IN THE MALLEE COUNTRY : No. II. NORTHERN YORKE'S PENLNSULA.
A little more than a decade ago there was an unbroken stretch of mallee intermingled with, pine, teatree, and thick undergrowth between the coastline of Northern Yorke's Peninsula and the hills which shut out from view the Condowie Plains, but the country has since undergone a complete transformation, and now there is but very little scrub separating the extensive cornfields. South Australia has undoubtedly shown the neighboring colonies what can be done with their mallee lands, and no better example can be found of the pluck and energy of our scrub farmers than in the western parts of the district of Stanley. The small band of pioneers who went into this country to select their land and form their homes had to cut their way through the mallee, but this was only a trivial matter compared with the difficulties which beset them during the first few years of settlement. When the hundreds were opened the country presented a most encouraging appearance, the grass reaching the girths of the horses — the result of a fire two years previous — and many farmers were attracted to the district by the apparent fertility of the soil Camps were formed in all directions, surveys were made, mid from morning till night the axe and the scrub-roller prepared the land for the nest year's seed. It was several years before much impression was made upon the vast stretch of country, and during that time the pioneers endured great hardship. The main difficulty with which they had to contend was the water supply, and in many instances it was necessary to cart it from eight to twelve miles, and in some cases even greater distances. Teams of horses and bullocks were constantly on the unformed roads, and the quantity of water available was often so small that the precious fluid had to be doled out to man and beast with stinted hand. The seasons which followed the opening of the mallee country were very dry, and small crops with a depreciation in the market values of wheat had in many cases a disastrous effect upon those farmers who had a limited supply of capital at their command. Nevertheless they pursued their work with pluck and determination, and when in 1887 water was brought through the hundreds from Beetaloo further settlement was induced, and to-day it is a thriving district.
It is seven years since I visited the locality, and it was therefore with a great deal of curiosity that I purchased a ticket for Bute, the centre of the mallee country. The route now lies through Brinkworth — the junction of the Gladstone and Snowtown line — instead of by way of Kadina, and it was noticeable that the new line of railway has done much towards settlement. Between Balaklava and Brinkworth the crops are making fair progress, and the young plants have that healthy vigorous appearance which bespeaks a prosperous future, providing that nothing of an unforeseen character happens to check their growth. The township of Brinkworth has sprung up rapidly, and with its pretentious hostelry makes quite a creditable display. On the Condowie Plains wheatgrowing and grazing are still the principal occupations of the farmer, and the crops here are also making good progress, while in the neighborhood of Snowtown there is everything at the present time to indicate a good season. A plentiful supply of pasture is to be met with everywhere in the north this year, and on nearing Barunga Gap it was evident that graziers in the vicinity of the hills had not been overlooked by Jupiter Pluvius. Stock generally is in excellent condition, and the well-grassed hillsides look the perfection of sheep country. On passing through the gap an excellent view is obtainable of the mallee, and a slight accident to the engine, which caused a few minutes delay, afforded an opportunity for inspecting the low-lying hind between the hills and the gulf. A change indeed had come over the spirit of the scene, for the unbroken stretch of mallee bad been reduced to a comparatively small area, and there was but little left to associate it with the country of ten years ago. As far as the eye could reach homesteads could be discerned, while extensive plantations of wheat smiled in their winter garb under a genial sun. At Bute the change was even more perceptible, and it took a lusty-Iunged railway official to convince me that it was indeed Bute. Where atone time the '18-mile siding' boasted of its little galvanized-iron store and postoffice combined, it has now a presentable station — although not commensurate with the requirements of the district— and beyond this a large hotel, a temperance hotel, two stores, two churches, a butter factory, and a public school form the centre of a progressive township. This has all followed the laying of the Beetaloo water main through the hundreds, and I could not help recalling a remark an eminent politician made the day before in passing over the plains between Adelaide and Gawler. 'If,' he said, 'the Barossa water scheme had been carried out instead of the one at Happy Valley there would have been no necessity for troubling about any land 100 miles north of the city for many years to come." There was, without doubt, much in what he said, and his remark was made doubly forcible by the great change which has been occasioned by the laying of a single line of pipes through the mallee country on Northern Yorke Peninsula. Settlement at the present time is too scattered, and there can be no doubt but that farmers would do much better on smaller holdings if they were assisted by schemes of water conservation. Our land will grow anything, but we want water.
