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Wednesday, 9 June 1915


Mr MASSY-GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would never, under any circumstances, go to Adelaide.


Mr YATES - I do not anticipate that the production of the Barclay Tableland would go to South Australia, but the extension of the line northwards from Oodnadatta would give us the trade with the Macdonnell Range country. The right honorable member for Swan said further, regarding his proposal -

It would be an outlet for the enterprising people of Queensland, and would encourage them to occupy and utilize thu lands in the Northern Territory.

Why should not the enterprising people of South Australia be encouraged by the extension of the line from Oodnadatta to the Macdonnell Ranges? Have we not a special claim to that advantage? All the evidence of those who know the Northern Territory best points to the conclusion that it should be connected with the rest of Australia by a line going north from the existing line in South Australia. The proposal of the right honorable member for Swan would serve only part of the Territory. The honorable member for Lilley has argued that the right honorable member had in view an extension southwards from Newcastle Waters to Oodnadatta; but the concluding paragraph of the letter is against his contention -

The western portion, however, is impossible, unless we have communication with Queensland, and, if that is denied to us, we must turn our attention to connecting the Northern Territory from Oodnadatta, a policy to which we are already pledged.

What the right honorable member says there is that if the construction of a line from Camooweal to Newcastle Waters were opposed, the Cook Government would be forced to carry out the compact with South Australia by continuing the line northwards from Oodnadatta. The honorable member said, further, that the agreement between South Australia and the Commonwealth does not stipulate the building of the railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek. I believe that at the present time a survey is being made from Kingbouya to Oodnadatta. To that I do not object, nor should I object to any deviation from a direct route northwards which would have the effect of serving better country than that on the direct route, so long as the line was extended northwards from Oodnadatta.

Sitting suspended from6.30 to7.45 p.m.


Mr YATES - To continue my quotation from Mr. Giles' letter -

North of Hann Range the country continues good and splendidly grassed, but badly watered. Brackish water has been obtained at 80 foot in abundance. The country oilers every facility for dam sinking. At 20 miles north of Hann Range the road touches the Wood Creek, and follows it a distance of 40 miles, the whole of its course being through richly-grassed plains, with occasional patches of mulga timber, up to the base of Central Mount Stuart, under the foot of which runs the Hanson Creek, where permanent water exists a few inches under the sand, and by using a plough and scoop in the bed of the creek large reservoirs can be scooped out, yielding unlimited supplies of water. The land along the course of the creek maintains its rich character for grass and herbage, improving as it approaches the Stirling Creek, and rendering it exceptional for agricultural or pastoral purposes. Water may be got at an exceedingly shallow depth.

We thus know beyond doubt what the country is like in the Macdonnell Ranges. However, I desire to deal with that phase with which we are more immediately concerned. A Commission of our own creation, which reported last year, gives ample evidence of what the Northern Territory really is, and affords sufficient information on which the Department of External Affairs could do more than simply try to conduct the affairs of this immense area by sending an Administrator on long and circuitous journeys, and, from time to time, receiving reports from him, only to learn from all sorts of sources that there is turmoil and domestic unrest in that quarter. I maintain, and it is the opinion of most people, that, if we could get into the Territory with more ease and expedition, things would begin to right them selves more quickly from an administrative point of view ; and I feel positive that the desired end could be best attained by carrying the proposed railway from north to south. The leases in the Territory expire in 1944, but about one-half of them expire much earlier, and this gives us ample opportunity to review our policy. One settler, in reply to a question put by the Commission in regard to railways said -

In the event of a railway passing through the country, I think that every pastoralist would be quite prepared to surrender portion of his land.

The leases are of such magnitude, simply because of the lack of moans of communication. The report of the Commission says -

The Northern Territory Land Act should be so framed as to allow for that. We can do nearly as much on 3,000 miles of country with a railway as on6,000 miles without a railway..... With compensation for improvements we would be quite prepared to surrender portion of our lease.

Occupiers are forced to hold double the quantity of land under present conditions, but, with proper railway facilities, there would be two settlers where now there is one. Dealing with the matter as affecting the Barclay Tablelands, the report of the Commission says -

Evidence goes to show that under more favorable conditions the stock-carrying capacity would be largely increased. One witness stated that on6,000 square miles his firm at the present time carried 35,000 head, but that he hoped to sec the day when the run, with improvements, would carry 100.000 head.

But there cannot be improvements until proper facilities are afforded, and those facilities, according to the evidence, must take the form of railway communication -

In other words, the carrying capacity is capable of being almost trebled.

If that be so, it is evident that there is something in the country which ought to spur us on to attract population. Another witness, speaking of the Barclay Tablelands, says -

On one station on the Barclay Tablelands sheep have been raised for many years, the present number being 58,000. The industry is under great disabilities owing to insufficiency of water, cost of fencing material, high rate of freight, distance from markets, and scarcity of labour.

These difficulties would be obviated by the provision of a railway; in fact, the witness says -

Those disabilities would be certainly minimixed with railway communication.


Mr Spence - What about the Cloncurry railway?


