The Coming Colony/Chapter 5

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Two Anthonies—Perth to Albany—The West Australian Land Company and the Great Southern Railway—In the Bush at Beverley—Description of West Australian Land Company's Concession—A Colonising Enthusiast—Hordern on Hordernsville—Dies within Sight of the Promised Land.

Thanks to the initiatory genius of the late Anthony Hordern (whose monument has recently been reared on a conspicuous site overlooking King George's Sound) and the complementary enterprise of the West Australian Land Company, the traveller from Albany to Perth is no longer compelled, as was the case when another great Anthony—Mr. Anthony Trollope—visited Western Australia, to ride or drive the whole 300 miles or so which divide the port from the capital. By railway over the Great Southern and Eastern lines the distance is about 339 miles, of which the company have constructed 243 miles in consideration of a land grant of 12,000 acres per mile, and the Government the remaining ninety-six miles out of the public funds. The junction of the company's line, the Great Southern, with the Government's Eastern line is at Beverley, a mere "bush" station, where the traveller north or south, in the case of the ordinary trains, is compelled to pass the night at one or other of the two hotels, which seem to be the only excuse for the existence of the township. There are, however, weekly special trains which run the mails to and fro in about nineteen hours. By one of these I started for Perth. There are no sleeping-cars on the line, which is a single one of three feet six inches gauge, but I found the travelling smooth and easy, and the line has been managed with so much economy that though it showed a small loss in the first of its two years of existence it is now paying working expenses. In the meantime settlement is progressing, and there has been a considerable return from the purchase moneys of alienated areas. No dividend was anticipated by the English speculators who found the needful capital—£300,000 in shares, and £500,000 in debentures—for a period of ten years, but it looks very much as if their period of patience would be considerably abridged at the rate things are going at present.

Travelling through the night we reached Beverley (evidently so named by some expatriated Yorkshireman reminiscent of his home in the old country) at about six o'clock in the morn­ing. Not having walked through the real "bush" since 1882, I spent the time whilst breakfast was being prepared in a ramble through the forest, encountering for the first time a genuine specimen or two of the West Australian aboriginal­ of course of the tame order-who are very much like the remnant of their brethren in the other colonies. There is great sameness about the scenery of the "bush," but its silence and its vastness are supremely impressive. The denizens of the "bush" are not, perhaps, able to gush about its charms, but they feel them all the same; and this will account for the love of the bush which those who have had to make their home in "Australian wilds" retain for it ever afterwards.

The Great Southern line is, as I have said, managed with a great regard to cheapness. The porterage is about in the same proportion to the traffic as the population of the colony to its acreage there being only one porter employed on the whole length of the line between Albany and Beverley. The station­ masters handle the goods, and their wives sell the tickets. There is thus an air of admirable domesticity about all the arrangements. To the casual voyager the stoppages seem unnecessarily prolonged, and better calculated to suit the convenience of the caterers along the line than of their customers, who desire to see the last of it. It must, however, be borne in mind that, as all the trains are "mixed," a great deal of shunting is involved in taking up and discharging goods, when­ ever there is anything to take in or to take out. On occasion, at some of the stations there is a dearth of either, but it would not do to alter the time-table, which must be regulated on the principle of the average strain. The run from Albany to
Sir Malcolm Fraser, K.C.M.G, First Agent-General for Western Australia.jpg

Sir Malcolm Fraser, K.C.M.G,
First Agent-General for Western Australia

Beverley does not show the lands of the West Australian Com­pany to advantage, for the line is taken along the ironstone ridges, so that the land in its immediate neighbourhood affords no criterion of the fertility of the lower country further afield, which, about Katanning and Broome Hill especially, is very great indeed. The minimum sale price is now from 12s. to 15s. per acre, whilst small areas in choice spots have realised as much as £5. Town sites are also proclaimed in the vicinity of stations, and have realised as much as £35 for the eighth of an acre lots; profits of as much as 500 per cent. having in favourable instances been made on the re-sale of the latter by sagacious purchasers at the original auctions. From Beverley I travelled with Sir Henry Wrenfordsley, who in his youth twice unsuccessfully contested Peterborough in the Conservative interest. He has discharged judicial functions in five colonies, and years ago was Chief Justice of Western Australia, which, in view of its rising fortunes, he must regret having exchanged for the dubious fleshpots of Fiji, where he was disabled by illness and compelled to retire. Since then he has been utilised as a sort of "emergency man," and at the time I speak of (May, 1891), was Acting Chief Justice of the colony, in the absence of Mr. Onslow.

