Frederic C. (Frederic Chambers) Spurr.

Five years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions online

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wonderful, when one comes to think of it, that food
can be preserved from corruption by the application
of cold; but the cold must be scientifically applied.
In the refrigerating chamber the temperature is kept
from 20 degrees to 25 degrees "It snows there."
Stewards who enter the chamber for business pur-
poses are compelled to dress in special garments, so



Five Years under the Southern Cross

as to avoid a sudden chill, with its possible fatal
consequences. The air in the cold chamber is
changed three times a week. And so it is all a miracle
of atmosphere, regulated at will.

The practical work of preparing meals for pas-
sengers is very fascinating. The kitchens are models
of cleanliness. No slovenliness is permitted. Most
of the food is untouched by hand. Dough is mixed
by a machine. Bread and cakes are cut by a patent
knife. Potatoes are peeled by a huge "peeler," which
removes only the minimum of skin. There are enor-
mous roasters and steam cookers, which perform
their work with absolute precision. The kitchen of
a great liner is a place of wonder, and the scullery
is only second to it. Here labour is saved at every
turn. Knives are cleaned in a new and expeditious
manner; plates are washed by steam and dried in a
whirling machine turned by electricity at a terrific
rate of speed. Science operates everywhere. There
is no chance for germs to develop. Every man has
his place and his duty. Galley fires must be lighted
at 4 A.M.; cooks must be on duty at a certain fixed
hour. Stewards have their duties clearly defined.
Nothing is left to chance. The discipline of the ship
is perfect.

But while we examine this fascinating department
of ship life, we become aware of an increasing throb
in the engines. The boat is rolling heavily. The
sea is behaving badly; and we are seized with a
desire to go below and see life in the nethermost
regions of the boat. It has been represented to us

16



Going to the Ends of the Earth

as a kind of inferno, in which men work naked.
In company with the "chief" we descend to the
engine-room. Here four powerful engines turn the
steel shafts, which in turn move the propellers. At
last we arrive at the ultimate expression of force in
this wonderful ship. All is now left behind, save the
thick steel shafts which run horizontally through the
stern of the vessel. Silently and swiftly they move
round, forcing the propellers outside to displace the
waters of the ocean, and so urge forward the steamer.
It is a weird experience to descend to the very bottom
of the steamer, into its uttermost corner, where the
boat is narrowest, and to watch the steel shafts ever
turn round. The mighty vessel above us depends in
reality upon these shafts. If they broke, and could
not be replaced, the steamer would lie upon the bosom
of the water a helpless mass of iron and steel. One
frail plate of steel between us and destruction ! The
idea is chilling.

I dreaded the furnaces the satanic stokehole,
where men suffer in the presence of broiling fieat.
But when we pass into this region of the ship, where
is the inferno? To my utter astonishment, the stoke-
hole is cooler than the engine-room. A pleasant
draught of cool air plays around the stokers, who
are not naked nor perspiring. Despite roaring fires
and enormous boilers, the room is pleasantly cool.
Thus another illusion has disappeared. The old order
of things has changed. Science has rendered service
more humane. The terrors of life are one by one
departing.

c 17



CHAPTER II

THE GOLDEN WEST

PASSENGERS from England to Australia via the Cape
generally touch Australian soil first at Albany. They
thus miss the true "gateway" into the country,
Fremantle. This latter city is the port for Perth;
it is the traveller's first introduction to Australia if
he travels via the Suez and Ceylon. And glad is he
to behold land once more after the monotonous
voyage of ten days across the Indian Ocean. A
languid air steals over the ship during the time it
is in the region of the Equator. At night the decks
are strewn with mattresses for the accommodation
of passengers who prefer to "sleep out" rather than
be stifled in intolerable cabins. Then, if the season
be that of the Australian winter (June to August),
the heat gradually moderates, and by the time the
boat reaches Fremantle all white clothing has been
discarded, and men are thankful once more to take
to blankets and heavier dress.

