Advance Australia! Chapter 17

Queensland and her Resources and Prospects

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Finch-Hatton describes Queensland's mineral and agricultural resources, political scene, working conditions and climate. Geography, gold, copper, tin, assets, corrupt politicians, Fitzroy River, Mackay harbour, state governments, selectors, investing, wages, climate.

A short summary of Queensland's geography:

Queensland dates her existence from the year 1859, when she was separated from New South Wales, and she is, therefore, the youngest of the Australian group of colonies. But her vast area, almost the whole of which is available, her varied climate, and the lavish manner in which Nature has bestowed upon her all the resources that go to make a country great, foretell, with certainty, that she will before long assume the leading position among her sisters, and eventually develop into one of the finest countries in the world.

The area of Queensland is 668,224 square miles, rather more than five and a half times the area of the United Kingdom, and the whole population in 1882 was only 248,255.

All along the coast runs a broad belt of mountainous country, entirely covered with forest. The timber becomes thicker and thicker towards the tops of the mountains, the higher ones being overgrown with dense impenetrable "scrub," while the slopes and valleys between are open timber, with long grass growing everywhere amongst the trees.

Between the foot of the coast range and the sea is a tract of level country, varying from sixty to a few miles in width, in which are situated large areas of the finest alluvial soil, suitable, in the southern parts of the colony, for the growth of all the fruits and cereals of a temperate climate, and, in the central and northern districts, for the cultivation of cotton, coffee, tobacco, sugar, and all the products of the tropics.

Gold had quickly become very important to the Queensland economy:

The extent and richness of the mineral districts of Queensland are almost fabulous; and although the accounts of experts and others of what they have seen may, at first, appear incredible, experience proves every day that they fall short of the reality, and that the extraordinary wealth of the colony in metals is comparatively unexplored.

The recent crushings on Gympie gold field read more like a fairy tale than anything else, and when the report of them appeared in the papers everyone in the colony thought it was a misprint. One line of reef there lately took 500 tons of quartz out of a shaft that they were sinking, which averages 20 ozs. of gold to the ton, and, on another line, a crushing of 53 tons gave the astounding yield of 2534 ozs. In nine months over £82,000 in dividends was paid by the latter claim.

Other minerals such as copper were also abundant:

Besides gold, the country is wonderfully rich in other metals; the chief of which are copper, iron, tin, silver, cinnabar, lead, and antimony. The deposits of copper are especially remarkable. The mines are but little worked at present, since the price of copper fell to £60 per ton, and the total amount exported in 1882 was only £650.

But formerly, when copper was worth £90 per ton, the profits from the mines were very great. Peak Downs copper-mine, the principal one in the colony, has paid over £1,000,000 in dividends, and, so far from its being worked out, it is the opinion of experts, and those who worked in the mines, that there is as much copper there as ever came out. The mines are not working at present--a circumstance due principally to the greediness of the shareholders, who thought of nothing but their dividends, and omitted to open up the mines ahead of the work.

Coal was common in the Mackay region, and Finch-Hatton's prediction about the value of the local coal beds was right on the money:

In wandering about the runs in the neighbourhood of Mount Flora copper-mines, and Mount Britten gold-mines, I have come across many splendid seams of coal, cropping out in the gullies and banks of the creeks, some of the seams being eight feet wide, and all of them a very good sample of coal. In the neighbourhood of Bowen, 100 miles farther north, there is a seam of coal fifty feet thick, but it is not of quite such good quality as that farther south.

The principal coal districts that have as yet been tried are near Brisbane, in West Moreton, on Darling Downs, at Maryborough, at Bowen, and at Cooktown in the far north. But I believe, myself, that the coal beds in the neighbourhood of Grosvenor Downs and Lake Elphinstone, runs lying between Clermont and Bowen, will prove equal to any yet discovered in the colony both for quantity and for quality.

Tin was another important mineral resource. (Despite Finch-Hatton's skepticism, a large tin-mining industry developed at Herberton):

The tin-mines of Queensland are remarkably rich, and the value of the amount of that metal exported in 1882 was £269,904. The chief mines are those at Stanthorpe on the southern boundary of the colony, from which tin to the value of nearly a million sterling has been taken. Hitherto, all through the colony the metal found has been chiefly in the form of stream-tin; but recently what was thought to be a valuable discovery of lode-tin was made at Herberton, in the far north.

A tremendous rush set in, and boat-loads of speculators started up from Melbourne and Sydney to secure the ground. Not a man came down from the north in the steamers but he had a sample of Herberton lode-tin in his pocket, and glowing descriptions of the enormous quantity of it that was sticking out of the ground excited the southern capitalists to the verge of madness.

