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3-259 (Text)

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author,male,Buchanan, Johnson Alfred,un addressee
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Clark, 1975
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3-259-plain.txt — 8 KB

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Will you shortly state what you consider the obstacles in the way of still further supplementing the resources of this district through selection? - It may be my own opinion only - it is that the selections are too small. It is a mistake to keep married women from being allowed to select; 320 acres is not enough for a married man - I think a man and his wife ought to be able to select. In the first place, by encouraging single people to select and keeping those who get married from selecting, it discourages marriage in the colony and keeps down the population, and may cause the Government to say some day we want immigrants, when here you have the bone and muscle of the colony.
Can you say that there is any decided increase in the production of grain in this district? - Yes; every year.
Do you remember the number of bushels of wheat raised here in the first year that you took the statistics? - I could not remember what it was.
Is there any record? - No; we are not allowed to keep a record, and there is a penalty of £10 for making an extract.
Do you keep no records in the department? - No; I collect them and forward them to the Government, and I am liable to a fine if I make any extracts.
I presume we can get the whole of the returns by applying to the Government for them? - Yes.
You remember, at any rate, that a great increase has taken place in wheat? - Yes.
Has the increase of production kept pace with the increase of selection?  - More so. Those who had 30 or 40 acres under crop the first year had 100 and 150 the second and third years.
Is the farming class prosperous and successful, would you say? - I should say not - they have not had time.
And yet the production has enormously increased? - Yes,
Can you explain that? - There have been several dry seasons and the number of bushels per acre has not been fairly remunerative - only 8 or 10 bushels to the acre this last season.
What was the average three years ago? - I cannot remember, but it was better than that. I have cut 35 bushels of wheat to the acre here myself.
What is the wheat sold at here? - I cannot tell you.
What were the circumstances under which you obtained so good a return? - It was not exceptionally rich land, it was a sand-hill.
It was a good wheat year, I suppose? - Not extraordinarily.
I suppose you had enough rain - more than last year or the year before? - Yes.
You value the various holdings? - Yes.
You mentioned that you would like to see the holdings increased from 320 acres to 640 acres; in this district, on the ordinary land, can a man make a good living out of 320 acres? - A single man may, starting with fair means, but a married man, with a family of small children, it is a misery to him.
Are there many farms occupied by single men in this district? - A good few.
Can you give an idea of how many? - No.
Are they numerous? - I cannot say that. They are principally steady young men; but there are cases of men with a wife and small family who are deeply in debt.
Will it improve the position of the man in difficulty to have a larger farm to improve - would not that increase his difficulty? - Not supposing he had 640 acres to start off with. It does not take double the number of rods of fencing for 640 acres that it does to fence 320, and he can keep sheep enough to support him while he is making-improvements, grubbing and so forth.
But there is the objection, that if he takes 640 acres there will be less for others? - I cannot mention a case where a man who has a family of young children is doing well.
What do you mean by well? - Paying his way; keeping out of debt.
After so short a time with his improvements to make, house and so on, and commencing without capital, it is unreasonable to expect him to be in good circumstances? - Yes, quite so; but if he gets into debt he cannot get out again with 320 acres. He is deeper in debt every day. 
Have you had experience in any other district? - No. I have been here twenty-eight years.
Then you look forward not hopefully to the present settlement in this district, owing to the small areas? - In the case of families of small children.
If they work themselves and all put their shoulder to the wheel, 320 acres seems to be a sufficient holding? - With only one shoulder to the wheel it is hard work, with so many mouths to feed.
If they are the right stamp they will get on. The idea of the State is not to make a wealthy man, but a comfortable man? - Well, I wish you were round with me sometimes.
You cannot do it all at once? - After three or four years, and the man in debt to the full value of his selection, he will never be comfortable. I know cases where with 640 acres they would have been able to pay their way.
Do they give that as the reason? - Yes, some do.
Then, suppose you make it 1,280 acres, would not that be better?
Yes; double it again, that would be better still.
Has the increased production arisen from increased settlement, or how? - In this way. In every selection taken up there is some wheat put down, if not the first year the second year, and then more the next year, from 40 acres up to 100 and 150.
As a rule the selectors are cultivating more yearly? - Yes.
From your conversations with the selectors, are you of opinion that there is a tendency to sell out after they secure their lease? - No, generally not; they are as a rule anxious to make a home for themselves. There are a few exceptions.
You have said that the selectors are as a rule in difficulties, that it is almost impossible for a man with a young family to succeed, and that those who have fallen into financial difficulties cannot get out - how are they then to be retained on the land? - I think there is very little hope for a great many of them.
Have any of these people you spoke to told you they will have to sell out because they cannot pay their liabilities incurred in past years? - Yes.
Have they told you that they have been threatened that they will be sold out unless they pay their debts? - Yes.
If they had got money on better terms, would that have been sufficient to keep them out of difficulty? - I think it would.
If, instead of borrowing at 22 per cent. on their licences, they were able to borrow from the State at something like 8 per cent. the difficulty would be easily overcome? - I believe so. There are many now who are deeply in debt, who, if they could get the money at 8 per cent., would still struggle through.
Have you heard many complaints made as to the high charges for money? - They say they have to pay pretty stiff for money, and also for rations and food, from the storekeepers. 
Is it a cash trade or a credit trade here? - It is all credit trade here.
Have you heard that because of the excessive charges- they will be ultimately driven from the land? - Yes.
I suppose the whole trade here is so entirely credit that any one coming here to open a cash business would not make it pay? - I think he might succeed in time.
Are not the customers secured by having them on the books?? - Yes; but there are some others.
Are not the prices, owing to the credit system, higher here than the working classes elsewhere have to pay? - Yes. I know for a fact that the storekeepers give a very long time, and charge high in consequence.
And make a good profit? - Yes.
What is the difference between the charges here and in Geelong or Melbourne? - Fifty per cent, higher here. Take a pair of moleskin trousers. In Stawell you can buy them for 5s. or 5s. 6d. a pair; here, in Horsham, they are 10s. and 11s.
You attribute that difference exclusively to the fact of the credit trade here? - Yes, I must say in Stawell you have to pay cash.
Did you ever buy a pair of moleskin trousers yourself? - No; I speak only from hearsay.
I think you make a mistake about that - moleskin trousers could not be bought for that price anywhere? - It is only what I heard.
You think that the Government, having provided the selectors with cheap land, should also provide them with cheap money to keep them on the land? - The great majority start with nothing, and go there as a last resource.
Would a reduction of the yearly rent to half the present amount - 1s. an acre instead of 2s. - be a substantial relief? - Not for those who are deeply in debt - £16 a year would do no good.
In fact, these people you speak of are not redeemable? - Some of them are. 
Are there many in that state? - Not a great many.
Fifty per cent, to the storekeeper, and 22.5 per cent. To the money lender - that would explain everything without the smallness of the holding? - Yes; but if the holding had been larger to start with they would not have required the accommodation.
I suppose the storekeepers are very rich men up here? - I do not think so; bad debts do not make rich men.