The development of Western Australia has been
remarkable. For many years it lay practically stag-
nant; then in a moment its progress commenced.
The discovery of gold made all the difference.
Twenty years ago Perth was a mere village, with

18



The Golden West

all the disadvantages of a village. Many of its
houses were primitive and ugly. A few relics of
that period still survive. Certain houses were built
of kerosene tins; many more of wood. A neglected
look characterised the place. "Squalid," one old in-
habitant calls it ; but that is probably an exaggeration.
It had a beautiful natural situation, being built upon
a slope of the lovely Swan River. Yet the city at
that time was badly lighted and badly drained. It
brought little credit to its fair surroundings. In the
long ago the French, the Portuguese, and the Dutch
had in turn visited the West, named it, and then
passed on. And now it seemed but a few years ago
as if the British, in the persons of their Australian
children, had determined to leave no mark upon the
same West.

It was the discovery of gold, I say, that made the
difference. Just twenty years ago Coolgardie was
a desert. But into its wilds two men had penetrated,
prospecting for gold. There came a day when, quite
suddenly, the desert was transformed into a trea-
sure house. In one evening these men possessed
themselves of 500 ounces of pure gold. Aladdin's
chamber had been found at last. The news of the
discovery spread with amazing rapidity. A frenzy
seized the people. Men threw down their tools,
broke up their homes, abandoned their situations,
and proceeded in a mad rush to the goldfields.
There was no road for them to travel over, nothing
but a wild track. Each man made his own path.
Whatever conveyance happened to be within reach



Five Years under the Southern Cross

was requisitioned for the conveyance of such con-
veniences as the goldfields might require. One man,
unable to procure anything better, seized a wheel-
barrow, in which he pushed his few goods along the
terrible 350 miles of desert. From every State
steamers brought hundreds and thousands of men
who were seized with the lust of gold. Australia
turned out its gamblers into the desert. A city soon
sprang up; a strange medley of human elements.
Land which yesterday was worse than worthless
now fetched pounds per foot. Saloon keepers made
easy fortunes by selling drink at fancy prices.
Houses of every kind sprang up like mushrooms.
The most curious house of all was built of bottles,
cemented together with some kind of mortar. A year
later Kalgoorlie was discovered an earlier Klondyke.
The new field speedily eclipsed the old. Coolgardie
lost its prestige, and, while it continues to thrive in
certain directions, it has given place to its brilliant
rival. A splendid story this, of the discovery of gold,
and as sordid as it is splendid. In the easy gaining
of gold men have lost themselves. The stories I have
heard from men who were on the fields cannot be set
down in print; no newspaper or book dare give
publicity to them. This camp of men, with no idea
but that of gaining as much gold as possible, men
without ideals and often without pity, with the beauty
of humanity crushed out of them, as the machinery
of the goldfields crushes to dust the quartz that passes
beneath its wheels, living only for gold, spending
much of it in drink and lust, consumed with the fever

20



The Golden West

of getting ah ! the story of the world's goldfields
Is largely a story of hell upon earth, of the abasement
of the soul to the lust of the eye and the pride of
life. There is another side to it, and that is the
prodigious folly of allowing this precious metal
the standard for the world's commerce to be
scrambled for by the first-comers, upon conditions
that are as economically ridiculous as they are morally
pernicious. . . .

After the frenzy, the reaction. After the rush
to the goldfields, the cultivation of the land. The
real prosperity of the Golden West lies not in the
quantity of gold secured by adventurers, but in
the honest work put into the soil. Prospecting con-
tinues all the time. Old reefs are still being worked
and new ones sought for. In these vast spaces there
is hidden an enormous quantity of gold. At any
moment some new reef may come to light, and then
will follow a new rush to the fields; yet another
outbreak of the fever which renders men delirious,
and for the time destroys all their higher ideals of
life. Meanwhile, Australia is becoming golden in
another and a better sense. By means of honest
labour its millions of acres are yielding the most
remarkable crops of cereals, roots, and fruits.
Gradually the enormous spaces are being subdued
and inhabited by a race of men and women who
rejoice in the golden sunshine, and who abandon
themselves with the zest of children to the magic
of life.