It was too late when I arrived at Bute to see any of the country, but making an early start on the following morning I drove one through the hundred of Wiltunga. Surrounding the township is a large strip of country which had been reserved, when the hundreds wore thrown open for selection, for travelling stock purposes. This has now been divided up into working men's blocks, and small homesteads are to be encountered on the side of the excellent macadamised road between the township and the Port Broughton-road. Apparently very little has been done up to the present time in regards cultivation on the blocks, and the onJy sign of habitation in some instances was the presence of several pigs and fowls. On reaching the Broughton-road further evidence of progress was forthcoming. Where the waggons at one time dragged up to the axle-bed through mud and slush or sank into the uncut sandhills, there is now a well-formed roadway, and the presence of a cyclist — an indication of civilisation — was a matter of no surprise. The farm land also is improving in appearance, several years of cultivation having robbed the soil of the majority of the mallee stumps, which threw up their shoots yearly and kept the settler busy between seeding and harvest. Many of the earlier cultivated blocks are now almost free from roots, and offer excellent pasture to the 'cookie.' More pretentious dwellings are also springing up, the old dilapidated ' wattle and dab' huts giving place to comfortable stone buildings, which, in view of the depressed condition of the produce markets, speaks well for the Peninsula mallee country for wheat-producing purposes. Some admirable agricultural land is to be met with, but the soil varies to a great extent, and while on one side of a fence a good average crop might readily be looked for year after year with anything like a favorable season, on the other side the country might be practically useless for agricultural purposes. There is very little bad land in the hundred of Wiltunga, but on entering Wokurna the character of the country changes, and high sandhills are encountered in rapid succession. This is very poor wheat land, and grows thin crops. Nearer Port Broughton however, there is again an improvement, and at times some very good crops are reaped, while the same conditions exist in the Tickera scrub. It was noticeable in driving through the hundreds that many farmers had beautified their homesteads by planting fruit and ornamental trees, and whore they had been carefully cultivated they had made wonderful progress. This particularly applies to the garden at Lincolnfields which was laid out by the late Mr. William Malcolm. They were the first fruit-trees planted in the Yorke's Peninsula mallee, and the exceptional growth they have made, combined with the prolific crops yielded, should be a sufficient inducement for more extensive planting. They are growing in a good working loam, resting on a clay subsoil, and during the 12 years they have been planted the apricots have grown into very large trees. The fruit is also large and full flavored and until recently the trees were free from disease, but Mr. Waters, the present proprietor, finds it necessary now to spray for shothole, which has taken a firm hold of some of them. All stone fruits appear to do well at Lincolnfields and the conditions are also congenial to the existence of vines and figs, but the citrus family find both soil and climate too dry. There are also several ether nice gardens in the district, but to ensure success with orchards or vineyards in the mallee country it is necessary to cultivate most thoroughly. The rainfall in itself is insufficient, but the soil is absorptive and retentive, and by constant cultivation it is possible to obtain astonishing results.
It is evidently not the intention of the mallee farmers to have all their eggs in one basket, and if wheat fails they intend to have some other means of replenishing their coffers. With this and in view a butter factory has been started at Bute by Mr. J. H. Barnes, an enterprising resident, and he has been promised the assistance of the farmers in the district. Commencing on a somewhat small scale Mr. Barnes will increase the size of his premises if the support he receives warrants it, and there is every reason to believe that before next season be will have to establish a complete factory. At the present time he receives only 60 or 70 gallons of milk per day, but in a month's time, when there is more nutriment in the grass, this will be increased to 110 or 120 gallons. The milk is subjected to the Babcock tester on its arrival at the factory, and all milk over a certain standard is purchased at 3d. per gallon, while in the case of a deficiency of butter fat the price is reduced. As all of the farmers receive their skim milk back this is a very good price, but Mr. Barnes status that he gets a good market on the Peninsula, and could very easily dispose of 1,000 lb. of butter per week. Since the starting of the factory an effort has been made in the district to improve the standard of the dairy cattle, one farmer having purchased several Ayrshires from Mr. J. K. Angas, so that Mr. Barnes's venture is having a beneficial effect in more than one way. Mr. Barnes is also directing his attention to pig breeding in connection with the factory, and as South Australian pork has been favorably commented upon by London buyers there should be a big opening for the mallee farmer in this direction. In conjunction with Mr. White also he is importing some Indian game into tho colony for the purpose of breeding poultry for export, and already he has a number of valuable Langshans, which have also come into favor greatly during recent years.
A large stack of wheat at Bute evidenced the fact that this is the chief product of the district, and I ascertained that the Farmers' Co-operative Union, are doing good work in marketing the grain. Mr. Yelland, the local representative, informed me that last season the union handled 7,000 bags, and that this year he expected to greatly increase the quantity. All of the farmers, he stated, who passed their wheat through the union were well satisfied.