Under the Southern Cross
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Caves of limestone formation are produced in many parts of the world, and the simplest knowledge of chemistry coupled with a little careful observation shows us clearly how they have been created. The conditions must first be those of an underlying bed of limestone nearly horizontal in its layers, over which a forest or wooded surface has grown. The falling rain washes the decaying leaves, and in doing so borrows from them certain chemical properties, charged with which the water sinks into the limestone beds. The carbon acquired by the water combines with and dissolves the lime and other components of the rock, which then escape as gases through the interstices of the earth. Thus openings are at first formed, which are slowly increased in size by the same process during the passing ages, until vast and curious caves are created. When underground channels have been begun, coursing streams of water assist the chemical action and wear away the rock by simple friction. With these facts in mind, the Fish River Caves cease to be miraculous formations, as some have imagined them, and are only marvels, – giving us tangible evidence of the many thousands of years which must have transpired during their creation.
In the broad space of country lying between the coast and the Alpine range, of which the Blue Mountains form a part, there are many sheep-runs of large proportions, upon which are sheep in almost fabulous numbers. The land here seems especially adapted in its natural condition to the raising and sustenance of these profitable animals, though it is also susceptible of a much higher degree of improvement and cultivation. Our observation was confined mainly to the country nearest the borders of New South Wales and Victoria. Here one man, a thrifty Scotchman from "Auld Reekie," with whom we became acquainted, was the owner of over one hundred and twenty thousand sheep, and several other men had more than half that number each. Forty or fifty thousand belonging to one person is not considered at all remarkable in this great South-Land of Australia. When it is remembered that each one of these animals must be sheared annually, the enormous labor involved in caring for such a stock begins to be realized.
In the clipping season, bands of men sometimes numbering forty or fifty, go from one run to another to shear the sheep, and become very expert at the business, realizing a handsome sum of money at the close of each season. Some of these men invest their money in flocks, and thus gradually become possessed of runs of their own. Several such instances were named to us. Such "a neighbor" (any one within ten miles is called "a neighbor") "began as a clipper two or three years ago, and now he owns his twenty thousand sheep." The annual natural increase is fully seventy-five per cent per annum. Some clippers are not so careful of their means, but after the season is finished they hie away to Sydney, Melbourne, or some other populous centre, where they drink and gamble away their money much faster than they earned it.
A smart professional shearer will clip one hundred sheep in a day of ten hours.The highest price paid for such service is five dollars a day, or rather five dollars per each hundred animals sheared. These men often work over hours during the season, for which they are paid at the same rate, and are always found in board and lodging by the owner of the run by whom they are employed. Machinery to do the clipping is being introduced, though not rapidly, as only a few more animals can be sheared per day by machinery than by hand, – a process similar in its operation to that of horse-clipping. The great advantage, however, of machinery is the perfect uniformity of cut obtained, – a result which the most experienced shearer cannot insure. The operator often cuts the sheep more or less severely in the rapidity of the hand process; but this is impossible where the machine is used, though it leaves the animal with a shorter fleece all over its body, and consequently gives a yield of three or four ounces more of wool from each. To feed and properly sustain such vast numbers of sheep requires ample space; but there is enough of that, and to spare.
Australia in its greatest breadth, between Shark's Bay on the west and Sandy Cape on the eastern shore, measures twenty-four hundred miles; and from north to south – that is, from Cape York to Cape Otway – it is probably over seventeen hundred miles in extent. A very large portion of the country, especially in the interior and northwestern sections, still remains unexplored. The occupied and improved portions of the country skirt the sea-coast on the southern and eastern sides, which are covered with cities, towns, villages, and hamlets where nine tenths of the population live. The country occupied for sheep-runs and cattle-ranches is very sparsely inhabited. The reason for this is obvious, since the owner of a hundred thousand sheep requires between two and three hundred thousand acres to feed them properly. The relative proportion as to sheep and land, as given to us, is to allow two and a third acres to each animal. Of course there is land which would support these animals in proportion of say one sheep to the acre; but the average is as above.
Those who are engaged in agriculture have pushed their homes back inland as far as the soil and the watercourses will avail them. The latter element must be especially regarded, as the country is unfortunately liable to severe droughts. Thus district after district has been reclaimed from the wilderness and turned into fertile grazing lands. There is no bound to this gradual progress of land cultivation; slow but sure, it will only cease when the western coast bordering on the Indian Ocean, now mostly a wilderness, shall be reached.
