Irrigation farming in Australia. An account of the irrigation closer settlement schemes in the commonwealth, showing the steps by which the new settler from oversea begins online

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Online LibraryAustraliaIrrigation farming in Australia. An account of the irrigation closer settlement schemes in the commonwealth, showing the steps by which the new settler from oversea begins → online text (page 1 of 3)
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By authority:

E. iq.i 5?

Sketch Showing Sub-Division and Line of Development of
50-Acre Irrigation Farm.



Specimen plan of 5o-acre block, measuring 20 chains by 25 chains.

Shown here are about 170 chains of fencing (all of which need not be done at
first), and 52 chains channelling.

Some of the fencing probably two sides of the whole boundary fence will
be shared by adjoining land owners, who contribute half the cost of such fences.

Each settler can, of course, lay out his block as he chooses, but he is advised
that of 50 acres at least 10 should be lucerne in every case.



Unroll the map of Australia and one striking feature becomes
at once obvious the great river system on the south-eastern side,
comprising the Murray and its tributaries. At a distance of 520
miles above its mouth, the Murray system branches out like a fan,
the ribs of which run through all the country from Queensland to
Victoria. True, the analogy to a fan is more apparent on paper than
in fact, for the main body of the river's waters comes from the
lower, or southern side of the fan.

The area of the Murray basin is over 414,000 square miles, or
about one-seventh of the whole of the Australian continent. The
Murray system is the great natural drainage line of South-eastern
Australia. The length of the Murray proper is 1400 miles ; it marks
out nearly the entire boundary between New South Wales and
Victoria. The two longest tributaries, the Darling and Murrum-
bidge?, both in New South Wales, are respectively 1350 and 700
miles long. It should be explained, however, that length is less
important in these rivers than flow, and that while the Darling is


the longest tributary, it is, in the other regard, of much less impor-
tance, since its flow is only a little ove a third of that of the Murrum-
bidgee, and a little more than half that of the main Victorian tribu-
tary, the Goulburn. Indeed, in point of flow two other small

4 Irrigation Farming in Australia.

Victorian tributaries, the Mitta and the Ovens, are nearly equal to
the Darling.

The importance of the extended reach of the Murray system
attaches not so much to irrigation as to another use of the Murray
waters namely, in the direction of navigation. For the purposes
of this present survey, which confines its attention to irrigation
development, the area will have to be ' restricted to the Murray
valley proper, and especially the rich Riverina country embraced
by the Murrumbidgee, Goulburn, and Loddon valleys. One glance
at the map will show how the circle could be drawn. It would take
in the whole of the northern area of Victoria, the south-western
corner of New South Wales, and the strip along the Murray in
South Australia.


The main watershed of the system is the Great Dividing Range,
which winds from the south of Victoria around and up the greater
part of the eastern coast of Australia.. The Murray itself begins
with the snow-water from the highest points of the Australian Alps.
The source of the Murrumbidgee is in the same locality. The
Darling is fed entirely by the irregular and torrential rains of the
hotter latitudes of the north.

The Murray, especially in its lower course, follows an exceed-
ingly tortuous channel, and its flow is very sluggish. This is a
distinct advantage to the farming areas in its valleys; the water
they want is not whirled past them to waste at the rapid rate of
other of the world's great rivers. The greater part of the Murray
Valley lies at an elevation of less than 500 ft. above sea level. The
geologists have an explanation of the formation of the Riverina and
lower Murray plains, which at once makes an interesting story, and
explains the famous fertility of the soil there. Formerly the sea

irrigation Farming in Australia. 5

covered most of the plains even as far as Menindie, on the Darling
and borings disclose river and lake deposits in this soil down to
over 1000 ft., deep. Sands and silts were carried down by the rivers,
and gradually filled up a vast lake caused by the rising of the sea
floor. The last series of deposits laid down as deltaic formation in
this original lake are the rich alluvial soils of the Riverina valleys,
to-day, which are being turned into wheatfields and orchards.



