Travel: Australia – A General View

The aboriginals of Australia, like those of Tasmania,, and indeed of every other country of modern discovery, are vanishing. They are for the most part gathered on reservations under government protection and care. Their color is black, though they are distinct from the African races. In a general sense they are perhaps rightfully regarded as being very much degraded, yet in some respects they show a remarkable degree of shrewdness and sagacity. The men of these tribes are employed by the detective service as “black-trackers,” because they can discover and follow a trail where a white man would never succeed. The efforts to educate and Christianize them have been crowned with but a small degree of success. They do not seem, however, to be any more averse to receiving evil than other savage races. They have made some efforts to repel the encroachment of the white men into their country, and in doing so have manifested ingenious cruelty. But their weapons and methods have been utterly futile before the arms and power of the Europeans. They have very justly become famous for their use of the boomerang. This implement of war is a thin, slightly crooked blade of hard wood, which is thrown in a manner wholly inexplicable, but by which it is made to do its intended work, and then return to the thrower. Those who are expert in the art can hurl it forty yards and back again with an accuracy that is surprising. Their other weapons consist of the ” waddy,” or war club, and a wooden spear. For habitations they have only broad pieces of bark set up against a pole. In their native state they subsist on the most disgusting objects, such as snakes and other reptiles, worms and beetles, or apparently anything upon which they can feed. Opossums and kangaroos, as well as fish and edible roots are also eaten, but the former articles are by no means objected to, especially because they are most easily obtained.

One fact that encourages and almost compels them to this degrading diet is that Australia produces indigenously hardly any fruits or nuts that are edible. This seems not a little strange when we consider its proximity to the islands which are covered with cocoa, banana, and other nutritious food products, planted and grown by nature herself. So far as T know, about the only exception to this statement is the so-called wild cherry, which grows on a species of ti-tree. It is about half as large as the ordinary red currant. First on the stem comes the little stone, then back of that, and almost distinct from it, is a, little mass of rather pleasant-tasting pulp. Thus it will be seen that the wretched natives have a bard chance for life, and we do not wonder that their diet should include things against which our appetites revolt.

But although nature does not supply the plants, she is ready to support that which men may plant, so now fruits of all kinds may be obtained in the markets of the large cities. Victoria Market, in the heart of Melbourne, is one of the sights. It is open two mornings of each week. It covers two blocks, and its buildings consist mostly of long rows of sheds far enough apart to allow horses and carts to be backed up to a low platform on either side. Produce wagons begin to arrive the previous evening, for some come long distances. All night they are coming in, and at an early hour the sale begins at a given signal. By six o’clock the streets are a surging mass of humanity.

Winter is, in some respects, the most interesting of the seasons. It is then that cattle enjoy a rich pasture. The frequent rains and cool weather encourage the growth of the grass, and the paddocks are covered with living green. The more hardy vegetables flourish then, as well as the different varieties of flowers. The calla lily, so carefully reared and watched in our Northern cities as a house-plant, grows rank and blooms by the thousand in the hedges. Trellises of brighthued geraniums growing over fences or walls, are to be seen on every hand.

The government of Australia is vested in the people to an extent that includes everything in the way of individual liberty. Although the country is a part of the British empire, and as such is amenable to the British throne, the relation is one of mutual interest, in which there is no interference with rights or privileges. Up to the beginning of the century the Australian colonies had maintained separate political lives, with no other organic relation than that of different members of the same great family. While they had many interests in common, they preferred to ignore them in order to obtain the advantages that they might gain from an independent course. Until that time intercolonial borders were practically national lines, over which customs duties were collected, and postal and other internal regulations did not extend. But for some years a party was growing up which favored the union of the colonies into a commonwealth. The demands of this party were for a long time withstood by those whose judgment or selfinterest led them strenuously to oppose federation. But finally bills were passed through the various parliaments submitting the question of uniting to a popular vote. In the principal colonies the proposition was carried by strong majorities. In Queensland and West Australia there was much hesitation, and the measure was finally carried by small majorities, while New Zealand preferred to remain outside the federation altogether.

A Federation Bill was drafted by a convention, submitted to all the colonies, and after various modifications was accepted by New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, very gingerly by Queensland, and after a great deal of persuasion finally by West Australia. It was then sent to the London government, and endorsed by the British Parliament, signed by the Queen, and became a law. This bill formed the basis of a new government known as the Commonwealth of Australia. By joining the compact the colonies now became states. The general government was drafted very much on the lines of that of the United States, with an adherence to British forms and names. The Governor-General is the appointee of the British crown. His salary is paid by the commonwealth. He represents the home government, and signs all legal enactments as the representative of the king. The general parliament is composed of two houses, the upper being the senate, and the lower the house of representatives. These are elected much as in the United States.

The real executive head of the government is the premier, who is, with the rest of the governor’s cabinet, a member of the lower house. Under the compact the states are united in much the same manner as are the different states that compose our federal union. The postal and telegraph business is conducted by the federal government, and the customs are collected by the same authority, thus doing away with interstate protection. A certain amount of the duties collected are returned to the individual states. The national defence is also a federal department, and efforts are now being made to establish a federal judicial tribunal.

The various states retain control of their railways, all of which are public property. The control of the railways by the government is not an unmixed blessing by any means. Many are the vexations that grow out of such an arrangement. The idea of competition is put out of all consideration. Every employee is a public servant for life unless something extraor dinary happens to dislodge him. He does not feel particularly under obligation to the public, whose servant he is supposed to be. One sometimes gets the impression that he imagines that the people are his servants, and he carries an if-you-don’tlike-it-go-afoot sort of air. The railways as a natural consequence are slow plodders in the way of introducing improvements. The express which runs between Sydney and Melbourne is quite a fine train, however, and makes the distance of 617 miles in about sixteen hours running. Unfortunately the different colonies adopted different gauges, and it becomes necessary for both passengers and freight to change trains at the borders, except between Melbourne and Adelaide.

The first to hold the office of governor-general of Australia was Lord Hopetown, who had formerly been governor of Victoria. He was sworn into office at Sydney at the beginning of 1900, and that event marked the inauguration of the new government. His salary was fixed at ten thousand pounds sterling a year, a sum almost equal to the salary of the president of the United States. But in a few months he found that this was inadequate to support a representative of the king, and, as the people refused to sanction an increase, he resigned, and was succeeded by Lord Tennyson, son of the great poet, who was governor of South Australia. The ship of state has already had plenty of rough water, storms, shallows, and narrow seas, and has been beset with all kinds of trouble, but so far it keeps on its way, and is likely to do so, though those colonies who stand on the outside are growing fat on the thought that they are not in the muddle. But eventually order will come about, and so far as earthly prospects go to show, there seems to be a great future before the young commonwealth.

Generally speaking, there has been an effort to separate church and state in the colonial governments, but at the present time there is a tendency on the part of quite a large body of church people to unite them in a measure at least,-not by way of establishing some particular church, but by establishing certain principles upon which most of the churches can unite in asking the state to enforce. In other words, they have imbibed the prevailing spirit that the church should broaden its sphere of operations, and instead of giving so much attention to personal religion and the salvation of individuals, should seek to Christianize the nation, and thus bring in the reign of the gospel.

It requires no very great degree of astuteness to perceive in this movement the same kind of zeal and the same tendency to religious persecution that characterized the course of the church in the Dark Ages, when men were burned at the stake or put on the rack because they did not conform to the prevailing ideas on religious questions. Underlying the whole undertaking is the great mistake that men can be compelled to become good, and that if moral suasion is not sufficient to produce the desired change in their lives, then the law should be invoked to compel them to do as the majority think they ought to do.