The Coming Colony/Appendix F

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The Coming Colony by Philip Mennell
Appendix F


The following extracts from the final report of the Agricultural Commission, given in March, 1891, will be of interest to intending settlers as giving a thoroughly expert account of the various sub­ districts included under the general heading of the South-west Division. The data with regard to rainfall, depth at which water may be obtained by sinking, and cost of clearing per acre are of the utmost practical value. The views of skilled experts, such as Messrs. Venn, Richardson, Padbury, J. H. Monger and E. R. Brockman, on the cultures suited to the various areas in the South-west Division cannot be too carefully studied.



Eastern Districts.-The localities known as the Eastern Dis­tricts, embracing Beverley, York, Northam, and Newcastle, may be described as all undulating country covered alternately with timber known as raspberry jam, York gum, a little wattle, and mimosa shrubs, having belts of ironstone and granite, with considerable tracts of more or less rich chocolate and clay soils-friable and easy of general farm treatment. As in most countries, the character of the soil changes somewhat on the banks of the watercourses. These districts are watered generally by the Avon, brooks, and by wells at varying depths of 20 feet to 70 feet. The average rainfall at Beverley is 14·06 inches; York, 17·43 inches; Northam, 15·21 inches; Newcastle, 18·79 inches; and the cost of clearing in these districts is very similar, as their character is somewhat the same, and ranges from 25s. per acre up to £3 and £4.

Central Districts.-The Districts of Guildford, the Swan, and Gingin embrace a belt of country differing materially from the above; the agricultural lands of Guildford and the Swan, including the Canning, consist principally of rich river deposits extending along flats on either side of the River Swan, from below Guildford, until it becomes lost in the Darling Range. The extreme fertility of the flats is apparent to the most casual observer. Back from the river on the banks there is a formation of reddish friable loam, gradually merging, as it extends into the plains, into a yellow clay and sandy grit; the timber on the rivers and lowlands being flooded gum and wattle, on the uplands red gum, jarrah, and wando; in many parts the wando prevails. At Gingin the character alters slightly, having ridges mixed with rich soil, sandy loams, and lime­ stone formations with ti-tree swampy flats, as the country extends towards the Moore River. These districts are watered by the Swan, the Helena, Ellen Brook, Gingin Brook, &c., and water is obtained by sinking at from 25 feet to 60 feet. The rainfall at Guildford and Swan is 32·37 and 28·20 inches respectively; at Gingin, 30·53 inches; the average cost of clearing varies from £2 per acre to £6 and £7.

The Districts of Wandering, Murradong, the Williams and the Arthur Rivers contain country in many respects similar to that around and near Northam; more open in its character, and more undulating; at periods of the year heavily grassed with silver grass. The soil is of a reddish chocolate colour and very friable on the ridges, alternating into clayey flats and grit. The timber generally is raspberry jam, wattles, York gum, white gum, and bastard oak; the country round and about Wandering and Murradong being perhaps more thickly wooded than on the Williams and Arthur Rivers, and much richer in character and general fertility. These districts are watered by the Arthur, Williams, Beaufort, and Bannister; and by sinkings at depths varying from 30 to 50 feet. The rainfall of the Williams is 22·81 inches; of Vandering, 23·56 inches; and the average cost of clearing is from £3 to £5 per acre.

The South-western Districts.—The Upper Blackwood, Jayes, Bridgeto,vn, and Preston River differ in character in every respect from any of the above enumerated areas. The character of the country and soil are subject to different climatic conditions altogether. The districts named are more or less similar in character, having many features in common, an d therefore a general description will embrace features common to each. They consist generally of very hilly country covered with heavy timber; the agricultural land growing principally the red gum and flooded gum, and more or less covered with a heavy growth of black-boy. The soil varies very materially: at times belts or ridges of reddish chocolate soil are to be met with, and at others strong dark soil deepening into rich black loam as it extends into the valleys below; all yielding, under fencing, clearing and ring barking, heavy crops of grass. These districts are well watered by brooklets, springs, and shallow sinking. The agricultural country on the banks or the flats of the Preston River differs only in character from the fact of having rather a larger stretch of level country along the banks of the river, and being perhaps more uniform in the general character of its soil. The average rainfall is­—Jayes, 26·95 inches, Bridgetown, 35·78; and the average cost of clearing from £3 to £ 15 per acre.