The area embraced in the Murray system is the heart of pro-
ucing Australia. In the Murray province flourishes every branch
of agriculture and farming sheep, wheat, dairying, orchards, and
vineyards. Australia is aiming at making the river itself by
means of locks a great commercial highway into the prosperous
lands which the river waters, so that the vast annual wealth of
wheat and wool and butter and fruit may be floated down the
cheapest of freight channels to the markets of Australia and the
world outside. That is the grand idea behind the present develop-
ment schemes. As it is, to-day, without the required locking, the
Murray trading steamers serve during six months of the year a long


line of irrigation settlements from the mouth to the South Aus-
tralian border and beyond. The growth of farming on the river
plains in the last twenty years has been enormous.. The irrigation
farmer, farming on smaller blocks, is gradually extending over
country formerly held solely by wheatgrowers and pastoralists

6 Irrigation Farming in Australia.

This agricultural development has proceeded along lines
natural in a vast and sparsely-populated continent, which the natives
had never attempted to cultivate. Originally the white man had to
begin Australia at the very beginning. So he ranged his sheep and
cattle over whole provinces, which he could almost call his own;
he sowed wheat roughly and broadcast over fields as big as a town.
As settlements increased, these old squatters have had to resign in
favour of smaller farmers, who used the country to the advantage
of bigger communities. Mildura irrigation settlement in Victoria
to-day, for instance, contains a population of 5000 or 6000 people,
and produces over $1,440,000.0 worth of fruit a year, where in its
natural state the district could not support five people. The Goul-
burn irrigation districts in Victoria and the Murrumbidgee plains
in New South Wales are similar and bigger examples springing up
to-day of the wonderful results of irrigation. The State Govern-


merits have simply stepped in, bought out many of the old squatters,
laid irrigation canals through the country, and are throwing open
the holdings, subdivided into small blocks, for intense cultivation.

Irrigation in Australia is an art learnt from America
The first two irrigation settlements were established along
the River Murray in South Australia and Victoria by the
American company of Chaffey Bros, in the later eighties
of the last century. These settlements, Mildura and Ren-
mark, are to-day flourishing communities, producing almost
every sort of fruit to the value of over half a million annually. The
Chaffeys had been irrigationists in California, and were the first men
to realise the rich opportunities which the Murray valley offered.
They secured large grants of land from the Victorian and South

Irrigation Farming in Australia. 7

Australian Governments, and, after constructing initial works,
resold farming blocks of virgin country to immigrant settlers,
attracted by their advertisements from all over the world, but mainly
trom England.

These two settlements of Mildura and Renmark to-day hold-
about 8000 people prosperous fruitgrowers and their families and
their vines produce far more raisins and currants than the whole of
Australia can consume. The people there lead a healthy and happy
life, the freest and, now that they have passed the early years of
struggle and development, the most charming and comfortable life
imaginable. They have shared early difficulties and discomforts
together till they are more like one big family than a community
of an ordinary town. The apricot and peach season of December
and January, the grape season of February and March, the orange
season of June and July, afford happy pictures of an independent
country life. Great numbers of University students and others in
the cities prefer to spend their holidays at work in the fruit season
on the Murray..

The example shown by the Charleys at Mildura and Renmark
spread slowly at first, but once the practical success of small farm-
ing and fruitgrowing by irrigation was revealed, the idea quickly
spread. For the last fifteen years the State of Victoria especially
has led all the Australian States in this branch of farming, and to
Victorian efforts mainly is due the encouragement of irrigation in
the other States as well. The chief apostle of the new farming in
Victoria is an American, Mr. Elwood Mead, who is chairman of the
Victorian State Irrigation Commission, and whose name and work
are widely known and respected in Australia. During the last six
years he has performed a lasting service to more than his own State
in reviving and expanding the whole conception in Australia of
closer farming settlement. Mr. Mead has said himself:

" The original conception was to make irrigation an adjunct
of dry farming, in which a little water would be used to grow cheap
fodder crops scattered over wide areas. Under the old practice it
made little difference whether the irrigated land was poor or good ;
but with the changed practice the water and crops are both too
valuable to allow of the use of anything but the best types of soil.
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Murray
valley is to be one of the chief fruit-producing districts for the
Northern Hemisphere, having the great advantage of being able
to supply these markets at a season of the year when they would
otherwise be empty. We are now shipping apples and pears suc-
cessfully to Europe, and there is no doubt that stone fruits can be
as successfully shipped to North America.."

