The Coming Colony/Chapter 7
Katanning—The Show-place of the West Australian Land Company's Concession—Marvellously rapid Growth of the Settlement—The Messrs. Piesse—Model Colonial Pioneers.
One hundred and eighteen miles from Albany one comes across a settlement which is not only the sample one on the West Australian Land Company's concession, but is destined, it is to be hoped, to be the model for many such another all over South-western Western Australia. Katanning is not only the central station of the Great Southern line, but it is the centre of what bids fair to be in the near future a splendid agricultural district, supplying any amount of corn for conversion into flour at the newly erected roller mills, which are the boast and pride of the township. Without being over-sanguine, one may assert that this district in the course of a few years will do great things towards reducing and, in fact, altogether obliterating that humiliating import of £150,000 worth of rural produce which stands recorded against the colony in its truth-telling statistics. It is not to be supposed that everything in this district is virgin in the shape of agriculture. On the contrary, some of the oldest farmholds in the colony are situated in this vicinity, and I should be accused of exaggeration if I were to put down precisely as I was told them the yields of wheat per acre which the settlers hereabout have drawn year after year, for a score of years past, from lands wholly innocent of manure and only rarely recuperated by fallowing. Twenty-three miles to the westward of Katanning is the old settlement of Kojinup, on the now little-used main road from Albany to Perth. Here, too, are a number of settlers to whom the innovations of the Land Company and the rapid rise of Katanning can be little less than revolutionary. As yet, of course, Katanning is a mere nucleus of the town that is to be. The weather board store, hotel, school, and blacksmith's shop are of the regulation pattern of the "bush township," with all the present crudeness and future potentialities of the type. Despite its go-aheadism, too, I noticed on the hotel verandah a more perfect specimen of the torpid young rustic than, I dare be bound, could be produced in the most antiquated Sleepy Hollow in Old England, for when the Australian, especially the young Australian, does "loaf" he "loafs" with a vengeance. Nowhere is this sample of bush humanity to be seen to more advantage than at a roadside railway station, where, if anything so objectless could be credited with an object, he is trying to put himself forward as the antipodes of all that the train advent typifies in the way of movement and progress.
If anything could justify the land grant railway system from the attacks of its opponents the progress made by Katanning in the less than two years of its existence ought to do it; and though at present it is the high-water mark of what has been achieved in this line in Western Australia, there is no reason why Katannings should not be indefinitely multiplied along the course, not only of the Great Southern and Midland Railways, but of the various lines which the Government is on the eve of constructing. The Company have been lucky in securing coadjutors such as the Messrs. Piesse (relatives of the famous Bond street scent manufacturer of that name), who have started a store, ironfoundry, and roller mills in the infant township, the result being that, with the railway facilities afforded for transport to the port of Albany, the conditions of settlement have been revolutionised throughout the district, which boasts a large area of good red loamy soil, previously very imperfectly tilled and persistently over-cropped. Mr. F. C. Piesse, the Member for the district, is a firm believer in the desirability of some scheme of colonisation being adopted on the lines I have suggested, but which will have to be worked out by experts. Could a score or so of colonists of the same type as this gentleman and his brother be scattered about the colony at suitable intervals, and be backed up by a suitable immigration, there would not be much doubt as to its future prosperity. The fact that the colony has produced men like the Piesses effectually gives the lie to the idea too common amongst a certain class of the old residents that no good thing can come out of Western Australia, either in the shape of men or material.
The next three stations and town-sites combined on the Great Southern line are Wagin, 148 miles, Narrogin, 180 miles, and Pingelly, 211 miles from Albany. Of these embryo townships no more need be said than that they are centres of a fine agricultural and wheat-growing country, as much as thirty bushels of wheat to the acre having been taken off a small farm at Pingelly.
Another thirty miles of easy travelling through similar country brings the passenger to Beverley, to which I have already alluded as the junction of the Great Southern and Government Railway lines. Here passengers between Perth and Albany are compelled to pass the night in rough bush quarters, both going and returning—a primitive arrangement which might suit the old slow pace in Western Australia, but is hardly in keeping with the go-ahead notions now coming into vogue. It may be added, for the information of would-be settlers, that the rainfall on the Company's territory averages thirty-six inches at Albany, diminishing to seventeen inches at Beverley. So regular is the supply of moisture, and so reliable the climate, that from eighteen to twenty bushels of wheat to the acre can be reliably counted on. It is needless, however, to multiply details, but I think I have said enough to put those in the old country who desire a change of condition on inquiry. The curtain has at length been lifted on this long-buried Land of Promise, and those who have the pluck to throw in their lot with the renascence of Western Australia may, I honestly think, do so with the reasonable hope of reaping the harvest of a steadily rising tide in its development and prosperity. Every day brings news of fresh discoveries of the precious metal, and if even the greater number of the fields prove failures, sufficient permanent finds are likely to eventuate to furnish fresh consuming centres for even the largest accession of producers which the coming years are likely to witness in Western Australia.