A sort of patriarchal simplicity has until lately governed these pioneers of agriculture. Any unmarked and unoccupied land has been freely appropriated to their use. But as a higher grade of husbandry has advanced, more stringent laws have been enforced and cheerfully acquiesced in; so that at present there is very little near the coast suitable for grazing which is not under registry with the Crown officers. Squatting is therefore no longer a happy-go-lucky venture, but that which the pioneer has he pays for, – a small sum to be sure, but it renders his claim safe from any chance infringement. The want of such well-defined rules in the earlier days led to many a bitter quarrel, which not infrequently ended in a fatal manner. Adventurous men, who always go armed, are generally quick to quarrel, and reckless in the use of weapons.
The central portion of Australia is described as being one vast extent of alluvial plains, interspersed with sandy ridges, dry lakes (or land depressions), and occasional hills. Many portions have a very rich black soil, bearing what are called nigall-trees, which yield a transparent gum in large quantities, in all respects resembling gum-arabic, being perfectly soluble in water. This gum the natives eat freely; and it is very palatable, though its nutritive qualities are quite doubtful. The natives eat this gum to allay the pangs of hunger, but it is not believed that human life could long be sustained upon it. On some of these central plains there is a natural grass of the most nutritious quality, which grows profusely. The Europeans call it blue-grass, of which sheep and cattle are very fond. Large tracts are liable to inundation from floods during the brief rainy season. The soil consists of a rich plastic formation. Wild carrots and wild flax abound; the former are especially sought for by sheep, while the bolls of the latter are considered fattening for all stock. Sheep will patiently dig with their fore-feet to get at the carrots, and devour them eagerly, though they are very bitter to the taste. Another peculiarity of the country, as it was described to us, is the entire absence of all stones; not one is to be found except at the foot of some of the hills, which are often twenty miles apart. It is believed that this part of the territory is at a certain depth underlaid by an abundance of fresh water, which would be perfectly accessible by means of artesian wells.
If a suitable and efficient system of irrigation could be adopted it would bring into use at once an enormous territory as large as half-a-dozen of our largest Western States, which is now little better than a dry desert, where in summer the grass becomes hay dried upon the roots, but which in winter, when the rain falls, puts on an inviting aspect of rich verdure.
The great dividing mountain chain of Australia is near the coast-line in the south and east, averaging perhaps a hundred miles or more from the sea. Nearly all the gold which the land has produced has come from the valleys and hillsides of this range. The gold diggings of New South Wales have proved to be very rich in some sections; but unlike those of Queensland and Victoria, – the former six hundred miles north of Sydney, and the latter six hundred miles south of it, – the precious metal is here found mostly in alluvial deposits. A true fissure vein of gold-bearing quartz, as we were informed, has never been found in New South Wales. As a source of pecuniary and lasting income, her coal mines are far more valuable than all the rest of her mineral deposits combined.
Sydney holds high rank as a British colonial city, and deservedly so, having special reason for pride in the complete system of her charitable and educational organizations, her noble public buildings, and the general character of her leading citizens. Land in the town and its vicinity is held at prices averaging as high as in Boston or New York, and the wealth of the people is represented to be very great in the aggregate.
The City Hall, now in course of enlargement, is an admirable structure of stone, grand in its architecture and most substantially constructed. When finished it will equal the H?tel de Ville of Paris in size, and to our taste surpass it architecturally. It is of the composite order, with bold reliefs and pillared front, its whole effect being in strong contrast to that of St. Andrew's Cathedral in George Street, which is close at hand. The latter is in pure Gothic of the pointed style, and although it is comparatively small, it will rank favorably in its decorations and internal arrangements with any of the lately-built English cathedrals. The view from the open cupola of the City Hall, at a height of about one hundred and fifty feet above the level of George Street, is unusually comprehensive, taking in not only the immediate city on all sides, but also the environs, including the several divisions of the harbor. To the westward, fifteen miles away, lies Parametta, while eastward the heaving breast of the restless Pacific Ocean dies away in the far horizon. From this eyrie one looks down upon the Cathedral, which is a very costly edifice, and was thirty-one years in building, – the funds being frequently exhausted, and money for the purpose difficult to raise. But it now stands as a fine Christian monument of choice design, thoroughly and artistically carried out.