The newer Victorian and New South Wales irrigation settle-
ments show improvement, too, in practical engineering on the first
efforts. The Chaffeys pumped water direct from the river to their
orchards. The new scheme is to dam back tributaries at higher
levels, and gravitate the water thus conserved through diversion
canals down to the lower plains.

Irrigation Farming in Australia.


The principal irrigation under the Victorian Government's
closer settlement scheme is on the Goulburn. The Victorian tribu-
taries of the Murray chief of which are the Goulburn, Campaspe.
and Loddon are the most constant and reliable of all that flow
in the parent river. The Goulburn and the Campaspe in their early
course wind through some lower spurs of the Great Dividing Range
country undulating and well-timbered, and growing all sorts of
fruits, especially apples under the natural rainfall. The green


lanes and villages here remind one of the countryside in England.
From this district the observer journeys gradually down to the
plains, where the rainfall is less, which lead finally to the Murray
bank. These lower plains are unrelieved by any hill or rising
ground, and are but sparsely covered naturally with timber (so that
the clearing for farms is not heavy), facts which make them a happy
hunting ground for the irrigation engineer, but also, it must be
admitted, for the occasional duststorm..

In former days these plains were mostly old squatters' stations.
Where hundreds of families are now living in Shepparton,
Rochester, Bamawm, Kyabram, Tongala, there were formerly a few

Irrigation Farming in Australia. 9

big holdings, mostly under sheep. Here and there, as at Shepparton,
there was some country under wheat, as much of the rich Goulburn
valley still is. But the day of the sheep squatter in these richer
plains is over. One man cannot now be permitted, in the national


interest, to hold so much fertile country untilled, for his sheep will
thrive and breed farther out where the irrigation farmer cannot go.
So the older squatter has been bought out or taxed out of his
original holding, and the big scrub-dotted plains, which bore no
external indication of the richness they held, were cut up into small
farming blocks, and the irrigation canals run through them. Shep-
parton, to-day, with irrigation farming, is carrying three times as
many sheep as it did in the days when sheep were its only produce.
The old-timers' selections in Rodney, west of Shepparton and east
of Rochester, and again on the other side of Rochester, have dis-
appeared. Here are now all small holdings, changing the entire
character of the country. In place of a mustering yard and a sheep
paddock is a thriving township, with butter and canning factories
to handle the newer and economically wealthier produce, Man has
conquered Nature by making his own rivers to run where and as he

Water is diverted from the Goulburn River, not southwards
in the stream's own direction, but north-westerly in accordance with
a slighter landfall. About no miles before the Goulburn reaches
the Murray a weir is thrown across the tributary stream near the
town of Murchison. This weir holds up the water to a height of
40 ft., backs up the river for 16 miles, and impounds 900 million
cubic feet. The view looking down stream from the top of the
weir is attractive and inspiring. To the right branches off a diver-
sion channel, which runs for 33 miles to Shepparton area ; in the
centre in the deep river bed is the foaming torrent of the river, which
has just fallen over the weir; and on the left-hand runs the big and
brimming Waranga Channel. This channel is itself as big as a
river; it is 131 ft. wide at the top, no ft. at the bottom, 7 ft. deep,
and runs for 23 miles to Waranga Basin.