Certainly the samples sent down were of extraordinary richness, but at present it seems doubtful whether the lodes will prove permanent, and I think the people who did best out of the Herberton tin-rush were the working men who originally took up the ground, some of whom sold their claims to maniacs from the south for as much as £20,000, without having done £20 worth of work in them.

Queensland's assets went beyond her mineral resources, however:

Extraordinary as is the mineral wealth of Queensland, however, it is not in this that her real greatness lies. Gold is all-powerful in most things, and its acquisition will, for a time, outweigh all other considerations, but its presence can never make a barren land fertile, or turn a bad climate into a good one; and although immense deposits of this and other metals will always attract a large floating population, they will never support a permanent one, unless backed up by other conditions. The real greatness of Queensland lies in the fact that while she has been exceptionally endowed with what may be called ready-made wealth in the form of minerals, she possesses at the same time one of the healthiest climates in the world, and an enormous area fit for cultivation and stock-rearing, capable of supporting a vast population under conditions of life the most favourable. She is, in fact, a self-contained country, having within herself all the elements of a powerful nation, the germs almost of that chimerical greatness that has been described by Prince Bismarck as "une puissance finie."

Queensland was held back, in Finch-Hatton's opinion, by the corruptness of her politicians:

With such resources as these at her command, it is evident that the colony requires nothing but an extended system of railway communication from the interior to the coast, to bring population and prosperity in its wake. The transformation that has been wrought in those districts where railways have already been constructed, shows what progress might be expected if the colony were to put forth her whole strength in this direction. With a good Government the thing would be done at once--for no sane man disputes the advisability of doing it; but, unfortunately, Queensland, like her neighbours, New South Wales and Victoria, suffers in this respect from a succession of selfish, sordid adventurers, whose proceedings it is impossible to watch, without forgetting the impurity of their principles in the imbecility of their policy. It is absurd to distinguish the members of either party as Conservatives or Radicals, as it is to call any of them politicians, since the transparent motive of all of them is to plunder their colony. The Ins and Outs of Legislation would be a more appropriate term. The party who are in go straight for whatever they want; and the only security of the country lies in the certainty that the party who are out will do their best to prevent them from getting it, not from any consideration for the public weal, but because they want it themselves.

Queensland's greatest problem was a shortage of harbours and navigable rivers. Attempts to remedy this provided government engineers with a lucrative income, with the attempt to deepen Rockhampton's Fitzroy River being a prime example:

The great natural want of Queensland is navigable rivers and deep-water harbours. In all her seaboard of 2000 miles there are hardly any good harbours for vessels of large draught, and not a single decent navigable river. By a sort of practical joke of nature every one is adorned with a sand-bar at the mouth and a mud-flat a little way up. These efforts of nature are a thorn in the side of every coasting skipper, and a perfect god-send to the rascally employés and protégés of the Department of Public Works, who derive a regular annuity from misdirected attempts to deepen the rivers. More or less illegitimate plunder is made out of every public work in Australia by all concerned in it, from the Ministry downwards; the most notable instances being the adoption of Wood's brake by the Victorian railways, the Steel Rails Inquiry in Queensland, and the Transcontinental Railway scheme in the same colony, which will be more fully described hereafter. These are official swindles, and require the active co-operation of those at the head of affairs, and a great deal of tact on the part of all concerned, to carry them through. Even then they do not always succeed. The Transcontinental Railway scheme was the downfall of the Ministry whose Premier was its chief instigator and promoter.

But in a small way nothing is so profitable and so popular with Government engineers as deepening a river, because it is work that can be indefinitely prolonged. At any other work they are bound to show some sort of progress, be it ever so miraculously slow, or else show some reasonable cause for delay. But in deepening a river, the engineer has it all his own way. No one can tell what he is about under water, and, by combining a studious neglect of the most elementary principles of engineering with a slight knowledge of the bottom of the river, he can extend his work over any period of time. The amount of public money that goes in this way is enormous.

The Fitzroy River, on which lies the town of Rockhampton, affords a striking example of Queensland Government engineering. Seven miles below the town are situated the Flats, on which there was naturally about three feet of water at low tide. It was decided to remove these flats, so as to allow vessels drawing nine feet of water to get up at any tide. The estimated cost of the undertaking was £25,000;--time not specified, being, as the advertisements, say, "not so much an object as a comfortable home" for the engineer to whom the work was entrusted.

After fooling around dredging for some time, this worthy hit upon a notable scheme. Starting a little above the flats, he built a training wall slantwise down the river, so as to leave a narrow passage near the opposite bank. He calculated that the rush of the tide through this narrow channel would very soon deepen it.

