Agricultural Awakening

Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), Wednesday 4 March 1908, page 7

Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 - 1931), Saturday 21 March 1908, page 47

The Agricultural awakening.


[V.—By our Special Reporter.]

Residents of Kangaroo Island have dreams concerning the future of their country. Some of them see only a dismal prospect—an unattractive, wild, and hopelessly handicapped place, with practically no chance of pleasant transformations. Others, comprising principally the younger generation and new arrivals from the mainland, descry in the near distance a land literally flowing with milk and honey, producing wonderful crops and yielding untold mineral wealth. Which of these views will be correct only time can reveal. The brighter one naturally appeals the more forcefully to the average person. Gloomy pictures are invariably shunned. Even though they may indicate the actual state or affairs, they so jar on the sensibilities that they are passed over, and the happier aspects are eagerly fastened upon. It is due largely to this habit of keeping on the sunny side that the disposition of the Australian is so generally cheerful and optimistic; that he performs many of the greatest feats of endurance, and overcomes what often would be regarded by others as insuperable difficulties. Occasionally, of course, he is dismayed by the odds opposed to him—becomes pessimistic, and shrinks from entering into battle. In the large majority of cases, however, he puts his shoulder to the wheel and remains at his task until some thing tangible has been accomplished.

—Grand Pioneers.—

Dozens of settlers are doing that on Kangaroo Island. Resourceful—frequently to an extraordinary degree—and full of indomitable pluck they are wresting from Nature that which she has for ages held so tenaciously in her powerful grasp, and making it produce those commodities which play such an important part in the preservation and continuance of human life. For more than half a century stalwart men and women, who deserve the heartfelt thanks of the community for their brave efforts, have laboured heroically in opening up the country; but only within the last four or five years has definite and relentless war been declared upon the bush. In the old days comparatively few selectors cleared more than a hundred or two hundred acres; not because they lacked grit or backbone—nobody can ever cast that reflection upon them—but because they managed to live comfortably upon a moderate portion of their holdings, and were content. Under the modern regime a new order of things has sprung up. "Clear as much land as possible in the least time, crop systematically and scientifically, and adopt similar methods in connection with sheep and cattle breeding"—that is the motto adopted in numerous instances, and frequently with highly profitable results. "We are going to hustle," these vigorous and enthusiastic men say, "and we intend to win. The land is here, and we are prepared to spend our money and our energy turning it to the best account."

—The Island's Characteristics.—

The average mainlander has an inadequate idea of the physical peculiarities of Kangaroo Island. Tell him that he can lose himself easily within a few miles of a principal town, and he will smile incredulously. Yet such is the ease, as several unfortunate travellers have discovered, sometimes at the cost of their lives. Imagine an extensive tract of fairly level country about 60 miles long and varying in width from three to 15 miles, and with undulations, intersected by rivers and creeks, stretching to the sea, eight 10 or 15 miles away. Then cover the landscape with yaccas, broom, teatree, and big and little leaf eucalypts, and place tall trees here and there, particularly along the courses of the streams; and one has a moderately accurate conception of the topography and general character of the island between the western boundary of the Hundred of Haines and the Cape Borda Lighthouse Reserve. The scrub constitutes the paramount problem with which the pioneer has to cope. A thick, green wall of a thousand different shades, relieved in odd places by grey trunks of trees and splashes of iron and lime stone, it looks formidable, if not altogether unassailable. After a moment's reflection the mind's eye sees the intending settler hesitating when brought face to face with the great enemy, and eventually retiring without striking a single blow. That is what has occurred repeatedly; but others, animated by an unconquerable spirit, have taken their places, and are now converting the forests into meadow lambs and smiling cornfields, unsurpassed in the Commonwealth. To thoroughly understand the slavish work which has been performed and is still going on, it is advisable to spend a day or two on a new holding. From early morn till dark Nature is fought with rollers, billhooks, axes, and fire—the last the most effective agency of all. After a while the land begins to assume the appearance of a large roughly drawn draughtboard. Then follow the iron plough, the drill, and later the reaper. Complete victory, however, is still afar off. Indeed, only after three and sometimes five years' incessant cultivation, "airing" and feeding is the soil sufficiently sweetened to yield the best results.