The Districts of Bunbury and Vasse are alike in some respects, but differing materially in others; both are seaport towns, and both the seat of considerable dairying operations. The Vasse may be described as a belt of rich swamp deposit placed behind the sea hills, and running in a narrow belt along the coast, from 10 to 15 miles on either side of the port, with ridges of limestone formation skirted by clay flats, and with low-lying sand and clay plains, covered generally by shrubs, wattle, and tuart, on the poorer land; and on the rich land growing flooded gum, tuart, and ti-tree.

Bunbury and its surroundings differ from that description materially, having rich alluvial swamp land to the right and left of the port, running north for many miles along the coast with ridges of limestone and clay plains, and backed up heavy deposits of black loamy soil at Dardanup, the Ferguson, the Collie, and Brunswick Rivers. All these districts are well watered by numerous rivers and watercourses, to wit:—the Rivers Vasse, Ludlow, Capel, Preston, Ferguson, Collie, Brunswick, and others of smaller note, while water is procured any where by sinking at depths varying from 6 feet to 20 feet. The rainfall at Dardanup is 40 inches; Bunbury, 34·64 inches; the Vasse, 36·67 inches. The cost of clearing at the Vasse averages about £3 to £8 per acre; at Bunbury from £3 to £14; Dardanup, Ferguson, and Brunswick from £3 to £8 per acre.

The District of Harvey may well be classed with that of the Bruns­ wick, Collie, and Dardanup, as the same character of land prevails, and the situation, as regards the Darling Range, identical. Pin­ jarrah and its surroundings, on the other hand, differs from other­ localities in the Southern Districts, being all more or less flat and open country, having along the banks of the Murray River stretches­ of reddish loam backed up by clayey and sandy plains. The timber­ is generally red gum, with wattle on the flats; ti-tree, banksia, and flooded gum on the plains. It is watered by the Murray River, and by sinking at about 12 feet; and the average rainfall is about 31 inches; and the average cost of clearing is from £2 to £8 per acre.

Northern Districts.—The agricultural land of our Northern Districts is all the belt of country comprised in the Districts of Northampton, Sandsprings, Greenough, Dongara, and the Upper Irwin up to Strawberry. Beyond Strawberry comes that other belt of untested country, previously alluded to. Confining, for the purposes of this Commission, a description to those portions known as Greenough, Dongara, and Upper Irwin, Greenough embraces two distinct belts of rich and almost level formation, called the Front and Back Flats: the Front Flats, commencing a few miles from Geraldton, and extending along the coast just behind the sea-coast in the direction of Dongara for about 25 miles, vary in width, say, from three-quarters of a mile wide to two miles; the Back Flats run parallel with the Front Flats, divided only by a low range of lime­ stone formation, and contain rather a larger area as a whole. The existence of these two belts of country, which may be classed among the richest agricultural land in all Australia, is a startling and novel feature in our geography. The nature of the soil in these two belts of flat country is similar in many respects. The whole is generally impregnated with lime, is of a rich loan1y character, of great depth and varies in quality only by portions being lighter and more friable than the other, and the whole more or less at long intervals subject to inundation, and was probably, a century ago, a series of lakes or estuaries. Water is obtained after cutting through the lower strata of limestone at depths of from 40 feet to 70 feet; and cost of clearing, from £2 to £4 per acre. The rainfall at Northampton is 21·09 inches; Newmerracarra, 19·77 inches; Geraldton, 18·53 inches.

