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4-262 (Raw)

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addressee author,male,Murray, Stuart,un
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Clark, 1975
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The Mildura settlement is the scene of the greatest experiment in irrigation yet undertaken in Victoria, and the success or failure of irrigation at Mildura must largely influence its success or failure throughout the colony. The Government has not invested money in the Chaffey enterprise as it has done in the form of loans advanced to trusts, and in the construction of costly national works in the Goulburn Valley, in the Loddon Valley, and throughout the settled portions of the dry northern districts; yet it has a distinct right of property in Mildura in virtue of the concessions it has made to its founders. They have been given, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions on their part, a block of 50,000 acres of land as a free gift, with a further area of 200,000 acres on very favourable terms. [165] But, more than all, they have had handed over to them a large share of the colony's inheritance in the waters of the Murray River - a concession, practically in perpetuity, of so much water as may be required for the complete irrigation of this enormous block of 250,000 acres, and for the service of the community of, it may be, 500,000 or more of people that will eventually dwell there. These circumstances demand of the State that it should exercise to the full its right of surveillance and control over the progress of the settlement, and that it should see that the rights and interests of the settlers are duly cared for by its concessionaries.
The progress of the Mildura settlement may be briefly summarized as follows: - The present population numbers 4,000, of whom nearly one-half are actually engaged in the clearing, preparation, and cultivation of the soil, either as land-owners or as workmen. The area of land sold by the Messrs. Chaffey is, in round numbers, 17,000 acres, whereof 6,500 have been planted, 500 are under various kinds of annual or green crops, and an additional 3,000 are cleared and ready for cultivation or planting. The remaining 7,000 are held for future improvement. Of the plantations, about two-thirds consist of raisin vines. The others, in the order of their importance comprise wine grapes, apricots, oranges and lemons, peaches, olives, and other fruits. The expenditure by the Messrs. Chaffey on works for the service of the settlement has been far in excess of that provided for by their agreement. These comprise eleven pumping plants (ranging from 200 to 1,000 horse-power each), 150 miles of mains and 300 miles of secondary and distributing channels (whereof about 3 miles are lined with concrete, made from the local lime), together with syphons, flumes, bridges, and other secondary works.
Viewing the settlement from a financial and commercial aspect, so far, it has been maintained entirely by the capital brought into it by the settlers themselves and by the expenditure of the firm of Chaffey Brothers and Co. Nothing of what it has produced has been sold to the outside world. The crucial test of competition in the open market, upon which hangs the ultimate success or failure of the undertaking, is yet to come. Several years must elapse before any such test can be conclusively made. No doubt a material contribution to the support of the settlers has been derived from their own produce. Some of them have earned a few, pounds by growing fodder for the horses employed by the firm and in other similar ways, and one or two of the more energetic and enterprising have made a living by supplying fruit and vegetables to their neighbours. But all this contributes nothing to the solution of the main problem. Even the few tons of raisins and dried apricots purchased from the settlers by the firm last year, or the larger quantity they will probably purchase this year, go but a little way towards solving it. [166]
The price the firm will pay for these small lots of first produce is hardly any criterion of what the world will give for the general bulk of the crop, when the whole of the land is under cultivation and the limit of the local market has been reached. It is a fact that, at the Present moment, as much as 5d. per lb. may be obtained in Melbourne for first-class samples of colonial - grown cooking raisins, and good currants fetch a price but slightly lower. In the London market, however, good currants are worth no more than 1.5d. per lb., cooking raisins 2.25d., and the best table raisins 7d. The difference between the Melbourne and the London prices is due to the import duty of 2d. per lb., the cost of freight, insurance, etc., and the addition of the charges of the merchant and shipper. But it is obvious that the ultimate prices of colonial produce in the London markets will not be affected by any import duties that may be imposed; while the merchants' and shippers' charges will not go to increase, but to reduce, the prices ruling here. Attention is called to these facts, not to discourage the Mildura fruit-growers, but to instil caution; and to remind them that they must look further than the Victorian, or even the Australian, market for the success of their industry.
The wine industry of Mildura is on a somewhat different footing from the dried-fruit business. Victorian wine may be fairly said to have already found its place among the beverages of the world. Ruthergien and Great Western are not so well or widely known as Bordeaux and Dijon, but they are undoubtedly in a fair way of becoming so. People who drink good wine, and who can afford to pay for what they drink, consume the wines of these localities, not because they can get no other, but of choice. They are drunk under their proper titles in England and to some extent on the continent of Europe; and there is good reason to believe that they are used for blending purposes, or, in other words, for the production of high-priced French clarets. Victorian wine, therefore, may be said to have passed the ordeal. Its price, in competition with other wines of like class, is established; and the grower who can live by his vineyard now may assume that he is in possession of a property that will maintain its value and that will provide a living for himself and his descendants in perpetuity. But Mildura will not produce good wines of the claret and burgundy class. Any attempt to produce these, in its soil and climate would result in failure. But it will produce good wines of another class - heavy-bodied, rich, or fruity red wines, suitable for the manufacture of port or for blending with the thinner, but more delicately-flavoured dry wines, will do well here. So also probably will the heavier class of sherries. The results thus far obtained from one of the Mildura vineyards point to this conclusion; and there is every reason to think that the crops will be heavy. The deep soil strongly impregnated with lime, the hot sun, and the ever available water, will ensure a large production of must. [167] For high-class brandy Mildura will, in all probability, attain a, reputation that will be worth money to the vignerons.
One of the questions that still awaits settlement here is the price the cultivators can afford to pay for the water supplied to them. A depth of 15 inches per annum over the whole cultivated area is that reckoned on as necessary by the Messrs. Chaffey, and this, in addition to the natural rainfall of from 7 inches to 10 inches, though during the past two or three years it has been somewhat heavier. The current cost of delivery of this volume - that is, the cost of fuel and labour at the pumping Stations and of maintenance and Supervision of the channels, and exclusive of interest on the first cost of the works - is about 12s. per acre per annum. This is the rate the company has levied on all the Mildura land-owners for the current year. It has been levied on all alike, whether the lands are cultivated or allowed to remain in their natural condition; and, as might be expected, its imposition has given rise to a good deal of grumbling on the part of the non-improving owners. Anyone at all acquainted with the wine industry in Victoria will agree that it can easily bear a charge of 12s. per acre to secure a certain crop. There is little doubt that the same will hold good of raisins grown on new land, and sold at 4d. or 5d. per lb. Whether it will still hold when the land has been cropped for years, and the price of the product has fallen to 2d. per lb., is a question that will, no doubt, receive the most serious attention at the hands of the settlers. Meanwhile they are safe to plant raisin vines. The crop will pay handsomely for some years to come. When the conditions change, should the growth of raisins prove unremunerative, they can turn their land to other account. Should the cultivation of raisins cease to pay, resort must be had to some other description of crop in which there is still money.
The position and prospects of the cultivating land-owners of the settlement is as hopeful and promising as reasonable men will expect. By the outlay of a little capital and a good deal of hard work the industrious may be assured a present livelihood, under conditions that to most will prove agreeable. The future promises competence, independence, fortune, to those who are willing to labour and wait.