Under the Southern Cross
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If there were not such a persistent spirit of rivalry existing between the several colonies of Australia, the different railroad gauges which have been purposely established could not be maintained for a single month. Such obvious folly seemed inexcusable to a stranger. Victoria has the broad gauge of five feet three inches; New South Wales has a gauge of four feet eight inches; while in Queensland the narrow gauge of three feet six inches is adopted. Freight or passengers going over the railroads from Brisbane to Adelaide must change cars twice, and from Sydney to Melbourne – only six hundred miles – freight and passengers must change cars at Albury. It was not very clear to the writer why this spirit of jealousy should exist at all, much less why it should be so universally indulged in. At Sydney, Melbourne is vilified most recklessly; its simplest enterprises are decried: no good can come out of Nazareth! Melbourne, on her part, returns the compliment with interest; and so it is also with Adelaide. This feeling operates as a serious and ever-present drawback to colonial progress in nearly every direction.
Were Australia to become independent of the mother country, and its divided interests consolidated, the benefit to be derived therefrom seemed to us to be unquestionable. One occasionally heard the saying, "Australia for the Australians," in the same sense as the Irish demand "Ireland for the Irish." It is a favorite phrase used by the agitators in addressing the masses. The only possible danger of this country becoming involved in a foreign war arises from her being a dependency of England; and it is doubtful how long these colonists will remain contented to be exposed to such a serious emergency, in the issues of which they could have no direct interest.
The proposal for federation, as it was explained to us, contemplates uniting far-away New Zealand with the other colonies, – a purpose which seems to be without any good reason to recommend it. New Zealand and Australia are as far apart as Africa and South America, or as Turkey is from England. The sea which separates them is without islands, is turbulent, torn by Antarctic currents and swept by raging storms at nearly all seasons. Even in what is called fine weather there is a ceaseless swell heaving the bosom of this sea very trying to endure, and which it is only safe to encounter in large, well-equipped vessels. In ethnological respects as well as in scenery and climate the countries are diametrically opposite. The Maoris and the native Australians – the aborigines of the two countries – are as different as white men are from negroes, there being no actual resemblance except that both are of bronzed hue. New Zealand has a damp, windy, but not cold climate, with a never-failing supply of water; Australia is a dry, arid land often suffering from drought. The first is characterized by deep cool shades, the latter by heat and glare, and by inland plains which in their present condition might not inappropriately be compared to an African desert for sterility and temperature.
Nearly every city has its "St.Giles." In Sydney the quarter which might be thus appropriately designated is known as "the Rocks." Here the backsliders most do congregate, and here are located rookeries devoted to their temporary lodgment. The police rarely penetrate here unless in the special pursuit of a criminal, as it forms a sort of neutral ground between crime and justice. This city contains at least as many whitewashed rogues as other cities of its size, – men and women who cunningly keep within the pale of the law, or who may have served out one or more sentences of imprisonment, and are legally clear from the clutches of justice. Such characters, if they do not openly resort to "the Rocks," are very apt to have some secret connection therewith. The daily habitu?s are persons whose lives are filled with constant mis-deeds, who gain their bread by criminal acts, and whose career is characterized by recklessness and excess. Sailors are often enticed hither, and after being plied with drugged liquor are robbed. We do not remember to have seen anywhere more petrified rascality to the square inch than was evinced in the features of the men and women of "the Rocks." No enterprise, it seemed, could be too wicked for them to engage in. Gold-digging is not as a rule conducive to morality; indeed it is apt to lead directly in the opposite course. Thus it is that toilers after the glittering metal having acquired a goodly sum are apt to toss aside the pick and shovel for what is termed a "lark," and wending their way to town bring up finally at "the Rocks," where a miner and his gold are almost sure rapidly to part company. If he shows resistance, a knife or a revolver may be the fatal resort.
