EMPIRE PARLIAMENTARY ASSOCIATION VISIT TO AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
AN ADDRESS BY
MR. J. GORDON ROSS, M.P.
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, November 2, 1944
MR. CONQUERGOOD: In many communities on this continent, special emphasis during the next week will be placed on Education. Pupils and parents will be asked to consider the purpose, the procedure, and the progress of education. Education has been described as the first essential of a sound democracy and it is also true that sound information is one of the fundamentals of education.
The Empire Parliamentary Association is an organization for the promotion of information and goodwill among the members of the various legislative bodies of the Empire.
Our guest speaker today was Chairman of the Canadian Parliamentary Committee of the Empire Association that recently visited Australia and New Zealand.
Mr. J. Gordon Ross, M.P., of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, is serving his fourth term in Ottawa as representative of that constituency. He is a farmer and a Liberal. Although he hails from the West, he attended St. Andrew's College in Toronto, and MacDonald Agricultural College at St. Anne's, Quebec.
We welcome Mr. Ross to The Empire Club to speak to us on "Empire Parliamentary Association Visit to Australia and New Zealand".
MR. J. GORDON Ross, M.P.: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: The British Empire Parliamentary Association is an organization of Members of all the Parliaments within the British Empire. Each year a delegation made up of Members selected by the Association from each of the Empire Parliaments pays a visit to one of the Empire countries as guests of that country with the purpose of meeting the parliamentarians and people of that country, studying their mode of life, travelling through the country, finding out what the problems of that country are in order that all the Parliaments within the Empire may co-operate and assist one another, exchanging ideas, and observing how legislation, if any, of an advanced nature is working out in practice.
This year the trip was to Australia and New Zealand. The delegation was made up of nine members of the British House of Commons, one member of the House of Lords, and four members of the House of Commons of Canada--Mr. Joseph H. Harris of Danforth-Toronto, a Progressive-Conservative, Mr. Angus McGinnis of Vancouver-South, a C.C.F., Dr. Donnelly of Wood Mountain, and myself of Moose jaw, both Liberals, from Saskatchewan. All political parties were represented in a non-partizan trip.
We met our English colleagues in the early part of May in New York and found them to be good representatives of the great people to whom they belong, and we can now say that they were excellent travelling companions. We left New York on a fast freighter which had cabin accommodation for fourteen, but for this wartime trip crowded in some twenty-two, and literally we got very close together. The ship was well armed with one 6-inch gun, six 4-inch and some smaller guns, and had a crew of fourteen naval gunners aboard. On the way to the Panama we zig-zagged continually without convoy. The entire crew was very alert as we were carrying some 10,000 tons of explosives. With a blackout each night, which meant port holes and windows closed and battened, it was, to say the least, warm. We arrived in the Canal Zone in seven days, proceeded through the Canal and were on our way across the Pacific.
Twenty-one days later we saw the first city of our visit, Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, a very beautiful city with one of the most picturesque harbours in the world and a population of 1,300,000 people. Although it was the middle of winter the flowers, flowering trees and shrubs were all out in bloom. Here we met the Government of New South Wales and were royally welcomed by them.
In each of the capital cities of Australia interesting discussions with members of the Empire Parliamentary Association were held in the Legislatures and in each part of Australia it was our pleasure to be able to study carefully that part of the war effort which was being carried on in that particular district. .
In Sydney we inspected the naval yards, saw the building of corvettes and light cruisers, the construction of torpedoes and torpedo tubes, visited the great Cockatoo Dock Yards, where repairs were being made to ships damaged in action with the Japs. We inspected the large new graving dock, almost completed, which will handle the largest ships afloat. It is being constructed at Sydney in order that in the future the Empire may have a second graving dock in the Pacific, which may be more easily protected than the one at Singapore, just in case trouble should start again in Pacific waters.
Sydney is a city of many fine parks. We were shown Taronga Park and Zoo, which has within its borders practically all types of animals and birds which are native to Australia, thought to be the oldest continent in the world. We saw the little koala bear, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the platypus, who is a very peculiar little fellow with fur like a muskrat, web feet, a duck bill, and who stays either under water or on the land, the kookaburra, the lyre-bird and the emu.