And it is in this direction that the West is now

21



Five Years under the Southern Cross

prospering. The people generally are really well off.
The State revenue for last year was about four
millions sterling. These 300,000 people have in-
vested in the State Savings Bank no less a sum
than ,4,387,639. This means an average per head
of the population of .14 IDS. 4d., and an average
per depositor of ^45 8s. gd. Such figures are
eloquent of what may be called the general prosperity
of the community. The real source of wealth, how-
ever, is the land. This year there are more than
one million acres of ground under crop. More than
a quarter of a million acres have been "cleared" and
prepared for ploughing and sowing during the
present year. There are 788,349 acres of wheat and
77,488 acres of oats growing at the present time.
Last year nearly four and a half million bushels of
wheat and a million bushels of oats were produced
from the land. This means immense prosperity. The
State is rich enough to spend much money in re-
claiming waste land and in rebuilding the old houses.
During the last twenty years Perth has been prac-
tically rebuilt. I was astonished to behold its beauti-
ful buildings. It possesses splendid Government
offices, a fine museum and art gallery, a noble Mint,
and almost palatial public buildings. Warehouses
and stores, suites of offices, banks, insurance build-
ings, business premises, and the like, are imposing.
Perth promises to be one day a great and noble city.
Already the capital is extending. Within a radius
of twelve miles one-third of the entire population of
the West resides. Sir John Forrest declared that

22



The Golden West

the time would come when Perth and Fremantle and
all between would become one vast city. I can quite
believe it. Perth is the San Francisco of Australia.

As another evidence of prosperity, the following
wages table may be adduced : Bakers get 633. per
week ; barbers 555. ; barmen and barmaids 655. ;
bootmakers i3^d. an hour; carpenters is. 6d. an
hour; butchers' shopmen 6os. to 8os. per week;
drapers' assistants (at Coolgardie) 703. per week;
engine-drivers is. 6d. an hour; night watchmen 545.
per week; tailors 705. per week; and waiters 255. a
week and board. It is all very attractive, but on the
other side let these facts be considered : Potatoes are
4d. per Ib. ; peas Qd. per lb.; cauliflowers from is. to
2S. 6d. each; apples (grown on the spot) 6d. and
7d. per lb. at the present time. One needs a large
income to keep pace with these ridiculous prices,
which are due largely, I understand, to the manipula-
tions of a "ring."

And yet, with it all, life here for working men
is infinitely more tolerable than in England. It is
in truth an El Dorado.

The story of this Golden West is thus a veritable
romance. Yet this State has the smallest population
of all the States, fewer than 300,000 people covering
its million square miles. Its territory is eighteen
times as large as that of England and .Wales.
Imagine this enormous space occupied by a handful
of people, about as many as are found in the single
city of Bradford, Yorkshire. And these 300,000
people are confined to one or two places in the

23



Five Years under the Southern Cross

State. For the rest, there are vast and terrible deserts
awaiting the exploring skill of man. Already, in the
remarkable water scheme undertaken on behalf of the
goldfields, it is demonstrated that science can over-
come the almost insuperable difficulties presented by
Nature in these deserted regions.

In Western Australia nearly every variety of
climate is experienced, from the insufferable tropical
heat of the North to the delightful cool of the South.
At the seaboard the sky and the climate are delightful.
Winters are practically unknown. Children born in
the land have no idea what snow is like. Even in
the depth of winter the days are warm, and often hot.
Overcoats are used only as a protection against rain,
and when rain falls protection is needed. The water
descends, not in drops, but in bucketfuls. Here
Nature seems partial and extreme. The rainy season
is well defined, and when it ends it ends. Not a
drop of rain falls between October and May. There
is need, therefore, for the exercise of human science
in order to conserve the precious liquid which de-
scends so plentifully in the season for use in the arid
season of the year.

And yet Western Australia is at present cut off
from the rest of Australia. To reach Adelaide, the
capital of the neighbouring State, it is necessary to
voyage by steamer across the dreaded " Bight " a
journey of five or more days. In two or three years,
however, this isolation will be ended.

A wonderful forward step was taken in 1912 by
the cutting of the first sod of the Trans-Continental

24



The Golden West

Railway. The line begins at Port Augusta, in South
Australia, and ends at Kalgoorlie, on the goldfield
in Western Australia. In length it is over 1,000 miles,
and when it is completed there will be direct railway
communication between Queensland and Fremantle
a line of 3,000 miles. But if Australia as a whole
is to benefit by it there must be a uniform gauge of
rail. Insensate jealousy between the States, and a
short-sighted policy on the part of the leaders, re-
sulted, in earlier days, in the establishment of various
gauges on the different railways, with the result that
there can be no through service of trains from the
North-East to the West without change of carriage.
This, however, will certainly be remedied. When all
is completed, and a fast service of trains established,
England and Australia will be brought much nearer
to each other than they are at present. With an
accelerated speed of steamers across the Indian
Ocean, it ought to be possible to bring Fremantle
and Marseilles within three weeks of each other.