The district of Dongara and Upper Irwin is entirely different in its character from the Greenough Flats, consisting of a belt of country on the banks of the Irwin River, hemmed in by sand plains on either side, varying in width, along the tortuous course of the stream, from a quarter of a mile to scarcely two miles wide. The quality of the soil is a rich, stiff, loam, getting lighter in quality as it reaches the edge of the sand plains, watered by the river; and water is obtained by sinking at depths varying from 25 feet to 70 feet. Rainfall.—Dongara, 17·12 inches. Cost of clearing, from £2 to £5 per acre.

This closes the general description of the agricultural districts, embracing, as it does, the whole of that portion of the colony under the present consideration of the Commission. Having given in as brief a manner as possible an outline description of the districts, and conveying, as we hope, to the minds of intending settlers and the public a fairly accurate description of the main features of those districts, the Commission enter upon what they consider the real result of their labours, from the evidence adduced, and from their own observation in traversing the colony.


A feature in the agricultural capacity of the colony will be a division into areas of those portions suitable for special production.

Wheat.—The Commission, from evidence, ventures to say that so long as the production of wheat in the world does not bring foreign competition to our shores at a less cost than, say, 3s. to 4s. per bushel, the area over which wheat can be grown as a food supply, to compete with that competition and leave a fair profit to the grower, will be found in the Districts of Greenough, Dongara, and Upper Urwin in the north; and the Victoria Plains, Newcastle, Northam, York, and Beverley, and south along the Great Southern Railway as far as Ettacup. This last-named belt of country, in the opinion of the Commission, has a great future before it; its large extent of level country—the comparative low cost of clearing-its general climatic conditions, combined with a quick transit to either the port of Fremantle or Albany, point conclusively to a very rapid and extensive settlement; and when this is unaccomplished fact, commanding as it does so many natural advantages, it will become a most important factor in the wheat supply of the colony, both for home consumption and export.

Taking the question of clearing and total cost of cultivation of lands in these areas, from evidence it will be found over the whole area that growing wheat at the figures named leaves a fair margin of profit, and would provide a food supply, not only for all future local requirements, but leave a large surplus to export. The average cost of production in these areas is now about 2s. per bushel. With the use of the double-furrowed plough, and with the use of the three and four furrowed plough in the very near future, and a corresponding saving in the use of large-sized harrows, and improved harvesting, the cost can and will be reduced by 6d. to 10d. or more per bushel, and with these figures the Commission ventures to say, taking the ruling rate of wages here as that prevailing in the other colonies, Western Australia can, over these areas, produce wheat in competition with any of the sister colonies; and, having regard to the fact that the average yield of wheat per acre over these areas exceeds that of South Australia by six bushels per acre, we can at no distant future enter into the open and foreign markets in profitable competition with the sister colonies.

The figures taken in evidence show a more prosperous state of things for the West Australian wheat growers than for the same class of people in South Australia. There is no large margin for error in this statement, as the average rainfall over these areas is about eighteen inches, and although the average cost of bringing them into a state for cultivation may exceed that of the wheat­-growing areas of South Australia, that cost is more than counter­ balanced by the increased average yield per acre.

The cost of producing wheat having in the other colonies reached that stage when it will cease to be produced at a lower figure—climatic conditions in the way of rainfall being in our favour, labour at the same rate, and the use of the same appliances at our command, this colony will have nothing to fear from competition. The present protective policy of the colony being also a fostering element in this production, but which, however, will cease to have effect the moment local demands are supplied, and we have a surplus for export. These seem bold statements to make; hut the Commission are supported by the evidence before them.