From Sydney we boarded our plane for Newcastle. We had the same plane at our disposal for the entire trip in Australia, a DC-3, which would carry about twenty-five people, with a very fine Australian crew of four men who had seen a good deal of service in this war.
Newcastle, the steel city of Australia, is about 140 miles from Sydney. Here is located one of the most efficient steel plants in the British Empire. Australia has large quantities of iron ore of very high quality, about 67% iron. They have ample coal. The two are brought together at Newcastle, a seaport, and low cost iron and steel is produced in large quantities. There are many subsidiary industries connected with steel at Newcastle. They are headed by a top-ranking industrialist by the name of Essington Lewis, whose foresight had developed the industry to the point where thousands of tons of badly needed steel were available for Great Britain when the war broke in Europe.
From Newcastle we flew to Canberra, the modern capital of Australia. Some day Canberra will be a great city. It is all planned as the capital of a vast country and when its population has grown to 100,000 or 150,000 it will be well worth seeing. At the present time there are only about 10,000 people there and naturally it looks very scattered. There are great distances between the Parliament Buildings, the residential section, the business section, the Diplomatic section and the national memorials and museums. However, the streets and boulevards are well laid out and the flowering trees and shrubs are already planted.
Canberra is about one hundred miles from the coast and is the centre of a ranching country, with a rainfall of about 22 inches. Here the Canadian delegation were entertained by the Honourable T. C. Davis, High Commissioner for Canada, who seems to be very popular in Australia and who is performing a great service for us there. With Mr. Davis we visited a large cattle station a short distance from the capital and there we were shown about one hundred head of kangaroo in their wild state. Riders from the ranch drove them past the party, who were concealed in fallen timber. I might say that on this ranch of about 3,000 acres there were produced, carried and finished some 800 head of fine Hereford cattle. After very interesting discussions with Members of the Federal Government, the House of Representatives and Senate, we again took to the air over high, snow-covered mountains, where the temperature registered as low as ten degrees below zero, back to the coast to the city of Melbourne, the capital of the State of Victoria. This is the second city in Australia, having a population of about a million people.
The war effort in this part of Australia consisted mainly of the production of aeroplanes of several different types, a very fine industry including the building of the newest type of aeroplane engine, the production of many guns, shells and munitions, and one outstanding contribution, the production of a first-grade type of glass lens which has been badly needed by all of our Allies. While at Melbourne the delegation was taken to a testing range and given a demonstration of practically all Australia's war munitions and guns in action.
We flew from Melbourne to Hobart in the Island of Tasmania, about 240 miles south of the mainland coast. The port of Hobart has an outstanding harbour; the largest ocean-going steamers are able to enter or leave it at any stage of the tide or dock in the very centre of the city. The city itself rises from the water's edge to the wooded hills and is topped by the massive slope of Mount Wellington, in all a beautiful picture.
Tasmania produces many thousands of barrels of the very finest of apples but unfortunately because of the lack of shipping there is no market for them during the war. This island has remarkable scenic beauty, fine beaches and resorts and no doubt when the war is over large numbers of Americans and Canadians will take advantage of air travel and visit this lovely spot, even for short holidays.
From Hobart we flew back to Melbourne and from there to South Australia, stopping on our way in the desert at Mildura. The Mildura district is irrigated by water from the Murray River and here are grown oranges and grapefruit and there is produced about 100,000 tons of dried fruits, raisins, sultanas and currants. The fruit is of high quality and the methods of cultivation and processing are most modern. Mildura was very kind to the Canadian delegation and very interested in showing us through their area. The statement was made that Canada was Australia's second best customer in dried fruits and that the trade agreement, by which Canada had given her a preference, saved the dried fruit industry of the country.