10 Irrigation Farming in Australia.

Waranga Basin is the main storage, and holds ten times the
amount of water contained behind the Goulburn Weir. Formerly
it was a natural depression, the site of many early settlers' homes.
But these homes had to go. The depression was wanted for water
storage for the new farming, so they scraped the basin a little
deeper, and built a heavy stone embankment around its weak north
end, and flooded the Goulburn water into it. To-day it is a lake of
over 19 square miles. From the storage westwards the Waranga
main channel runs out for 100 miles through the new areas, crosses
the Campaspe through three great stone syphons at Rochester, and
so to Bamawm and finally to the Serpentine Creek, through which
some of it drains into the Murray. Ultimately this canal may be
carried even further west to the Loddon River.. Near Waranga
is a large channel branching out from the main Goulburn canal.
It waters the Rodney districts lying immediately to the north. The
Goulburn-Waranga storage channels supply eight irrigation dis-
tricts Shepparton, Rodney, Deakin, Tongala, Koyuga, Rochester,
Dingee, and Tragowel Plains. There is 96,800 acres here actually
irrigated under irrigation, or more than treble the area of three
years ago. At present the chief use to which the ground is put is
the growing of cereal and fodder crops for dairying and sheep and
pig raising. This procedure is generally necessary with the new
settlers, because returns are thus quicker. While the orchards are
being planted and the trees are growing to bearing size, the ground


will also grow lucerne and sorghum for the milking herd. For
lucerne there is a fine market, apart from the local consumption in
dairying. Creameries and butter factories are already established,
and, in the near future, canneries for fruit and vegetables will follow.

Irrigation Farming 1 in Australia.


In dairying, the rule is for the farmers to sell their cream to the
butter factories, keeping the skim milk to feed the pigs.. A settler
on a 40 to 50 acre block, with 20 acres under lucerne, can feed a
milking herd of thirty cows, and the returns for cream and from the


skim milk should easily bring in a revenue of $48.0 a cow per
annum. As showing the value of co-operative factories to the
farmers, it may be mentioned that the latest-erected co-operative
factory at Rochester in five weeks paid the same prices for cream
as big proprietary factories were paying, and in addition made a
profit of $825.0, which it returned to the farmers, its shareholders.

The thickest settlement of small farmers at present is in the
Shepparton and Rochester districts. Men with $1440.0 or $1920.0
capital from all parts of the world, but chiefly from the British Isles
and United States, are settling on the 30, 40, 50 or 60 acre irrigation
blocks into which the Victorian authorities have subdivided the big
estates. The total irrigable area of these Goulburn district settle-
ments is 374,000 acres, of which about 140,000 acres are at present
being farmed.

Other irrigation areas in Northern Victoria are situated on the
Murray below the Goul'burn Junction, at Kow Swamp, Cohuna,
Nyah, and at Merbein, near Mildura. These are not so far advanced,
however, as the Goulburn district works.. Kow Swamp holds nearly
2000 million cubic feet of water available for summer use, chiefly
by pastoralists. At Cohuna water is procured from the Murray
by pumping; about 20,000 acres there is watered, 5000 for lucerne
and other green fodder crops, and the remainder for cereals and

12 Irrigation Farming in Australia.

In the south at Werribee, 17 miles from Melbourne, a smaller
area of 7000 acres is ready for settlers. It is watered by a reservoir
on Pyke's Creek, and the fact of its being close to the capital city
offers an excellent market for fruit and vegetables. The Govern-
ment has established an experimental farm here of 1200 acres, to
grow rotation crops for research work only. Farmers consult the
manager for guidance in their own seeding, especially with lucerne.


The biggest irrigation scheme Australia can show in one district
is on the Murrumbidgee in New South Wales. The Murrumbidgec
is the chief New South Wales tributary in the Murray system, and


the New South Wales irrigation authorities are just completing
storage works on this river nearly equal in volume to those at
Assuan, on the Nile.

The Murrumbidgee is a long, narrow, well-fed river, that rises
in rugged granite mountains near the site of the new Federal
capital city.. For quite one-third of its course it flows in deep
gorges among the almost impenetrable fastnesses of the Murrum-
bidgee Ranges. These are round solid granite knobs, 3000 or 4000
ft. above sea level, and their summits are often hundreds of feet
above the bed of the river. These valleys hold some of the finest
scenery in Australia. Near Gundagai it leaves the mountains, and
after passing through the lovely orchard country of the Wagga and
Tumut district, reaches finally the broad open plains of the Riverma.
Crossing these plains, it reaches the irregular stream of the Lachlar

Irrigation Farming in Australia. 13

River, flowing from the north-east, and 60 miles later the united
waters flow into the Murray.

