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NO PROGRESS IN LAST 30 YEARS Commission's Programme For Development

SOUTHWEST CHANNEL COUNTRY A GREAT ASSET New Far West Railway Needed From Bourke To Camooweal


The beef cattle industry in Queensland had not progressed in the last 30 years, and in many respects had gone back, states a Royal Commission on abattoirs and meatworks in its report If nothing could be done, or no steps were taken to meet the situation, in a matter of years, a beef famine would occur in Aus tralia in some months of every year. In the channel country of south-west Queensland, Australia had a wonderful asset, capable of fattening 600,000 bullocks in good years, and above which were great areas of breeding

country extending across the continent. To develop this asset a railway linking Bourke (NSW) with Camooweal (Q), via Nockatunga, Windorah, Monkira and Bou lia was needed, with extension to it of existent lines to Quilpie, Yaraka and Dajarra. This would be £6,982,059 cheaper than the Clapp recom mendation for a standard gauge line through the already deve loped sheep country further east, and would enable store cattle to be moved to the channel country after floods and moved out again fat in the one season. There lay the secret of the channels and successful settlement of the northern breeding country. The commission recommended against inland killing works, and estimated that, with full employment, 2,400,000 fats could be turned off annually.

Development was what counted, ' therefore the maximum conces- j sions the Government could con cede in land tenures, priorities, rents and taxation in return for j maximum development a lessee \ could undertake was sound policy. Contrary to accepted beliefs, a i great part of the best cattle coun- j try would cost more than sheep lands to thoroughly improve, but ?when fullv developed should far outrange sheep country in produc tion value. The commission was appointed to enquire into proposals for the establishment of additional abat toirs or meatworks and matters pertaining to the welfare of the I livestock and meat industry. It consisted of Messrs. E. P. E. Gun ners (chairman), J. W. Fletcher, E. A. Crasser and P. Williamson (secretary) The beef cattle industry in Queensland had not progressed in the last 30 years, but the dairying industry had expanded. A con siderable increase in the slaugh ter of cows, many of which came from dairy herds, was chiefly re sponsible for the increase in the total number of cattle slaughtered in 1944. This was the best the in dustry could do to meet the call for extra supplies. Of the cattle slaughtered in Queensland in recent years less than half were first grade. The rest were second and third grade beef or 'canner' and 'cracker' cows. The industry had made no mate

rial progress in the last 30 years and in many respects had retro gressed. The production side had not kept in line with the process ing side. In 1934 chilled beef was successful placed on the British market, but to exploit this revolu tionary development on a large scale, prime young cattle were re quired and in existing circum stances these could only be sup plied in small numbers. Many cattle were marketed too old or of too inferior quality for chiller trade, and little was done or contemplated before- the war so that production standards in these respects might keep pace with de velopments on the treatment side. A further weakness was irregu larity of supply. Prom April to July large numbers of fate were marketed, with a serious shortage following this, often becoming acute in October to February. This made it difficult to arrange favor able overseas quotas or contracts and must lead to a reduction in price. Another feature of deep signifi cance was that as population in creased in the southern States, so did the call from the south become ?stronger for Queensland cattle and beef Supplies For Southern States The average number of cattle which crossed the borders in each of the five years from 1914 to 1918 was 92.581, but from 1937 to 1941

the figure, including chilled beef carcases, averaged 236.439. and for - 1942-44 the average was 325,682. If nothing could be done or no steps were taken to meet the situation, in a matter of years a beef famine would occur in Aus tralia in some months of every year. Australia would have either to reduce its beef consumption in certain months or store frozen beef from the peak period at the ex pense of the export trade The situation was not beyond remedy. If labor became avail- j able in outlying parts; capital were j expended; co-operation, goodwiij 1 and energy were the order of the j day; if the pioneering spirit re- | turned, armed with modern know- \ ledge; and if the outlook were for the State and nation as well as the individual, then a remarkable : transformation in increased pro duction, continuity of supply and j quality would gradually unfold. ' All these things could be done : without encroaching on land now i occupied or designed for occupa tion by any other 'primary industry. Queensland had the honor of I being the premier beef-producing i State and would remain unchal- J lenged, but this supremacy could | reach a height surpassing any- | thing previously conceived if the ? natural resources were developed and used to fullest advantage.

