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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter VII


Start for Maryborough—A colonial conveyance—A drive through the bush—Mosquitoes—A bush inn—We reach Maryborough—The sugar-cane country—Alford sugar-estate—Method of cultivation —Yengarrie factory—Mode of manufacture—The cheap labour question—Kanaka recruiting—Burning questions of the day— Class antagonism.

After we had spent a very pleasant week with. Ching, during which, my constant consumption of dugong oil considerably increased my weight, it became necessary for us to think of making a start, as my companion's leave would soon expire. We had some good shooting, and enjoyed several exhibitions of the marvellous skill and wonderful accuracy of aim, and dexterity of the black fellows, with their boome­rangs and spears. I bagged numbers of bronze-wing pigeons, black cockatoos, parrots, and rabbits on Woody island; but we had to go, and from a neighbouring German settler, Ching managed to secure the loan of a spring-cart.

On the 20th March, wo bade adieu to our kind host, his dusky retainers and bronzed assistants, and plunged into the forest. Never shall I forget that day! It was real downright torture, from start to finish. Our conveyance, by some inexplicable misdirec­tion of meaning, or grim cynical satire, was denominated a spring-trap.

Anything more approaching to the condition of utter and uncompromising springlessness could not be conceived. It took a quarter of an hour's hard work pulling, lashing, and objurgating, to get our horse to start, and when he did start his chief tendency was to stop again. For full eight hours did that wretched animal make a miserable pretence of dragging our cart, over a bush road, which more resembled the site of some ancient village built in the primitive style on piles, than anything else. The village had disappeared, but the piles remained. At every yard we went bump over a stump, smash over a snag, souse into a hideous mud-hole, or crash against a prostrate log, till every individual muscle and joint, and bone and sinew ached again. Then the mosquitoes! It mattered not that we tore branches from the trees, and wildly thrashed each other, and them, in the extremity of our agony. The dead lay piled in the bottom of the spring^cart, but still legions of indomitable blood-suckers—en­venomed kinsfolk and avengers of the slain—would come trooping on, till faint from loss of blood, hoarse with vituperation, utterly disjointed and demoralized— we hailed the welcome streak of light in the distance, —that told us of a break in the forest. "When we emerged into the open, got on the telegraph track, and felt the fresh wind" playing on our fevered brows, we left our scourges behind us, and, save the jolting, got on tolerably well.

About five miles from Maryborough we came upon a pretty winding creek, with a neat rustic bridge span­ning the stream, On the further bank we descried a public-house, and as the storm-tossed mariner hails the friendly beacon, so from our souls did we long for a drink. Accordingly we redoubled our frantic endeavours to infuse some motion into our jaded liorse, and made for The Sawyer's Arms, into which blessed haven we staggered, and in faint voices gasped for beer. Such was my first experience of bush travel: I fervently hoped it might have been the last. How I longed for the stately elephant, the once-despised palkee; even the "ferocious dhoolie," or a bhylee, would have been a God-send. Anything better than that murderous spring-cart.

Maryborough presented the usual incongruous jumble of mean huts, paddocks full of charred stumps, squat public-houses, imposing weatherboard stores with gaudy signs, and all the quaint, broadly marked con­trasts and contradictions of a thriving colonial town. There were not wanting many evidences of progress, industry, and wealth. The townspeople seemed to be an active, energetic, pushing community. One or two of the hotels and churches, the court-house, and several of the chief stores, were quite equal to kindred structures in the metropolis. There was a handsome well-laid-out reserve, for a botanic garden, in the heart of the town, and a considerable amount of small ship­ping in the river.

I was anxious, however, to get out to the sugar plantations, and receiving a hearty and cordial invita­tion from a " brither Scot," Farquhar by name, I bade my companion good-bye, and started for Alford sugar- estate, accompanied by my kindly and courteous host. Alford stands on a fertile eminence, overlooking a series of fat lowlands, splendidly cultivated, and bounded by the muddy, sluggish stream, which gives its name to the town. The house is nicely situated in the midst of a well kept garden. It is comfortably built. The walls inside are decorated profusely with curios from the South Sea Islands. Farquhar was one of the first planters to import Kanakas from the archipelago of the Pacific. In the verandah, a comfortable hammock depends from the rafters. The miseen scene reminds me very much of an Indigo planter's bungalow. It is a truly tropical picture.