—The Cost and Prospects.—

The first step toward the preparation of virgin country for cultivation is to roll the scrub, with an iron or wooden roller drawn by oxen or horses. At the proper period the fallen bush and timber are set on fire. A stump-jump plough is next put over the land, and as many as possible of the roots are pulled out. Then barley and manure are drilled in. While the crop is growing, thousands of young shoots sprout up among the stalks, as though determined to fight for existence to the bitter end. The inevitable ensure. After the grain has been removed a light is applied to the standing stubble, and once more the flames sweep over the land. A short rest, and ploughing proceeds apace. Should such a course necessary when the next crop has been garnered, fire again assists the agriculturist in the unwavering subjugation campaign. Meanwhile much time and money have been expended by the farmer, who, in all probability has had to feed his horses for 18 months or two years on chaff purchased and brought from the mainland. Even the slowest thinker will thus see that to attempt to open new country without considerable capital at one's back, as well as a stout heart and an unswerving resolve to succeed would be absurd, if not absolutely suicidal. While the derision of Parliament to utilize the larger portion of the unselected area of Kangaroo island for closer settlement is warmly commended, and almost unanimously approved, there is a feeling among many of the residents that pictures of the possibilities of the country have been painted in rather too alluring colours. Critics well qualified to judge, state that the pick of the land in the old hundreds—and, for that matter, elsewhere—has been long occupied; and that the balance, with some noteworthy exceptions, can be described only as second rate and third rate. It is freely acknowledged, however, that after it has been properly sweetened, much of the soil now in the grip of the forest will grow practically anything, As a producer of malting barley, for example, Kangaroo Island is probably unrivalled. Phenomenally heavy crops have been reaped, especially along the north coast, and no part of the land which has been given a fair trial has failed to demonstrate its entire adaptability to the growth of this grain. Oats also thrive splendidly, and wheat in numerous places has realized the highest expectations. During several years experiments have been made with various grains and grasses, and the results secured are proving of incalculable value as illustrations of the requirements and peculiarities of the different soils. A ride through the country enables one to observe in a superficial manner the chief characteristics; but only when the information thus obtained is combined with that gleaned from the settlers can one appreciate comprehensively the promising agricultural, pastoral, and horticultural prospects of the island.

—"Out Back."—

Among the latest pioneers are several young men who have purchased blocks in isolated places, where they sometimes lead lives which for uninterrupted loneliness and monotony would be hard to beat. When I told one of these sturdy self-reliant fellows that the murmuring of the sea at Kingscote disturbed my rest at night he replied—"You ought to stay with me for a week." Then he explained that he was settled on the south coast, about 40 miles from the town, and that frequently nearly a month passed without his seeing any other human being, "The only voice I hear is my own," he added, "and at night I am lulled to sleep by the boom-boom-boom, of the surf upon the black beetling cliffs. Lonely? That is no name for it. Often I long with a fierce longing to return to civilization and the companionship of my brother men, and curse the turn of fortune's wheel which caused me to enter such a God-forsaken country. The glorious sunrises in the mornings, however, and the fresh, simulating perfume of the bush dispel my gloomy despondency like magic. As the day advances and interest in my clearing and cultivation work increases, I thank my lucky stars that I am a free and independent farmer." That impassioned utterance reminded me of the poem:—

"I'm glad I am a farmer,"
Sang the sun-browned lad I wed;
And with every tone,
And eyes that shone,
Came truth of all he said.

"I'm glad I am a farmer,"
He sang it morn and night,
And his world grew gay
Day after day,
While the home nest grew more bright.

"Yes! glad I am a farmer,
The sturdy plough to wield."
And he worked away
The lifelong day,
In garden. yard, and field.

Till his years had grown a-many,
And furnished hand and brow.
Yet he gang the same Old song of fame.
And he sings the same song now.

"Right glad I am a farmer, I rejoice to tell it o'er;
For since I tried Life's city side,
I love the old farm more
Henceforth I'll stay a farmer,
And those who wish to — may
Stay city folk;
But 'tis no joke
That I'll grow corn and hay."

THE AGRICULTURAL AWAKENING. (1908, March 21). Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 - 1931), p. 47.

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