, – not temporary cabins, such as prevail through the inland districts of Australia, but neat and permanent structures, consisting of comfortable dwellings and large barns, with other appropriate buildings. These barns signify the necessity in Tasmania of affording a shelter in winter for domestic animals, while at the north we had not seen such a structure in the entire country from Brisbane to Adelaide.



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