From here we flew on to Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. This is the center of a large agricultural country where a good deal of Australia's wheat crop is produced and a considerable number of livestock is carried without natural water supply. The Government has constructed what is called a reticulation system which carries water for domestic purposes and for livestock to the farms through pipe lines three hundred and fifty miles long. Here they have also developed grape growing and a considerable wine industry.
So far we have travelled mainly around the coastal part of Australia but now we cut across many hundreds of miles of desert to arrive at Perth in Western Australia. The rainfall around the coast of Australia is sufficient to carry on an ordinary type of agriculture for from 100 to 200 miles inland but from there to the center of the continent the rainfall drops progressively, the vegetation becomes more sparse, until practically nothing is grown in the great dead heart or center of the continent.
In Perth we were shown the handling of the great wool crop of Australia. A large number of the 130,000,000 head of sheep of Australia are in this part of the country. At Perth, and Fremantle also, we again saw ship yards with ships being refitted and repaired. At this point there is a naval base and from it starts the longest single passenger hop in the world, from Perth to Ceylon, some 3,100 miles without a stop, just over twenty-four hours' flight.
Our next stop was at Kalgoorlie. This was where gold was first discovered in Australia about ninety years ago and considerable production of it is still taking place there. It is some 300 miles from the coast and water is piped that 300 miles for the purposes of the population of Kalgoorlie and of the mines.
From here we flew to Alice Springs in the northern territory, the great outback of Australia. Here again, millions of sheep and cattle are grazed on very sparse vegetation. When the cattle are five years of age they are driven on foot to market, 1,000 miles. Each twenty miles there are deep wells at which the cattle can be watered.
From Alice Springs we flew to Townsville on the north-east coast of Australia and here the party broke up into three groups, one going to Darwin, the only point in Australia bombed by the Japs, another to the Atherton area, where many thousands of Australians and American troops were in training, and four of us left by plane for New Guinea. Australia, although 98% of British extraction, has conscription for home defence only and conscripts cannot even be forced to go to the northern tip of New Guinea.
We landed in Port Moresby and there were fitted out with Australian privates' uniforms. We travelled from Moresby over the famous Kokoda Trail across the Owen Stanley Mountains. Nowhere in this war was a tougher job given to fighting men than to the Australians in this section, consisting of high mountains covered with jungle, swamps and streams in the valleys, filled with mosquitoes, carrying malaria and dengue fever, scrub typhus, poisonous insects and snakes, terrible heat and humidity. The terrain was so bad that if a man were wounded and required treatment he was strapped to a stretcher and it took sixteen natives twelve days to transport him back to the hospital. Naturally, not many survived. Malaria took a terrible toll, as many as 100 men in a thousand going down with it in a week. However, the medical authorities have now been able to develop a medicine called Atabrin to the point that not more than three men in a thousand will take malaria and the belief is that those three neglect to take their Atabrin.
We flew across to Buna, Sanananda and Gona, and from here up along the coast past Nassau Bay and Salamaua to Lae. At Lae while visiting the hospital there I had the pleasure of meeting a young officer who had been injured and who came from my own home town. There were about ten Canadian officers attached to the Australians in New Guinea for observation.
From Lae we flew to Wau where there was situated one of the few if not the only landing strip that had existed in New Guinea prior to the war. This airport had been used by the Bulolo Gold Mining Syndicate to bring in all their machinery and supplies. The Japs, of course, were anxious to capture this strip and one of the greatest battles of New Guinea took place here. There were some 285 Australians stationed there when word came through that two columns of Japs were advancing, one of about 200 men through the jungle around the hillside and the other of 100 men coming up to break out into the valley about a mile from Wan. The Australians placed 60 men in the valley and 225 men on the hillside to meet them but when the enemy arrived they were 1,000 in the valley and 2,000 on the hillside. The 285 men faced them, held them and gradually withdrew to the airfield, fighting every minute of thirty-six hours. At this time the Australians were stretched out along the edge of the airfield, when the Sixth Air Borne Division was brought in by plane and landed on the air strip, the Japs firing on the planes as they landed and the Australians firing as they came out of the planes. The Japs were quickly driven back by these reinforcements and the strip was held. Nowhere in the world had men shown more courage, fortitude and endurance than these Australians at this point.