Clubs are as much of an institution in the colonies as they are in London; indeed, an Englishman at home or abroad without his club is never quite himself. In Sydney and Melbourne the club takes the character of a private hotel where members, and strangers introduced by them, lodge and take their meals. We were officially informed in both of these cities that our name had been recorded as entitled to all the conveniences of more than one of these organizations; but further than the prompt recognition of the courtesy and kindness of these committees we did not avail ourself of the privileges tendered. To be sure one is introduced at these clubs to the best society of the place, but the only trouble encountered by the author in this respect was that he could only with difficulty escape the profuse hospitality and cordial attention pressed upon him by the colonials. Our journey into the South Pacific was a long one; we had but a few months in which to traverse the length and breadth of these great islands; time therefore was precious, and self-abnegation a duty in order to fulfil a comprehensive programme.
The first time the author made the acquaintance of the "laughing jackass" was in the bird, fruit, and flower market on George Street. His sarcastic notes were afterward often encountered in his wild state and among his open-air haunts. Not to make special mention of him would be to omit reference to one of the most curious creatures the traveller meets with in his wanderings about the country. Mischievous, sly, droll, insulting, without a particle of shyness, what a bird it is! His plumage is mottled, white and black; he has very little tail, but is provided with a great gawky head, a well-rounded body, and is a little larger than the domestic pigeon. His eyes are preternaturally big, and gaze coolly at you as though they would pierce you through. He laughs almost exactly like a human being, with a touch of bird malice added; and though it is harsh, his merriment is ludicrously contagious, for no one can avoid laughing both at and with him. It is a riotous tumult of laughter. He is as intelligent as the mino-bird, and can be taught to talk better than a parrot, – at least so we were told, – and, sad to say, shows a manifest delight in profanity. The bushmen consider him to be a sort of barometer foretelling the weather; for when it is about to rain the jackass becomes miserable, dejected, and sleepy, sitting upon a branch of a tree with his feathers all awry and his head hidden under his wing, – a very picture of melancholy. Of all birds he seems most like a caricature of his own species. Though he is of the kingfisher tribe, he does not seem to pay much attention to fishes, his favorite food being small snakes. These he seizes just back of the head, and flying rapidly aloft drops them upon stony ground, thus breaking their delicate spine. This process is repeated until life becomes extinct in the victim, when the jackass proceeds leisurely to devour the body piecemeal. As he is thus considered to perform an important service to the settlers, who are much troubled with snakes, he enjoys complete immunity from trap and gun.
Sydney fully illustrates the commendable passion which all the colonies of Australasia evince for the establishment of public parks. If this is a weakness it is a grand one, which we heartily wish was epidemic in this country. Nothing is more conducive to health, beauty, and good morals than these beautiful places in and about populous cities and towns. Every capital or considerable town in Australia, New Zealand, or Tasmania is thus beautified and improved; but Sydney and Melbourne have endeavored in this respect especially to rival each other. Sydney being the oldest settlement has had more time to perfect a grand system of gardens and reserved lands which are not surpassed by any European capital. First there is Hyde Park, situated in the centre of the town; next the Domain, as it is called, containing one hundred and forty acres on the north side of the metropolis, ornamented by broad paths and noble shade-trees; close at hand are the beautiful Botanical Gardens of forty acres in extent, which we have already described. Added to these there is the Prince Alfred Park of twenty acres, and the Belmore Park of ten acres. Virtually forming a part of this same system of reserved lands is a tract of six hundred acres known as Moor Park, lying on the southeast side, adjoining which is the popular metropolitan race-course. This list of parks speaks for itself, representing an amount of open, ornamental space which would serve a city of three millions, while Sydney has but about that number of hundred thousands. No one thing is more indicative of opulence, liberality of sentiment, and regard for the public good than such grand free resorts.
Being in the vicinity, a flying visit was made to the township of Bingera, situated in a northwest direction from Sydney on the Gwydir River, at a distance of three hundred and fifty miles from the capital. It possesses more than passing interest, as it has, besides some valuable and paying "diggings" of gold near at hand, something still more attractive to adventurous spirits, – namely, diamond mines. These are being industriously worked and with paying results, though no very large amount of profit has yet been realized. Nearly a thousand small diamonds have been found here and sent to market. Though they are not large, they are remarkable for purity of color and excellence of quality. This is a rich mineral district, abounding specially in copper and tin; but there are not over a thousand people at Bingera, even including the floating population attracted by the diamond-fields.
