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  • Office of Economic and Statistical Research

    discover more abdiscover more abdiscover more abdiscover more about historical Queenslandout historical Queenslandout historical Queenslandout historical Queensland

    Q150 Digital Books Section Details

    Name: Our First Half-Century, 1909 Section name: Part 4, Chapter 1, The Pastoral Industry

    Pages: 97112

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    Return to Q150 Collection:http://www.oesr.qld.gov.au/q150




    THE PASTORAL INDUSTRY.Importance of Industry.Small Beginnings in New South Wales.Extension of Industry.

    Stocking of Darling Downs and Western Queensland.Rush for Pastoral Lands.Difficulties of Early Squatters.Influx of Victorian Capital. Changes in Method ofWorking Stations.Boom in Pastoral Properties. Checks from Drought. Discovery ofArtesian Water. Conservation of Surface Water. Introduction of Grazing Farm System.-Closer Settlement of Darling Downs. Cattle-Rearing. Meat-Freezing Works. Over

    stocking. Dairying. Station Routine. Charm of Pastoral Life. Shearing. Hospitalityof Squatters. Attraction of Industry as Investment and Occupation.

    THE pastoral industry in Queensland is, in point of duration, wellwithin the compass of a single life. In about seventy years it has attainedits present dimensions, and, as progress in the early years was very slow,its magnitude to-day supplies striking testimony to the energy andenterprise of two generations. The description of Queensland as a hugesheep and cattle farm with contributive industries, which without verygreat extravagance might have been offered forty years ago, has longceased to be applicable. But though other industries have grown intoimportance, reducing its pre-eminence, the pastoral still retains its unquestioned lead and is deservedly regarded as the main source of theState's wealth. Bearing in mind that the total exports from Queenslandfor 1907 were rather over fourteen and a-half millions sterling, of whichpastoral produce claimed more than half, it will be seen that this titleto precedence cannot be challenged. With an abatement of 529,000for butterdairying being associated with agriculturethis imposingsum is the direct product of the natural grasses. It can hardly besurprising then, after realising the potential wealth of these pastures, thatvisitors should be struck with the fact that rainfallpast, present, andprospectiveis a constant and very prominent topic in all grades of socialintercourse.

    That a continent so suited to the abundant propagation of animal lifeshould have been so poorly equipped by Nature with an indigenous fauna


    can only be accounted for by Australia's primeval isolation. Similar vastprairie lands, which in America sustained countless herds of bison andin Africa literally swarmed with antelope and many species of game, werein Australia almost uninhabited. The absence of large rivers and ageneral scarcity of water had doubtless much to do with this destitutecondition of the great pasture lands of the interior, but still the wonderremains that a continent which now carries more sheep than any othercountry in the world should have been in its original state, except alongits coastal belt, almost tenantless. The fierce carnivora of the older worldwere entirely unrepresented, the principal denizen of the lonely land beingthe timid kangaroo ; but the curious problems presented by the Australianfauna have compensated the naturalist for its modest numbers.

    In Queensland what is recognised as the Western Interior occupiesabout half the area of the State and is distinct in its geological formationfrom the coastal belt, the waters of which run into the ocean to the eastand north. The region of these watersheds, with the exception of somecomparatively limited areas of downs country on the heads of the rivers,is regarded as unsuitable for sheep, the rainfall being more abundant thanon the Western waters and the grass coarser, so that cattle are almostexclusively run there. In the Western Interior are the true sheeppastures. The farther one goes west the more treeless the countrybecomes. Here undulating downs for the most part stretch to the horizon,intersected by watercourses fringed with timber, and although in summermany of these creeks shrink to a chain of disconnected waterholes, few ofwhich are permanent, they offer abundant opportunities for water conservation. In the last few years many for several miles of their coursehave been converted into running streams by artesian bores.

    Before, however, dwelling on the present position, we must brieflyglance at the origin of pastoral enterprise in Australia and its tardyextension to Queensland.

