General Remarks on the Country

GENERAL REMARKS ON THE CHARACTER OF THE SETTLED COUNTRY

by  T. L. Mitchell

Released from the necessity for recording each day’s proceedings I may
now add a few general remarks on the character of the country traversed
in these various expeditions.

FIRES IN THE WOODS.

It has been observed that the soil in New South Wales is good only where
trap, limestone, or granite rocks occur. Sandstone however predominates
so much as to cover about six-sevenths of the whole surface comprised
within the boundaries of nineteen counties. Wherever this is the surface
rock little besides barren sand is found in the place of soil. Deciduous
vegetation scarcely exists there, no vegetable soil is formed for, the
trees and shrubs being very inflammable, conflagrations take place so
frequently and extensively in the woods during summer as to leave very
little vegetable matter to return to earth. On the highest mountains and
in places the most remote and desolate I have always found on every dead
trunk on the ground, and living tree of any magnitude also, the marks of
fire; and thus it appeared that these annual conflagrations extend to
every place. In the regions of sandstone the territory is, in short, good
for nothing, and is besides very generally inaccessible, thus presenting
a formidable obstruction to any communication between isolated spots of a
better description.

Land near Sydney has always been preferred to that which is remote,
though the quality may have been equal; yet throughout the wide extent of
twenty-three millions of acres only about 4,400,000 have been found worth
5 shillings per acre, and the owners of this appropriated land within the
limits have been obliged to send their cattle beyond them for the sake of
pasturage.

EMPLOYMENT OF CONVICTS.

From the labour necessary to form lines of communication across such a
country, New South Wales still affords an excellent field for the
employment of convicts; and although some of the present colonists may be
against the continuance of transportation, it must be admitted that the
increase and extension of population and the future prosperity of the
country depends much on the completion of such public works. The dominion
of man cannot indeed be extended well over nature there without much
labour of this description. The prisoners should be worked in gangs and
guarded and coerced according to some well organised system. It can
require no argument to show how much more pernicious to the general
interests of mankind the amalgamation of criminals with the people of a
young colony must be than with the dense population of old countries,
where a better organised police and laws suited to the community are in
full and efficient operation, both for the prevention and detection of
crime; but the employment of convicts on public works is not inseparable
from the question of allowing such people to become colonists; and
whoever desires to see the noble harbour of Sydney made the centre of a
flourishing country, extending from the tropic to the shores of the
Southern Ocean, rather than one only of several small settlements along
the coast, will not object to relieve the mother country by employing her
convicts even at a greater expense than they cost the colonists at
present. Thus the evil would in time cure itself by preparing the country
for such accessions of honest people from home as would reduce the
tainted portion of its inhabitants to a mere caput mortuum.

NECESSITY FOR CUTTING ROADS.

With a well arranged system of roads radiating from such a harbour even
the sandstone wastes, extensive though they be, might be overstepped and,
the good parts being connected by roads, the produce of the tropical and
temperate regions might then be brought to one common market.

PROPORTION OF GOOD AND BAD LAND.

Where there is so much unproductive surface the unavoidable dispersion of
population renders good lines of communication more essentially
necessary, and these must consist of roads, for there are neither
navigable rivers nor in general the means of forming canals. This colony
might thus extend northward to the tropic of Capricorn, westward to the
145th degree of east longitude, the southern portion having for
boundaries the Darling, the Murray and the seacoast. Throughout the
extensive territory thus bounded one-third, probably, consists of desert
interior plains; one-fourth of land available for pasturage or
cultivation; and the remainder of rocky mountain or impassable or
unproductive country. Perhaps the greater portion of really good land
within the whole extent will be found to the southward of the Murray, for
there the country consists chiefly of trap, granite, or limestone. The
amount of surface comprised in European kingdoms affords no criterion of
what may be necessary for the growth of a new people in Australia.

Extreme differences of soil, climate, and seasons may indeed be usefully
reconciled and rendered available to one community there; but this must
depend on ingenious adaptations aided by all the facilities man’s art can
supply in the free occupation of a very extensive region. Agricultural
resources must ever be scanty and uncertain in a country where there is
so little moisture to nourish vegetation. We have seen, from the state of
the Darling where I last saw it, that all the surface water flowing from
the vast territory west of the dividing range, and extending north and
south between the Murray and the tropic, is insufficient to support the
current of one small river. The country southward of the Murray is not so
deficient in this respect for there the mountains are higher, the rocks
more varied, and the soil consequently better; while the vast extent of
open grassy downs seems just what was most necessary for the prosperity
of the present colonists and the encouragement of a greater emigration
from Europe.

DESCRIPTION OF AUSTRALIA FELIX.

Every variety of feature may be seen in these southern parts, from the
lofty alpine region on the east, to the low grassy plains in which it
terminates on the west. The Murray, perhaps the largest river in all
Australia, arises amongst those mountains, and receives in its course
various other rivers of considerable magnitude. These flow over extensive
plains in directions nearly parallel to the main stream, and thus
irrigate and fertilise a large extent of rich country. Falling from
mountains of great height, the current of these rivers is perpetual,
whereas in other parts of Australia the rivers are too often dried up and
seldom indeed deserve any other name than chains of ponds.