The Riverina plains between the mountains and the Lachlan
Junction is the area now being settled by hundreds of small farmers
on irrigation blocks similar to those already described in Victoria
The shorter name for the Murrumbidgee irrigation area is Yanco.
The Yanco Estate was formerly the huge sheep run of one of the
biggest squatters in Australia, Sir Samuel McCaughey. Sir Samuel
still lives in a beautiful country house on part of his estate, but he
has sold the greater portion of it to the New South Wales Govern-
ment for closer settlement..

The engineering scheme is on a mighty plan, but really simple
enough. It is to dam off the river up in the mountains, and regulate
the flow down its bed to the diversion weir in the plains below. The
dam has been building for over four years, and is now nearly
finished ; nearly two years ago its construction was sufficiently
advanced to begin irrigation. The site of the dam Burrinjuck
might almost have been designed by Nature for this very purpose.
Two great granite hills at this spot force the river through a deep
and narrow gorge between them ; their names are Black Andrev/
and Barren Jack, and Barren Jack is the English corruption of the
original native name of Burrinjuck (or Burrinyuck), which has been
testored to the dam itself. It makes a striking landmark in the


distance the solid, white, and comparatively puny wall between
the two towering brown rocks which Nature put in for gateposts.
Yet the Burrinjuck Dam can hardly be called puny. It is 240 ft.
high, and its width is 160 ft. at the river bed and 18 ft., at the crest.

!4 Irrigation Farming in Australia.

The wall is curved in plan to a radius of 1200 ft., and its actual
length at the top, with the spillways between hillside and hillside
is 780 ft.


The Burrinjuck Dam will ultimately impound over 33,000
million cubic feet of water in the rocky gorges of the upper riverbed
behind it an inland sea bigger than Sydney Harbour, and nearly
as big as the reservoir behind the great Assuan Dam in Egypt.
The stored water will cover 13,000 acres, in the beds of the Murrum-
bidgee River (backed up for 41 miles from the dam), the Goodra-
digt>ee River (for 15 miles), and the Yass River (for 25 miles).
These two other rivers join the Murrumbidgee just before it reaches
the Burrinjuck gorge. The storage waters are gradually spreading
over the lower fringe of green meadow flat abutting on the river,
and rising up the rocky skies of the hills which hedge the valley in ;
and when the lake has reached the full size planned, it should be
one of the favourite resorts for the sportsman of the gun and the
rod. Wild duck are already numerous there. An American
authority on angling, writing recently on the Burrinjuck lake as a
fishing resort, estimated that, if it were stocked, 11,000 tons of fish
could be drawn annually from its waters.

Water is not diverted on to the land from the dam itself.. From
Burrinjuck the flow is regulated down the river bed for 200 miles
to Berembed, near Narandera, at the beginning of the Riverina
plains. At Berembed a diversion weir has been built, and the spot
was favourable to engineers, for here a spur of granite from a
neighbouring small rise crosses the river bed, and provides the
required foundation.

Irrigation Farming in Australia. 15

From Berembed a diversion canal takes off from a natural creek
north and north-west towards Gun-bar. The rolling wheat downs
from Junee to Narandera have given place to a level fertile floor,
with only the suggestion of a rise in it here and there. This is the
Yanco area, and the Gunbar canal runs through it. The extent of
country ultimately irrigated at Yanco will probably be about 250,000
acres of first-class land. There is enough water available to turn
these vast plains into a glorious garden. And in a few years that
garden will begin to appear. Already from the top of the Leeton
water tower one can see stretching out on every side neat squares
of green, strict rows of young trees, and small white houses irregu-
larly dotted about them, the whole scheme held together by long
bright glancing canals which run right across the picture.

As in the Victorian settlements, and indeed all along the
Murray valley, so here, too, the climate is unsurpassed from both an
agricultural and a health point of view. The summer heat is dry,
and has no enervating effect, and a man can work throughout the
hottest days without bodily discomfort. Plant growth continues
throughout the whole year. There are no stock diseases or fruit

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Online LibraryAustraliaIrrigation farming in Australia. An account of the irrigation closer settlement schemes in the commonwealth, showing the steps by which the new settler from oversea begins → online text (page 1 of 3)