Friday, 16th April 1926

16th April, 1926


Dear Mr. Bruce,


Since the arrival of Major Greene [1], I have had several talks with him and these talks have set me thinking about migration. In several of my letters to you I have told you how very much people here desire to see progress in migration and I have expressed the view that if you could come over here in October armed with definite schemes for migration, it would mean that the most intense interest would be taken.

So far as land settlement schemes are concerned, there appear to me to be two fields for large scale development:

(a) the Murray Valley (b) the Southern Coastal lands.

The Murray Valley

I do not propose to discuss this question here further than to indicate that, in my opinion, far too little attention has been paid to the possibilities of developing great schemes of stock fattening and dairying, coupled with the idea of the provision of reserves of fodder in close proximity to the sheep stations of the Riverina.

This idea has often been mentioned in Australia and I brought it to your attention in one of the many sets of notes which I prepared in Melbourne in 1924 before your trip to Queensland. I would like to suggest that your proposed Migration and Development Board should examine the great potentialities which must exist on the Murray and its Tributaries for such a form of expansion.

Southern Areas

It is in respect of these areas that I want particularly to draw your attention. I am convinced that there is a wonderful opportunity for the rapid development of population upon the land and a population of just the type that would be to the permanent benefit of Australia. I would, therefore, urge in the strongest possible manner that you should try to devote a little personal attention to the points which I shall set out below.

During the last three or four years, two points have been definitely established (a) that in areas south of a line drawn from Perth to Sydney, wherever a rainfall of 20” or over is enjoyed, the application of superphosphate to grazing land greatly increases the carrying capacity.

(b) that where subterranean clover exists in such grazing lands or where this clover is seeded on these lands, the use of superphosphate gives maximum results, I believe that it can be said without exaggeration that there are dozens of instances where treatment with superphosphate and the clover seed have increased carrying capacity from one sheep to three acres to three sheep to the acre.

I am informed that this result can be achieved at an annual cost of about 10/- per acre.

The leading authority on this subject is, I believe, Mr. W. S.

Kelly, of Tralee, South Australia. Mr. Kelly was for years the Chairman of the Advisory Board of Agriculture in South Australia and he is a most progressive and enlightened farmer. I feel sure he would place all his experience at your service.

Inherent Possibilities

In the South West of Western Australia, in the Eyre Peninsula, in the Hills Districts of South Australia, in the south east of South Australia, on Kangaroo Island, in portions of the Western District of Victoria, in the Dandenong division and probably in many places south of the Melbourne-Sydney railway line, there exist many

thousands of acres, in places hundreds of thousands, which would be suitable for this treatment. (On a very small scale Mr. George Fairbairn [2] has demonstrated at his place between Mornington and Sorrento what can be done on poor sandy soil.) In Western Australia, on Eyre Peninsula, on Kangaroo Island, land can be obtained for from 30/- to 50/- per acre (or it could eighteen months ago).

Suppose an area of 10,000 acres is considered. This area I will assume can, in its natural state, carry 3,300 sheep. By treatment, the carrying capacity could be raised year by year until in from four to six years it would in many cases be possible to carry 30,000 sheep.

If this sort of result can be demonstrated and I am informed that this is the case, a most useful form of land settlement scheme becomes possible.

My idea is that you should have this question investigated and that capital should then be invited to co-operate with the Government in land settlement schemes.

To return to the above 10,000 acres. When the land had all been treated, say after two years, the carrying capacity would have been raised, let us suppose, to a sheep to the acre. Each succeeding year, it would only be necessary to broadcast superphosphate to bring the land up to the three sheep to the acre basis.

At any time after, say, the second year, the process of subdivision into farms for settlers could be undertaken. The occupation of the settler could be either dairying or the raising of crossbred sheep for mutton, lamb and wool. In the case of dairying, a holding of 100 acres would give enough land for about thirty cows, for crossbred sheep perhaps from 200 to 250 acres would be required.

I am too much out of touch with the more recent developments in Australia to do more than indicate the general idea of the inherent possibilities. It does seem however that if my information is substantially correct, here you have a type of land settlement in which you could invite the co-operation of private capital and in which you could settle thousands of families of the very best British type on a class of country eminently suited to the English settler, to the public schoolboy and to the good middle class type of man and wife. The whole process would be beneficial to Australia.

If my ideas on this matter are sound, I can visualise Australia rivalling New Zealand as (a) a Dairying country (b) an exporter of lamb and mutton.

I feel sure that in the lapse of years, these things will happen without any outside stimulus but if rapid progress is to be made in the settlement of good class people in Australia, then I think it will be necessary to apply the stimulus of Government interest and perhaps of the investment of private capital to secure the initial improvement of the lands. The capitalist would secure profit from sheep until subdivision, and the return of his capital plus a reasonable increment upon subdivision.

It has been suggested to me that subterranean clover plus superphosphate can do for our southern coastal areas what alfalfa has done for the Argentine.

May I recommend the problem to your attention before you come over for the Imperial Conference?

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 J. B. Greene, Sydney businessman; younger brother of Senator Sir Walter Massy Greene, several times a Minister in the Bruce and Lyons inter-war governments.

2 Grazier; Member of the House of Representatives 1906-13; Senator 1917-22; Agent-General for Victoria in London.