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Wednesday, 2 October 1912

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - A good deal has been said here from time to time as to filling up the empty spaces in Australia, more particularly in the north and the interior. Unquestionably this has been a very serious problem ever since we had colonization of this island continent, and various proposals for its solution have been made. Quite a number of persons believe that it is impossible for the white race to make use of our northern areas, and I have heard the same opinion expressed here in regard to the interior of Australia. But I am pleased to say that with the lapse of time and the acquisition of a better knowledge of the climate and the soil a change has come over the scene. It is only very recently that this matter was debated in relation to the interior. ' It will be remembered that when the proposal to construct a transcontinental railway was brought be fore the Senate from time to time we had newspapers and members of Parliament declaring that the greater portion of the country which the line would traverse was of such a nature that it would be of very little use to us. It was described as a howling desert, and as a country with many waste spaces. But I am pleased to say that a very rapid change of opinion has taken place, especially on the part of the newspapers. In this city, where I think the greatest opposition was shown to the proposal by the press, we have a newspaper which continually referred to the proposal as a " desert " railway, but which now refers grandiloquently to the railway as a " transcontinental " railway. The idea of the desert has disappeared, and I predict that as we open up the country and become acquainted with its character we shall find that there is very little real desert in Australia. My eyes were opened as to the nature of the interior when I went to the gold-fields of Western Australia, where I saw splendid soil, and experienced a climate which was unequalled, although I was between 500 and 600 miles from the seaboard. It satisfied me that if the rainfall were anything like what we might reasonably anticipate, even those portions of Australia would in time be utilized for pastoral or agricultural purposes. It was surprising to me and others who came from, the west to find the opinion which prevailed in the east regarding the character of the interior, because I must credit those who wrote the railway proposal down with an honest belief that the country it would traverse was really desert land. A strange act on the part of the newspaper which- so recently decried the country as a desert and a howling wilderness was that no sooner did some Labour members take up portions of land along the route than they were dubbed " Labour squatters."

Senator St Ledger - Do you say that Labour members actually took up land?

Senator DE LARGIE - Certainly. They heard it described in this Chamber as good land, which was suitable for agricultural or pastoral purposes, and they showed the faith that was in them by taking up some of it. From time to time our fuller knowledge will prove beyond a doubt that Australia is a much richer country than we in the early years thought it was. I admit that whilst the soil may be all right there are climatic conditions which may prevent the country from being very acceptable to white men. I recognise that the northern areas are on a somewhat different basis from the southern portions to which I have just referred in connexion with the transcontinental railway from east to west, but we should not overlook the fact that whilst the more northern portion of Australia has a warmer climate white men have entered that country, and lived in it for many years. I have met them quite as far north as the Northern Territory. Many years ago I met men who for twenty years had been living in the more northern latitudes of Western Australia, and who declared that the climate was everything that was pleasant.. They assured me that, though during a few months in the summer the heat was somewhat severe, yet, taking the year all round, it was a fairly good land to live in. As the conveniences of life are extended to these parts, as we get to a better understanding of the climatic conditions, and learn how to take the necessary precautions, I feel quite sure that this country will be found to be habitable by white men. I recognise that Che colonization of these northern areas is a serious problem. I admit that the persons who have gone there, more particularly the women, are obliged to lead a very hard life indeed. We are all more or less familiar with the hardships that the pioneer has to experience. Knowing that we were sending men to report on the interior of the Northern Territory, I should have thought that both sides in politics would have welcomed the proposal of the Government to extend the railway from Pine Creek to Katherine River as an earnest attempt to do something with those areas which have been considered somewhat undesirable, and that we would not have heard charges of bribery made against the Labour Government for having sent officials there in order that we might have some information of a reliable kind to guide us in passing legislation. Because the Government, charged with the responsibility of developing the Territory, appointed officials to carry on the work, we found honorable senators rising in their places and declaring that it was a piece of bribery on their part in making the appointments. I assert that the man who indulges in that sort of talk when an earnest attempt is made to deal with a very difficult problem, disrates himself in the eyes of every thoughtful person, either here or outside. Fancy the Government sending their friends into the most vital parts of the Territory, and thinking that they were doing them a favour ! Yet we had members of the Senate making ridiculous charges of that kind. When we remember how many views have been expressed as to what course should be taken in dealing with this very difficult problem; when we remember that we have men in the community ever ready to declare that white people will never be able to utilize thi' country, and that the best thing to d(.. with all the northern parts of Australia, as well as the Northern Territory, because there are portions of Australia quite as far north as the Territory, was to hand them over to private companies, who would employ coloured labour for their development, I think we have every reason to congratulate ourselves upon the attempt which is now being made to populate this country with a white race. I do not presume to possess a first-hand acquaintance with the Northern Territory, because I confess that I have never been there.

Senator Shannon - Then the honorable senator ought to be able to speak with authority upon it.