    As soon as settlement was established, the new land had to bestocked with the domesticated animals of the old. Captain Phillip, thefirst Governor, in 1788 made a very modest start. He brought with himfrom England 7 horses, 7 cattle, and 29 sheep, besides pigs, rabbits, andpoultry. Remembering that in those days England was from six to ninemonths distant from the new settlement, it is not perhaps surprising thatpastoral progress was slow. In 1800 there were only 6,124 sheep and1,044 cattle in Australia. But five years prior to this the seed destined toproduce a giant growth was already germinating. A shrewd young


    soldier had detected the germ of Australia's future wealth. With astrange prescience, unaided by experience, Captain Macarthur recognisedthat the dry climate of Australia was peculiarly adapted to the growth of

    a fine type of wool. Starting from most unpromising ewes from India, hegradually improved the strain by the introduction of Spanish blood. He wasfortunate at the start in getting three rams from the Cape, part of a giftfrom the King of Spain to the Dutch Government, and by sedulous cullingwith a bold disregard for carcass, although fat wethers at the time sold for5, he succeeded in establishing a good merino flock the wool from whichcreated an excellent impression in England. English manufacturers, whohad hitherto drawn their limited stocks of clothing wool from Spain,welcomed the promise of a new source of supply.

    Macarthur had taken some wool with him to England, when deportedin consequence of a fatal duel in 1803, and its fine quality was at oncerecognised and appreciated He was fortunate in being still there in thefollowing year, when George the Third, in the hope of encouraging theproduction of fine wool, sold a portion of his Kew stud flock, the progenyof Negretti sheep, another gift of the Spanish King, so that they mightbe distributed amongst his subjects. Macarthur was the principal buyer,securing seven rams and a ewe at very moderate prices, the highest beingunder 30. He was an enthusiast, and could see the enormous possibilitiesof the virgin continent he had left, with its mild dry climate and almostlimitless pasture lands, for the maintenance of great flocks, the wool ofwhich could be improved to the finest type. He asked the BritishGovernment for a grant of land to feed his flocks, assuring them that hewas " so convinced of the practicability of supplying this country withany quantity of fine wool that it may require that I am earnestly solicitousto prosecute this important object, and on my return to New South Waleswill devote my whole attention to accelerating its complete attainment."This requestin spite of the adverse opinion of Sir Joseph Banks as tothe suitability of the new land for wool-growingwas granted, LordCamden instructing the Governor of New South Wales to grantMacarthur such lands " as would enable him to extend his flocks in sucha degree as may promise to supply a sufficiency of animal food for thecolony as well as a lucrative article of export for the support of ourmanufactures at home." Macarthur selected near Mount Taurus, and theCamden estate, long famous as the source from which many studs wereeither formed or replenished, was established. How limited at this time


    was the world's production of this superfine woolsuited to the manufacture of the finest fabricsmay be gathered from the fact of one bale ofMacarthur's being sold at Garraway's Coffee House in 1807 at 10 shillings. 6 pence. perlb., the cloth from which provided England's Farmer King with a coat.

    But not till the merino had passed beyond coastal influences was theimprovement of growth due to an eminently suitable habitat fully realised.Wentworth and others had in 1813 pushed across the Blue Mountains,and the occupation of the interior began. In the Mudgee district, whichwas stocked with sheep about 1824, the clip improved so distinctly onthe original Spanish stock as to form almost a new type. Increasing inlength and gaining in softness and elasticity, it has commanded ever-increasing attention from manufacturers, and has long been recognised asthe premier fine wool of the world.

    Tasmania, starting with Macarthur's stock, and following on hisbreeding lines, had proved peculiarly adapted for the growth of a densefleece of fine wool. As numbers rapidly increased in this small island,flockmasters had to look about for an outlet. This was easily found onthe mainland, and sheep were soon pouring across the narrow strait intothe district of Port Phillip, which in 1851 was proclaimed the colony ofVictoria.

    After Macarthur's death in 1834, his system of breeding was carefullyfollowed by his widow, and when in 1858 the flock was dispersed the studewes numbered about 1,000. These, passing into the hands of flock-masters of New South Wales and Victoria, were the foundat