CHAPTER III

AN ACCOMPLISHED MIRACLE AND A PREDICTION

THE problem of obtaining water, of conserving it,
and of distributing it, is the problem of Western
Australia. In the Eastern States there are many
natural waterways, which in part solve the question
of irrigation. In the West there are few or none.
Until a year or two ago Nature wore a stern aspect
outside the few inhabited spots in the West. The
desert stretched for hundreds of miles. The country
was trackless. Transit was accomplished by the aid
of camels. There were no wells or oases to relieve
the monotony of the everlasting sand dunes. For the
greater part of the year rain does not fall, and when
it does it penetrates the sand and rapidly disappears
beneath the surface. Water is the need of these
great areas. Wherever men have obtained and con-
served water, there, as by magic, the face of Nature
has been changed. And one day, by the help of
science, the transformation will be complete : the
desert will blossom as the rose; in the wilderness will
springs of water be found.

When the goldfields were opened up the first
demand was for water. It was more precious than
wine. The gold reefs were situated in the midst of

26



An Accomplished Miracle

a sterile region entirely inhospitable for man. Water
in small quantities was gained and jealously kept.
Superfluous baths were not permitted. Photographs
of the early scenes in the goldfields suggest the lack
of cleanliness. To-day all this is changed. In that
former desert settlement there are green lawns and
flower gardens. The hard lines on the face of Nature
have been softened. The beauty of virginal youth
is lacking, but it is much to have gained what has
already been won. Five million gallons of pure
water are pumped daily a distance of 350 miles, from
the coast to the goldfields. It is a triumph of
engineering, one of the marvels of the modern world.
It was to the scene of the Mani reservoir at Mun-
daring that we were conveyed by the courtesy of the
Government officials, who placed at our disposal an
automobile. The " Bush " in every part of Australia
possesses certain common features. There are the
interminable stretches of wild country, heavily
timbered with every variety of eucalyptus tree; the
glorious splashes of brilliant yellow wattle; the
"clearings" here and there, where settlers transform
the unruly riot of Nature's wild life into the beautiful
order of cultivated gardens; the isolated church and
school-house ; and charred stumps of trees reduced to
desolation by the all-devouring forest fires. In the
world of animal and bird life there are the wallaby,
the kangaroo, the dingo, the treacherous snake, the
impudent magpie, the destructive parrot, and the
clown of the bush the laughing jackass. All these
we encounter on our journey.

27



Five Years under the Southern Cross

The bush is at once fascinating and oppressive.
These awful solitudes ; this terrifying stillness ! Oh,
for the roar of London traffic for one brief hour to
break the spell cast over us by the eternal silence of
the unending forest. It is all so primitive, so simple,
is life in the bush. We pass the pillar post-box
a kerosene tin affixed to a tree. Now and again we
cross a solitary railway line, over which trains run
twice a week. The notice, " Look out for the trains,"
seems to be the quintessence of humour; one might
wait during half a week before a train appeared on
this bush railway. One strange notice smites us with
a smart stroke. It runs thus : " Twenty Miles to
YORK." So there is a York here; the newest York
of all ! These notices, natural enough to the inhabi-
tants, seem bizarre to us. "Twenty miles to York."
Ah, then ! in an hour's time this flight through the
bush will turn out to have been a curious dream, and
we shall be gazing upon the towers of the Minster !
. . . Some of the houses we pass are incarnate
poems. Built of wood and surrounded with ample
balconies, they are festooned with masses of roses,
buried, in fact, beneath the bloom of a thousand
flowers. In the gardens surrounding these houses
grow oranges, lemons, and palms in profusion, to-
gether with fruit and vegetables of every description.
Already in this early springtime corresponding in
time to an English April peas and beans are nearly
ready for gathering.

