The Coming Colony/Chapter 20

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Proper Area of a West Australian Farmhold—Emigrants with Money make­ room for Emigrants without.

Having fortified my conclusions by Mr. Turner's, I propose to close what pretends to be nothing more than a slight brochure on a large subject with some general observations on Western Australia from the standpoint of Britain and the British emigrant.

It will be a stretch of international courtesy indeed if we are to make room for an increasing influx of foreign sweaters into the East End of London by the exportation to the colonies or elsewhere of the British bone and sinew, which has the prior right to what is going in the local labour market. It is not, however, so easy to stem the tide of that rural emigration which is constantly sweeping into the metropolis and rendering work scarcer and food scantier for those with whom life is already sadly too much of a hand-to-mouth struggle. All authorities tell us and all the appearances go to show that there is a real surplus of stout, honest bone and sinew, skilled and unskilled, in the British labour market. Colonies such as Western Australia are strongly set against the incorrigible paupers and incurable loafers who have too often been assisted out, either by charitable organisations at home or through the misdirected efforts of the local government at the national expense. They do not demand that England shall send them the cream of our labouring population, but they do ask for a reasonable average of men who mean work and who have a fair capacity for doing it. For men such as these my experience leads me to believe that Western Australia may to some limited extent represent that "new world" which just now it seems more than ever necessary should be called into existence to redress the balance of the old. It is "white unto harvest," and if the sickle is put in in the right way there can be no doubt but that enormous benefits will accrue to the new colony, with at least something like corresponding advantage to the old country, which has watched, on the whole, so well and worthily over its infant destinies. The Government with the £50,000 which is included in the loan schedule can do something in the way of judicious encouragement to immigration; the various colonisation associations and colonists' aid societies in England can do a consider­able amount in the same direction; but the great land-owning corporations in the colony, such as the Midland Railway Company and West Australian Land Company, can do still more.

The power and resources of the Government are, of course, almost boundless for any purpose of which the common sense of the people approves, but there is a well-grounded objection to the Government undertaking obligations of which private enter­prise would be willing to assume the burden, and which it has probably a much better capacity for carrying out. The various English organisations of a semi-philanthropic character are all handicapped by a want of local knowledge and the absence of what is called "colonial experience." The land-grant conces­sionaires were originally pledged to the introduction of a certain number of emigrants, but in the then state of the country the conditions were wisely waived. The moral obligation still, how­ever, remains, and it is fortunately backed up by material obligations of the most pressing kind; for by the introduction of population and the prosperous settlement of their huge estates alone can the shareholders expect to realise anything in the shape of a reasonable return for the risks they have run and for the capital they have sunk, with very little prospect of an immediate result in the way of dividend. In the fructification of their property these corporations, and others which time will call into existence, will be able to avail themselves of the assistance of the Government and of the English philanthropic associations, after a fashion which will be none the less advan­tageous because it will be rendered, mostly at least, in an indirect way. Government may cheapen passages, and the philanthropists may aid in the choice of suitable emigrants, whilst it will be for the Land Companies to allocate the arrivals and afford them facilities for starting in the best way on a career which is to put rents and purchase-moneys into the shareholders' pockets.

Western Australia, as Sir Charles Dilke has argued, is an excellent field for colonisation experiments, and the Land Companies are the people to start them. When they have tried their hands, it will be time enough for the English organisations to put in their oar and profit by their example and experience. It is not for an amateur to set out the details of a suitable scheme. But the outlines are obvious enough. From what I gathered personally, and from the evidence taken before the Royal Commission, the consensus of expert opinion appears to be that mixed farming is essential—i.e., that sheep-rearing must be combined with grain-growing, with perhaps a little viticulture, and certainly some fruit-growing thrown in. To make this sort of mixed farming profitable the weight of expert opinion is equally on the side of a man having an area of from 500 to 1,000 acres at his disposal, and though, of course, there is some difference of view on this point, the general idea is that he should have a minimum of £500 as working capital. What disillusionises the better class of emigrant, and what makes him feel sorely that he has gone from the frying-pan into the fire, is when, on his arrival from the old country, he is confronted with the fact in all its nakedness that the farmhold to which he has looked forward so hopefully is, after all, only a slice out of an interminable forest, and that it will be two whole seasons before he can get even a small portion of it into cropping order, and that in the meantime money must be found for house­ building, clearing, fencing, and the keep of himself and his wife and family. What this means may easily be computed, but may not be so easily met. It is here that the Companies must step in, and in addition to supplying the raw (very raw) material of the land on a time payment system equally liberal with that of the Government, must to a certain extent prepare the farms for would-be occupiers, instead of giving them slices of unredeemed wilderness. They should not, of course, overdo it, and leave a man no scope for industry and initiative. They might, however, lay out the land, fence it, clear a sufficient amount for the first year's saving, and where the tenant's capital was limited, though his skill might be good, they might supply him with horses and plant, and even a certain amount of stock and seed, the total outlay to be repaid, with reasonable interest, on a basis easily calculable by deferred payments, coincident with the instalments of purchase-money. Of course, where the tenant had the needful capital, so much the better for himself, and he might then find it more to his benefit to take up the intervening Government land than to buy of the Company. But as regards this it must always be borne in mind that the Companies are the absolute owners of the soil, and can sell out and out with out any conditions whatever, whereas if the Government is dealt with the statutory conditions must be observed.