Hills of moderate elevation occupy the central country between the Murray
and the sea, being thinly or partially wooded and covered with the
richest pasturage. The lower country, both on the northern and southern
skirts of these hills, is chiefly open, slightly undulating towards the
coast on the south, and is in general well watered.

The grassy plains which extend northward from these thinly wooded hills
to the banks of the Murray are chequered by the channels of many streams
falling from them, and by the more permanent and extensive waters of deep
lagoons. These are numerous on the face of the plains near the river, as
if intended by a bounteous Providence to correct the deficiencies of too
dry a climate. An industrious and increasing people may always secure an
abundant supply by adopting artificial means to preserve it and, in
acting thus, they would only extend the natural plan according to their
wants. The fine climate is worthy of a little extra toil, especially in
those parts at a distance from the surplus waters of the large rivers,
and in places considered favourable in other respects either for the
rearing of cattle or for cultivation.

In the western portion small rivers radiate from the Grampians an
elevated and isolated mass presenting no impediment to a free
communication through the fine country around its base. Hence that
enormous labour necessary to obtain access to some parts, and for
crossing continuous ranges to reach others by passes like those so
essential to the prosperity of the present colony, might be in a great
degree dispensed with in that southern region.

Towards the south coast on the south and adjacent to the open downs
between the Grampians and Port Phillip, there is a low tract consisting
of very rich black soil, apparently the best imaginable for the
cultivation of grain in such a climate.

WOODS.

On parts of the low ridges of hills near Cape Nelson and Portland Bay are
forests of very large trees of stringybark, ironbark, and other useful
species of eucalyptus, much of which are probably destined yet to float
in vessels on the adjacent sea.

HARBOURS.

The character of the country behind Cape Northumberland affords fair
promise of a harbour in the shore to the westward. Such a port would

probably possess advantages over any other on the southern coast; for a

railroad thence, along the skirts of the level interior country, would

require but little artificial levelling and might extend to the tropical

regions or even beyond them, thus affording the means of expeditious

communication between all the fine districts on the interior side of the

coast ranges and a sea-port to the westward of Bass Strait.

THE MURRAY.

The Murray, fed by the lofty mountains on the east, carries to the sea a

body of fresh water sufficient to irrigate the whole country, which is in

general so level even to a great distance from its banks that the

abundant waters of the river might probably be turned into canals for the

purpose either of supplying deficiencies of natural irrigation at

particular places, or of affording the means of transport across the wide

plains.

The high mountains in the east have not yet been explored but their very

aspect is refreshing in a country where the summer heat is often very

oppressive. The land is in short open and available in its present state

for all the purposes of civilised man. We traversed it in two directions

with heavy carts, meeting no other obstruction than the softness of the

rich soil and, in returning over flowery plains and green hills fanned by

the breezes of early spring, I named this region Australia Felix, the

better to distinguish it from the parched deserts of the interior country

where we had wandered so unprofitably and so long.

This territory, still for the most part in a state of nature, presents a

fair blank sheet for any geographical arrangement whether of county

divisions, lines of communication, or sites of towns etc. etc. The growth

of a colony there might be trained according to one general system with a

view to various combinations of soil and climate and not left to chance

as in old countries or, which would perhaps be worse, to the partial or

narrow views of the first settlers. The plan of a whole state might be

arranged there like that of an edifice before the foundation is laid, and

a solid one seems necessary where a large superstructure is likely to be

built. The accompanying sketch of the limits which I would propose for

the colony of New South Wales is intended to show also how the

deficiencies of such a region might be compensated and the advantages

combined for the convenience and accommodation of a civilised and

industrious people. The rich pasture land beyond the mountains is already

connected by roads with the harbour of Sydney and the system, though not

complete, has been at least sufficiently carried into effect to justify

the preference of that town and port as a capital and common centre not

only for the roads, but for steam navigation around the coasts extending

in each direction about 900 miles. The coast country affords the best

prospects for the agriculturist, but the arable spots therein, being of

difficult access by land, his success would depend much on immediate

means of communication with Sydney by water and, on the facility his

position would thus afford of shipping his produce to neighbouring

colonies.*

(*Footnote. A new market for cattle and sheep has just opened on the

interior side by the establishment of the new colony of South Australia,

an event more fortunate for New South Wales than the most sanguine friend

of that colony could have foreseen. It is to be regretted however that

the colonists are so slow in availing themselves of such a market by the

direct line of road already traced by my wheels along the right banks of

the rivers Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray, by which flocks and herds

may be driven to the new colony without any danger of their wanting water

or the necessity for their crossing any rivers of importance.)

It would be establishing a lasting monument of the beneficial influence

of British power and colonisation thus to engraft a new and flourishing

state on a region now so desolate and unproductive; but this seems only

possible under very extensive arrangements and by such means as England

alone can supply:

“Here the great mistress of the seas is known,

By empires founded, not by states o’erthrown.” Sydney Gazette, January 1,

1831.

MR. STAPYLTON’S REPORT.

Mr. Stapylton met no difficulty in following my track through Australia

Felix with heavy wheel-carriages and worn out cattle, as appears by his
own account of his progress in the following report, which he forwarded
to me on his arrival at the Murrumbidgee.
Camp near Guy’s Station,