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IRRIGATION SETTLEMENT Land Administration Board's Report ROCKHAMPTON, May 27.
la IVforch last the Land Administration Board, acting as a Royal Commission, comprising Messrs. W. L. Payne (chair man) and A. G. Melville, conducted an inquiry into the Daw son Valley irrigation settlement, to 'investigate the position of the ?ctt!ers and to recommend development plans for the future.'
Jlie report rtgtos : ' For the purpose | of thf- iiiNPjiipation we proceeded to Thco-!i-r'. wliM-li is the centre of the] irrigation ~ . ? 1. 1 lf.m.-rit , arriviui' on Marc'ai IT l.is-i Hh'i.iv el-uim»'ri«*in£ t he in luiry Iwi ilnvj wore ep^ni in nv'kilig an inspection of a lnrs-p nurabpr of irrigation farms in tho area in order to enquire, ilrit-lvind kri'iwlcdpp of the; fpttl^nsent and the- character of it* j soil;, to ?pp f it otirfohci the rrops tluit. uprfi b-?in:r grovrn, .-is well as tha methods o* in'!~ntion and cultivation io »-n?iip, apii to discuss with settlers, on thp c!' fund. 8iv difficulties (hey werei encoiir.'ennij ;n working their farms. | SMsbsr-iuenMr inspect knit were also mad', nf thp la'ids to the north and south of ; Theodore whi-*h Trere likely to present j possibilities of new settlement activities in the iramed'ate. future. ' PuI'lie siftiriL's ucre held at. Theo dore, on March :_'\ At these sittings a commutes of ?--- tiers addressed the j Board and. at some lenrth_ went into: details re^ardinc the ?-iifrtcoriiincrs of the srt'lpiMPnt- Private sittinrs were th»n h«!d from Ma! eh '.V2 to -J9, inclusive, and -\idor!ce ^;\i taken from pa^h 1 fpfiior individually. These private sif-| t :???-* nore arranjr^d so that thp Board ?.-'..u!J a.-xertaiii ibf financial result of t h rv working of es^h holding, and ob- 1 tain fr'-rn ea''h settler hie experience in detail. Settlors sri generally reluct ant to disclose each details publicly, urd ' ifhout such t?£5.entia! information ?in e- onomic investigation is impossible. At these private 'sittin.es ^ settlers desired other persons to b» present to Assist, or to hear thsir evidence, their wishes T-fre respected.- otherwise all f-rivatp evidence was regarded as con fidential s? !vtw°eii the witnesses con ?'«'i!ed siid th* Board. | -Of the 1:1 =»ttlers who hold blocks 1-1. tlv- fl.r.^. inn or gtj pcr cent. of the *.ital. Ttom'i.i th.e inquirr and gavi pvidev'-e We, therefore, !iave at our «-Miv,pnn.j pra^ti^allr all the informatiou that :- .^ailalilfc rf^irdni? the Eettle ?T1OTI t ORTGIK Or SETTLEMENT. * [r--!jst!on proj-ct€ ineritably loom lar^^ !'.i the rmuds of inen. To bend the forces of nr)tur6 to his will has al '?aj s be--r th^ drean of man. And when, hv ha'T'-'siiii; a srfaf nvflr, life-jjivinp ? wat^r hu l»-=n conveyed to arid but I cultivable £?:?;??, that dream, in at lee?t! one important particular, bag l»epn ful filled ' ' I '7h* Din-'in ^'allpr lm^atioc pro jpet na! 1 bold conception. Ih6 country along tlio Dawson comprises a very
large belt suitable for cultivation, and when to this circumstance is added tho fact that a gorge through which the DawBon flows seemingly provides a 6itc tor a dam that would have a storage rapacity only second to the largest dam in the world, it 16 small wonder that attention became fastened on this locality as a probable field for a vast irrigation settlement. In 1920 investi gations were commenced at the Nathau Gorge. A dam site was surveyed, and it was estimated that the dam, when con structed, would impound 2,485,000 acre I feet of water. The immensity of this 1 projected 6torage may be realised from the fact that it would be sufficient to supply a city like Brisbane with water for o0 years, without any rainfall during that period. It was estimated that this immense reservoir would 6ub mer-e 130 square miles (83,200 acres), of country. At the same time analyses were made of typical Dawson Valley soils, and contour surveys of the irrig able areas were undertaken. After this preliminarv work the Government de cided to launch a big irrigation settle ment scheme in the locality. ' An Irrigation Commission was con stituted under 'The Irrigation Act of ]9-22. ' and a Conitnissionpr was intvo ducpd from outside the State to ad miniEter the new activity.' The newly appointed Commissioner, with commend able energy and enthusiasm, immediate ly formulated plans for the projected settlement. The irrigable land, estim ated at 100,000 acres, and extending for a distance of approximately 65 miles along the Dawson was divided into five zones, viz., Isla, Theodore, Huon, Moura, and Coolibah, as shown on the accompanying map. Each zone was about T: miles in diameter, and it was intend ed, to develop each one separately with a central township in each. '' The scheme provided for both irrig able farms and dry or nonirrigable land. Altogether it was proposed to establish about 5000 new farms, aiid it was estimated by the Irrigation Cora iniesioner that, with the population in the townships, the area would provide a livelihood for 50,000 persons. ' The farms were to he irrigated by a system of gravitation from the main storage dam at Nathan Gorge. Pending the con struction of this dam an iuitial irri gation settlement was to be established at Castle Creek. The water supply for this settlement was to be assured by the construction in the river of a low cner-shot weir at a relatively small cost, and from the storage so provided water was to be pumped along earth canals to the farms. ,
