To make it worse, the coasts of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and other parts of northern Australia are swampy and very unhealthful. Years ago some people brought over some water buffaloes from India, and they are now running wild by thousands in the unused woods and grasslands. On the average, the territory of North Australia has one person to each hundred square miles. One short railroad runs inland from Port Darwin, where there is a meat-freezing plant.
890. The western grasslands.—Like Lower California, the western edge of the desert occasionally receives a little rain from the cyclones that cross central Australia. The sheep and cattle maps show a few animals near the sea.
891. Uncertain rainfall.—The people of Australia can never tell what their weather will be. Their rainfall at the best is un certain. Deluges of rain sometimes drown people in the desert, and in other places the crops wither under months of pitiless sun shine. Drought is the greatest enemy that men have had in making their homes in Aus tralia. At times river freight boats on the Darling River have steamed twenty-five miles across flooded country to deliver freight. At other times at the very same place the river itself is dry. In 1920 an Englishman writing from Sydney said: "For 20 months not a single drop of rain has fallen in vast areas— areas within which the whole of the United Kingdom could be put and there would still be tens of thousands of square miles to spare.
The drought hasbeen strengthening its hold on practically the whole interior of Queensland, New South Wales, central Aus tralia, and South and West Australia. The aborigines (natives) call it the 'old man drought,' which signifies that in their opinion it is the most terrible visitation they can recollect. Meantime the dry season has played havoc with the wheat crops." What can the poor sheep do when it does not rain for a year? Often they perish from hunger and thirst. In some localities the drought of 1920 killed four-fifths of the sheep. Sometimes they die by millions. Conditions would be even worse if it were not for the artesian wells. In many of the drier parts of the eastern grassland districts there are no running steams, but rain that falls on the eastern mountains sinks deep down into the earth and rocks, where it travels slowly through the layers of porous stone. (Fig. 114.) The Australian govern ment has dug hundreds of artesian wells into these layers of rock. Thus, in times of drought, water may be had for the sheep, if it so happens that farmers can find enough food to keep them alive.
In some places the sheep. and cattle for market must be driven for many days to reach a railroad station. The government carefully reserves wide strips of grassland along these trails, so that the animals can eat as they go. Much work is done to build tanks, cisterns, and dams along the way, to store water for the moving animals. Never
theless whole herds sometimes die of thirst, as their owners, fleeing from drought, try to get their animals to market. At c then times Australia has years of heavier rainfall, with plenty of grass and water. Then the flocks increase, and trade is good because the people have something to sell and can therefore buy.
892. The fight with the rabbits.—The rabbit is another of the troubles of the Australian sheep farmer. There is almost no winter in Australia; so rabbits can breed and feed all the year. Pet rabbits that were brought out from England soon ran wild, and increased to such numbers that in many places they ate up the grass, leaving none for the sheep. Men have spent millions of dollars building tight wire fences for hun dreds of miles, to keep the rabbits away from the pasture. Where one of these fences crosses a road, the traveler must open i gate. If he should neglect to close it, he must pay a heavy fine. The farmer is compelled by law to kill the rabbits on his own land, but still they run by millions and millions. Some times fences have been built around water holes and the rabbits, dying of thirst, piled up several feet deep outside the fences. During the World War, rabbit skins for hat making became so high in price that men in the Australian sheep country could make sometimes as much as ninety dollars a week catching rabbits. Your father's felt hat may be made of Australian rabbit fur. Rabbit meat has also been frozen and canned.
893. Minerals.—Australia has rich mines. It was the gold mines of Victoria, now a mile deep, that brought thousands of settlers to Australia about 1851, and now gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, and coal are important exports of Australia. Each day the provi sion trains from Adelaide go three hundred miles to a place called Broken Hill, in the dry country of western New South Wales, where forty thousand people are busy digging silver and lead from one of the world's richest mines.
It is an astonishing fact that minerals can cause a city to exist for a time in the wildest solitude. Railroads make the miracle possi ble. Read what a Frenchman says of a gold-mining city of West Australia. " . . . Take Kalgoorlie for example. On the bare moor rise mills arranged in the form of an amphitheater . . . . Trains wind about, emptying entire forests into the furnaces. Everywhere the subsoil has been burrowed, and there are sometimes as many as twenty stories of underground galleries.
"Thousands of workmen labor in these hills under the burning sun, blinded and sometimes almost asphyxiated by the smoke, the pulverized refuse of the ores, and the yellow sand of the desert It is a vast camp, a temporary refuge for a popula tion which will scatter when the last veins are exhausted."