General Farming.—The Commission desire to express in no uncertain voice their opinion that, although facts and figures are as they have stated in regard to wheat-growing in these areas, they by no means recommend or suggest that wheat-growing alone should be relied on in these areas by the fanner. On the other hand, we strongly oppose a system of wheat or corn growing as an only product. It is a system that is too precarious in Australia, but in every instance in this colony, and in the areas mentioned, we urge a system of general mixed fanning as being the safest—the most legitin1ate and prosperous occupation for the farmer. Wheat may, or should be, a primary factor in their business, but the production of oats, barley, and hay should always form a large portion of their income, and, speaking in regard to the northern areas, dairying can be profitably carried on for at least three or four months in the year, yielding in those months a return far in excess of the general average yield of the colony. These remarks do not apply to the south, under a colder climate, where dairying can be profitably carried on throughout the whole year, by a small observance of the seasons and the growth of nourishing and succulent food for the cows at those times when the natural pasture would not so well serve them.

During the winter months a large and profitable addition to the income should be made by curing bacon and hams. No farm should be without a few sheep; they not only furnish the family with a cheap food supply, but manure the soil and assist to clear the land from weeds. Attention to garden produce should not be lost sight of, as throughout these areas general garden produce can be raised in large quantities, and, where there is no market for it, it cheapens the food supply of the farms, and is valuable as pig fodder.

Except in favoured localities, general fruit-growing in the northern areas cannot be relied on, and to be successful it requires certain favourable situations. Nevertheless, there is a very considerable area, in every respect suitable for the profitable growth and production of certain fruits, more especially those of a semi-tropical character, such as vines, oranges, lemons, peaches, pears, almonds, while for the growth of the fig and olive the area could be extended to a much larger degree. In the districts south of the Irwin, say, Victoria Plains, Newcastle, Northam, York, and Beverley, a wider field of operations is opened up, outside the question of wheat-growing. With a mean temperature between 60° to 70° and a rainfall of 18 inches, a more extended system of general farming can be followed. In addition to wheat, oats, and barley, English barley can be profitably grown to compete with importations and serve all local demands, if carefully harvested. The climatic conditions are eminently adapted for peaches, apricots, oranges, lemons, grapes, and figs, under proper cultivation; and a special source of income could be derived from a system of fruit drying, such as raisins and figs, while special attention should be directed to ham and bacon curing, as throughout these districts a larger range of season favours the industry; and, taking the whole of this area, it is in every way suitable for horse-breeding. Farmers should pay particular and unceasing attention to having a few heavy mares, and so supply the colony with draught stock. Throughout this belt the climate and soil is entirely in favour of the horse, as is also the whole of our northern areas, extending up as far as the De Grey, and, with care and attention to young stock, animals can be produced equal to those bred in any part of the world. With good draught stock the farmer reduces the cost of his production: it is the power he requires; without it he cannot succeed with his own cultivation, and, having a surplus, the ruling prices at all times leaves him a large margin of profit.

Area for Fruits.—All the belt of country known as the Darling Range, say from Bindoon, and Chittering, down past Narrogin, Pin­ jarrah, as far as Bunbury, and from thence to the Blackwood, might be described as one huge area for fruit growing.

Speaking more particularly in regard to the Darling Range, and without coming into the lower levels between the Range and the sea, we find that nearly every description of fruit grows in luxurious abundance; its hill slopes and its valleys, its alternations of soil, its diverse aspects, single out the area as specially adapted for wine making, for fruit growing, fruit preserving, and fruit drying.

Where the grape thrives, as it does in this area, the Commission can give no distinct preference to any particular variety of grape, as the character of soil and aspect of the land will at all times guide the grower in producing the exact variety suited to the conditions of his holding. Among the varieties already growing will be found the Shiraz, the Verdeilho, Fontainbleau, Crystal, Sweet Water, Muscatel, the Wortley Hall, and Black Hamburg.

The variety of fruits, including those grown on the Blackwood, is oranges of all descriptions (except the green orange), lemons, peaches, plums (of all varieties), apricots, pears, quinces, figs, apples, medlars, cherries, English and Cape gooseberries, citrons, currants, guavas, mulberries, nectarines, loquats, limes, nuts, filberts, almonds, rasp­ berries, shaddocks, bananas. With such a range and variety of fruit, and growing each variety in localities suitable for their production, the Commission can point hopefully to the time when Western Australia will compete against the world in these productions.