The Gulf Country i The Commission divided the j cattle country into four areas com- I prising: — The Gulf country; The south-west channel country; Central -north coast and hinter land; Other beef cattle districts. j The Gulf country comprised j 89,000 square miles, but the big de- j cline in population since the gold i mining boom handicapped de velopment. Cattle numbers had remained stationary in the last 30 ! years With about 750,000 head. An nual stock mortality was heavy. Average annual write-off was 14 p.c. of herds and on many pro- ; perties from 15 to 27 p.c. of branded male calves were never marketed. Yet in other cases this loss was only 2 1 to 3 p.c. Taking the Gulf country as a whole, it was considered that mor- j tality could be greatly reduced. ? brandings increased, more cattle j depastured and at least double the numbers marketed. More salt. more water, more speying, more dips, more dingo poisoning, more thorough control and management and the application of science to industry were the chief essentials. The change which took place in cattle living on dry. indigestible grass when given access to salt was remarkable. From August to De cember the feeding of salt was es sential, yet it was done in only a j small way on a few properties. Adequate watering facilities were essential to progress, and yet on almost every station additional facilities were required. Over large tracts no permanent supplies existed. Speying on most properties was either not undertaken or only to a limited extent. Yet the advan tages were obvious, and regular speying was essential to progress. Here producers far removed from large local consumption demands were at a disadvantage, for under export regulations any cow over five years old or that^ had calved could not be graded higher than second quality. No plan could succeed unless suf ficient paddocks were provided, yet seme properties did not have even bullock paddocks. On many properties subject to heavy tick infestation more dips were a vital need. Buffalo fly, sandflies, mosquitoes and dingoes were other pests of which the lat ter had multiplied during the war. Brumby horses reduced the cattle carrying capacity. New Blood Introduced During the past 30 years more had been attempted and done in an endeavor to improve the herds by introduction of new blood than in any other direction, but only the fringe had been touched of what might be achieved. j The four marketing methods ! adopted were:— Transferring stores to a fatten ing property further south. Marketing fats direct from the property. Marketing through northern meatworks, cattle that were half-fat. Selling cattle as stores. The best results appeared to centre round the few owners who sent stores to fattening properties further south, and except for a few favored parts the Gulf country was j more suited to. breeding than fat tening. All these conclusions ap plied equally to the Northern Ter ritory. If settlements could be estab lished in the Gulf country and thriving towns emerge, a great difference might arise. Expert in vestigation should be carried out into the possibility of establishing irrigation settlements, as only by setting up community centres could the north be populated. If something new were created which would awaken new interest in young and old, a revival in the industry might be witnessed. The combination of the north with the south-west channel country might well be the means of achieving this. South- West Channel Country Due to the large area they flooded, Queensland had in the south-west rivers a splendid as set, as yet unassessed. untapped, and little known but of great po tential value. South Australia, al

though in a far less extensive way, possessed a fine asset in these flooding rivers. The three princi pal rivers were Cooper's Creek, Diamentina and Georgina, the length of flooded country covered in a good year being about 1.000 miles and the area at least 10,000,000 acres. The paotureage of this flooded lt»nd in medium years was capable of fattening 400,000 bullocks, in good years 600,000, and in major flood years 800,000. As a fatten ing ground designed by nature it seemed impossible to find its equal in the world. The lower stretches where clover grew would fatten cattle at a young age and a qua lity which the Argentine could not surpass. Yet the early history of the area recorded frequent disaster, for sooner or later a prolonged drought would play havoc with the herds. The 1902 drought left the south west devoid of stock and most of the lessees were ruined. About this time Sir Sidney Kid man appeared on the scene and ended up with virtually a mono poly of the area. Through a chain of stations his fats could reach railheads leading to Adelaide. Melbourne or Sydney markets. This chain acted as a substitute for a railway.

Breeding in the channel coun try, especially without a railway, must always be a hazardous un dertaking. Furthermore, it was wasteful to use such fattening land for breeding when from the Ather ton Tableland in Queensland to Wyndham in Western Australia, an immense area of land existed, per haps unsuited for any other pur pose. At present a policy of light stocking was necessarily pursued, and only a fraction of the channel ?feed was used. Fats had to walk 150 to 350 miles over indifferent stock routes to railheads, and that they did this and retained their quality was proof of the fattening qualities of the channel country. In 1944 steers 2* years old after travelling three weeks to trucks dressed 800 1b. at coastal meat works! Stock routes in any season could not carry satisfactorily large num bers of cattle, and in some years might be closed. Northern bul locks arriving by road after a flood arrived too late and perhaps too poor or too weary to fatten in that year. Far West Railway How revolutionary would be the change if rail communication ex isted so that bullocks and speyed cows from North Queensland and the Northern Territory could be brought into the channel country in fresh condition, and in the same season taken out again prime. The channel feed was seasonal, and it was therefore essential if the har vest was to be reaped that all move ments of stock took place in the one season. This was the set-ret of the channels and the secret which would lead to .successful settle ment in the northern breeding country. That the northern cattle were in their best condition coincided with the months when the cattle were required in the channels was most fortunate. The weakness was that the river floods were irregular, but the project would survive, because no stock would be moved into the area until after the flood rains had fallen.