Cane in all directions; the air sultry and still, and floods of bright sunshine touching up the rolling billows of green sugar-cane with points and flashes of gold and emerald, till the whole valley by the river seems like a scene transported bodily from Aladdin's garden of delights. The horizon is bounded, at no great distance, by the gloomy bush lines; the river winds sluggishly along its muddy channel; the farther bank, draped with tropical creepers and matted scrub, in deep shadow; and the buildings and high chimney- stalks of Eaton Yale, Alford, and the Central factory up the river, bold and distinct against the sky­line.

It is a rich valley indeed. The soil is a deep, dark mould, easily worked, and the crops are simply magnificent. Notwithstanding a severe and long-continued drought, the cane is luxuriant, and the planters had every expectation of a good out-turn. It was now the slack season. Manufacture has been finished, and planting was nearly over.

The canes are planted in rows, on ridges thrown up by the plough, or, where the undulations are too steep, on banks earthed up by the coolies. The rows are from five to six feet apart. The cuttings from which the sowings or plantings are made are laid on the ridge about a foot apart, slightly sloping, and the first shoots appear in from five to six weeks after planting. In the rich bottoms the cuttings are laid in the hollow^, and then earthed up from the ridges; in any case the "stools" are all earthed up about the roots, when the plant gets about knee high. The fields are kept carefully cleaned between the rows, and whep the dry leaves begin to accumu­late, these are all stripped off and laid regularly between the lines of plant. This is technically called trashing."

Cane which has been planted early, say in August, will, under favourable circumstances, be ready to cut in the month of August following; but if planted in December or January, and up to the middle of April, it will not be cut till the following August twelve months ! thus taking, roughly, a year and a half to come to maturity, Less than 4½ feet of clear cane is never cut, and it not unfrequently cuts out in lengths of over 10 feet, thicker than a man's wrist. When cut, the 'Hrash'' is collected and burnt, the "stools" earthed up by the plough, and the crop allowed to stand for a second cutting. In the richest parts of this valley as many as five and six crops are got from the one planting, In the higher lands, farther back from the river, new crop is put in every third or fourth year.

The varieties of cane are very numerous, the most common being the Bourbon, the Gingham, the long yellow, the China straight cane, and several dark- coloured kinds from Java. The favourite kinds are called Rapol and Mera, both quick-growing varieties. Experiments are still being made with all sorts, but those enumerated above are perhaps on the whole the best.

Bust attacks the plant occasionally, arid very unfrequently the borer. Floods are of frequent occurrence, and cause great loss, whilst a year of drought will retard the growth of the plant. But, on the whole, the industry is in a flourishing state, and a vast amount of capital is now employed in the different Works. The average yield is about a ton to a ton and a half of manufactured sugar per acre. As much as four tons an acre have been produced from some lands on this estate, but such an enormous yield is, of course, very exceptional.

At Eaton Yale, and on some other estates, the old method of manufacture is still adopted. The juice is expressed, boiled in a battery of pans, pkced in the vacuum pans, and then put through the centrifugals; very much the same treatment as is adopted at Rosa, the great sugar-works of the North-West Provinces, near Shajehanpore, in India. The greatest establish­ment in the whole of Australia, however, is at Yengarrie, some miles up the river. More than a quarter of a million has been expended on the purchase, of the patent, and on the works here, and through the kind­ness of Mr. Cran, one of the partners, we were shown all over the vast pile of buildings.

The process here pursued is that whioh has been patented in France, and is called the "lime process." It is the most complete and least wasteful method yet invented, and only in France, by the original patentees, and here, by Messrs. Tooth and Cran, is it yet in operation. The Yengarrie firm have several plantations of their own, but they also manufacture the juice of any other plantation on the river which likes to send it to them.

