Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria Part 9

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This happily led to our introduction to the proprietor, Mr. Bennett, and to our being shown the wonders of the Press of our Southern Empire. And, here, again, I had to notice that all the latest steps of progress are taken up so promptly and so thoroughly. The time of our visit was between one and two o'clock, and the work of throwing off the "Evening News" of that day had begun. The machines, we were told, embodied the very latest improvements, and when we alluded to that of "The Argus", just then being fitted up, with every latest appliance, at the Melbourne Exhibition, Mr. Bennett a.s.sured us that the machinery before us comprised them all. We saw first the stereotyping process, by which copies of the one type-setting of the paper can be multiplied indefinitely. Then three machines were set in action, delivering 10,000 copies each per hour. A fourth machine was added shortly after, which delivered somewhat more; and this latter appeared to us the exact counterpart of "The Argus" machine, as already seen by us in London.

I recall a joke of many years back when mechanical contrivance was attracting much general attention, and arousing great hopes, to the effect that a sheep would some day enter the machine of the future at one end, and be delivered at the other as ready cooked food and broad cloth. What we saw was not a whit less wonderful. The great roll of paper unrolled itself into one end of the machine, and, even more quickly than one could walk the half-dozen yards of distance, it emerged in separate papers, dropped, as I said, at ten to twelve thousand an hour, printed, folded, cut, and numbered to the dispersing hand which received them. The circulation of the "Evening News" is 60,000 daily.

That of "The Age", as I learnt on arrival at Melbourne, has now advanced in its inspiring career to 76,000. These are the papers of greatest circulation in the Southern Hemisphere. Such is already the Press of the infant Hercules of Australasia.

Another stirring sight next greeted our eyes ere we quitted the "Evening News" office, namely, the crowd of eager little newsboys waiting for their trade stock. Pressing to the small open window, where their tiny sums were paid to the cas.h.i.+er, they received their check, and forthwith proceeded to the fountains which were dropping out their supplies at the rate of four copies per second, all ready for delivery. They received twelve of the penny papers for ninepence. These poor little fellows would begin, perhaps, with ninepence as all their capital. They get their dozen papers, and, if smart, sell them possibly in not many more minutes. Then they are back with their increased capital, and so by quick degrees they get to be quite large dealers. We saw one little fellow, already a great capitalist in his way, with a load of papers which one would have thought he could hardly carry, but which, nevertheless, he managed with well-practised adroitness.

COMPARISON OF THE TWO CAPITALS.

If comparisons are proverbially odious, they must be specially so if drawn out upon insufficient data. I must not, therefore, on such a flying inspection, go very deeply into my comparative a.n.a.lysis. And yet, under all the circ.u.mstances, the subject is one for which I feel not altogether incompetent. To begin with, I had not, perhaps, sufficient time in failing to note any material difference of physique due to the difference of lat.i.tude, Melbourne having the cooler temperature by 4 to 5 degrees of Fahrenheit. Tasmania and Southern New Zealand give notably the ruddy plumpness of the English face. Conversing with a young friend, who was interested in football, he remarked that lat.i.tude is important in a game which was mainly one of muscular strength. Thus, speaking generally, Hobart will beat Melbourne, Melbourne Sydney, and Sydney Brisbane. "But what as to New Zealand?" I said. "New Zealand," he replied, "will square with England, and the Southern Island may beat her."

The tide of general business in either city seemed to me equal, but the streets and the public and business buildings of Sydney were scarcely equal, either in number or style, to those of Melbourne, at least if the great edifices and other works of the latter, either just being finished or in progress of erection, be considered. The Melbourne Harbour is conspicuously one of these, and will surpa.s.s alike that of Sydney and those of most of the rest of the world. On the other hand, however, the grand natural harbourage of Port Jackson, not to dwell upon its surpa.s.sing scenic beauty, gives to Sydney a most decided economic advantage for all time.

Melbourne has two obvious superiorities--first in the systematic laying out of the streets, and second in the more conveniently level site. Thus no Sydney street can compare with Collins-street, where even the moderate rise of the eastern and western hills still adds to the commanding effect of the whole line. The Melbourne street tram system is also greatly superior to that of Sydney, and seems, indeed, to have attained to all that is possible in that direction. In point of population, Melbourne continues ahead, having, with the suburbs, about 400,000, while Sydney has about 350,000. On the other hand, New South Wales has rather the advantage over Victoria in the total population, as well as in the amount of external commerce, having lately, in these respects, overtaken her younger sister, after the latter had clean distanced her senior for a whole generation by help of the surpa.s.sing gold production. The populations are now about 1,050,000 respectively.

THE RIVAL RACE.