The Post-Office is a very large stone structure surmounted by a tall square tower, rather out of proportion. This building extends over a whole square, or rather fronts upon three streets, embracing ample room for every department of the postal service, including that of the telegraph. The whole building is surrounded on the three sides by lofty pillars of stone, forming a corridor open to the streets, admirably conceived so that the attendant public are at all times under shelter.
Among the other prominent public buildings are the Treasury, the Land Office, and the Colonial Secretary's Office, each four or five stories in height, built of stone, and situated near the shore of the harbor. This is the immediate neighborhood of the Circular Quay at the head of Sydney Cove. This quay has a length of over three thousand feet, and is available for the mooring of the largest steamers that navigate the ocean. Numerous steamships of five thousand tons and upward lay here on the occasion of our visit.
The erection of new buildings is always an evidence of thrift and general prosperity. Much building was observed to be in progress here, mostly large stone edifices designed for business purposes, remarkable for their architectural pretension and the solidity of the mason-work. All this activity gave us the impression of being in the midst of a prosperous, progressive people.
The contrast presented by Sunday compared with the rest of the week was remarkable, the day being one of perfect repose so far as all outward appearances went. The bar-rooms were all closed and every branch of business suspended. The Public Gardens, Public Library, and Art Gallery, however, were all open.
The tramways of Sydney are operated by steam-power, noisy, smoke-dispensing locomotives being in constant use on the main thoroughfares where tramways are laid. Two or more passenger-cars are run coupled together, stopping at certain designated points for passengers, say at the end of every other block, and nowhere between stations either to take up or set down passengers. Flag-men are placed at what are considered to be extra-hazardous crossings, and we were told that accidents seldom occur, except through the carelessness of the passengers; but that there was constant and imminent risk caused by these steam-cars was perfectly manifest. A woman was run over and fatally injured, so that she died on the same day in the hospital, while we were in the city. Of course it was represented to have been the victim's own fault; but we beg leave to differ from this decision, and to ascribe the blame to those who first permitted the introduction of so dangerous a motor into the crowded streets of a large city.
Labor combinations, labor "unions," as they are called, have proved very disastrous in Sydney to all concerned, but more especially to the laboring classes themselves. General enterprise in several departments of mechanical labor is seriously impeded. Men well inclined and able to work for fair wages are not permitted to do so, the "unions" terrorizing them into obedience to their ill-conceived and arbitrary rules, though wages are about double what they are in England, and as high as in this country. The consequence is that the street-corners and bar-rooms are crowded with idlers and vicious men, half driven to despair by their own folly, who somehow find money for beer and rum if not for bread for their suffering families. There is ample and remunerative employment for all independent men, but those who prefer to be led by others rather than to think and act for themselves must pay the penalty. The laborer of to-day if thrifty, industrious, and sober becomes the employer of to-morrow, and as soon as a man is possessed of land or other real property he begins to complain of the want of hands to carry on the same, and to look upon the whole subject of labor and capital in a more reasonable light. That the real interests of both are entirely mutual is perfectly obvious to the intelligent mind, and those designing agitators who strive to array one against the other are emissaries of ill-omen.
Laborers were asking for work from the Government officials when we were in Sydney, and demanding high wages with circumscribed hours. Such were told that there was employment for all who would seek it inland, upon the farms and plantations, where indeed the great drawback was the want of able hands; but the naturally idle and dissipated will always crowd to populous centres. Agriculture is taking its place as the main industry of the country, and if people who are now asking for aid from the Government in these colonies would go inland and seek occupation, independent of all hampering "union" connections, they would promote their own interest and the best good of their adopted country.
Respectable female help is especially needed here, for which the best wages are paid; and when we read of the somewhat startling cry of London women of the humbler class, "Give us work and pay which will feed and clothe us," it seems as if the need might be easily supplied here, to the mutual advantage of these women and the colonists. Already in these colonies there are well-organized means by which worthy and deserving persons can reach Australia or New Zealand free of cost to themselves so far as passage is concerned, so desirous are the colonists to induce emigration from England of a class of men and women who will become of general use in the community. The explanation of this incongruity between want of occupation and the dearth of laborers of either sex is, that the sensational cry which we have quoted comes mostly if not entirely from a class whose habits and lives are not such as to make them desirable in the colonies, or indeed anywhere else. For the most part, undoubtedly, it is the dissolute, drinking, thieving classes of London and other large cities who loudly utter these demands, spurred on to do so by reckless socialists and conspiring anarchists.
