Western Australia And Tasmania
( Originally Published 1904 )
LEAVING Port Darwin, we sail westward into the Indian Ocean and then southward along the state of Western Australia. We cross valuable pearl-fishing grounds and pass by Kimberley, where there are extensive gold mines and rich pastures. We do not stop, but sail on and on farther south.
The water is smooth, and we now and then see a whale. There are some whales now quietly floating on the sea at our right. They are apparently sleeping. Let us see if we can arouse them by a shot ! We pick up our guns and send a score of bullets at the great monsters. The water splashes up where the balls fall, and at the same time one of the whales raises its head. What a huge thing it is ! It is like an island rising out of the water. Now the whales are moving. They roll aside the water like a steamer. Now they have dived, and we see them no more.
As we come closer in shore, huge sharks follow our vessel, and we are careful how we hang over the rail. If we should fall in, they would eat us up in a trice. There are so many about here that one of the harbors has been named Shark Bay.
Fremantle, at the mouth of the Swan River, is our first port of call, where we leave the steamer and go by rail ten miles inland to Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Perth is a thriving city of many red brick buildings with awnings over the streets. It has good stores, churches, and schools. We ride through it on street cars, and at night stroll about under the electric lights. We climb Mount Eliza, the great hill at the west of the town, for a look over the country. The river Swan can be seen flowing above and below it, and off in the distance are the Darling Mountains covered with woods.
There are rich farms and gardens in every direction, and we see that this southwestern corner of Australia compares in fertility with the southeastern part. It has great forests of valuable timber, including the jarrah, sometimes called Australian mahogany, and other trees good for ship building. There are also fine pasture lands, but as we have already learned, much of the state is a vast desert of sand and rock, some of which contains gold.
On our way back to the city we see a caravan of camels which has found its way into Perth, and wish we could hire them for a trip into the wilds. We know, however, that the journey through the desert would be terribly dreary, not to say dangerous, and decide to go back to the ship.
Our stay on shore has been hot, and we are glad to get the sea breeze. We steam south about Cape Leeuwin (loo'in), the peninsula at the southwestern corner of Australia, to Albany, a fine city on an excellent harbor where ships from Europe stop on their way to Melbourne and Sydney. A day later we are again on board, sailing along the coast of southern Australia, bound for Melbourne, whence we shall go to Tasmania.
We are now in the great southern ocean which extends southward to the Antarctic Circle. It is a mighty belt of water, more than two thousand miles wide, which sweeps around the globe unbroken by any mass of land except the lower end of South America. It is already colder, and we have frequent storms. There is a steady wind from the westward, and the captain orders that the sails be hoisted so that both wind and steam may hurry us onward.
Much of our journey is over the great Australian Bight, which extends for eleven hundred miles along the southern coast. How bleak and dreary it is ! The land ends in cliffs several hundred feet high ; it is a desert, having no river which empties into the sea for more than six hundred miles. Should the ship be wrecked, we might as well let ourselves drown, for we should certainly starve or die of thirst if left on this coast. The only vegetation is scrub, thorn bushes, and sharp-pointed grasses which cut like a knife.
There are no signs of life except in the air and on the sea. We see a whale now and then, and nearer the coast a great turtle floating about. Gulls, little and big, follow us, now hovering above the masts, and now darting into the water after something that has dropped overboard. High over us great albatrosses float on their enormous wings, and below them, when quite close to the shore, we see winged penguins swimming about, now and then diving down for their food; they make a hoarse quack, which sounds odd as it comes to us over the water. Farther northward we may see the frigate bird, which compares in size with the albatross and can fly many hours without resting. There are other strange sights, but the strong winds, the high waves, and the dreary, dreary coast make us tired of the trip, and we are glad when we steam up to Port Philip and come to anchor at a wharf of Melbourne.
Here we stay but a night, and then take the little steamer for Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the island state of the Australian commonwealth. The water is rough as we pass Flinders Island in crossing Bass
Strait. Our boat rolls about terribly ; it is raining, and we have to wear our rubbers to keep from falling on the slippery deck. We are a day and two nights on the voyage from Melbourne, and when we awake in the morning, we find ourselves in the mouth of the Der-went River, under the shadow of a great mountain at the wharves of one of the prettiest little cities we have yet seen.
We are in Hobart, on the southern end of Tasmania, in the Switzerland of Australasia. How different it is from most parts of the continent we have just left. Instead of gray sand and rock and dreary bush, we are surrounded by green. There are roses in the gardens, and the woods near by the city are full of beautiful flowers.
Tasmania has vast groves of fern trees ; it has forests of the dreary eucalyptus and also the friendly oaks, beeches, and other trees of our country. It is well watered. There are streams everywhere and numerous lakes. It is a land of mountains, valleys, and glens, so beautiful and so healthful that people from all parts of Australasia visit it as Europeans visit the Alps.
There are many tourists in Hobart, and we make up parties for excursions on the railroad, on foot, and on horseback to the different parts of the island. We climb the mountains and have good luck fishing in the lakes. We have a chance to shoot a tiger wolf and a Tasmanian devil, a sort of ugly bear cat. We spend some time visiting the tin, iron, copper, silver, and gold mines, and go- from one town to another, being more and more surprised at the good schools, stores, and comfortable homes which these people have here, at the southern end of the earth, on the other side of the globe.
The Tasmanians are the descendants of the English who settled the country. They are very much like our people at home, hospitable and glad to show one about. We visit their sheep ranches and their farms, which are noted for rich crops of wheat, barley, and oats.
Everywhere we go we find orchards of pears, apples, and plums ; there are strawberries, cherries, and all sorts of small fruit. We have jam every morning at breakfast, and find ourselves eating apples at all hours of the day. Tasmania produces fruit in vast quantities for export, and her canning factories make jams for all parts of Australasia.
How would our farmers like to market their fruit sixteen thousand miles away ? That is what the Tasmanian farmers are doing. They are sending apples to England in steamers especially fitted up with cold storage chambers to keep them from rotting as they go across the Equator.
That farmer in the orchard at the side of the road is picking apples for the children of England. Think what a long journey each apple must take before it gets to its English boy customer. Its first trip will be on a wagon to the railroad station, and thence by car to Hobart. There it will be put in the cold, dark hold of the ship to start with thousands of its brothers and sisters on its long journey by sea. It will go west through the southern ocean for more than one thousand miles before it reaches the southwestern end of Australia, crossing perhaps the track we made when we came about from Perth. It will then go on over the Indian Ocean, and through the Red Sea and Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, and will pass out through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic, and thence to England. It will be traveling on the sea every day and night for fully a month before it again sees the light of day, and reaches its English boy customer.
And the boy, after all, will pay only three cents for it. This three cents will pay not only the farmer for raising the apple, but the railroads in Tasmania and England, the merchants who handle it at both ends of the route, the sailors who manage the vessel, the miners who dig the coal which makes the steam, as well as some others who have more or less to do with it before it is sold for the English boy's pennies. This could not be done were not millions of other apples shipped the same way, and vast quantities of goods made in England and sent back in exchange. This is one of the wonders of commerce.