But the wild flowers ! We stop the car and pene-
trate into the bush to gather handfuls of the most

28



An Accomplished Miracle

wonderful wild flowers I have ever seen. The flora
is unique both in colouring and in fantastic shapes.
Some of these wild flowers are not found in any other
part of the world. We are here at the precise season
for beholding this display at its very best. The air is
heavy with a strange and subtle perfume. The ex-
quisite and unique scent of the boronia dominates all,
while the fainter perfume of the golden wattle in-
sinuates itself, despite its proximity to the heavily
scented boronia. In an hour we have gathered an
armful of flowers representing every tint known to
nature. Above them all stands out, first, "the kan-
garoo's paw," surely one of the oddest productions of
the magician Nature. A long, slender stalk, measur-
ing one or two feet in length, and terminating in a
flower resembling the outspread paw of the kangaroo
that is the "kangaroo's paw." Sometimes the
colour is green and scarlet, sometimes black, some-
times purple, orange or red. It is the assertive flower
of the forest : the flower one cannot fail to notice.
And then, think of it, O Englishmen who gaze in
rapture at delicate and expensive orchids; amongst
the wild flowers of Western Australia grows the
orchid the orchid grows wild here ! A member of
our party once gathered in one afternoon no less than
fourteen varieties of the wild orchid. One sees here,
growing in a perfectly wild state, flowers and plants
which are highly treasured in hot-houses "at home,"
and for which high prices are gladly paid. But it
must be remembered that Western Australia is one
gigantic, natural hot-house.

29



Five Years under the Southern Cross

And now we have reached the weir at Mundaring.
Here, situated in the midst of magnificent scenery, is
the immense artificial reservoir, with its capacity for
4,600 million gallons of water. This enormous tank
collects all the water of the district. From here it is
pumped through a steel conduit by a series of eight
pumping installations to the main distributing reser-
voir, 308 miles away ; then by gravitation it descends
to the two great goldfields at Coolgardie and Kal-
goorlie. The engine plant is said to be the finest
in the world. Of course, it was constructed in Great
Britain. The entire cost of the scheme was
,3,300,000, an enormous sum of money for fewer than
300,000 people to find for supplying water to two
cities and the towns en route. The whole work was
planned and consummated in five years. It ended
in conferring a boon upon the people or some of
them and in bringing tragedy to the chief engineer,
who, worried beyond endurance with the criticisms
passed upon his work, committed suicide.

We were happy in being able to see the reservoir
when it overflowed with water, the surplus passing
over the weir in a long, graceful sheet, thus joining
the water of the river below. This living blind, in-
cessantly being drawn down, dancing as it fell,
offered a spectacle of rare beauty. Western Australia
has good reason to be proud of its achievement in
constructing this admirable piece of hydraulic engin-
eering. It stands quite unique in the history of the
world. Nothing else of a similar nature is on such
a great scale.

30



An Accomplished Miracle

The experiment has been successful, and it has
pointed out the way in which one of the greatest
difficulties in a desert country may be overcome^
Sufficient water falls in the course of the year for all
purposes. Hitherto it has run to waste, lacking a
proper system of conservation and distribution. A
great and generous increase of population would
result in the extension of this system, so that what
was formerly regarded as unredeemable land might
become rich and productive country. For the natural
wealth of the country is almost illimitable.

Thus the miracle. Now for the prediction.

What will be the future of the great Golden West
that immense area of nearly one million square
miles which comprises Western Australia? The
question is inevitable, and it is of surpassing inte-
rest, not only to Australia, but to the entire Empire.
A study of the map should convince any reasonable
person that this "front door to Australia" is of no
ordinary importance in the plan of Empire develop-
ment. Vast coloured populations lie almost at this
door. Facing the north and north-west are the
millions of Java and Borneo and the islands, while
India is but ten days' steaming from the port of
Fremantle. Beyond, in the north, lie four hundred
millions of Chinese. With a discontented India, an
awakening China, an overcrowded and ambitious
Japan all near at hand the question, What will be
the future of the Golden West ? assumes a new and
serious importance.

Let us consider the land to begin with. It is the



Five Years under the Southern Cross

"giant of the Australian States," containing the
vastest area and the smallest population (I am not
including Tasmania). Until recently it has been
largely neglected by the other States and by the rest


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Online LibraryFrederic C. (Frederic Chambers) SpurrFive years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions → online text (page 2 of 18)