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Wednesday, 23 March 1927

Senator FOLL (Queensland) .- I move - (1.) That the Senate is of opinion that it is essential for the proper development of Northern Australia that a railway should be constructed from, north to south, which would connect the western portions of New South Wales and Queensland with the Barkly Tableland and other portions of Northern Australia.

(2)   That the Senate is further of opinion that the Commonwealth Government should immediately call a conference of representatives of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland Governments, the Northern Aus- tralia Commission, and the Development and Migration Commission, with a view to apportioning the expense of constructing such a line.

(3)   That, in view of the fact that the recent terrific losses in sheep owing to drought conditions would have been greatly minimized had such a line been in existence, the Senate is also of opinion that the Commonwealth Government should treat the matter as an urgent one.

I make no apology for bringing this proposal before the Senate. The construction of a railway line which would connect the western portions of New South Wales and Queensland with the Barkly Tableland is the most urgent public work in sight in Australia at the present time. Some years ago, as a member of the Public Works Committee, I had an opportunity, in company with other honorable senators, to travel over a great portion of the country which would be served by a railway constructed along the route I suggest. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) also visited the Northern Territory a few years ago, and I am sure that, from his personal knowledge of the country which he traversed in the western portion of Queensland and the Barkly Tableland, he will confirm all that I may have to say on this motion as to its actual and potential value. The scheme which I am submitting is not altogether a new one. It has been advocated for many years by those who have interests in that portion of Australia, and it has had careful consideration from railway officials in New South Wales and Queensland. A number of trial surveys have, I understand, been made of the country that would be served, and much information has been obtained as to the likelihood of such a line being a payable proposition.

Senator Ogden - Roads are better than railways now for the opening up of new country.

SenatorFOLL. - I shall come to that point later. The originator of this proposal was the late Sir Thomas McIlwraith, generally regarded as the greatest statesman in the history of Queensland.

Senator Ogden - The honorable senator is forgetting Mr. Theodore.

Senator FOLL - Mr. Theodore is also a supporter of the scheme. Many years ago, when Premier of Queensland, Sir Thomas McIlwraith advocated such a proposal as I am placing before the Senate to-day, for the purpose of linking up the valuable pastoral areas in the western portions of Queensland, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory. Although for a considerable portion of the route the railway would pass through Queensland territory, it could not be regarded as a Queensland line, because, as I shall endeavour to show, the object is to connect the valuable pastoral territory in Northern Australia with the richest pastoral areas in New South Wales and Queensland.

One reason why this proposal should be regarded as urgent is that during the last two years Queensland has experienced probably the worst drought in its history. It is estimated that over 7,000,000 sheep, worth in round figures £10,500,000, have perished. But that does not represent the entire loss. It takes no account of the wool which would have been taken off those sheep had they lived, nor does it include the heavy losses incurred by the Queensland Railway Department owing to the serious falling off in wool freights, or the extra expenditure incurred by the pastoralists in hand feeding sheep or moving starving stock to distant agistment areas.

Senator Abbott - What about the losses in cattle?

Senator FOLL - Unfortunately, the Queensland cattlemen also lost very heavily during the drought. It will be seen, therefore, that there is urgent need for a railway following the route I am advocating, to enable pastoralists to move stock to more favoured grass areas during a period of drought. Those who are in a position to know declare that had the line been built before the recent drought struck western Queensland, millions of sheep would have been saved to Australia. It is not too much to say that the value of the stock saved would have more than paid for the cost of the line. Experience shows that drought conditions rarely, if ever, prevail over the entire continent at the same time. Even during the recent drought in Queensland - I regret to think that the position is only partially relieved even now - there was a considerable area of good grass country available in the south-western portion of the State and the north-west of New South Wales; but. in the absence of direct railway communication, it was not possible to shift stock to it from the drought-stricken areas. As all honorable senators know, the present railway lines run from east to west. Under existing conditions, therefore, if a pastoralist in the far western portion of Queensland wished to move his stock to the south-western district, he would have to truck them 400 miles or 500 miles to the coast, several hundred miles along the coast, and then back again along another route to the south-west, or vice versa. The cost would be prohibitive; indeed, it would be almost impossible to shift starving stock in that way. Very lew would be alive by the time they reached their destination.

