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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Sir CHARLES MARR (Parkes) . - I intend to support this bill. As the Minister, Mr. Hughes, has pointed out, the conquest of the gold-fields of New Guinea may be described as one of the world's greatest victories. No story in fiction is more fascinating than the record of the achievements of the pioneers of this territory. The construction of a road between Salamaua and Wau has beenunder discussion for many years. The Leader of the Opposition stated that the gold royalty had been raised from 1 per cent. to 5 per cent. One of the reasons for that increase was to raise the money necessary for the construction of the road to Wau. I was the Minister for Home Affairs when the gold royalty was increased, and the five gold-mining companies operating in that area represented to me that they did not object to the increase provided a road was made to give access to the gold-fields. That was agreed to. I later sent a cablegram to the Ad ministrator in New Guinea asking, amongst other things, whether it was intended to build the road; if so, whether the road would carry wheeled traffic, and whether it would be opened within a period of two years. The Administrator gave me an affirmative assurance. I know that engineers and surveyors have been engaged for years in endeavouring to get a road from Salamaua to Wau. The big companies, particularly the Bulolo Company which had to transport its machinery into the Bulolo valley, was most anxious that the road should be constructed, because the machinery which had to be transported was too heavy to be transported by air at that time. Lengths of shafting for its dredges, weighing 3½ tons, could not be reduced in size, and the big fly-wheels were estimated to weigh up to 7 tons. Later, it was possible to manufacture the fly-wheels in three sections. The companies had waited for the road until they could wait no longer, and they were compelled to secure aeroplanes of the Junkers type capable of lifting 3½ tons dead weight. The Minister (Mr. Hughes) has said that past administrations may have been to blame for not having constructed the road, but one has to have some knowledge of the country to appreciate the difficulties of road construction there. I do not regard the road from Wau to Edie Creek as comparable with that to be constructed from Salamaua to Wau. Between Wau and Edie Creek the road rises 4,000 feet in a. distance of twelve miles. The Minister said that the gradient was 1 in 9 ; actually, there are certain parts in which the gradient is 1 in 9, but the average over the whole twelve miles is 1 in 15. That road is constructed in solid rock country where no landslides are likely such as occur further down towards the coast in the alluvial country and rich volcanic soil. As the result of efforts, particularly under the administration of General Wisdom, surveys were made and the construction of the road was actually commenced. Almost twenty miles of the road was constructed, but as fast as construction proceeded, the heavy rains experienced in that part of the territory brought down slices of the mountainside, and the road was obliterated.

Mr Brennan - Maintenance costs were heavy ?

Sir CHARLES MARR - I shall not pit my opinion against that of expert engineers, but if I were asked to express my view, I should say that the construction of the road will cost nearer £200,000 than £150,000, and that maintenance will cost £100,000 a year.

Mr Brennan - What is the length of the road?

Sir CHARLES MARR - About 60 miles.

Mr Brennan - Just about the same distance as separates Canberra from Goulburn, and the honorable member anticipates £100,000 a year for maintenance!

Sir CHARLES MARR - Yes, but that road bears no resemblance to the road from Canberra to Goulburn. One of the pioneers in this part of New Guinea made a track from Wau to Edie Creek before the administration attempted to make the road that is there now. This man proved himself a great pioneer. He built a motor truck out of odd motor parts taken to the gold-fields by native carriers, and on his primitive track he transported supplies for the miners from Wau to Edie Creek. But the road was so dangerous that he could not get passengers to go with him on his truck. To him is due a. tremendous amount of credit for the transport of stores to Edie Creek. The administration converted that track to a trafficable road at a cost of £24,000, but it is so narrow that only one vehicle can traverse it except where passing places have been cut. I agree with what the Minister has said in regard to the difficulties confronting miners travelling from Wau to Edie Creek in the early days. At that time they had to be hauled up the steep mountain sides by ropes. When I visited the territory, in 1927, I hauled myself up in places on ropes fixed by the early pioneers which were still dangling down the precipitous slopes. What has been accomplished in that area is a tribute to the courage and hardihood of the miners, both prospectors and employees of the companies. Whilst I shall not oppose this bill, which guarantees a loan tobe raised by the Administration for the purpose of road construction,

I agree with the Minister that it is rather a pity that the road was not constructed years ago, before it was necessary to purchase expensive aeroplanes for the transport of mining machinery to the goldfields. A gold mine is a wasting asset and the settlement at the gold-fields will not last after the gold has petered out. During six years, the Bulolo Company, with five Junkers'planes, transported to the Bulolo Valley 130,000 tons of steel and iron work alone. Under a system of amortization adopted by that company, the capital cost of its aeroplanes has now been completely written off. Freight rates from the seaboard to the gold-fields were originally1s. 6d. per lb.; later, they dropped to1s. 3d., and then to1s. per lb. Those rates made the cost of living in the gold-fields very high. Owing to increased competition between the various companies operating aerial services in New Guinea, the freight rate to-day in respect of government contracts is as low as 2¼d. per lb. But even those high rates were not nearly so high as those to central Australia, a territory under the direct control of this Parliament, where freight rates run as high as 3s. 6d. per lb. To the flying services of New Guinea, whether operated by companies or by individuals, is due a tremendous amount of the credit for their mastery of the air. I believe that the big company had only one accident, which was ascribed to the foolhardiness of the pilot in taking unnecessary risks. No accidents have occurred in connexion with the services of the other companies.