Senator DE LARGIE - Probably the honorable senator's remark is prompted by a recollection of what he himself is in the habit of doing. I have not been in the Northern Territory, but I dare say that I have been as far north as has Senator Shannon, and certainly I have been as far into the interior of Australia as he has. I have been within 200 miles of Port Darwin, and I have had an opportunity of conversing with men who have crossed the Territory from the western to the eastern seaboard. They have assured me that it bears a general resemblance to the Kimberley country, in the north-west of Western Australia. If that be so, I think we may conclude that the Northern Territory is good cattle country, because no better cattle country can be found than that which is embraced in the Kimberley district of Western Australia. There, large, wellbred bullocks are produced without any very great expenditure. Such a country as the Northern Territory, therefore, must, in time, prove a profitable asset to the people of Australia, notwithstanding that at present we suffer a very serious loss upon it. Before the Territory was taken over by the Commonwealth, that loss was borne by South Australia, which deserves every credit for what she did in that connexion. Her burden has now Been removed to the shoulders of the Commonwealth, which will be able to do much more in the way of developing the Territory than any one State could be expected to do. Remembering that the Kimberley district in Western Australia is really the source of the meat supply of that State, we may confidently look forward to the Northern Territory coming to the rescue of the people of the eastern States in a similar fashion.

Senator St Ledger - It will be a case of the east going to the rescue of the north, not of the north coming to the rescue of theeast.

Senator DE LARGIE - If the honorable senator had waited until I had completed my sentence, he would have acted morewisely. In Western Australia, people have always had to contend with a very expensive meat supply. The one circumstance which has surprised people from the eastern States was the excessive cost of meat there. . Now there never was a good reason for that excessive cost. The explanation of it is that the trade was in the hands of a Meat Ring.

Senator Shannon - A large quantity of the meat supply of Western Australia is obtained from the eastern States.

Senator DE LARGIE - Only a very small supply is obtained from that source. During the whole period that the Kimberiey district was the source of the meat supply of Western Australia, although meat could be produced so cheaply, the squatter very seldom got more than £2 per head for his bullocks. If he obtained £3 per head, he considered that he was receiving top price.

Senator St Ledger - At the market or at the cattle station?

Senator DE LARGIE - At the port of shipment. The Meat Ring in Western Australia had control of the shipping facilities. The ports from which the cattle were shipped are something over 2,000 miles distant from Fremantle. The Meat Ring consisted of Messrs. Forrest and Emanuel, Conner and Doherty, and one or two other companies.These people had control of the shipping facilities.

Senator St Ledger - Could not the cattle-raisers travel their cattle overland?

Senator DE LARGIE - No; there is no stock route. As the shipping facilities were in the hands of the Meat Ring, the cattle-breeders had either to accept whatever price the ring chose to offer them, or to take their cattle back to their stations, some hundreds of miles distant - a course of action which would simply be ruinous. One would have thought that cattle purchased at such prices would have meant cheap meat for the people of Western Australia. But, as a matter of fact, these beasts were sold at anything from £12 to £20 per head upon arrival at their port of destination. Instead of the people of Western Australia being able to procure cheap meat, they were compelled to pay higher prices for that commodity than were the residents of any other State of the Commonwealth. This condition of affairs continued for many years. Governments came and went, but no alteration was effected. In time, however, a Labour Government came into office. Itrecognised the evils attendant upon the existence of a monopoly in the matter of the meat supply, and in order to provide the people with cheap meat, and to give small squatters a fair price for their cattle, they purchased vessels and put them in this trade.

Senator St Ledger - When did they do that?

Senator DE LARGIE - Within the past six months. The result was that the price of meat was immediately reduced, notwithstanding that simultaneously over all other parts of the world it increased. There is an example of the benefit of State Socialism in the matter of a meat supply. I anticipate that, in the course of time, we may obtain similar results by pursuing a similar course of action in respect of the Northern Territory. It has been reported from time to time, on very good authority, that the Meat Trust of the United States has its eyes on Australia, and intends to bring this country within the area of its operations. This danger-signal has been held up to us, and it is very opportune, therefore, that we have at our disposal in the Northern Territory an immense tract which is capable of producing meat for the people. If ever we should be brought within the influence of the Meat Trust of the United States, I hope that the Commonwealth Government will emulate the example of the Government of Western Australia by placing vessels in that trade, with a view to bringing meat from the Northern Territory to the chief ports of the eastern States. I wish now to touch upon another aspect of this question. I do not happen to be in the confidence of the Government in regard to what may be their ultimate object so far as an immigration scheme is concerned. But my own view is that it is necessary to work, in conjunction with this railway proposal, an immigration. scheme. To build railways in the Territory will be of little use unless we can induce people to go and inhabit that country.. If the Territory is not to continue the white elephant that it is declared to be-

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - And that it has been.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am not going to say that it has been wholly a white elephant.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert GOULD - Perhaps it has been a black-and-white elephant.