In regard to the colonisation scheme which I have outlined, it might be necessary for the Land Companies to form subsidiary companies after the Chaffey method in order to get the needful capital and powers; but this is, of course, a question for them­ selves. In any scheme of this kind great skill would be required in the laying out of the farms, as it should be the aim to give each tenant a due admixture of grain and fruit growing and grazing land. It certainly would not suit the Company to give the tenant a full holding of the best land, and it certainly would not suit the tenant to get nothing but the worst. In the calculation I have given as to the capital needed for working from 500 to 1,000 acres of land, I am, of course, taking the case of a man who means to go to work gradually, clearing and planting a little fresh land each year, and doing even his fencing by degrees. Of course, if he went in for putting the whole of his 1,000 acres under crop right off he would want probably a capital of £5,000 instead of £500, which is only compatible with very modest doings. Under a scheme of semi-prepared farms the advantage to the settler would be that instead of having to wait two seasons for a return he would get it in one. If he were wise he would arrive in February or March, plough and sow by the end of May, to be able to harvest his first crop by the end of the year.

It is idle to dogmatise as to the amount of land or capital which a man may do well with. Everything depends upon the man. In many cases in Western Australia men commencing with 100 acres, and no money at all have gradually grown to affluence. All that one can lay down, therefore, is a sort of average rule, which is then only approximate. Agricultural wages within the coastal rainbelt are about £1 a week and rations, and about £1 10s. a week with a cottage thrown in in the case of married men, who "find" themselves. With regard to the better parts of meat, I may here interpolate for the benefit of householders that it costs on the average from 5d. to 6d. per pound. I met a gentleman on my travels who had spent £3,000 in improving land for viticulture, and the result of a bitter experience was that he advised all new-comers with money to wait two years before they expended it; by that time, he thought, they might know what they were about and be able to cope with the old hands, of whom he gave no very flattering description.

No doubt if young men going to Western Australia with money were to make up their minds to work for others for a year or two they would be in a vastly better position to expend their capital wisely after a probation of this sort than if they bought land at once, without any local knowledge to guide them. In the case of young working fellows without capital, they might be able to take up land out of their savings, and bestow quite sufficient attention on it in their leisure to develop it satisfac­torily; as the labours of agriculture are by no means so exacting in Western Australia, where very little manuring is done and the land is scratched rather than ploughed as in the old country, where much higher farming obtains. As I said before, the more emigrants who go to the colony with money the better they will make it for men with no capital beyond their labour. In any case there are openings for a small number of young men with a few pounds in their pockets who are not afraid of work and willing to take the first job that turns up. Even now the various railway and timber under­ takings have so drained the agricultural labour market that only aged and indifferent men can be got to undertake farm work, considerably better wages being obtainable by good, able-bodied men than those I have mentioned.

In the early start of the colony (and the same thing applies more or less to all the other colonies) the pioneers had quite enough to do to tackle the forest primeval so as to win the necessaries of life without going in for any of its adornments or luxuries. What was at first a matter of necessity with them grew, as all such things do grow, into a matter of habit, so that at the present moment men possessed perhaps of thousands or pounds' worth of property are living in huts to which Lord Salisbury's much-abused Hatfield cottages are haunts of luxury. Not only is the earth their floor, but the surroundings are equally desolate in the lack of gardens and sanitary appliances of the most rudimentary kind. So do these slipshod habits grow upon a man that, with any number of cattle grazing in his paddocks, the West Australian farmer has often not the energy to get in a single cow so that his children may be provided with milk or his own bread with butter. Then as to overcrowded sleeping accommodation, nothing in the East End of London could excel it, and nothing but the pure air prevents it having the most pernicious effects.

It is to be hoped that the English emigrants, who will un­doubtedly exploit Western Australia, in large or small numbers, will bring their old-fashioned notions of village beauty and rural trimness with them, and thus avoid degenerating into the slipshod ways which make much of Australia so unlovely. To keep up the moral esprit de corps necessary it would be well if emigrants could be got to come in detachments from the same villages, and to settle alongside of their old neighbours. In this way, as I remember Mr. Dawes, the eminent London shipowner, pointing out to me, the tendency to a decadence into slovenliness, moral and material, might be to a great extent neutralised, and the new life be rendered vastly more homelike and happy.