I direct the attention of honorable senators to the class of country that will be served by such a line as I am now advocating. The present rail-head in New South Wales is at Bourke, not a great distance from the Queensland border. The country around Bourke is somewhat similar to that to be found in the south-western and southern portions of Queensland. Travelling in a northerly direction from Bourke, the Queensland border is touched near the township of Hungerford. The next town on the route is Thargomindah, which is in tha centre of rich pastoral country. At the present time that country is devoted almost wholly to cattle raising, but it is generally admitted that with suitable means of transport a great deal of it would carry sheep. Travelling further north via Springvale, Windorah, and Eromangah, we reach country the centre of which is Boulia. It was my privilege to first visit Boulia sixteen or seventeen years ago. I did not visit it a second time until I passed through it with a sectional committee of the Public Works Committee about four or five years ago. In the intervening period a certain amount of new settlement had taken place. Boulia is at present 200 or 300 miles from the railhead. With reasonable railway communication it would lend iestlf to- a great deal of settlement for the purpose of wool-growing. Figures have been supplied to me by settlers in the district and the Department of Public Lands in Queeusland showing that, with a block of CO, 000 or 70,000' acres it would be quite possible to make a good living in sheep.raising in that district. The absence of railway communication, and the necessity to carry everything by wagon, make it a practical impossibility to properly develop that portion of Australia. The cost per ton for the cartage of wellboring plant or wire netting for the erection of dog-proof fencing is totally against settlement on a comparatively small scale.

Senator Ogden - I suppose it would be possible to utilize motor transport?

Senator FOLL - Motor transport presents almost insuperable difficulties. When I passed through that district with the sectional committee of the Public Works Committee, arrangements had to be made in advance for supplies of petrol. Furthermore, it is impossible for motors to traverse the black-soil plains in the wet season. Motor transport might afford partial relief, but it would not be the means of opening up the country. It was tried as an experiment during the recent drought in portions of Western Queensland. It would not be possible to send large consignments of stock by that means.

It must be borne in mind that this area contains some of the finest sheepraising country in Australia. I think that every honorable senator will agree than the wool industry has been the mainstay of Australia in recent years. Something like 40 per cent, of the income tax in Queensland is paid by men who are engaged in the pastoral industry. All the lands in this district are held under leasehold from the Crown, and leases are frequently falling in and being subdivided into smaller areas. There is always a keen demand foi- the land whenever a ballot is held. Instead of carrying one sheep to every 3 or 4 acres, it is carrying only one to every 20 acres. Smaller selectors, who are far more useful to a country than those who hold large tracts, cannot take it up at present, because they would be hampered by the lack of communication.

Travelling north from Boulia one encounters the Barkly Tableland, on the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory. Every member of the Public Works Committee who travelled across the Barkly Tableland was impressed by the wonderful country available there for settlement. The rainfall is probably more regular than in any other large pastoral area in Australia. During the first three months of the year monsoonal rains are experienced. It is generally admitted that greater dependability can be placed on the rainfall there than in the Barcoo country, which is regarded as the finest merino country in Australia. The rainfall records over the last 25 years confirm the opinion expressed by many persons who are acquainted with this part of the country, that the Barkly Tableland is amongst the finest pastoral areas in Australia. Commencing on the same parallel as the township of Newcastle Waters, but a little to the south of that township, there are great plains which stretch out east and west to the coastline on both sides of the continent, and grow Flinders and Mitchell grasses, that are ideal for sheep raising. With proper communication those plains would be as rich ,as any area in Australia. Furthermore, sub-artesian water can be struck anywhere at a depth of 160 to 200 feet. The proper development of Northern Australia will not commence until the line which I am advocating is constructed.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - I expect that the North Australian Commission will report on this proposal shortly.

Senator FOLL - I hope that it will. Senator Sir Henry Barwell. - Should we not have that report before being asked to pass this motion?

Senator FOLL - I do not think it is necessary to wait for the report.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did the North. Australian Commission report on the line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs?

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - It had not been appointed when the construction of that line was consented to.