Senator DE LARGIE - I grant that there are some coloured persons in the Territory, but in the circumstances which have hitherto obtained, I think we have reason to congratulate ourselves that there are so few of them there, especially when we remember how easy of access it is from Asiatic countries. But be that as it may, the degree of success, we have achieved, may be a matter for argument, and I do not intend to debate it at this stage. But I do say that we ought to have a well thought out scheme of immigration for the purpose of peopling those great northern areas of ours. It is a simple matter to get population for the southern parts of Australia. In fact, I do not know that we have not plenty of people in the south already. When we consider the enormous si"ze of our cities, we must realize that they are over-populated even in comparison with older portions of the world.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould -That is no reason why we should not attract people to the country districts.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am not now referring to the country, but to the cities, which are certainly overgrown. We have to consider what we are going to do to populate those areas through which this railway will run. My individual opinion is that, we have been proceeding on wrong lines in the past. Any efforts' we have made to attract immigration, have been solely confined to the United Kingdom, or the north of Europe. It will be agreed that it would be foolish to bring polar bears to the tropics with, the idea of acclimatizing, them'.. It would be foolish to bring animals accustomed to cold climates into tropical areas. We must be prepared, to devote our attention to other countries than the United Kingdom if we wish Fo populate the Northern Territory. I recently had a conversation with a gentleman who is the expert in vine culture at the Dookie Agricultural College. He is, I be lieve, an Italian by birth, though a naturalized Australian, and: has been in this country a number of years. When he was learning his. profession, he had to travel in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the south of France, and he. assured me- that if we wanted European agriculturists to come to Australia there would he no difficulty whatever in securing them.. If we were prepared to extend the same facilities in the matter of immigration, and afterwards to give the usual land bank help which is afforded to settlers, he assured me that there would be no difficulty in attracting agriculturists and their families from the south of Europe to the Northern Territory. I make that suggestion to the Government and to the Senate because I believe that, in the past, we have been looking for immigrants in the wrong direction. We have had perhaps a certain amount of prejudice, that does not altogether ' do credit to our intelligence, against people from southern Europe. Though many faults may be found with them, I am quite sure that faults may also be found with people from northern Europe.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. - The honorable senator knows, I suppose, that the cheap labour of America comes chiefly from southern Europe?

Senator DE LARGIE - I am quite prepared to meet that objection. My experience shows me that people from southern Europe,, when they come to Australia, will stand, up for their rights just as keenly as will men who come from northern Europe.

Senator Vardon - Has that been the experience in America?

Senator DE LARGIE - I cannot speak of America, but: I can from my own knowledge speak of Australia..

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - The. United States- has received1 a great many of those people.

Senator DE LARGIE - Yes; and they are still flocking- to America. I believe that they are going to South America rather than to the United: States and Canada. I shouLd like, to see a. part of that stream of population turned into the Northern Territory, where I believe such people would be able to thrive, because the climate approximates: to the climate of the countries, from which they come. From the point of view of health and physical constitution, such, people might be expected' to overcome: the: defects- attaching to our tropical climate.

Senator St Ledger - Some of those people are making Argentina hum to-day.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am glad to hear that, because it strengthens my argument. Whilst I would give every encouragement to people who are constitutionally fitted to make the most of those less valuable parts of Australia, I do not mean to say that we should relax our efforts to induce Australians to settle in the Northern Territory likewise. I believe that the people of Australia, Britishers who have been here for a generation or two, are better fitted to go to the northern areas than are people who come direct from the United Kingdom-

Senator St Ledger - We must stiffen our incoming population with Australians if we can.

Senator DE LARGIE - That is the point I wish to make. The people of Australia are much better acquainted with the conditions that obtain in the north than newcomers from the United Kingdom can lie. It is practically useless to expect people to come direct from the United Kingdom to a climate such as we have in the north. £ look upon immigrants from Italy, Spain, :ind Portugal, and the southern parts of Europe, as being likely to furnish the best sort of men to people our empty north. We all recognise that the north is a menace to us. We recognise that unless we are prepared to fill it up it may be filled up in spite of us with a less desirable class, namely, with Asiatics. I should prefer to see brought there Europeans, who would be likely to make good settlers. I am prepared to take people from any part of Europe for this purpose, believing that in time they will become quite as good Australians as would people from any other part of Europe. I believe that this is the best and most feasible scheme which we can work out for the peopling of our northern areas. I congratulate the Government on having taken the present step towards the building of a railway through the continent. I look on this as the first link in a chain which will connect the Northern Territory with the southern portions of Australia. The Government have been in office for only three years, and the railway policy which they have initiated is something which they will be able to look back upon with pride. No preceding Government have done nearly so much as the present Government to occupy this hitherto neglected portion of the Commonwealth.

Senator O'Keefe - This is the only Government which have commenced a national scheme.

Senator DE LARGIE - I hope they will be allowed to finish their work. Having introduced this Survey Bill, and having passed the Act empowering the building of the transcontinental railway, I trust that they will remain in office until the line is finished.

Senator O'Keefe - The electors will see to that.

Senator DE LARGIE - If the people of Australia have any sense of fitness concerning a Government who are prepared to make the best of Australia, they will certainly be very foolish to bring about a change at the next election.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - They are prepared to make a speedy change.

Senator DE LARGIE - I cannot think that they will be absurd enough to put back into office-

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