The Coming Colony/Chapter 4

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The South-western District as large as France—Salubrious Climate and Abundant Rainfall—Only Part of Colony immediately available for Agricultural Settlement—Sir Frederick Weld's Description—King George's Sound—Advance Albany!

The south-western district, as it takes its place in the Government land system of the colony, is a narrow strip of country extending from the Murchison river in the north to the sea coast on the south. The most easterly point on the north is Bompas Hill, at the great northern bend of the Murchison, and on the south at the mouth of the Fitzgerald river. The average width of the strip is about 100 miles, but it bulges out a good deal towards its lower extremity and stretches eastward inland from below Busselton, which is about to be con­nected by railway with Perth, to a depth of 150 miles.

The south-western is often spoken of as "the settled district," and was described by the late Sir Frederick Weld in the following terms in an oft-quoted passage:—"The whole of the settled district, nearly the size of France, is usually level, often undulating, but never mountainous. The western seaboard is generally comparatively flat country, of a sandy character, composed chiefly of a detritus of old coral reefs, which has been again deposited by the action of the water. More inland, a formation which is here called ironstone is met with; it appears to be chiefly a conglomerate of disintegrated granite, stained with iron; granite, slates, quartz, pipeclay, and in many places trap, are all found in this country. The Darling Range, for instance, presents these characteristics; it runs from north to south in the central district inland of Perth, and appears once to have formed the coast line. The whole country, from north to south, excepting the spots cleared for cultivation, may be described as one vast forest, in the sense of being heavily timbered. Sometimes, but comparatively seldom, the traveller comes upon an open sand plain, covered with shrubs and flowering plants in infinite variety and exquisite beauty, and often, especially in the northern and eastern districts, low scrubby trees and bushes fill the place of timber, but, taking the word 'forest' in its widest sense as wild, woody, and bushy country, Western Australia, as far as I have seen it, is covered with one vast forest, stretching far away into regions yet unexplored. A very large proportion of this is heavy timber country. The jarrah, sometimes erroneously called mahogany, a tree of the eucalyptus tribe, covers immense tract s of land; its timber is extraordinarily durable, and as it resists the white ant and the Teredo navalis it is admirably adapted for railway sleepers, and for piles for bridges and harbour works. This timber, when properly selected and seasoned, has stood the severest tests, and no term has yet been discovered to its durability. It is believed that with increased facilities for transport, the trade in jarrah may be indefinitely increased. The sandalwood already affords an export; the tuart and karri, both eucalypti of enormous size, are valuable timber trees." Governor Weld further says, when speaking of a tour made by him in the southern districts:—"I have ridden for miles amongst karri trees, some of which, lying on the ground, I have ascer­tained by actual measurement to reach 150 feet to the lowest branch; many, I estimate, when standing, to attain nearly double that height from the ground to the topmost branch, thus emulating the great Californian 'Wellingtonia,' the kauri (Dammara australis) of New Zealand, or the Eucaluptus purpurea of Tasmania, a kindred tree, reported on by Sir W. Denison; the difference being that there they are instances of rare and exceptional growth, whilst in parts of this country there are forests of these giants of the vegetable world." So much for the natural features of this West Australian Land of Canaan, Sir Frederick Weld's description of which I can fully endorse from personal observation.

The south-western district contains both the capital, Perth, and its port, Fremantle, but access to the colony is largely obtained at Albany, its southern port, situated on King George's Sound; this being the only West Australian harbour which is at present frequented by the great ocean liners, though strong efforts are being made to gain a share of their attentions for Fremantle.

Englishmen who know very little of Australian geography and Australians who know very little of the westernmost colony of their own continent, are pretty well acquainted with Albany, which as the first port of call on the way out to Australia, and the last port of call on the way home to England, is much better known to globe-trotters than even the capital of the colony. It is nearer home by three days' steaming than Adelaide, and is prettily situated at the foot of two hills, known respectively as Mounts Clarence and Melville. It is not entirely at their foot either, for despite the presence of so many craggy boulders the town has extended up the rugged sides on the seaward slopes of both mounts. One wants to be sound of wind and limb to ascend very far up either of them, but those who do so are rewarded by a beautiful view of the, in calm weather, almost lake-like expanses of King George's Sound. The inner basin, on which Albany stands, is called Princess Royal Harbour, and into this the steamers of the P. and O. Company's service penetrate, but not as a rule those of the other lines. This is not, however, a point of very great importance, as in any case passengers have to go off and come ashore in a boat or launch, and it does not matter very much when you have once embarked whether you have to go one mile or four to get to or from the mail steamer. The trouble is mainly in connection with the transhipment of luggage, and this is as onerous in the one case as the other. The tem­perate climate of Albany makes it much sought after as a sanatorium by the denizens even of districts as far south as Perth. Whatever betides, its splendid harbour cannot be taken away from it, and though the preponderance of population and property in the vicinity of the capital, and the convenience of settlers still farther north, has led to Fremantle being regarded as a more desirable port for improvement and development at the hands of the State, it is quite clear that as the colony advances Albany must advance too, being, as it is, the entrepôt of a large portion of the southern district tapped by the Great Southern Railway.