The most famous of the gold mines here is the "Upper Bingera," which has proved very profitable to its owners, and is about sixteen miles from Bingera. Another somewhat famous mine of this neighborhood is known as the "Bobby Whitlow;" and still a third which deserves mention as being nearly as prolific is called "The Boro." All these mines have been more or less freely worked and partially abandoned for more promising fields, but they are by no means exhausted.
It may very reasonably be doubted whether Australia would have risen into notice, or have been so promptly peopled by Englishmen, had it not been that hordes of convicts were shipped thither from Great Britain in the early days of its discovery. Though this transportation of criminals thither was long ago abolished, and this element of reproach has been nearly lived down, "there is still unfortunately a convict flavor permeating some classes," – we use the very words of a respectable citizen with whom we were conversing upon the subject. Some of the rich men of to-day came out from England as prisoners; and the heads of some families, whose descendants are now reasonably esteemed and respected, were once ticket-of-leave men. But in sheer justice it should be remembered that persons in those days were very often transported by the courts of the old country for crimes of the most petty character.
Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, which was originally known as Moreton Bay District, lies about five hundred miles north of Sydney, and is reached most readily by coasting steamers; though the railroad long since begun, has been nearly completed between the two cities, and may possibly be open by the time these notes are printed. It has a population, if we include the immediate suburbs, of fully fifty thousand. Until 1860 it was an appendage of New South Wales, but was in that year formed into an independent colony and named Queensland, after the reigning queen of great Britain. The site of the city is a diversified surface, with the river whose name it bears winding gracefully through it about twenty-five miles from its mouth; though in a direct line it would be but half that distance to its debouchment into Moreton Bay, one of the largest bays on the coast of Australia. It was discovered by Captain Cook in 1770, and is formed by two long sandy islands running north and south, named respectively Standbroke and Moreton Islands, enclosing between them and the mainland a spacious sheet of water more than thirty miles long and six or eight wide, beautified by several small and fertile islands. On approaching Brisbane by the sea one is puzzled at first to find where the mouth of the river can be, so completely is it hidden by mangrove swamps which skirt the coast hereabout for many miles. A pleasant little watering-place is located close at hand named Sandgate, which is connected by hourly stages with the city. Several small rivers, all of which however are more or less navigable, empty into Moreton Bay, showing that the district of Brisbane is well watered.
It is less than fifty years since Brisbane was opened to free settlers, having been previously only a penal station of the English government. But of this taint here the same may be said as of Sydney or Hobart in Tasmania, – scarcely a trace remains.
The principal streets run north and south, and are half a mile long, being crossed at right angles by smaller ones. All of these thoroughfares were originally laid out too narrow for the purpose designed. Here one remarks the same system of verandas reaching from end to end of the streets, and stretching over the sidewalks to the edge-stones before the shops, which is observed in all the other cities and large towns of Australia and New Zealand. For a city of its size it is unusually well supplied with churches and places of public worship, of which there are forty-one, embracing all sects of professed Christians. Queen Street is the main thoroughfare and is lined with handsome stores and beautiful edifices, for there is no lack of architectural pretension either in the public or private buildings. Like all of its sister cities in these colonies, Brisbane has an elaborate Botanical Garden, in which the people take great interest; it certainly seemed to approach very nearly that of Sydney not only in spaciousness, but in general excellence, – the climate here favoring even a more extensive out-door display of tropical and delicate vegetation than can be obtained farther south. The fine examples of the great india-rubber tree found here were nearly equal to those we have seen in their native forests, where the great anaconda-like roots are often as much above as below the surface.
Contiguous to these grounds and forming a conspicuous object in the landscape is the Parliament Building, a grand structure of cut-stone brought from neighboring quarries. This building has been a very expensive affair, and probably antedates by half a century the absolute requirements of the colony. Still, one pauses to ask himself if it is possible that only a few years ago the present site of Brisbane was a waste of dense jungle, a reeking swamp, a barren hillside. And if it has accomplished so much in the way of growth and material progress in so short a time, what may not be hoped for it in the near future?