J 'The lands at Castle Creek (sub sequently named Theodore) were sur veyed, contoured, and made available for settlement in 1927. The area com prised U526 acres of irrigable lands, which, was divided into 2«4 irrigable ffirrns of an average area of 13 acres, and 109 dry blocks of an average area ot 211 acres. ' For purposes of irrigation e. low weir was constructed, a power house was built and equipped, and 28 miletj of excavated earth canals were rusde. When settlers had been establish ed on the 264 irrigable farms at Theo dore, it waa then intended to settle the other zones in turn. 'MISLEADING BOOKLET.' I ' To induce the settlement of the ' land and to advertise the potentialities I of the Dawson Valley, an attractive 1 illustrated booklet was issued in 1826 ! by the Irrigation Commissioner, and was circulated far and wide to pro spective applicants. This booklet set out the intentions of the Government re garding the construction of the Nathan Darn and described in somewhat extra vagant terms the suitability of the lands for a large number of purposes. It. set out that the Dawson Valley was destined a decade hence to be the heart of rural Queensland, and invited settlers to make their homes in this Valley of Content and to grow with Queensland. 'All this energy and enthusiasm, however, did not procure the desired result. The optimistic estimate of new settlement has not been realised. To day 1 ] 1 settlers are farming in the Theodore area, and thirteen in the ad jacent Plainby area, making 124 in all. Even with this small number extensive adjustments are needed to make the settlement progress. Moreover, the build ing of the Nathan Dam has been in definitely postponed, and with it, all prospects of creating a thickly populated Ujixed farming district in the near future. ' CAPITAL COSTS OF SCHEME. ' The capital costs of the Daw ion Valley Irrigation Scheme have been enorrnouB for the small settle ment results obtained. It must be regarded as the most expensive settlement project in Queensland's history. ' ' Expenditure has been incurred by the Government under two main head ings : (1) Expenditure by Irrigation Commission in general irrigation works, including the construction of roads, buildings, etc., 'and loans to settlers. (2) Railway expenditure on the ex tension of the line from Baralaba to Theodore. ' ' The indebtedness of the Dawson Valley irrigation works to the Treasury as at December 31, 1932, was as follows; Total loan expenditure, £611,811; interest accrued and not paid, £92,687 j total £704,498. Less revenue re ceived and repayments — Rents, £18,870 : sales of plant and equipment, £22,269 ; settlers' loan repayments, £14,738; total £55,877. Xct indebtedness to th» Treasury as at December 31, 1932, £648.621. ' The capital cost of the extension of the railway from Baralaba to Theodore, which was; built expressly to serve the irrigation settlement, and which waa opuned to traffic on the 7th May, 1927, was £404,430. Under 'The Railway (Capital Indebtedness) Reduction Act of 1931,' the capital of the Queensland Railways waR reduced by 43.048 per cent., which reduces this cost to £230,244. The total outlay on the Irrigation Settlement Scheme' was thus £1.053,057, or an average of £8492 per settler for each settler so far established. This matter Is commented on later. ASSESSMENTS AND RECEIPTS. 'The total revenue assessments on the Theodore Settlement by the irriga tion Commission for the past five years are as follow: — Rents of town lots, £1667; rente of farms, £11,155; hotel and cottages, £2626; electric light rates, £764; town water rates, £256; miscel laneous receipts, £1139; sundry sales, £95; grand total, £17,702. 'For comparison purposes cash re ceipts for this period are as follow: — Rents of town lots, £1336; rents of farms, £8424; hotels and cottages, £2655; electric light rates, £738; town water rates. £225, miscellaneous re ceipts, £641; grand total, £14,019. 