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The farms of Australia-Agriculture and its prospects
—Qualities and culture of the soil.
The management of agricultural farms is very similar in all the Australian colonies; but less grain, in proportion to the population, is grown in Victoria, and New South Wales, than in South Australia, where the small
and highly respectable. The remarks in this chapter will apply directly to the latter province.
Although prior to 1840, there were many beautiful gardens on the banks of the Torrens river, and in other spots in the vicinity of
Adelaide, no one had yet commenced agricultural operations : indeed, the political vicissitudes, and the building and bartering mania, had hitherto fully occupied the attention of the settlers in South Australia. Besides, labourers were scarce, and every one, even to Captain Sturt, believed the climate far too hot for the successful cultivation of any kinds of grain.
In 1839, a few enterprising individuals thought the experiment, nevertheless, worth making. Some small patches of wheat were accordingly sown on the Adelaide plains, without manure; in fact, upon the sod twice turned over, which grew luxuriantly, turned out very
, fine in quality, and the yield, when carefully measured was 53 bushels to the acre.
Encouraged by these favourable results, tillage was speedily commenced, farm-houses sprang up in every direction, and agriculture being found profitable and agreeable, soon became a general occupation. It nevertheless required some capital and lapse of time to get these farms, into what in the colony is deemed good order; i. e. the land fenced in, a good dwelling-house raised, with stock-yard, barn, and appurtenances, and the needful live stock, implements, &c.
In 1841, wheat was 20s. per bushel, oats proportionately dear, and potatoes £20 per ton. These extravagant prices induced numerous settlers to commence farming, but as the soil was prolific, the crops firm and abundant, the home-market limited, and few foreign customers for the surplus, by the time the original farms were in tolerable condition, agricultural produce had fallen greatly in value, and many of the large agriculturists were ruined.
In 1844, there was of wheat alone, about 19,000 acres in crop, which if all reaped, would have produced in round numbers, 44,000 bushels; but as the then price, 28. 6d. per bushel, would not pay for the hire of labour, which at this period was exorbitantly high, much was left standing, and the pigs turned in among it; and although many farmers offered half the produce of hundreds of acres
to whoever would reap it, no one undertook the task: so there it stood and wasted. However,
considerable quantity was housed through the industry of the farmers' wives and families; boys and girls, little and big, all helped, and those who could not use the sickle, did their best with scissors and knives.
This state of things was, to a great extent, the result of the stupid Wakefield notions, which filled the heads of many of the capitalists. They commenced agricultural operations on a large scale, fencing in land, building substantial farm-houses, dairies, stock-yards ; and, in fact, surrounding themselves with all attainable conveniences and comforts, without thinking that the very labourers to whom they were paying extravagant wages would speedily follow in their track, when the times would become better for the poor, than the rich man; for prices that would ruin the farmer, would well pay the latter, who, aided by his wife and family, performed all his own farm operations, even to reaping and getting in the crops, and earned much besides by working for hire. The ruin of the capitalist farmer was followed by scarcity of money; business could only be carried on by barter, bills, or promissory notes; the cattle-farmers, the stockholders, and the commercial community all suffered, and the price of land fell greatly.
Now was the time for the far-seeing man to strike his bargain. In the neighbourhood of Adelaide, deserted farms, fenced in with good dwelling-houses, stock-yards, and all requisites, could be bought or leased for a mere nominal sum. Many a poor man who purchased at this period, has ever since blessed his lucky stars; for, from when the great Burra Burra copper mine started in 1845, until the late discoveries of gold in the sister settlements, the colony enjoyed one uninterrupted prosperity; the members of every vocation, from the wool-grower, the stock-keeper, and