Whilst I am disappointed at the decision to establish the new administrative capital of New Guinea at Salamaua. againI say I have no right to criticize the advice of experts who have examined and reported on the proposed sites. I venture the opinion, however, that, in a tropical country, as many public servants as possible should be located in hill stations. In this respect, we might very well have followed the lead of India, which has a summer capital at Simla, and established the administrative capital of New Guinea in the interior. I should have preferred that the Government had accepted the committee's recommendations that the administrative capital be established on the plateau in the Markham Valley inland from Lae. It has been suggested that the administrative capital should have port facilities, and that Lae can never become as good a port as Salamaua. I agree that that is so, but one has to recognize that all the heavy freights carried in New Guinea have been transported from Lae, and for nearly twelve years all the boats have gone to Lae, unloaded their cargoes into barges, which in turn unloaded at the wharf into the trucks of the 4-f t. 6-in. gauge railway line constructed by the Bulolo Company. It was from Lae that the 130,000 tons of mining machinery was flown to the goldfields. I agree that a suitable port is required, not so much for administrative purposes, as for the future development of New Guinea. I have stated that a gold mine is a wasting asset and the Minister himself mentioned that in connexion with the Ballarat gold-fields. We know, however, that when gold production at Ballarat and Bendigo waned, agricultural and pastoral development took place in the surrounding districts. In New Guinea, however, particularly in the Wau district, no agricultural and pastoral development will follow after gold mining has ceased.

Mr Beasley - The route taken by the road will be very important from that aspect.

Sir CHARLES MARR - My contention is that the road to Wau must eventually go up the Markham Valley and have one branch to the Bulolo Valley and another branch to the Ramu Plateau in the hinterland. It is on the Ramu Plateau that the greatest development in New Guinea will take place in the years to come. That is the only part of New Guinea in which the native population is engaged in any sort of agriculture.

Mr Collins - Would it be suitable for sheep grazing?

Sir CHARLES MARR - Yes, it is wonderful country for that purpose. Some years ago, a pioneer crossed the Bismarck Ranges with 50 head of bullocks and built for himself a home on the banks of the Ramu River. His home was burnt down by the natives, but he built another, and to-day he is very firmly established there and has wonderful cattle which are transported to Wau to supply meat for the miners. I mention that case to shew the great pioneering spirit possessed- by the men who have exploited that area. I do not think that the Wau district, situated 3,500 feet above sea level, will ever be suitable for agriculture. When the dredging is finished there will be no soil to replace that which has been washed away. New Guinea possesses some of the finest forest country in the world.

Mr Beasley - What kinds of timber grow there?

Sir CHARLES MARR - Both softwoods and hardwoods. I understand that the Administration intends to appoint a number of forestry officers to survey the timber resources of the country. That is a wise policy. A timber getter has no right to take timber from the country without ensuring supplies for posterity. A policy of conservation and reafforestation is essential. Since the first aeroplane visited New Guinea, about twelve years ago, aeroplanes have carried many hundreds of tons of machinery and goods to various destinations, in the territory. I do not think that as much material will be carried over the proposed new road as was carried by aeroplanes ten years ago.

Mr Beasley - The toll may not reach the estimate?

Sir CHARLES MARR - I do not say that the Administrationhas made an error, but in my opinion, based on the experience of last year, only about 10,000 tons of material will be carried each year. Had a site on the tableland been chosen for the capital, the road could have gone up the Markham river and the Bulolo Basin, where the grade would not have been greater than one in twelve.

Mr Street - Would that not necessitate crossing the river?

Sir CHARLES MARR - Only at one spot, where there is already a flying fox. It is estimated that no great difficulty would be experienced in placing a pontoon bridge there.

Mr Lane - Over what river has a bridge already been constructed?

Sir CHARLES MARR - There are several bridges over the Bulolo River. I have seen a surveyor's sketch of a road to serve Edie Creek which would cross the river near the junction of the Watut and Bulolo Rivers, the grade of which would not be more than one in twelve. I do not ridicule the proposal of the right honorable gentleman, although I repeat that by the construction of a road up the Markham Valley, with a branch to the Bulolo field and another branch to the hinterland of Ramu, posterity would be better served than by the road now proposed.

Mr Beasley -Can the honorable member give any information about royalties?

Sir CHARLES MARR - I cannot do so beyond saying that the companies agreed to the royalties being raised to 5 per cent. on condition that moat of the money was expended on road construction. I do not decry past administrations, because during my six years' experience as a Minister in two administrations I encountered many difficulties.

Mr Lane - Why was not the road built during the honorable member's term of office ?

Sir CHARLES MARR - The Administration carried out a number of surveys in an endeavour to give effect to the request of the miners and others for the construction of a road. I commend the Minister for making a personal inspection of New Guinea before bringing his proposals before Parliament, and I hope that the construction of the road will make the goldfield more successful than in the past.

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