An Autobiography HTML version

Return From The Old Country
Before leaving Scotland I arranged that my friend, Mrs. Graham of the strenuous life and
30 pounds a year, should undertake the care of my aunts, to their mutual satisfaction. My
last days in England were spent in either a thick London fog or an equally undesirable
Scotch mist, which shrouded everything in obscurity, and made me long for the sunny
skies and the clear atmosphere of Australia. I told my friends that in my country it either
rained or let it alone. Indeed, the latest news from all Australia was that it had let it alone
very badly, and that the overstocking of stations during the preceding good seasons had
led to enormous losses. Sheepfarmers made such large profits in good seasons that they
were apt to calculate that it was worth while to run the risk of drought; but experience has
shown that overstocking does not really pay. The making of dams, the private and public
provision of water in the underground reservoirs by artesian bores, and the facilities for
travelling stock by such ways have all lessened the risks which the pioneer pastoralists
ran bravely in the old days. An Australian drought can never be as disastrous in the
twentieth century as it was in 1866; and South Australia, the Central State, has from the
first been a pioneer in development as well as in exploration. The hum of the reaping
machine first awoke the echoes in our wheatfields. The stump-jumping plough and the
mullenicer which beats down the scrub or low bush so that it can be burnt, were South
Australian inventions, copied elsewhere, which have turned land accounted worthless
into prolific wheat fields.
If South Australia was the first of the States to exhaust her agricultural soil, she was the
first to restore it by means of fertilizers and the seed drill. When I see the drilled wheat
fields I recollect my grandfather's two silver salvers--the Prizes from the Highland
Society for having the largest area of drilled wheat in Scotland--and when I see the grand
crops on the Adelaide Plains I recall the opinion that, with anything like a decent rainfall,
that soil could grow anything. In 1866 the northern areas had not been opened. The
farmers were continuing the process of exhausting the land by growing wheat--wheat--
wheat, with the only variety wheaten hay. I recollect James Burnet's amazement when I
said that our horses were fed on wheaten hay. "What a waste of the great possibilities of a
grain harvest!" He was doubtful when I said that with plenty of wheaten hay the horses
needed no corn. South Australia, except about Mount Gambier, does not grow oats,
though Victoria depends on oaten hay. The British agriculturist thinks that meadow hay is
the natural forage for horses and cattle, and for winter turnips are the standby. It was a
little amusing to me that I could speak with some authority to skilled and experienced
agriculturists, who felt our rivalry at Mark lane, but who did not dream that with the third
great move of Australia towards the markets of the world through cold storage we could
send beef, mutton, lamb, poultry, eggs, and all kinds of fruit to the consumers of Europe,
and especially of England and its metropolis. I did not see it, any more than the people to
whom I talked. I still thought that for meat and all perishable commodities the distance
was an insuperable obstacle, and that, except for live stock from America, or canned meat
from Australia, the United Kingdom would continue self-supporting on these lines.