16 NOVEMBER 1867, Page 15


[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR:] Ste,—Your pleasant correspondent, " Wild Ass," makes some state- ments in his letter of last Saturday which may, I think, mislead public opinion as to the true nature of the Australian land laws. Allow me to say something on the other side.

First, how much land is really wanted for agriculture ? "Wild Ass" says, "Two or three hundred thousand acres will grow more than enough wheat to feed the whole population in Victoria." The average of wheat grown to the acre being under 12 bushels in Victoria, a population of 640,000 would only get 5i bushels a head from 300,000 acres. But a country cannot sub- sist entirely on wheat, and the system of farming without rotation of crops is commonly thought to have something to do with low returns in Australia. In South Australia, with one-fourth the population of Victoria, 555,000 acres were under cultivation in 1862. In other words, from 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 acres are really required to make Victoria self-supporting. has " Wild Ass" forgotten that the late agitation for laud was very much promoted by the large sums which the colony had to pay for imported corn in 1864?

As to the Australian land-sale systems, it is true the squatters think them unjust everywhere. Like the fish in the fable, the sheep-farmers have been offered their choice to be eaten raw, to be eaten cooked, or to be eaten with vinegar, and they would rather not be eaten at all. But they have never pointed out a system that would suit themselves and give the people cheap land. They object, with great justice, to the New South Wales system of free selection, by which any vagabond may pick out a section of forty acres, containing the best water-holes in a run, force the Government to survey it at great expense, and then compel the squatter to ransom himself at a fancy price from an unwelcome neighbour. They object equally in South Australia to "the simple plan of putting up Crown land in small blocks to the highest bidder," because it tempts the squatter to buy the land at any price with borrowed money, sooner than let his run be cut up ; causes a competition under which small capitalists cannot buy at all, or private agreements by which Government is defrauded; and ultimately forces the Ministry to bring more land into the market than the population can take up with economy. It was to meet these difficulties that the Victorian system was devised. The idea was to put up the land for sale in such quantities, that the squatters should not be able to find money for buying it ; to give every man the chance of purchasing on easy terms by the ballot ; and to protect the squatters against men of straw by binding pur- chasers to reside for three years, spending money on their land, and not selling it. The system was too complicated, and I make no doubt the objections advanced by "Wild Ass" are more or less substantial. On the other hand, it has attracted settlers from the neighbouring colonies, and Victoria last year produced corn in such quantities that instead of importing she is able to export. It may be true, as "Wild Ass" thinks, that "three out of four have small chance of succeeding honestly" in farming. But the same thing has been repeatedly said in other colonies ; and practical men, connected with squatting, have been ready to prove at any time during the last ten years that the farming interest in South Australia was bankrupt, although it has gradually risen to the very highest rank in the production of wealth. Perhaps the young gentlemen who are no longer able to find sheep runs may do worse than take to agricultural farming.

P.S.—There is another slight difficulty, by the bye, which I dare say "Wild Ass " will clear up in his next letter. The acreage of Victoria is nearly as large as that of Great Britain, and railroads are only in their infancy. How are Portland, Castlemaine, Mel- bourne, and The Ovens to draw their supplies from a single agricultural district twenty miles square?