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AMONG THE FREE SELECTORS
(BY OUR SPECAL REPORTER)
No. IV. THE BENALLA DISTRICT COMPLETED
While staying one night with a publican and storekeeper carrying on business within seven miles of the Murray in the heart of is growing locality, an opportunity was afforded me at making some general inquiries into the condition of selection there. He was cultivating a holding himself and being in command of adequate means his fences were substantial, his tanks numerous, his buildings commodious, and the garden well filled with vegetables. The late harvest had been a great benefit to the selectors. No less than £1800 worth of old debts had been paid to him by customers since threshing time. Opening his books he showed how there has been a general squaring up of past obligations, warranting the commencement of a fresh series of transactions. He had not a single bad debt on his list; but then he had taken care to give credit only to selectors who were worth trusting, and who could be relied on to pay, even though their returns could not come in for two years. Many cases of hardship had fallen under his notice, and he believed that there were both licensees and leaseholders who would have a difficulty in carrying on to the end of the year. On the whole, however, the prospects of the locality were encouraging, and recent changes had done much to restore confidence amongst the selectors.
We fell in with a selector who had been farming a good selection for eight or nine years. "Our complaint is that you're keeping the labouring classes about Melbourne and we can't get men in the country. A man would be far better off receiving £30 a year and his keep from us than earning 7s a day irregularly in town. I would employ those men all the year round if I could depend on their staying. They would not be spending their wages and at the end of the year they would have something saved. Men who come to the country for a month or two are no service to us. It takes them a fortnight to get used to the place. The other day I advertised for a lad offering wages at the rate of £21 a year and they sent me up from Melbourne a married man who had been working in a carriage factory. When I send him down to the creek with the stock, he generally brings only half of them back. At harvest time there is a rush to get men. They stay about the townships and we have to go after them. They receive 10s a day for harvesting, 7s for carting, and 9s for working at the threshing machine. If I could depend on keeping three men all the year round there would not be any rush at harvest.
The next topic was the Longmore regulations. "Before these regulations came out, a man could take in his lease to the bank and get a small or large advance on it. No mortgage was necessary, and there were no charges. All that has been stopped. If a selector requires an advance, he must give a mortgage, which costs £4 4s, and pay 2½ percent for commission. I don't want to borrow, but the regulations even interfere with me. There is a cow I would like to sell but the man who would like to buy it can't now take his lease into the bank and get a few pounds advance. The banks don't do business that way now. I went about amongst the selectors last winter with a horse, and there was a great deal more distress then than now. People did not ask me in to take a bite simply because they were ashamed at having little to put on the table, no meat and no sugar, only plain tea and bread.
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