The plan pursued is as follows:—

The juice is expressed by the common rolling-mill. It is then mixed with lime-water from slaked stone- lime. The lime prevents the juice fermenting, and enables it to be kept for an indefinite time without losing any of its saccharine strength. When mixed it is run into large punts, containing 5000 gallons each, and these are taken up the river to the Yengarrie wharf, where there is an elaborate and costly pumping apparatus for lifting the liquor up to the factory. The juice from the Yengharrie home plantations is forced through pipes from distances varying from two to five miles. The pipes are carried over hill and dale, through bush, and swamp, and creek; there are mud-traps and air-valves at intervals, by which the pipes can be at any time cleaned, and the whole arrangements are as complete as human skill and ingenuity, backed by capital, could make them. The forcing-pump machinery is a beautiful specimen of iron-work, and both it and the crushing machinery (huge masses of metal perfectly finished) have all been made close by, at the Mary­borough foundry. Better work could not be turned out in England.

When juice from other growers is sent in for manu­facture, the arrangement is as follows :—The liquor is gauged by Baume's saccharometer, 10° being taken as the standard of density, and the latest Sydney and Melbourne sugar-market quotations as the standard of price. A pound of raw manufactured sugar is allowed for every gallon of liquor. Thus 5000 gallons of liquor, at a density of 10° Baume, would be accepted by the Yengarrie factory as representing 5000 lbs. of raw manufactured sugar, and the grower would be paid at current market-rates accordingly. Any increase or decrease of the density, above or below 10°, would be increased or decreased rateably in the price. This arrangement seems fair, and, at all events, it has pleased both parties hitherto.

The vastness of the. Yengarrie works bewildered me. The process is, of course, a long and intricate one; but the salient features in it, I believe, are these:—

The liquor, mixed with lime, is treated with carbonic acid gas, made in a lime-kiln on the grounds, as the first operation; this turns the lime into carbonate of lime; and, after numberless operations, the lime is got rid of by steam-pressure. In our crude Indian way, half the saccharine matter is lost by fermentation. By the lime process all fermentation is made an impossibility, and the full amount of saccharine matter is obtained. Not an atom is wasted. The sugar made here is beautifully white, but the crystals are small, as the trade will, not buy large-grained sugar. The workshops are replete with every modern invention— lathes, rolling and planing machines, machines for drilling and punching; in fact, everything that is necessary for making and repairing any part of the vast array of machinery which is used.

Animal charcoal for refining the sugar is manufactured on the spot, and numerous lines of tramway rails lead far into the bush in every direction, for bringing in the enormous quantities of firewood in daily use, and for taking away the refuse lime and waste of crushed cane, which, when mixed and allowed to rot, makes one of the finest manures in the world.

The managers on the estates are fine, manly young fellows. They get about 2001, a year, with free house and rations; overseers about 801, a year; and tho skilled white labourer from 25s. to 30s. a week, with food. The most of the field-work is done by Kanaka boys, from the New Hebrides, Solomon, Santa Cruz and Loyalty Islands, in the South Seas.

The importation of these aboriginals has given great umbrage to the white immigrants, and their continued employment or non-employment has been one of the burning questions of the day. The whites argue that they have left home and friends, seduced by the representations of the Queensland government, that they would find constant work at enhanced rates, cheap food, a grand climate, free institutions, and a glorious future of wealth and ease. Free institutions they certainly get. Manhood suffrage is the rule here. There is no property qualification or education test. Six months' residence gives you a vote.

The fact is, for an honest, industrious, patient working man there is always employment here. He can earn good wages, and save money, and eventually own his own house and garden, and certainly never know want. But what is the fact? From my own observation, which, though short, has been searching and impartial, I do believe that a more improvident, lazy, self-indulgent, impertinent set of fellows never cursed a colony with their presence than those agitators and radicals, who falsely call themselves the leaders of the working men, organize themselves into leagues and unions, and are the originators of the present cry against cheap or abundant coloured labour. Their one object is to keep away capital seemingly, and prevent the colony from going ahead. They will not work; they are irreclaimable loafers; and their chief aim is how to secure a wage that will keep them in grog and tobacco, and administer to their sensual appetites, without the penalty of giving an equivalent of fair labour in return. Be it distinctly understood, vii.] "kanakas and polynesian labour act.

I do not mean tlie honest, hard-working, intelligent labourer. I only stigmatize the clap-trap orators, who try to manipulate the vote of the working man.

