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Friday, 27 September 1912

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - I should like to say at once that I am strongly in favour of this Bill. It proposes to do what, four or five years ago, I urged ought to be done, namely, construct a railway from Pine Creek to the Katherine. Those who have lived in the tropics know pretty well what the position is. I am not referring to those who have been in the country only a few days, and have mistaken gullies for rivers, and rivers for gulf streams. But one doubt that arises in my mind is this: When we were discussing the Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie railway survey, I made the statement that if I should vote for it, I might be told that by so doing I pledged myself, logically, to vote for the construction of the railway later on. Senator Findley, it is true, told me that that was not the case, but I discovered that I had practically committed myself. I wish to make it plain now that if I vote for a survey of a railway from Pine Creek to the Katherine, I by no means commit myself to vote for a railway from the Katherine to Oodnadatta. If I thought that I should be charged with being illogical on that account, I should vote against this survey. I am not going to commit myself to vote for a single foot of railway beyond the Katherine at the present time.

Senator McGregor - Voting for this Bill does not involve that.

Senator CHATAWAY - I am afraid that the honorable senator is resorting to the old spider and fly business. He would induce me to vote for this survey, and, later on, when the first section of the line to Oodnadatta is proposed, he would say that I had pledged myself.- Therefore, I wish to make my position quite clear.

Senator Blakey - I suppose the honorable senator wants to drag the railway into Queensland.

Senator CHATAWAY - If the interests of the Northern Territory drag it into Queensland, I shall not be to blame. The reason why I am supporting this survey is, first of. all, that those who know the Northern Territory fairly well - and I am speaking particularly of Port Darwin and Essendon country - realize that there is what is known as a " jump-up " 250 miles from the sea coast. The present railway from Port Darwin runs 145 miles. We are proposing to construct another 50 miles, and shall then reach the stage of the " jump-up." Those who have read Windsor Earl's book on tropical Australia will know that probably not more than 150 years ago a large quantity of the northern country along the Daly, the Adelaide, and the Alligator Rivers was under water. J mention that to show that a good part of th'e country has been dragged out of the sea, as it were. It is absolutely new country. At present, there is hardly an inch of good soil anywhere within 250 miles of the coast. A remark has been made about the Rum Jungle Experimental Station. Figuratively speaking, it would be possible to cover the whole of the Rum Jungle land that is being experimented upon with a pocket handkerchief. We have heard a great deal from time to time of the wonderful botanic gardens outside Palmerston. They are situated below what is called the escarpment, on a little patch of good country which is not greater in area probably than our own parliamentary gardens. I have no doubt that the time will come when, owing to the decay of vegetable matter, and the erosion of the rocks, the extreme northern part of the Territory may be settled, and agriculture carried on there on a large scale. But at the present time, with the exception of some land on the Daly River, and patches of land along some of the other rivers, there is no land in the extreme north on which a cabbage could be grown.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator mean to say that cabbages could not be grown near the Katherine River?

Senator CHATAWAY - If the honorable senator had been present when I began 'my speech he would know that I was distinguishing between the Katherine River country and the coast country. If it be any consolation to him I can inform him that I have already said that I am in favour of the survey and construction of the proposed line from Pine Creek to the Katherine River. I have tried to adhere, far more than has been done by other speakers, to the merits of the proposed survey, and have refrained from discussing the general administration of the whole Territory. In my opinion, we must carry the existing railway right up to what I call the " jump-up," to enable the hinterland of the Territory to be connected with the coast. I urge that more particularly because Mr. Justice Herbert, who was Government Resident of the Territory, year after year urged upon the South Australian Government that one of the best ways in which to settle the Northern Territory was to introduce a system of what he called mixed farming. Those who have any knowledge of the country are aware that, during certain months of the year, itis absolutely impossible to carry horses or cattle on the coast lands. It should not be forgotten that these coast lands are some 250 miles deep. The practice followed by settlers in the Territory is to bring horses down to the coast lands for a certain portion of the year, and then send them back to what I have been calling the hinterland for the balance of the year, during which they would not do well on the coast. It is true that a large number of goats are kept on the coast land all the year round, but I take it that we do not intend to develop the Northern Territory by specializing in the rearing of goats. In his report to the South Australian Government, in 1909, Mr. Justice Herbert referred to the fact that his tentative advice for the granting of mixed farming permits of two square miles of the hinterland country to any holder of agricultural leases of not less than 320 acres in area had not proved as popular as could be wished. This was a reference to a recommendation which he made in his report for 1905, which Senator Findley will remember, because I discussed it with the honorable senator when we were on a visit to the Northern Territory in 1907. In his report to the South Australian Government, in 1905, Mr. Justice Herbert wrote -

The establishment of a closer pastoral settlement combined with agriculture, i.e., mixed farming. That far the greater portion of this territory is admirably suited for cattle raising, and a great portion of it for sheep and pig raising, will not be denied by any person now within it, and, perhaps, by few who have never seen it and know it only by repute. This leaves me nothing to urge on the stock-raising side of this proposition.