Senator FOLL - This line should have been constructed before that from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs; it would help to make up the loss on the latter. I do not wish to stress that point. The railway from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs' is being constructed as the result of a very unfortunate agreement, which was entirely in favour of South Australia, and against the Commonwealth Government. The line that I now propose would not compete with that from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. They would be hundreds of miles apart, and would tap entirely different country. The line from Bourke to Darwin would junction with that proposed from Alice Springs to

Darwin at Newcastle Waters or thereabouts. I do not attempt to dogmatize on the route that it should take, because it would be necessary to have the matter thoroughly investigated by the Public Works Committee.

It is not intended by those who have suggested the construction of this railway that it should compete with the north-south railway. In the course of its investigations the Public Works Committee took the evidence of Sir Brudenell White, who was then Chief of the General Staff, and was, as he still is, one of Australia's most capable authorities on defence, and from a defence standpoint he favoured the construction of the line I am now suggesting. When Lord Kitchener submitted a recommendation to the Commonwealth Government on which our compulsory training system was based, he. suggested the construction of certain strategic railways for defence purposes, of which the line I am now proposing formed a most important link. The details of that scheme are now on file in the records of the Common wealth Department of Works and Railways. The Commissioner of Railways, Mr. Bell, who has had long experience in railway matters, also gave evidence before the Public Works Committee. He stated that he had given serious consideration to the alternative proposals for connect-, ing the Northern Territory with the south, and that he was strongly in favour of building a line through Western Queensland, because it would open up an unlimited area of new land for selection. Mr. Hobler, who has recently been appointed a member of the North Australia Commission, was formerly engineer for Railways in the Commonwealth Railways Department, and in that capacity accompanied the Public Works Committee on its tour of investigation. He has inspected the stretch of country to the west of the Darwin to Emungalen railway and running towards the Western Australian ports, and on several occasions he has traversed the rich Barkly Tableland that would be tapped by the railway I am now suggesting. He also was strongly in favour of building a line through Western Queensland. As a matter of fact, he would go further than I now propose, because he would have the north-south line, now being constructed, built through Western Queensland to Birdsville, and connect with the Oodnadatta line at Maree. Such a line would certainly compete with the present northsouth railway. Two years ago, when Senator Pearce was Minister for Home and Territories, he returned from Darwin through Western Queensland. He saw the Barkly Tableland covered with grass, and cattle there in splendid condition. He described the country as being infinitely better looking at that period than the Western Queensland areas which are already the envy of all Australia. It is generally admitted that for opening up a country, sheep are a better proposition than cattle. I am not anxious to decry the developmental work done by the cattle-breeders of Australia, but I think that Senator Sir William Glasgow, who is so closely associated with the beef-raising industry, will admit that under present conditions wool is a better proposition than beef. There are, of course, large areas of country that are unsuitable for conversion from cattle to sheep. On the Barkly Tableland and in Western Queensland there are hundreds of square miles of country now occupied by cattle, not because the station-owners prefer to raise cattle, but because, owing to the lack of means of transport, they cannot secure at a reasonable cost the wire netting and boring plants needed for sheep runs, and the means of getting their wool away. For cattle raising larger tracts of country are required than is needed by the wool-growers. The proposal that I have put forward is of considerable moment, not only to the people of Queensland,New South Wales, and the Northern Territory, but also to the Commonwealth as a whole. The construction of this railway would provide a means of guarding against huge losses through drought. I think I am safe in saying that there are, in the paddocks of Western Queensland, enough bones of dead sheep to ballast this railway, which might have been saved. As a matter of fact, if the line had been built years ago when Sir Thomas McIlwraith first proposed it, it is possible that the value of the sheep whose lives would have been saved, even during the recent drought, would have paid for the building of the line. To my mind the construction of this line is one of the most urgent public needs of Australia at the present time. I trust that the Government will accept my motion and call a conference with the States concerned between now and the time when we meet again at Canberra. I trust also that as a result of that conference the Government will realize that in the interests of the whole Commonwealth this line should be built at once. The task is too great for one State to undertake. Queensland has recently suffered frightful losses, and certainly could not assume the responsibility. It is a national work that should be undertaken by the Commonwealth in conjunction with the States, on lines similar to those followed in the case of the river Murray waters scheme and the Kyogle to South Brisbane railway.

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