From here we flew back to Lae, then up to Finschhafen, Saidor and then further north to Madang. The Japs had just been driven from this point a short time before. In fact, there were still some 2,500 to 3,000 of them in the hills. They had been cut off from the coast, could not get out, could get no supplies in and were starving to death in the hills.
You no doubt have heard of Jap prisoners being taken during this war. I have been informed by the highest authorities amongst the Australians and American fighting men that no Jap has ever yet surrendered during this war. Those who have been taken prisoner are either shell-shocked or so sick or so seriously wounded that they do not know what is taking place. All other Japs die. There are at the present time some 47,000 Japs cut off and starving to death in New Guinea but none will surrender. Another 100,000, who had been by-passed in the smaller islands of the Pacific are in the same position, and since leaving New Guinea I feel satisfied there must be another 200,000 in the same predicament now that McArthur and Nimitz have advanced.
We went back to Nadzab and there for four and a half hours watched a continuous stream of planes leave the air strip, each loaded with 500-pound bombs, but we did not know yet who the bad news was for. We found the officers and men, both Australian and American, with the highest morale and determined to see the show through.
Then, in an American transport plane, we proceeded to Townsville and thence to Brisbane. We had by this time rejoined the other members of the party. At Brisbane we spent an hour and a half with General McArthur who was very kind and answered every question we asked. He impresses one as a highly intelligent man, a fine leader and one who knows the Jap well and will certainly use that knowledge to our advantage. He said then that he was shortly going back to the Philippines, and he has succeeded in arriving there in force already.
Brisbane is the center of the State of Queensland, a remarkably fine agricultural country, where they produce anything from bananas, sugar cane, pineapple and many other tropical fruits, up to all the fruits and vegetables that we know. The grass lands of this country will carry very heavy herds and flocks and the farmer gets heavy production with little expense in the way of labour.
From Queensland we flew down to Sydney, and from there took the Tasman Airways, a daily commercial service, to Auckland, New Zealand, 1275 miles away.
In New Zealand our trip was entirely by motor car. We had a convoy of five cars and a truck for our luggage. The organization of the trip was excellent. Every move was made on schedule and arrangements for the convenience of the party were well planned ahead. The roads were very good, winding through undulating country, through small farms which had been cleared from the native brush and trees.
The land between Auckland and New Plymouth, our first stop, was not originally of the best quality but you could see that instead of being depleted by cultivation it had been continuously improved by the use of good cultural methods and super-phosphate fertilizer.
One of the memorable stops on our trip was at Waitoma where we visited the famous underground caverns which had been tunnelled out of the limestone by the running and dripping of water for thousands of years. There were all forms of stalagmites and stalactites, pillars of deposited limestone from the ceiling to the floor of the caves. After passing through long underground tunnels we arrived at a small lake and boarded a. boat in the darkness. A guide propelled us by hand-power, using a wire that was stretched through the caves for the purpose. Everybody was cautioned to keep absolutely quiet, which was quite an undertaking for fourteen politicians. However, we were soon rewarded by seeing one of the wonders of the world. The roofs of the caves were studded with millions of small green lights. It looked very much like the Milky Way on a clear night. These lights came from glowworms. These small insects live in the darkness, using light to attract their food, which consists of smaller gnats or mosquito-like insects that come up from the waters of the caverns below. At any unusual sound the lights go out. This is a sight which will not soon be forgotten by any of us.
From here we travelled on mostly through rolling country but in parts it flattened out into quite good-sized valleys and plains, all a remarkably fine farming country -a pastoral country where in the dead of winter the fields were as green as the finest lawns we ever see. The farms were small, with no buildings for the livestock as they were unnecessary; small, well-kept, well painted houses, fences in good repair, hedges well clipped, everything as neat as could be; good livestock, sheep, dairy cattle and beef cattle, lands that would carry from four to eight head of ewes to the acre or better than one cow in full milk the year around. Practically no crops were harvested. There were fields of mangels, turnips and kale but these were never harvested by hand. The stock were turned in to feed in the fields-certainly a very simple type of farming. There was not much cultivation but commercial fertilizer, so necessary to uphold the heavy growth of pasture was used in considerable quantity.