There are besides the Botanical Gardens three other "reserves," as they are universally denominated in Australia; namely, Queen's Park, Victoria Park, and Bowen Park, each laid out in the most liberal spirit and in anticipation of a population which the city will undoubtedly realize within a few years from the present time. The ample water-supply of the town has also been partially anticipatory; but what an immense advantage it is to Brisbane! The sparkling liquid is brought by an excellent system of pipes from the hills near Enaggera Creek, seven miles distant from the city. Here a large reservoir has been created by throwing a dam across a narrow part of a deep gully, and thus a large body of water securely preserved. This water is both palatable and wholesome. An intelligent spirit of enterprise is evinced by the citizens, and everything goes to show that this is destined to be a populous and prosperous centre. As to the climate, it is simply perfect, the mean temperature being set down at 69°.
Ipswich, about twenty-five miles from the city, on the road to the Darling Downs, has a population of ten thousand. Gympie, a gold-mining town a hundred miles north, has about the same number of inhabitants. Maryborough, on the banks of the Mary River, is another thriving town equally populous; and Rockhampton, near the mouth of the Fitzroy River, is a town of similar size and importance. Charter's Towers, Croyden, and Table-Top are each productive gold centres; and there are many others which might be named, as showing the populous and important character to which Queensland has already attained. Of the gold-producing localities, Charter's Towers is perhaps the best developed and the richest. The particular "claim" at this point, known by the name of the "Day-Dawn," is thought to be the most valuable, and has turned out a very large aggregate of gold. Through the country, inside of the coast-range, there runs a broad belt of gold-bearing quartz more or less near the surface, but which requires organized capital to improve it effectually. At first the localities are worked by a few hands for the surface yield, and the excavation is continued as far down as can be done without elaborate hoisting apparatus. Then the claim is apt to be abandoned, or left to be eventually improved and worked by machinery aided by wealthy organizations.
To the west of this mineral belt are situated the endless rolling downs and prairies of the province, covered with herbage suitable for the support of countless herds and flocks, and where some fourteen millions of sheep are now yielding meat and wool for export, and where some four millions of cattle are also herded. The real greatness of the country is to be found in this agricultural capacity, this pastoral interest. Gold will attract adventurers, but the substantial permanent population will be found west of the auriferous range of mountains.
The pursuit of gold-mining has been called the triumph of hope over experience, since notwithstanding the rich rewards so often attendant on this pursuit, by it more seekers mar than make their fortune; and when once a man has engaged in it, he seems to become utterly unfit for any other occupation. Nevertheless, so great is the infatuation pertaining to gold-mining, that when one seeker, broken down by ill-success, ill-health, and perhaps the contracting of bad habits, is finally forced to abandon the pursuit, his place is quickly taken by fresh recruits, over-credulous and ever increasing in numbers.
We spoke particularly of Charter's Towers as being a remarkable mine in its productiveness. We mean comparatively so, as those at Gympie are also of great promise. The "Lady Mary" claim in this district is known all over Australia for its profitable yield. The Mount Morgan mine near Rockhampton, on a branch of the river Dee, is thought by some to be the richest gold mine in the world; nor should it be supposed that the auriferous fields in Queensland have all been discovered. It is the same here as among our own rich gold and silver leads. Take those of Montana for instance; no one who knows anything about that Territory believes that one lead has been found out of one hundred that are in the hills awaiting the prospecter's pick: yet Montana has sent within the last year, – 1887, – the extraordinary sum of thirty-five million dollars in gold and silver to the mint.
An extremely pleasant trip may be enjoyed up the Brisbane River and Bremer Creek, on which latter stream Ipswich is situated. It is twice as far by water as by land, but the sail is delightful. The visitor often gets a charming view of the city from the river, while at the same time passing suburban residences, flourishing farms, banana-groves, cotton-fields, sugar-plantations, orange-orchards, and the varied scenery which borders the river's course. If one has time for but a single excursion from the capital of Queensland, let him go to Ipswich by the river. We would also advise him not to miss the trip from Sydney to the town of Parametta up the river of the same name.
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