'During the first of these ^ears ( 1-927 - 28) the cash receipts £4913 exceeded the revenue assessments £1838 because of the rental deposits paid by new set tie rB who had not been assessed, but who came in during the year. Dur ing each of the following years the cash collections fell far short of the revenue assessments. It will be noticed that the cash receipts for the last year £1942 amount to merely 45 per cent, of the revenue assessments £4342. This is partlv accounted for by the havoc of the flood in December, 1931, which is referred to Infer, and also the ten dency some settlers have developed of sitting back and not paying in the be lief that, bv this course, they will eventually obtain from the Government larger concessions. When the affairs ot' the settlement have been equitably adjusted this latter tendency must be firmly checked. 'Operating expenses for the five years wore as follow:— 1927-28, £3749; 1928 29. £4793: 1029-30, £4138; 1030-31, £7480; l'J31-32, £7.'.7fi. On the ba&is of cxppndi ture and caEh receipts, a profit of £1101 was made in 1927-29, but in the suc ceeding four years, the losses were £2765, £1934, £4546, and £5248 respec tively. '^The&o figures take no account of tba -
capital expenditure of loan moneys or] of the interest payable thereon by the Government. , I 'Th- Commissioner for Railways iB| unable to furnish figures as to the re-i venue and working costs of the 13ar-j alaba -Theodore Railway, ae no separate record has been kept for this section. The only available figures are in re spect of the whole branch railway from Kabra to Theodore, and these the Lorn-! raissiouer has supplied, as follow: — 1926-27, revenue £49,795, expenditure £61,801, interest £43,400, Ioes £55,406; 1927-28, £42,797, £54,016, £47.381, £58,600; 1028-29, £35,649, £51,559, £16.S39, £02,749;] 1929-30 £36,188, £44,729, £46,914, £55,455; 1930-31, £34,255, £41,502, £47,200, £54,447; 1931-32, £29,429, £34,510, £24,284, £29,365. 'The apparently improved position of. last year's working is due to the writ- 1 ing down of railway capital value and not to incceased revenue. It is prob-' able that the revenue per mile of the! railway from Baralaba to Theodore (59 miles) is less than the revenue over any similar length of this branch rail way. 'In land settlement schemes certain elementary economics should be ob served. AH new settlement involves the expenditure of public funds, whether in the construction of railways or roads, or in the making of udvances to settlers to help them in developing their hold ings. Before expenditure is incurred it should first be established beyond reasonable doubt that, directly or in directly, whether by increased produc tion or by the taxable capacity of the new community, the scheme will, with in a reasonable time, pay its own working costs, interest on the loan capital invested, and a sinking fund sufficient to provide for the repayment of the loan when it falls due. 'In formulating the Daweon Valley Irrigation Scheme these pre liminary requirements were not ob served. With sublime optimism and confidence the then Commissioner of Irrigation made estimates of settlement which had no possibility of being realised. Nor was any effort made to check such Cbtiniates from other sources. I 'Perhaps the accumulated knowledge of all Government Departments, and( particularly, the Lands and Agricultural Departments, would not have been an adequate safeguard in launching such an ambitions project. But the fact is that all such knowledge remained ne glected and unused, and the Commis sioner proceeded, unaided, to formulate his plans. 'In November, 1926, when £367,600 had been expended by the Irrigation Commission, and £303,400 by the Rail way Department in extending the rail way from Baralaba to Theodore, the State Government applied to the Com monwealth Government, under the £34, 000,000 agreement, for a loan of £3,370, 000 to further the scheme. An investi gation was duly made by the Develop, ment and Migration Commission. 'On May 15, 1928, that Commission reported to the Commonwealth Govern ment that it was of the opinion that until the economics of irrigation prac tice in the Dawfion Valley area had been thoroughly explored, it wag neces sary for the Commission to defer de cision with regard to the scheme as submitted by the Premier of Queens land, The full recommendations of J.hc Commission were as follows: — (1) That decision as regards the scheme as submitted be deferred. (2) That a sura, as required, not exceeding £100,000, should be advanced under terms of clause 16 of the agree ment for the purpose of carrying out a five years' programme of demon stration, details of which are to be agreed by the parties concerned. (3) That the all-important task of a detailed soil-survey should be com pleted. (4) That the economic aspect of the various forms of farming be fully investigated on the data obtained from the proposed demonstration areas. (5) That £12.500 be allocated from the advance of £100,000 for the test ing of the site of the dam at Nathan Gorge. (6) That a .sum not exceeding £30,000 be allocated from the advance of £100,000 for the construction of a permanent weir at Theodore to in sure (as advised by the Queensland Commissioner of Irrigation and Water | Supply) a supply of water for the proposed demonstration areas and for the existing settlement at Theo dore.' 