For the worthy and industrious poor, above all others, Australia and New Zealand offer unequalled inducements in the way of a new home. The climate is admirable, not liable to extremes, and constantly reminding one of the south of France or the shores of the Mediterranean. Statistics exhibiting the death-rates of the several colonies were a surprise to us, showing that Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania were healthier even than London, which is well known to be remarkable in this respect. Owing to the purity and elasticity of the atmosphere, which is proven to contain an unusual amount of ozone, the same degree of heat is not realized so much as it is elsewhere. The thermometer while we were in Sydney showed a mean of 60° Fahrenheit in the shade, in the month of June, which answers to our month of December in America. The death-rate of the New England cities is perhaps safely put at twenty-one per thousand, while that of Australia is shown to be seventeen per thousand, – a statement equally applicable to New Zealand and Tasmania. So far as we could learn by careful inquiry, malarial fevers are there quite unknown.
While in Sydney, we heard much relative to the proposed federation of the several colonies; that is, the adoption of one parliament for and a recognized union of all the provinces, following as a model the general idea of the Canadian organization. At present each section of the country – namely, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, West Australia, and Tasmania – is under a separate government, carried on without any unity of interest as regards the whole. Indeed the bitterest rivalry seemed to exist between them, a petty jealousy being fostered which is entirely unworthy of an intelligent and liberal people. Doubtless the world at large can see that the best interests of Australia would be served by a consummation of this purpose of federation, but it is not universally popular among the colonists. New South Wales, we were told, decidedly holds back from such a plan, her individual interest inclining her to maintain isolation; but, so far as one might judge, the other colonies favor it. It has been said that New South Wales is more loyal to the Queen than are her own English subjects at home; and as shrewd judges surmise that a complete federation of these colonies would ultimately lead to a declaration of independence of the mother country, they partly oppose the idea upon this ground. Undoubtedly it would be a step in that direction.
Many nationalities are represented in Australia and New Zealand, but the majority are English, Scotch, and Irish. The officials of New South Wales, especially, look to England for many favors which a separation would cut them off from; among these are honorary titles and appointments under the Crown. The constitution under which these colonies are living is such as to entitle them to be called democracies. In many respects they are more liberal and advanced than is England herself. Church and State, for instance, are kept quite distinct from each other. As to the legislative powers of the colonies, the home government has not even a veto which can be said to be of any real account. When such dissent on the part of the Queen is expressed (which is rare), there is a certain legal way of avoiding its force, – a resort to which the colonists have not failed to betake themselves at times.
Here as elsewhere there are two parties in the general politics of the country, – one loyal to the last degree to the British throne, the other ready at the first opportunity to cut loose from the home government, which is so many thousands of miles away. The most important question relating to federation seems to be that of the tariff. While New South Wales favors a low and simple tariff, Victoria insists upon "protection" in the fullest sense of that much-abused term. Queensland is more liberal, and favors free-trade. This question therefore becomes an important factor in the proposed federation; and could it be settled, no doubt a general union would soon follow. It is clearly in accordance with the logic of events that in the near future not only will federation take place throughout these colonies, making them one just as these United States are one, but their independence of the mother country will naturally follow. That great English writer on political economy, John Stuart Mill, says: "Countries separated by half the globe do not present the natural conditions for being under one government, or even members of one federation. If they had sufficiently the same interests, they have not and never can have a sufficient habit of taking counsel together. They are not part of the same public; they do not discuss and deliberate in the same arena but apart, and have only a most imperfect knowledge of what passes in the minds of one another." It would seem as if Mr. Mill had these colonies of the South Pacific in view when he expressed these ideas. The pride of empire is all-powerful, but the growth and extent of nations, as shown in the history of the Babylonian, Assyrian, and Roman Empires, are governed by principles beyond their individual control. When men have builded too high the structure topples over. The more dominion is extended the more vulnerable it becomes. There is also, as Mr. Mill intimates, a vital distinction between continuous or contiguous empire and empire dispersed and separated by thousands of miles of ocean.
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