AUSTRALIA, forming as it does a vast island continent in the Southern world, lies to some extent within the tropical range, for the Tropic of Capricorn traverses its northern part. At present, however, its most densely populated portion lies just outside the tropics, and it is this semi-tropical part of Australia with which we have mostly to do. And apart, too, from the mere fact of Australia lying between certain parallels of latitude, which makes its climate tropical or semi-tropical, as the case may be, its position is peculiar in that it forms this enormous ocean-girt continent already described.
One of the most extraordinary circumstances in connection with the Australian people is, that they have never yet realized their semi-tropical environment. It would naturally be supposed that a dominating influence of this kind would have, from the very first, exercised an irresistible effect on their mode of living. But, on the contrary, the type of the Australian dwelling-house, the clothing of the Australian people, and, what is more significant than anything else, their food habits, prove incontestably that they have never recognised the semi-tropical character of their climate. All over the rest of the world it will be found that the inhabitants of different regions adapt themselves to their surroundings. For instance, the Laplander and the Hindoo live in such a widely different manner, that one can scarcely believe they belong to the same human family.
It has, however, been reserved for Australia, strange even from the first, to prove an exception to this universal law. Yes, strange even from the first! For did not the earliest arrivals find that the seasons came at the wrong time of the year; that Christmas-tide came with sunshine, and that the middle of the year was its coolest part? Were there not found in it curious animals, partly quadruped, partly bird, and partly reptile? Were there not discovered, also, other animals who carried their young in a pouch? Moreover, did not these first settlers see that the trees shed their bark, and not their leaves; and that the stones were on the outside, not the inside, of the cherries?
But even admitting these peculiarities of season, of fauna and of flora, it may be asked, How is it that the people of Australia have never adapted themselves to their climatic surroundings? The answer, or rather answers, to such an interrogation must largely consist of matters of opinion. This being the case, therefore, I can do no more than attempt to give my own explanation of this singular anomaly. It must be remembered that the one great impetus to colonisation in Australia was the discovery of gold in 1851. Up till that time settlement had been proceeding steadily, it is true. Indeed, one may go so far as to say that the development of the country was progressing, although slowly, on safe and natural lines. But the announcement of the finding of gold, which was continually being corroborated by successive reports, acted as an electric stimulus throughout the whole civilized world. As a consequence shipload after shipload of new comers flocked to Australia, all aflame with the same ardent desire - gold.
Amongst them were certainly many of the picked men of the earth, whose spirit will leaven the whole of Australasia for all time to come. Yet even at the present day we still see the influence of this gold period at work-, in the readiness with which men are caught by any plausible mining prospectus. They have only to be told that a company is being formed to extract gold out of road metal, and they are ready to believe it, and, what is more, prepared to put money into it.
But far better than all this eagerness to amass wealth by some fortunate coup, would be the natural development of the country. Agriculture and market - gardening, vine-growing and wine-making, the deep-sea fisheries and all the other comparatively neglected opportunities, only await their expansion into vast sources of wealth. What wonder, then, that a continent with so much that is wanting in connection with its food life should be living in a manner distinctly opposed to its climatological necessities ! In the case of America there is a far different history. Settlement began there in a small way at first, to gradually expand as time went on. There was no sudden event, with the exception of the short-lived Californian gold rush of 1849-50, to set men flocking to its shores in countless legions. No, in America the inland territory has been peopled, steadily and slowly at first, but in after years by leaps and bounds, so that its development has been on a perfectly natural basis.
But there must be something even more than this to explain the want of adaptation to climate shown in Australia, and it is, I think, to be found in the following. It must be remembered that Australia has been peopled chiefly by the Anglo-Saxon race. In such a stock the traditional tendencies are almost ineradicable, and hence it is that the descendants of the new comers believe as their fathers did before them. It's in the blood. For there can be no doubt but that the Anglo-Saxon thinks there is only one way of living in every part of the world - no matter whether the climate be tropical, semi-tropical, or frigid. Those in the old country live in a certain manner, and all the rest of the globe have every right to follow their example.
These two facts that Australia was peopled in part by the influx which followed the discovery of gold, and that its inhabitants belong essentially to the Anglo-Saxon race, have unquestionably exercised a great influence over our Australian food-habits. But notwithstanding these powerful underlying factors, there still remains that most extraordinary circumstance, to which I at first referred, namely, that the Australian people have never realized their semi-tropical environment. In order to assign to this latter the prominence it deserves, it seems desirable to make special inquiry into the peculiarities of the climate in its different parts. With that object in view, therefore, I wrote for certain information to the observatories of the four principal Australian metropolitan centres, namely, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane. As has always been the case, I received the fullest answers to my requests from Mr. H. C. Russell, Government Astronomer of New South Wales; from Mr. R. L. J. Ellery, Government Astronomer of Victoria; from Sir Charles Todd, Government Observer of South Australia; and from Mr. Clement L. Wragge, Government Meteorologist of Queensland. And it is with a feeling of considerable indebtedness to these gentlemen that I acknowledge their uniform kindness. And yet it is important to remember that the annual temperature, by itself, of any given locality may afford no indication whatever of its climatic peculiarities. Take for instance the climate of the North-Eastern portion of the United States. That region is characterized by intense heat during the summer, and extreme cold in the winter. In New York, for example, the mean summer temperature ranges as high as 70.9°, while the mean winter temperature is as low as 30.1°; yet the mean temperature of the whole year is 53.2°, affording no indication of these extremes. The mean annual temperature alone, therefore, would be entirely misleading, as it would give no idea of these alternations of heat and cold. Such being the case, the actual character of any climate will be far better realized by placing in juxtaposition the mean annual temperature, the mean temperature of the hot, and the mean temperature of the cooler months. First of all, then, I purpose showing the mean annual temperature, and also the mean temperatures for the hot and cooler months, of the four largest Australian centres.