Forcing Floods The storage of water in the rivers at suitable points and the ! construction of weirs in the main channels to force flooding of the surrounding country was worth considering. Cooper's Creek flooded less often than Diamentina, yet twice the rainfall fell on its watershed. The explanation was the greater depth and breadth of the Coopers main channels. Even in floodless years the Cooper had flowed in every year except the 1902 drought. If an artificial flood could be created in floodless years this would be of inestimable value. Possibilities might exist for aug menting the area flooded in South Australia on Innamincka station. The virtues of the flooded coun try were assessed so highly that expert investigation of all rivers was recommended so that the pos sibilities of creating a flood might be known. Route For Railway Without railways nothing could be done. A line connecting Bourke (in NSW) with Camooweal (in Queensland), and then running out through the Northern Territory was required, with extensions of Western Queensland lines from Quilpie, Yaraka and Dajarra to connect with the main line. The most serviceable route for the main line would be from Bourke to a point near Nockatunga, on to Win dorah, and thence via Monkira to Boulia. and on to Camooweal. It might be found as production de veloped that branch railways run ning into the lower channel coun try would be needed, and these might be extended into South Aus tralia, one connecting with the central Australian line at Marree. The 4 ft. 8i in. line from Bourke

to Camooweal recommended by Sir Harold Clapp passed more through the centre of Queensland through the best sheep lands of the State — country already fully de veloped. Cutting across the wes tern railway systems., it would make administration of the State railways difficult and divert trade into unnatural channels through the break of gauge. The far western line would cost £6,982,059 less than the Clapp pro posal, and would benefit the Com monwealth, its influence on Nor thern Territory development alone assuring this. It also would con fer advantages on all southern States as stock in drought periods could be transferred from the Nor thern Territory and any part of northern, central or western Queensland to any district in the southern States and vice versa at any time such transfers might be desired. The seasonal nature of the scheme with all inward and out ward movement of stock taking place in the one year must materi ally assist Northern Territory settlement. With the three Queens land railways linked with the main line cattle could be trucked from any part of the State, fattened in the channel country and when fat taken wherever required. Southern States would receive increasing quantities of prime beef in months when an acute shortage was now noticeable. Trade export agreements for chillers would be facilitated, a bigger percentage of high grade beef marketed, and both producers and consumers would enjoy a more even beef price throughout the year. South Australia had an in terest in the construction of the line, for it had an appreciable area flooded by the rivers, and ways might be found by which the area might be extended. Finally the splendid channel asset, now lying practically dor mant would begin to pay dividends. Small and large towns would arise in inland Australia, for great num bers of men would be needed to im plement any programme of full development for the area. It was recommended that consideration be given -to a south-west chan nels authority being created to con trol and administer the area, with links with the Northern Territory. Other Cattle Areas The central north coast and hinterland, except for minor parts, was used for breeding and fattening cattle. This area of 142,500 square miles carried. 2.300,000 cattle, about half those in the State, and was the mainstay of the industry. Although it pro duced much wealth and was con sidered the best all-round cattle country in the State, immense possibilities existed for develop j ment and increasing the output of i fat cattle. Due to lack of water, much of the country was only available to cattle in the wet season, and millions of acres carrying worthless timber could be ringbarked, competent judges placing it at. 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 acres. On average ring barking would increase carrying capacity over 100 p.c. Of other cattle districts, Cape Yorke Peninsula suffered from the same disabilities as the Gulf coun try. The fringe of the Barkly tableland must be considered first class breeding country, and the proposed far-western railway would pass right through it. This would greatly aid progress in the district as well as adjacent. Terri

tory lands. In the closely settled districts were most of the 20,000,000 acres of excellent land once infested with dense prickly pear. The contribu tion of this country to the beef in dustry might be considerable. (To Be Continued)