As an industry, wine making, both for local consumption and for export, should occupy the attention of a large section of those settling this area of the colony; while fruit drying, jam making, and preserving could be successfully and profitably pursued by others. The methods of cultivation can only be laid down on knowing the nature of the soil and locality; but as a general thing it is thought wiser to have plenty of roon1 for all plant and tree life. In the case of vines, from 8 to 9 feet, under the bush system of planting; trellis system for large vineyards is not recommended; while fruit trees should never be planted less than 20 or 30 feet apart. The Corn­ mission ventures no opinion as to the process of treating the land, whether by trenching or by deep ploughing; this question is one regulated entirely by the locality and nature of the formation; but strict attention to manuring, mulching, digging, and weeding is imperative to success.

Dairy Area.—The area over which dairying, as an industry, can be followed out with profit, is all the coast line from the Moore River down south as far as Cape Leeuwin, extending as far back as the Darling Range. Taking the belt more particularly from Wanneroo to the Vasse, the profitable production of butter is simply a matter of attention and intelligence; the area is eminently adapted for it all the year round, combined with the production of such commodities as bacon, hams, eggs, poultry, potatoes, onions, &c. The coast system of dairying and farming would differ in some essential respects from that to be followed out on the stiffer lands below the Range. All along the coast, from its general immunity from frost, potatoes should be a staple commodity. This applies more particularly to the large belt of estuary land, and rich formation of vegetable deposit, running more or less all down the line mentioned. The cost of clearing is heavy, ranging from £5 to £20 per acre for heavy ti-tree clearing, but the yield being heavy and fairly certain, the potato crop should at all times be able to compete with importations: there is a very extensive area in every way adapted for this produce, and population on such a rich deposit will cheapen production and increase the supply as well as the demand. The Commission strongly recommend this branch of farn1ing, together with the production of vegetables and dairy produce for the Perth and Fremantle markets, to the attention of intending settlers.

Bunbury, the Vasse, and their surroundings seem the natural locality for dairy farming, and as the colony progresses it will, doubt­ less, form the staple product of these districts. At the present moment individuals are doing as much as individuals can with the means and labour at their command. Something like 1,000 to 1,200 cows are being dairyed; but at present the cost of production, including the heavy cost of transit, cripples the industry. It is a hopeful and cheerful tribute to the intelligence of the dairymen of the south to find how quickly devices in labour- saving- machinery are introduced. The De Laval Separator, butter-workers, and improved churns are now generally used.

The mean temperature of the whole area is about 62°. The rain­fall is from 28 inches in the districts of Wanneroo, Perth, Guildford, and Canning; while Bunbury and Vasse have an average rainfall of 33 to 40 inches. The establishment of dairies is only a matter of population, and the Commission can see the germs of a future high-class system for this industry in the intelligence displayed by some of those already engaged in the profitable working of their holdings, in Guildford and in the south. A system of dairying should always be combined with the production of hams, bacon, and eggs; while general farming for the growth of the necessary fodder is absolutely essential to good butter-making.

Root crops, such as mangold-wurzel, and the cultivation of pig­ melon, maize, and farmer's friend, must also be grown on a dairy farm, as they are the elements of success, combined with a studious and careful attention to cleanliness in the dairy.

The production of cheese is a branch of industry that has not occupied the attention of many in the colony. At every agricultural show excellent cheeses are exhibited—equal in every respect to the imported colonial article. The industry is, however, not yet established, and may only succeed on a large scale under a factory system. Nevertheless, the Commission can recommend its production at once as an adjunct to the dairy farming in the colony, where the dairy farmer has the ad vantage of a family and cheap labour to give that attention so indispensable to good cheese-making.