He was perfectly right. It very soon did, and, by the simple process known as robbing Peter to pay Paul, the sand so washed away formed a fresh flat a little lower down, with only eighteen inches of water on it, instead of three feet!

Finally, after expending £110,000 during a period extending over ten years, they have at last succeeded in getting a depth of about five feet at low tide. Less than half the money wasted in tinkering [with] the bottom of the Fitzroy would have given Rockhampton a deep-water port in Keppel Bay, at which ships drawing thirty feet of water could lie at any tide, and a railway from thence to the town.

An even more futile attempt was made to supply Mackay with a harbour:

Mackay, the great sugar-growing district of Queensland, is about the worst off for a port of any town on the coast. It has, as I have said, a river with shallow flats and a bar at the mouth, and nothing but an open roadstead outside.

There are, however, two small islands, known as "Flat-top" and "Round-top," just off the mouth of the river; and it was thought that something might be done in the way of a breakwater. The genius of the Fitzroy flats was accordingly consulted on the subject.

He assured the delighted inhabitants of Mackay that it would be the simplest thing in the world to make an excellent harbour. Nothing to do but connect one of the islands with the mainland, throw out a breakwater on the far side, and run a railway right away from the end of the breakwater into the town.

After an interval of four years, during which time they had been driven nearly out of their minds by the patriotic agitation on the subject by the member for Mackay, the Government proceeded to vote some money for the furtherance of this scheme. The breakwater was to be about a mile long, and tenders were called for in sections. The first section was the only one ever completed, and the only one ever likely to be, until some very much more able men take it in hand. The contractor's only notion of a breakwater seemed to be to blast rock out of an adjacent cliff, break it up small so as to be convenient for handling, and barrow it into the sea, leaving it to form its own batter. He never got farther than high-water mark. His work, about forty yards long, remains, another monument of Government stupidity, and the Mackay breakwater ends where most breakwaters begin.

Finch-Hatton gave a lengthy analysis of the Transcontinental Railway Scheme, which eventually resulted in the downfall of the Queensland government in 1883:

Such was the great Transcontinental Railway scheme, which occasioned the downfall of Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith's Ministry. It is deeply to be regretted that they ever took such a proposal in hand. They were the best government Queensland has ever had, and, had they chosen to do so, they were in a position to pass measures that would have been of inestimable service to the colony, such as the Coolie Bill to introduce coloured labour from India to the sugar plantations. Instead of which they took advantage of the security of their position to tamper with the interests of the colony. Allusion has been made above to the Steel Rail Inquiry. This was an attack made by Mr. Griffiths [sic; Griffith], the leader of the Opposition, upon Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith's conduct in the purchase of some £60,000 of steel rails for the Queensland railways.

Mr. Griffiths directly impugned the honesty of the Premier's conduct in the transaction, and, although he was unable to establish his charge, the extremely unsatisfactory circumstances that appeared in the inquiry greatly weakened the confidence of the country in the Ministry. When this further scheme for wholesale plunder was exposed, of course the country could stand it no longer, and turned them out.

Headed by Mr. Griffiths, their successors advanced, and, having elected a congenial spirit in the shape of a thrice-convicted felon to the Speaker's chair, they laid themselves down to try by every means in their power to retard the progress of the colony, and feather their own nests.

The state governments were generally held in disrepute:

It is deeply to be regretted that a more healthy tone does not pervade the legislature of the Colonies. But as long as all respectable people hold aloof, and excuse themselves from attempting to take part in the government of their country, on the plea that they do not care to be mixed up in such disreputable society, there is not much hope of improvement. Such idle seclusion and selfish apathy deserves to be afflicted, as it is, by the worst of governments.

Throughout the whole of Australia a feeling obtains that Parliament is a profession which it is just as well for all decent people to keep clear of. In a book of advice to those visiting the colony of Victoria, I read the following interesting warning:--

"If you enter into conversation with a respectable-looking individual to whom you are a stranger, on no account ask him if he is a member of the Legislative Assembly. You cannot offer him a greater insult."

Selectors attempted to scratch out a living from a small patch of land (their 'selection'), a lifestyle made famous in Steele Rudd's book On our Selection:

... Even in Queensland, land without capital is more of a curse than a blessing to those who are forced to hold it, and there is no more wretched class in the colony than the holders of pastoral selections.

