[Editor: This article was published in The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 17 October 1854.]
— The difficulty of obtaining employment is becoming a common complaint amongst those who have been attracted to the Colony by the favorable accounts sent home by the public Press. It is a singular anomaly, that in face of the prevalence of this complaint the rate of wages in the mechanical labor market rules as high as at any period since the discovery of gold. 25s. to 30s. a day still constitutes the current pay of efficient mechanics. But however this circumstance be accounted for, we believe the fact is indisputable that great difficulty in procuring work is experienced in many quarters, and our ears are becoming unpleasantly accustomed to sounds, to which until of late they have been wholly unused.
That this existing pressure on our labor market can be relieved but gradually will be apparent to any one who has attentively studied the causes that have induced it. An excess of importation which has glutted the markets with almost every description of goods — so that articles of apparel and consumption are bought in the auction rooms of Melbourne at prices which would be thought ridiculous even in England, where the value of money is so differently ruled — has had the natural effect of rendering employment in the colonial production of these articles almost impossible of attainment.
We import in a manufactured shape nearly everything we wear and eat and drink. Our houses are furnished as well as our persons clad and our appetites appeased with “ready-made” goods. The tailor, the shoemaker, the cabinetmaker, who has come to the colony with the expectation of realizing high wages can scarcely be other than a disappointed man, when he finds the wants of the colonists generally supplied from distant and cheap markets.
In a colony with such vast undeveloped resources there should have been one great outlet for this superabundant labor. If, at the first discovery of the gold-fields our public lands had been unlocked — if from that day until now the system of facilitating agricultural extension had been steadily pursued, a field of useful and remunerative occupation would have opened to which any amount of surplus labor that exceeded our town wants might have been drafted off. This was not done, and thousands have now to bear the untoward consequences.
We are firmly persuaded that no amount of immigration will prove permanently beyond the capabilities of the colony. The immense area of land susceptible of cultivation — to say nothing of a mineral wealth that as yet gives no indication of an impending exhaustion, forbids the idea of an extensive population for centuries to come. But, undoubtedly, large and sudden influxes of people will for some time to come occasion a temporary inconvenience — the more so, if a Government policy be pursued which shall have the effect of impeding or discouraging land cultivation. Such is the case at present, and although the advice of a contemporary, to seek employment in the interior, would be in the highest degree prudent if our interior had attained to an advanced stage of development, it can scarcely, in the existing state of things, afford any practical mitigation of the pressure on the labor market.
If the inconvenience at present experienced by so many hundreds of our present colonists do not speedily right itself, and immigration still continue to pour in, we have at all events one resource in the construction of a great system of public works — a policy to which the Executive are pledged — and which will afford an ample field of occupation to a great army of laborers for years to come. But in nothing less than the complete opening up of the lands of the Colony, on terms that will not only render settlement easy, but put a positive premium upon it, must we look for a solution of the several problems arising out of our rapidly increasing population.
The few pounds with which an immigrant lands in Victoria are expended in a few days, in the vain search for employment in an expensive city. We want such a scheme of land regulations as will render those few pounds immediately available for investment in the soil and for its profitable cultivation. This is one subject which we hope in future numbers of our journal to treat in a light in which it has not yet been presented to the public. It would have been happy for the colony if its importance had years ago been adequately felt by the Executive. In that case we are persuaded that we should have heard little of the ominous words that head this article.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 17 October 1854, p. 9 (column 5)
Executive = the political executive of a state or nation; the body of administrators and/or politicians which has administrative, decision-making, and supervisory powers over a state or nation
pound = a unit of British-style currency used in Australia, until it was replaced by the dollar in 1966 when decimal currency was introduced in Australia
Press = the print-based media, especially newspapers (can be spelt with or without a capital letter: Press, press)
s. = a reference to a shilling, or shillings; the “s” was an abbreviation of “solidi”, e.g. as used in “L.S.D.” or “£sd” (pounds, shillings, and pence), which refers to coins used by the Romans, as per the Latin words “librae” (or “libra”), “solidi” (singular “solidus”), and “denarii” (singular “denarius”)
[Editor: Changed “in the interior” to “in the interior,” (added a comma); “one re resource” to “one re resource”.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]