Capitalists, too, these men conveniently forget—at least, they ignore the fact—have left home and friends, have surrendered many of the comforts and asso­ciations that make life worth having, and they certainly did not come so far and risk so much merely that a mob of worthless democrats should batten on their wealth, grow fat on the results of their energy and skill, and requite them with insolence and insubor­dination. In fact, at present the relative positions of classes here are turned upside down. "Jack is as good as his master and a great deal better." On some of the plantations where only white labour was used, prostitution and drunkenness prevailed. The men were insolent, disobedient, and lazy; and were a gold- field discovered in the vicinity, or should the whim take them, they would be off, bag and baggage, at a moment's notice, leaving your crop to rot, and you to go to ruin, for all they cared.

Under the Polynesian Labour Act, the Kanakas are recruited on the islands, upon a three-years' engage­ment to work on the plantations. They get a free passage to Queensland and back, a year, and a certain quantity of clothing; and are housed, fed, and have medical attendance at their employers' expense. No doubt they require constant looking after, as they are lazily inclined; but in good hands they are sober, tractable, and intelligent; and I am convinced the sugar industry would never have attained its present .proportions without them.

Another burning question, much debated among the higher classes when I was at Maryborough, was the resumption of squatting lands. On tlie one hand, the squatters say that wool and stock are indubitably the staples of the country, and that they have contributed in no small degree to make the colony what she has become; that if they have no security of tenure, capital will be withheld; if their lands are resumed or given over to the selector, they must dispose of their stock at a ruinous sacrifice; and that, seeing they have been the pioneers of these great industries, have surmounted difficulties, have taken their lives in their hands, as it were, and put capital, energy, health, comfort, their all in their venture, they should in common fairness be allowed to reap the fruit.

They say, moreover, that the richest lands are the scrub lands and the lands near the coast; that these are pre-eminently suited for agriculture, and not suited for squatting; and that therefore these lands should be taken up first.

On the other hand, the objectors to this view say that the squatters have enjoyed far more than the reasonable fruits of their work already; that emigrants are invited out to the country by government under promise of getting a portion of land, but that when they arrive here the land is not forthcoming; that they do not want to take the fairest portion of the runs from the squatter—he has his pre-emptive and other rights—but let the selector, who is willing to spend as much capital on the land as the squatter, have an equal chance of obtaining a share. That the squatters do not, man for man, employ more labour or contribute to the expenses of government, or advance the weal of the community in any greater degree than other classes: so that therefore they should not be more favoured or protected than the selector or emigrant who wants to squatters and selectors.

farm a piece of land, and is willing to pay for it. The squatter should certainly be reasonably protected; but when his lease is up he must take the usual commercial risk of having a renewal of it refused; a higher offerer willing to outbid him; or an enhancement of rent required as the result of greater demand. Part/ feeling runs very high, mutual recriminations are indulged in, classes are estranged, and so the contest rages from bad to worse. In the above remarks, I have endeavoured to give the view of the planters and squatters on the subject of labour, but I may further on have more so say, regarding both the labour question, and the land laws.

I do not wish to be understood as saying that there is not a large class of honest, capable working men in the colony, or that all the members of Parliament are weak and useless; but owing to the manhood vote many of the constituencies allow the beer interest and the professional political agitators to have, far too much influence.

Black labour, I consider, might safely and with reason be excluded from the towns, and only used in plantations, and the Chinese should be made to contri­bute more than they do to the expenses of govern­ment; but that all black labour should be excluded from a tropical country like northern Queensland in obedience to a cry from prejudiced and unlettered sham working men is monstrous.  

I have spoken with all classes and conditions of people since my arrival in the colony, and the evidences of mutual jealousy are very painful. The majority of the white working men have exaggerated ideas of their own importance. They want large pay for little work. The towns are jealous of each other, and all cry out

for this and that improvement. In the mad scramble for the limited amount of funds at the disposal of government, each member asks for far more than he can possibly get for his particular constituency, hoping that by asking for all, he may get possibly a fractional part. In the words of the old Scotch proverb, "If ye bode for a silk goon ye'll maybe get a sleeve o't," seems to be a favourite policy. This breeds a narrow- minded, parochial way of looking at things. I am really trying to be fair to the members, but I do think there is a want of breadth, a subservience of national and imperial to local wants, and a jealousy and petty rivalry between classes and localities that embitters party warfare, and materially retards the general progress of the country. As has been forcibly said by a well-known colonial writer, "We are cursed with centralization, while commercial dishonesty and corrupt government are the dry rot of our boasted civilization."


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