I can by no means admit, after a fairly lengthy experience of the country and observations, that tropical agriculture of all kinds can be brought to a pitch of commercial success by European labour. At the same time, I am thoroughly convinced that in relation to many agriculture products this objection does not apply. Among the latter are some which, on the one hand, would tend to make mixed farming a success by aiding that portion of the industry consisting of stock raising, such as maize, peanuts, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins, and fodder plants; and, on the other hand, of some which could in themselves be produced at a fair margin of profit, and be a useful auxiliary in that respect to the undertaking as a whole, such as tobacco, cotton, arrow-root, and others.

Of land we have plenty and to spare -

I give that answer to those who have told us that all the valuable lands of the Northern Territory have been locked up. land, too, which is pre-eminently suited to this class of work - and I can conceive of no more admirable and patriotic use to which it can be put than to exchange some of it for population. The greatest stickler for private enterprise and individualism will admit so much. If men with families having sufficient small capital to settle on the country for this purpose could be obtained, the land, in return for this occupation and the expenditure of that small capital, would be well given if given gratuitously. If sufficient of these are not forthcoming the Government might well advance to desirable settlers having no capital the sufficient small capital referred to.

Both these classes of settlers could be encouraged, and the latter class should be assisted by free passages to the Territory and to their holdings (which latter should be carefully chosen by the Government beforehand in the most suitable districts for the industry) and by advances to enable them to establish themselves on the country selected for them.

An expenditure of , £25,000 in assisting families with passage from any part of Australia, and capital to establish themselves as suggested, would increase the present population of the country by 50 per cent. It is possible that the rest of Australia may be disinclined to become the recruiting ground for the Northern Territory for this purpose. Should this be the case (though I think it is hardly likely, considering the existing demand for land in some of the States) some arrangement could doubtless be made with the Federal authorities to allow of settlers being obtained from outside the Commonwealth.

I am now prepared to ask the representatives of South Australia, who are getting the various States, including Queensland, to pay the interest on the debts of the Northern Territory, what they ever did to carry out the recommendations of their own Government Resident. They did nothing. They threw the whole thing on . one side, year after year. In 1905, in 1908, and in 1909, the Government Resident of the Territory made the same recommendations to the South Australian Government, and referred to them time after time, and the people of South Australia, whom we have relieved of this great white elephant, did nothing. Now they come along in a virtuous sort of way and say, " What a splendid thing it will be when we have built a railway bisecting the continent," as if there were any virtue in bisecting anything.

Senator Blakey - South Australia did magnificent work in carrying on the administration of the Territory for so many years at a loss.

Senator CHATAWAY - When the Duke of Newcastle wrote to the Government of New South Wales, to say that they might have the Northern Territory because he could not manage it from London, the New South Wales Government refused to take on the job. But the South Australian people, being a young, virile, and ambitious community, said, " Give us the Northern Territory, we will take it on," and they have been howling about it ever since.

Senator Vardon - They have never howled about it.

Senator CHATAWAY - They did ; and South Australia, at last, came, cap in hand, to the Commonwealth and asked that we should take it over.

Senator Vardon - South Australia did nothing of the sort.