'The State Government decided not to accept the offer of £100,000 on tho terms mentioned and the settlement of the area ' proceeded in accordance with the plans of the Irrigation Commission. 'Concurrently with opening the lands for settlement, diamond-drilling opera tions were continued at Nathan Gorge, in order to test the suitability of the proposed site for the construction of the great dam. It 'was found neces sary to go to a depth of 100 feet below the river bed before impermeable strong sandstone was encountered. Above this bed the sandstones carried water under, considerable pressure. TIub meant that( the cost of a dam would be too high for economic construction and the site was abandoned. H|?econnaissanccH were then made along the river for a better site, and at a suitable place where the gorge was only slightly wider than at the original site, good, red sandstone wai found at river bed level. Diamond drilling was commenced in this sew area, but after
only four holes had been put down, the investigation work ceased owing to the shortage of loan money. So far ae it went, the borin.i indicated that this new site would be suitable in all re suects, but much more, invostigntional work would be needed before a definite decision could be yiven. 'In order to ensure a satisfactory supply of water in dry seasons the storage at Theodore was increased in 1931 by raising the existing weir. This storage now impounds 6000 acre feet The total cost of the originul weir and subsequent alterations was £15,902. Ad ditional storage of a further 5000 aero feet was provided in 1932 by the con struction, with relief labour, pi an other weir in the Daweon River -it Orange Creek, 25 miles above the or iginal weir at Theodore. These two stoa^es afford a sufficient supply for the present settlement. 'In view of the immensity of the scheme that was projected, and of the fact that much of the expenditure may be claimpd to relate to the whole scheme, it is perhaps unfair to charge all the expenditure to date against the existing small settlement at Theodore. Yet the existing settlement is the only tangible result which has accrued from the expenditure. Including the expendi ture on railway construction the total cost of the scheme to date has been £1.053,057. One hundred and twenty-four (124) new settlers have been established on the area (including Plainby) which equals an expenditure of £8492 per settlor, ''Queensland has never before had to pay such a huge and uneconomic cost for its land settlement. ' Added to this capital cost is the an nual cost of working and of mainten ance. Figures show that, over the past five years, this has amounted to an average of £5507 per annum, whereas the average annual cash collections re ceived from the settlement over the same period were £2805. Working costs and maintenance have thus resulted in an average loss of £2702 per annum. There is also the annual loss on the working of the railway to be con sidered. With the adjustments later recommended in this report, and with the increased settlement that we pro pose on certain lands within convenient reach of the existing railway, the rev enue of the settlement will become more stable, but we think that, for the next few years, the working costs are likely to exceed the revenue collections by about £2000 per annum. 'From a financial aspect the net re sult of the whole matter is that not only must all the capital expenditure incurred in the scheme be written off, but, -in addition to carrying this bur den, the community will have to find, irrespective of railway lotses, approx imately £2000 per annum as a continu ing charge for the State's experiment in inland irrigation. 'The truth of the matter is thnt the whole Dawson Valley irrigation project, as an economic proposition to the State, was about fifty years ahead of its time. Intense cultivation, with the uid of irrigation, along the banks of our inland river systems, will doubtless come in time, but before even modified schemes in this direction can be econ omically sound, the population and the markets will need to be 6uch as to absorb, at prices profitable to the pro '?r'i-rF. the products already grown on our fertile coastal belt with its assured rainfall. Some hundreds of thousands of acres of good cultivable laud, much of it alienated from the Crown, is lying unused throughout the rainfall belt, and future schemes for increasing produc tion should aim at the use of this land instead of more romantic projects for irrigating and cultivating the semi-arid lands of the interior. We recommend that all further consideration of the con struction of the Nathan Dam be defin itely postponed for a period of at least twenty-five years. 