We drove to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, a city of over 200,000 with a very fine harbour. Here we met the Government, discussed matters with them, and each of us was the recipient of a very fine souvenir from the Government, blankets, made of the very finest of New Zealand wool.
New Zealand has supplied a great many men for the Overseas Forces who have done some really outstanding fighting during this war, particularly in the Mediterranean area. Outside of this, her war effort consists mainly in the production of butter, cheese and meats, which are shipped to Great Britain in refrigerator ships. Most of this produce goes out from ports like Wellington. Since the war, New Zealand has also developed quite a linen flax industry.
We travelled from Wellington to Christchurch, a very English city, and from there on down to Dunedin, which is almost entirely of Scotch extraction. Lovely Dunedin is surrounded by hills and on them there is a park belt encircling the whole city. The driveway through the park offers many fine views of the city below. I must say that people could not have been any kinder than the New Zealanders were to us in every part of their islands.
From Dunedin we went north again, past the Southern Alps and Mount Cook, which was covered with deep snow. In this part of the country the New Zealanders get their winter sports.
We arrived at Napier, which was entirely destroyed by an earthquake a few years ago, but has been rebuilt into a very modern city. From Napier we travelled north again, up through the thermal region to Rotorua, the home of most of the Maori. This territory is filled with geysers, boiling mud pots and great hot springs. The town of Rotorua is a noted tourist resort with good hotels, many swimming pools ranging anywhere from 70 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The Maori are a highly intelligent, brown-skinned people. They welcomed us warmly and went to great pains to show us the points of natural beauty and interest in their area. We were invited to their community hall, where addresses of welcome were tendered to us by their most outstanding citizens, many of whom had been decorated for bravery in the last war as well as in this war.
In this area much wild life abounds. Rainbow trout, for instance, which were introduced from Canada, are found in the streams and lakes in thousands and they weigh up to 25 pounds apiece. Surely this is a fisherman's paradise. Canada geese were imported and have now become a nuisance. Deer were imported f rom North America and today the New Zealand Government keeps a very large staff of men for the purpose of slaughtering them because of the tremendous increase in their numbers in the forests and the damage they do to vegetation all over the Islands. This increase is due to the lack of natural enemies.
After leaving Rotorua we returned to Auckland and here nine of the party boarded an American naval plane early one morning and flew to Suva in Fiji, arriving there in the late afternoon. We stayed over night and again took off in the morning, arriving at Canton Island about three o'clock in the afternoon. Here we stopped for some three hours and then flew on to Honolulu, some 1,700 miles away, arriving there early in the morning. We spent a pleasant day and a half there and then took the Clipper, leaving Honolulu at three in the afternoon and arriving in San Francisco, 2,400 miles away, at 8.30 in the morning--a very pleasant and convenient way to travel, and one that will be much used when this war is over.
One message in particular I was asked to give to the people of Canada by the people of both Australia and New Zealand. They wanted us to know that they deeply appreciated the kindness shown to the Australian and New Zealand boys who had come here to train in the Commonwealth Air Training scheme. Everywhere we went, we were continually asked to convey these thanks.
The trip was well worth while and it is a privilege to have taken it. It is a great pleasure to come to you here to tell you of it. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are all part of one Commonwealth. We are all the same people, we must know each other better; we must understand one another's problems; we must co-operate in every way to strengthen that Commonwealth. In this rapidly moving world no longer can any one country stand alone. Those of a common heritage, a common way of life, must get together, must organize themselves to defend that way of life. The British Commonwealth has saved the world again in this war. It is our job to so strengthen it that its defence of freedom and justice will' ever prevail and that its counsel amongst the great nations will be heeded for the betterment of all mankind.