Mr YATES - No doubt the Cloucurry railway would assist the Barclay Tablelands more than would the straight-cut railway; but it does not follow that, because the railway is taken from north to south, branches cannot he made, as recommended in the report. There is good country On the west side of the Territory - in the Victoria River and Ord River districts - which i? highly- spoken of by Mr. L. A. Wells, of the South Australian Lands Department. Mr. Wells has explored that part of the country, and his brother lost his life in similar work ; and he tells us that the country west of the telegraph line is some of the most wonderful he has seen. He admits that there are belts of desert, so to speak; but with a railway from the main track into the Victoria River district, there are immense possibilities of development. In conversation with myself he said that he never saw bigger-framed flocks, and never tasted better mutton in his life than he did there; and he is certainly a man who knows what he is talking about. Although the line mentioned by the PostmasterGeneral might be the better one for the Barclay Tablelands, some of the richest country, from a metal-bearing point of view, is to be found in the centre of Australia; and this country, along with the pastoral country, would be best assisted and developed by means of a railway. Speaking of the Victoria River district, one witness before the Commission said -

On an area of about 11,000 square miles (7,040,000 acres) his company was carrying 107,000 head of cattle and 900 head of horses. Ho believed that by providing water it would safely carry 30,000 head more.

To provide water we must provide facilities for conveying the necessary machinery and labour, and there is no doubt that in this way the stocking capacity of the country could he nearly doubled. Another witness, an owner and manager, said -

He held 1,50.0 miles of country, carrying 5,000 head of cattle and 700 horses. In the event of a railway he would be willing, under certain conditions, to surrender part of his country. The block he would surrender would carry 10,000 head of cattle, and not be overstocked.

This the settlers are prepared to do as soon as the Commonwealth is prepared to settle the country, instead of waiting for the Administrator to do it. Another paragraph in the report of the Commission is -

One station owner and manager expressed the opinion that the whole of the Victoria River country, from the Kith parallel south, was, generally speaking, good sheep country. He estimated that with railway facilities that country would carry from 20,000,000 to- 30,000,000 sheep easily, and a great number of big stock as well.

Then Mr. Richard Murray, of the Department of Forestry, South Australia, told the Commission -

There is country to the north of the Macdonnell Ranges where I have seen grass you could mow, and that country is unoccupied. There is some fair country also in the vicinity of the Truer Ranges which is untouched at the present time.

Another piece of evidence is -

At the present time the two holdings carried about 10,500 head of cattle and 1,800 horses. On an average they sunt away about 1,500 head of fats per year; but in bad seasons they were obliged to hold them over, or soli as stores. With a railway from Oodnadatta to the Macdonnell Ranges this country would carry more stock, because necessary improvements in providing water would be possible.

According to people who know, the development of the Territory depends on railway communication; and this is what ought to first occupy the attention of the Government. My object in speaking is, if possible, to obtain a promise more definite than that given last week by the Prime Minister in Adelaide, namely, " Leave it with us, and we will see it is done." I wish for some definite, specific promise, for which the report of the Commission affords ample justification. It is not only South Australia that asks for this railway. The motion on which the Prime Minister gave the assurance that I have just mentioned was submitted by delegates from Tasmania, who regarded it as imperative that the Territory be developed by carrying the railway from Oodnadatta north; and certainly Tasmanians cannot be charged with taking a local or prejudiced view of the situation. The Registrar of Mines, South Australia, in his evidence before the Commission, said -

The country round Hergott did not look well; but from about the Coward northward, right to Arltunga, feed is luxuriant, and water abundant - that was when I was up in March.

According to that gentleman, had the railway been in existence during the recent drought, it would have been possible to send stock to Charlotte Springs, where feed was very abundant. The same witness further said -

When I came down in December of the same year, the country was dry in parts, and had I written my description then I might not have been so enthusiastic.

It will be seen that this witness is unquestionably expressing his genuine opinion, for he does not depend on what he saw in March. He said further -

The Macdonnell Ranges struck me as being a most wonderful place for horse breeding.

It is to bridge that strip of what is called desert country that we ask for railway extension. Of course there is an extension from Pine Creek to Katherine River, but I doubt whether that railway will afford such facilities for the development of the Territory as would an extension from Oodnadatta.


Mr Pigott - What distance has to be covered?


Mr YATES - I think between 300 and 400 miles. Mr. Henry Lewis, pastoralist, of Adelaide, said to the Commission -

I have travelled across (north and south) six times, and I consider that every mile of country between Oodnadatta and the Katherine is good country for cattle and horses. Anywhere north of Newcastle Waters would be too wet for sheep, but there is room for plenty south of that.


Sir John Forrest - How much stock is there between Oodnadatta and the Macdonnell Ranges now?


Mr YATES - I do not hold myself 'ip as a compendium of statistics. I am quoting the evidence of others, who know the country well. The right honorable member admitted, after an interjection from the honorable member for Grey, that he did not go into the Northern Territory, but came in by the Alberga River from the north-west coast of Australia.


Sir John Forrest - It is 300 miles from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs.


Mr YATES - Exactly so.


Sir John Forrest - Tell us how much stock there is.


The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable gentleman has reached the time limit.







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