As the part of the south-western district which is bisected by the Great Southern Railway is a part which is primarily available for settlers, I took some pains at a later period to see sample portions of it, and fair samples, too, as far as I could gather. I will begin by giving a sort of official description of the country, which was drawn up by Sir Malcolm Fraser, K.C.M.G., the present Agent-General, who was one of the first, if not the first, to advocate the construction of this railway, when the line, now successfully completed, was only in contemplation. "The sections of the country under re­view," so the report runs, "is a plateau having a mean surface level of about one thousand feet above the sea, though in places the river beds and valleys below and above this general level are found cropping up ranges and peaks, which, however, with the exception of the Stirling Range, are not of any considerable height. From this plateau flow all the principal storm-water channels of the southern part of the colony, including the Swan River, the upper portion of which is called the Avon, and its branches. The Murray River, with the Hothams the Williams and affluents, break through the Darling Range by a series of gorges and canons, and empty themselves into the sea on the western coast. The Blackwood River, with the Arthur, the Beau­fort, and the Balgarrup, find the sea east of Cape Leeuwin, at Flinders Bay. The Frankland, with the Gordon as its main tributary, finds a mouth at Nornalup Inlet, near King George's Sound. The physical geography on this side of the Australian continent, in respect to the condition of its rivers or storm-water channels, shows a reverse to those of the eastern side, and which are found existing in most other parts of the globe. The so-called rivers merely serve to bear away seawards the surplus storm-waters from the by no means unfertile interior which they drain, which is a belt extending in different parts fifty miles in width up to a distance of two hundred miles from the sea coast. The best land is high up away from the coast, whilst in other countries the rivers have made the lowlands fertile by what they have borne from the highlands."

This, then, was the field of enterprise which attracted the eager mind of the late Mr. Anthony Hordern, a Sydney merchant whose aspirations soared far beyond the restricted limits of the ledger and counting-house. His prophetic eye saw in this neglected region vast future possibilities; and as he pondered its future over in his imaginative mind, he saw it peopled with a prosperous multitude who would hail his name as the founder of their fortunes. I have often sat with him in his dingy London office, and listened with somewhat too much of the scepticism of "the impartial critic," to the glowing picture which he painted of happy homes and prosperous settlements in the land which he looked on in the transfigured light of his sanguine but by no means wholly dreamy temperament. Perhaps he dwelt too much on the gardened and terraced city which he saw rearing its stately head as the centre and cynosure of the great settlement of his dreams. Hordernsville was, perhaps, somewhat of a chimera, and he possibly overlooked a little the toils of the march in dwelling on the glories of the goal. Still, there was a strong vein of practicality running through all his idealisations, and he induced others to participate in a guarded way in his enthusiasms. Given permission to construct the railway, and getting in return a substantial land grant, this born projector proposed, by pouring in a steady stream of emigration, to fertilise the adjacent territory, to the equal benefit of himself and his co-partners, and of the industrious population which he meant to plant upon the soil. In 1886 he went out from England with the view of organising the operations of the West Australian Land Company, which he had initiated for the execution of his scheme. As fate would have it, however, he died on board the steamer, almost in sight of the promised land of so many eager hopes and sanguine calculations. The emigration scheme which he had projected as an essential concomitant of his design dropped through after his death, and it is affixing no stigma on his coadjutors and successors to say that it probably failed as the consequence of his demise. Had he lived no mere emigration scheme would have been attempted, but one of thoroughgoing colonisation on comprehensive lines. Lacking his personal supervision, the influx glutted the labour market instead of developing the agricultural resources of the country, and it had to be abandoned; soon, however, in some shape to be revived under the more favourable conditions which now obtain. In this respect Mr. Hordern seems to have found a worthy successor in Mr. James Martin, the chairman of the West Australian Land Company, who has visited the colony, and, in a manner equally broadminded and businesslike, given the necessary fillip to the practical realisation of Mr. Hordern's conceptions.