In estimating the future of these two great colonies and their respective capitals, I will endeavour to mark some distinctive considerations. Unquestionably the climatic difference, although it may not be serious, is in favour of Victoria, for the English race of both colonies and for English industries. Then, again, we have this ever-recurring Australian drought, from which Victoria does not indeed always or altogether escape, but to which, with her cooler sea-girt sh.o.r.es, she is certainly less liable than her sister colonies, including New South Wales. Even now, as I sail along the northern sh.o.r.es of the latter and along Southern Queensland, the severe drought which has prevailed for the past six months is indicated by the ascending smoke of bush fires in every direction, while Victoria, as I left it, was in universal green from the sufficiency of rain. Lastly, there is the disputable question as to how the much wider area of New South Wales than Victoria bears upon the question. Is that a help to her or a drag?

With the present scant population to either, the advantage seems to me with Victoria, compact as she is, and full of fertile land. Fifty years hence, when the population of each has pa.s.sed from one million to ten millions, and when a system of irrigation has fertilized the large proportion of now sterile areas of the larger colony, the latter will a.s.sert her precedence and, perhaps, easily pa.s.s her rival. But for the present she is rather handicapped than otherwise by her distances.

Granting that she has throughout as many rich acres as Victoria, still she is, for the time being, under the disadvantage of having to draw her resources from greater distances--from an average, say, of more than 300 miles to Victoria's 100.

Against this collective relative handicapping in her race, New South Wales has happily still to oppose her good fortune in having adhered as yet to the impartial freedom of exchange for the labour products of all her workers, while Victoria has restricted that freedom, and has, consequently, by so much, reduced that product, by her protective enactments. Let me try to estimate this most important matter. Victoria has seen fit to protect certain interests, agricultural and manufacturing, at the expense of the whole of her public. Happily for her the agricultural protection is probably almost, if not indeed altogether, inoperative, as the climate and the soil of the country, and the vigour of her people, give to her, independently, the natural lead in agricultural products. But the manufacturing protection is confessedly effective, so that the manufactures would not be forthcoming without the extra price of protection. Let us average this protection at 25 per cent, and let us further suppose that one-fifth of all the people's requirements are thus extra-charged. This means that the Victorian public are made to pay in the proportion of 125 pounds for a cla.s.s of their daily requisites which the New South Wales public, by virtue of their freedom of exchange for all the products of their labour, can secure for 100 pounds; and that this very considerably enhanced cost affects as much as the one-fifth part of all those requisites. Victoria, and the vigorous life which peoples her, will in any case ever present a spectacle of surprising progress. But if she is mated in a race in which, while the two rivals are otherwise equal, she is thus restricted in labour output by protection, while the other keeps herself free, she is as surely to be beaten in that race as if, on her grand Flemington racecourse, she were the seriously handicapped horse of a n.o.ble pair admitted to be otherwise equal.

POST POSTSCRIPT.

BRISBANE, 22ND AUGUST.

My publisher affords me just time to record my arrival yesterday, at the capital of the youthful but already great Queensland, and to give some opinions of the place after a glance, which is, however, of necessity so cursory.

Brisbane is to me not less astonis.h.i.+ng than either Sydney or Melbourne.

From the adjacent heights of Mount Coot-tha, I looked over several square miles, mostly of thickly compacted streets and dwellings, comprising a town and connected suburbs of 75,000 busy people. While the suburban houses are chiefly of wood, the town proper already, in some respects, fairly rivals its senior sisters of the South. Thus Queen-street, in its general architectural aspect, and in the tide of business life which it presents, is but little short of the chief streets of these other cities; while the structures of two of the Queensland Banks, the Queensland National and the London Chartered of Australia, together with those of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and of the stores of Messrs. D.L. Brown and Co., Messrs. Stewart and Hemmant, and Messrs. Scott, Dawson and Stewart, seemed to me quite equal to anything of the kind, respectively, which I had met with since my arrival. Indeed, I am prepared to congratulate my friend, Mr. Drury, at the head of the former of these banks, upon an edifice which, in graces of structure, as well as in mere dimensions, seems to me to surpa.s.s all rivalry.

The Bank of England--the highly conservative "old lady of Threadneedle-street"--on the recent occasion of negotiating yet one more large Queensland loan, broadly hinted to her go-ahead client that her borrowing must, for a time at least, be more restricted. I do not deny the wisdom of this advice, for truly all Australasian borrowing has been utterly outside of all principle and precedent. But while the Home public is preoccupied with these colonies' great debts, my visit here has diverted the leading idea rather to the solid and expansive basis of trade and prosperity which I see around me. I have not yet seen South Australia or New Zealand, but, from what already reaches my ears, I have no reason to expect that my account of either colony is to differ materially, if at all, from that of the others. The ready facility to incur debt on behalf of colonial progress is due, as it seems to me, rather to consciousness of strength than to indifference about financial obligation. Each colony will "pay" with equal certainty and prompt.i.tude, although a New South Wales or a Victoria may do so with less strain than their sisters.

Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria Part 9

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