Senator CHATAWAY - Referring to Mr. Justice Herbert's proposal in connexion with mixed farming, 1 had the privilege, when I was at Palmerston, of a conversation with him, in which he explained his views more fully than he was able to do in ;i report. His idea is that horses especially, and possibly other stock, might he bred and reared for a certain time on the hinterland country, and might afterwards be brought to the coast land during certain months of the year This railway, if built, would give the Government, if they have the courage to initiate any real policy beyond the appointment of public servants for the development of the Northern Territory, an opportunity to carry out Mr. Justice Herbert's recommendation. There is another reason why the existing line should be carried on to the Katherine River, and it is that, when we reach that place, we shall have touched country that is worth doing something with. The pretence that we can have agricultural settlement along the edges of the rivers in the coast district of the Northern Territory ls merely throwing dust in the eyes of the people. There is at present no land there suitable for the purpose. What are a few little patches of 10, 15, or 20 acres on the Edith River, and in the locality known as Rum Jungle. Then we are told that there is good land at Point Charles. But one could run all round the good land there in five minutes, and a politician does not run very fast unless he is trying to get away from his electors. There is a portion of the Territory which could be approached from the Katherine. I refer to the country along the Roper and McArthur Rivers on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Go vernment, in reply to a question by me, assured me that they have not even a Customs official stationed along the Roper or McArthur Rivers. It should be remembered that the Gulf of Carpentaria is a huge expanse of water, and people, possessing cutters and small vessels, would have no difficulty in going into the Gulf and landing opium at places along the coast. I have reason to believe that that is where the opium, which finds its way into Australia, is landed. It is a matter of importance to the welfare of Australia that that country should be settled. I may inform honorable senators that there was settlement on the Roper and McArthur Rivers as long as one hundred years ago. That may be learned from the literature on the subject. The Roper River rises just below the " jump-up," as the Katherine River does also. They both practically rise at the same place, and one flows to the east while the other flows to the west. The rainfall along the western coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria is fairly steady all the year, and is very similar to the rainfall on the eastern coast of west Queensland. I may be anticipating matters somewhat, but I believe that, by carrying the railway through to the Katherine, and then eastwards towards Camooweal, we might connect with a system of railways in Queensland and New South Wales which would be of the greatest advantage. I am assuming that the Queensland authorities complete the railways they are now building, and that the New South Wales Government will carry out its undertaking with the Queensland Government to extend its railways in a certain direction. Upon the completion of the proposed system, in the event of an invasion of the Northern Territory, troops could be sent there by rail from Townsville, Rockhampton, and Brisbane, from Sydney, through Bourke, and from Victoria and South Australia, by the existing line to Sydney. Later on, when the country is comparatively settled, there is no reason why we should not consider the construction of a railway right through the Northern Territory as now proposed. Why should we build a railway when we have a professor reporting to the Government of South Australia that, in his opinion, it would be a good thing to plant palm trees in the middle of Australia so as to create oases in the desert. We are talking of the immediate time.

Senator McGregor - And he was talking of country which is not in the Northern Territory at all.

Senator CHATAWAY - I am talking about a general railway policy, and uttering a word of warning so that there shall be no mistake if there is an attempt made within any short time to build a railway right through the middle of Australia. We are not building a railway as I think we ought to do, and as we are doing in connexion with the line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. What we ought to have is practically a line running round the continent, and omitting the desert. Whatever the country in the middle of Australia may be, it is too far away to be of any use at present. Who are going, unless they do so with aeroplanes, to invade the desert?

Senator Vardon - Where is the desert?

Senator CHATAWAY - Let my honorable friend ask Professor Wallace, who knows where it is.

Senator Vardon - I do not think he does.

Senator CHATAWAY - Professor Wallace compiled a report for the Government of South Australia, and they gave me a copy of it.

Senator Vardon - There are heaps of reports about.

Senator CHATAWAY - When the State Government print a report and distribute it to members of Parliament, I have to assume that they have some sort of belief in the report, unless, of course, they spend the people's money in publishing freak reports and passing them on to members of Par.liament

Senator Vardon - The State Government do not hold themselves responsible for every sentence in the professor's report.

Senator CHATAWAY - They hold themselves responsible for the general statements of a man who explored the country.

Senator Vardon - What exploration did he do?

Senator CHATAWAY - There are about forty-five books bv Professor Wallace. T do not know whether he explored anything ; but he managed to get people to publish his books. I am in favour of this Bill. I think it is proper that this railway should be constructed. By means of this extension, we shall carry the railway, so to speak, over the ranges, and get on to good country where it will be of value.

Senator O'Keefe - It has a better chance of being profitable there than where it stops now-

Senator CHATAWAY - I do not tak* that mean commercial view of the matter. I am thinking of what is good for the country, and not for anybody's pocket.

Senator O'Keefe - I intended my remark in that sense.

Senator CHATAWAY - I am contending that the present railway should be extended for the sake of the country, and 1 do not care whether the extension pays for some years to come or hot.

Senator O'Keefe - Do not get angry with me when I agree with you.

Senator CHATAWAY - I am much obliged to the honorable senator, this being the first time that he has agreed with me. I support this proposal because- 1 believe that it will bridge over the gap between the bad country and the good country. I anticipate that it will be, at any rate, one small link in developing the Territory which has been so grossly neglected by the present Government, so far.

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