It is perfectly impossible that a man can make anything more than a bare living out of one, and generally it is impossible for him to do even that honestly. When he has complied with the conditions of occupation, by completing the necessary improvements in the shape of fencing-in his selection, there is no more work for him to do, and he simmers down into growing pumpkins and sweet potatoes for his own consumption, and generally ekes out a living by stealing his neighbour's cattle. A more utterly useless class of men to the colony cannot be imagined.

Finch-Hatton warned of the dangers for those arriving in Queensland with money to spend and looking for profitable investments:

But to the man of small capital, who is master of no trade, the colony is indeed a delusion and a snare. The days are over when large fortunes were rapidly made out of nothing at all, and anyone who makes money there has to work for it, and to work hard too. The possessor of a few hundreds, or even a few thousands of pounds, who goes to Queensland with the idea that he is likely to make his fortune, will find himself woefully mistaken; for the odds are a hundred to one on his losing every penny of his money.

If he goes out there to friends whom he can thoroughly trust, and who will take care of his money for him, of course he will get a higher rate of interest than he could get in England, and as he gains experience of the country he will see opportunities of increasing his capital safely. But unless he has good introductions to thoroughly sound men of business, he had far better stay at home.

The standard of honesty is no higher in the colony than it is elsewhere, and there are always crowds of sharpers on the lookout for men with money to invest. A form of partnership is often entered into, in which the new arrival in the colony provides the money, and the old hand the experience. These partnerships seldom last long, and at the end of them the respective commodities have generally changed hands: the unfortunate "new chum" has got the experience, and his rascally partner has got the money.

There was plenty of employment for working men:

But Queensland is certainly the Utopia of the working-man who is not afraid of work, and numerous are the ways of making a living that are open to him.

On the goldfields ordinary miners' wages run from £2:10s. on the old-established field to £4 on new diggings in the back country. Amongst the trades, carpenters, joiners, masons, and workers in iron are the most in demand, and at any of them a good tradesman will, in the towns, earn at least fifteen shillings a day. In the Bush, the wages for ordinary station-hands employed for shepherding or stock-riding are from £1 to £1:15s. a week, with rations, running up to £2:5s. for shearers in shearing time. Nearly all the fencing and putting up of station-buildings, yards, etc., in the Bush, is done by contract, and contractors always reckon to make at least £2:10s a week.

After he has been six months in the colony, the working-man is endowed with the inestimable boon of the franchise--an advantage for which he has at all times, and in all parts of the world, shown himself willing to barter every other consideration.

Finch-Hatton felt that the climate of Queensland was extremely healthy, although the lifestyle often was not:

A great deal has been said about the climate of Queensland, and it is often described as being a "trying" one. The only possible way in which it can be justly so described is in the sense of its being a climate in which people are constantly trying to kill themselves without succeeding. Probably there is no other country in the world in which men habitually take such frightful liberties with their constitutions with impunity.

The ordinary mode of living pursued by the inhabitants both of the town and the Bush is such that, if the climate were not an extraordinarily healthy one, they would die like rotten sheep. We will take the average Bushman's life, say a stockman, or a hard-working squatter, who helps to work his own cattle. His food consists of beef and damper, and jam if he is luxurious. Vegetables he often does not see for weeks and weeks together, except in the form of pickles, and he is very lucky if he can always get them.

An occasional piece of pumpkin, or a sweet potato, forms a red-letter day in the calendar of his diet, and every meal is washed down with floods of strong scalding hot tea without any milk. Breakfast is the only regular meal that he gets in the day, and he has that soon after he gets up, but not before he has had a smoke. If he happens to be at home in the middle of the day he has dinner; if not, he has nothing from breakfast to supper, which is a movable feast, somewhere about sundown.

All day he is riding about under a broiling sun, and smokes an ounce of the strongest tobacco in the world every twenty-four hours. For days and nights together, sometimes, he is wet through, when camped out away from home; sleeping at night under a tree, with no covering but a blanket in winter, and in summer not even that, and awakening in the morning, perhaps to find himself lying in a puddle of rain-water that has fallen in the night, perhaps to find his hair stuck to his hat with hoar frost.

The only diversion in his régime is an occasional visit to a neighbouring town, where he probably gets half poisoned by the extraordinary quantity and the infamous quality of the liquor that he drinks. If after ten years of this he should find his digestion not as good as it was, or feel symptoms of the approach of rheumatism, he is certain to put it down to the climate instead of to his own imprudence.

With the townsmen the case is still worse. Their climate is certainly not as healthy as that of the Bush, and in summer it is rather depressing; but they take little or no exercise, which is the only way to counteract its effects, and drink quantities of spirits from morning till night, every day of their lives, and even then it seems to take years and years to do them much harm.

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