'By altering the complexion of the Theodore settlement from a purely irri gation project to a general land settle- . ment scheme, as recommended later in this report, we think that the settle ment can be made satisfactory alike for the settlers and the State. The estim ated annual loss of £2000 per annum which the State will have to bear will probably diminish as adjacent dry areas are developed and brought into produc tion, and, in any event, it will be a comparatively small charge for tho State to carry, in the eil'ort to place the whole existing settlement on a satisfactory and permanent basis.' ' The following table gives informa tion as to the size of the farms on ir rigable and dry lands: — 'Number of settlers in the Theodore section irrigating blocks of under — 15 acres, 31; 20 acres, 44; 25 acres, 61; 30 acres, 69; 35 acres, 60; 40 acres, 84;
more than 40 acres, 8; settlers on ir rigable land only. 2'-; settlers on ir ritable and dry land. u'7; settlers oil dry land only, J9; total, Ml; average area of dry blocks per settler (86 set tlers), 29$ acres; average area of dry ?blocks per settler, in the Plainby sec tion (l.'J settlers), 1430 acres. I 'A large variety of crops has been fiuonssfully grown on the irrigated] farms. An experimental farm con-j duuted in previous years by the Com missioner established that the area was not suitable for certain crops 6iich as citrus fruits, Jig's and deciduous fruits generally, tobacco, anil several types of Judder such as rape and clovers. On T he other Jiand. certain crops did ex tremely well. Cotton has yielded more than four bales (-2.000 H-.) to the acre, while the average crop exceeds two bales (KK)0 1b.) ' to the acre. Oats, maize, onions and vegetables generally, all -*ro\\- well. Lucerne has been sue -:t'ssfuly grown :tnd tbe area under this crop is exiending. 'Cotton has been the stable crop of the ppitlcanenfc 711.1 inly for the reason tliat - lie market for other crops lias !-pi-n loo uncertain, '\'\'i1 It seed cotton i'. : 4d. (o .'3d. per lb. a good return was ohtninable from the irrigable blocks. ?\Yirh the Mump in cotton values, liow «-vpr. fn the present low level of probably loss than 'd. per lb., Hip. set tlement ]i3? lir-cn hit luird. and it be romop tippr-sfrjiry for settlers to find a now iine of netivity. '(iraduaTJy the settlers have been go nig in for dairying because of the cer tain monthly relurn which it gives. ]-ut hern a£ain the decline in prices of biiterfat— aA present it brings about I'd. |ht lb. at M'owau for Al grade— has knocked the settlement back. It is i-niiinioii kiuiwledge that, at this price, ilio pro lite from dairying, even in the iihihI, puitn-blc districts, are miserably low. 'It lias been a matter of extreme difficulty to obtain from settlers, re liable returns regarding the financial Ti-Hults of the working of their hold ings. Farmers are usually poor book keepers, and the data available to us ia far from complete. It is undoubted, however, that a number of the set tlers, afier investing all their available capital, are going bark financially. -A contributing factor to this result, in many 'nstawPs, is the poor working of their holdings. Tbe settlers are of Mined types, and we are of the opinion that a number of them are unsuited for Uip life on ain irrigation settlement. 'Amuiigst the original settlers there avpi'p comparatively few experienced l,iun?n=l;!i-dors. A hirfsi- proportion of the selilerfi ishiip from 1'nglaud and the Southern State* of Australia. Not withstanding some funning knowledge possessed by many of them, they were TiPVPrtlic'lest hnudicapped by their lack of knowledge, of local conditions, and had much experience to gain. Some frwv of them nlco never intended to lie farmers, having been attracted to tlip sot I lenient by prospects of the fat lajnb trade and like' avenues, which the CommUsinner's booklet led them to bc liPve P'julrl 1-e followed. Most of the -lrv country in (he locality is rot sbjeep country and such hope?; were therefore cinonii'tl to disappointment. 'There arc, however, on the settle ment :i good sprinkling1 of really eop Pble farmer* who would -io credit to on' farming runnnnnily. These men Lad. of coursp. much lo learn aJiout irripnlion methods, but experience is trm-hing them, aild generally tl-ry are nchievinjr satisfying results. Tie real tost of the settlement lies in t/np fact that nioit of (hes(- men wish nmt only to retain their holdings but also to Pi-nuirn further areas for theinsrlvcs or Ilu'ir sons. (To be Continued. )