Tuesday, 21 August 1860.
The “ship of the desert" has weighed anchor. The spectators in the Royal Park yesterday witnessed the departure of our first camel caravan - which, if its devoirs are worthily performed, will render our hitherto impenetrable interior just as facile for the merchant's or traveller's objects as the similar regions of drought and desolation on older continents.
This is an era when the new world and the old interchange gifts and characteristics; and if the expedition be successful, a cavalcade of dromedaries laden with the bales of commerce may in due course, possibly enough, be as periodical a spectacle in the capital of Victoria as in the more sun-scorched and historical highways of Bagdad or Timbuctoo. The wilderness which has so long baffled our explorers will be then no more insuperable a hindrance to enterprise and communication than the Sahara is elsewhere, though equally formidable in natural obstacles. And the camel, which is as special an instrument for man's convenience in certain countries as the reindeer in others, will by-and-by be brought to perform the same services for us which he has rendered from time immemorial on the beaten roads of Upper India, in the stony valleys of the land which once was Edom, or on those smooth African and Arab sands which were sometimes, but erroneously, supposed to be the exclusive scene of his labors. The go-a-head Yankee, ever open to conviction in the progress line, has appropriated him within the last two or three years to assist wayfaring over the great desert which intervenes between the Mississippi and the Californian regions. And the presence of this animal in America has dispelled another of the various erroneous notions respecting his capabilities. His genius being so essentially anti-amphibious, there was considerable doubt in the minds of his importers as to the possibility of getting this quadruped to face the deep and rapid rivers which are a more frequent feature of an American than an Australian or oriental landscape. But however reluctant at first to commit himself to an element he had so slight and occasional an acquaintance with, the camel traversing the Colorado desert has been already trained, we are informed, to swim the streams he encounters as readily as the horse. It is because so valuable a locomotive is of such peculiar importance on a continent with the geographical characteristics of ours, and because such promising material results are to be expected from the opening of a direct highway to our northern shores, that we have been anxiously solicitous that our first attempt at utilising the dromedary should lack none of the ingredients which insure success. The hard-footed camel, whose hoof is properly supposed to be best adapted to the surface of our deserts, has been procured. The savan has a present potent interest in the triumph of the Expedition, and the merchant a no less potent prospective one. Eager attention is fixed on this undertaking in Europe as well as here. And we therefore urged the necessity of equal discernment and caution in the arranging of its management as in the providing of its material. We have the experience of other countries to warrant confidence in the locomotive appliances of the enterprise; and it was reasonable that we should look for well-tried leaders also. And all the more reasonably because the history of Australian exploration has its instances of individual inefficiency, as it has the more numerous instances of extraordinary individual ability coping with and overcoming the miserable means for accomplishing his task which these colonies have heretofore placed at the explorer's disposal. We cannot, for example, regard either of the expeditions of Mr Gregory - who the local journals tell us has recently tendered for twenty-six squatting runs in Queensland - as other than failures in any public point of view. In his course from Sydney to Adelaide he traversed only some sixty or eighty miles of unknown country - the one exploit of the journey being the discovery of the connection of Cooper's Creek with Lake Torrens. And we must likewise regard the complete failures of Messrs Babbage and Warburton as in some sort due to the same want of those resources which a commander should possess in himself - and which fact is patent when we compare their efforts with the performances of Stuart, though still more inefficiently equipped. It would be harsh and unjust, indeed, to attach blame to those gentlemen for not wresting discoveries from the desert with appliances for the purpose so entirely inadequate and unsuitable. But, from the school of discoverers thus sternly created, we held, and hold still, that it would have been the proper course to have searched out one who had distinguished himself - who had won his spurs on that arduous field, and whose dearly-won experience would make success in the present undertaking a matter not merely of hope but of certainty. The choice, however, has been now made, and the expedition has set out. His friends speak sanguinely of the natural qualifications of Mr Burke for his duty, and we sincerely trust that those anticipations will be realised. Nowhere will the successful termination of the noble enterprise he has on hand be hailed with truer satisfaction - nowhere will he be more cordially honored for its successful guidance - than in the columns of this journal, which for years has lent its aid in clearing away the prejudices which retarded the introduction of the camel, and which has always treated the opening up of a highway to the north coast as the interest and the incumbent duty of Victoria, as the foremost Australian community.
The prospective importance to commerce of such direct transit through the interior of this continent has, within the last twelve-months been brought before the notice of the scientific bodies in London by Colonel Gawler, of South Australian antecedents. The Indies and the Australias have respectively numerous valuable products with which to supply each other - for which each would gladly open or enlarge for the other an eager market. Sydney and Victorian horses and wool, Victorian gold and Adelaide copper, Adelaide flour, wine, when we produce it extensively, and diverse other articles raised, or which can and will be raised here, would find an almost illimitable demand among the teeming and industrious millions of southern Asia, as well as of the adjacent islands. And it may be remembered in passing, that the great and populous empires of China and Japan are on the eve of being unlocked; and that the multitudinous rich islands of the archipelago north of our shores, have their commerce still altogether undeveloped. The teas and silks of China, the muslins and sugar and rice of India, the spices of the Moluccas, and a thousand of her precious commodities of a tropical climate, will be all needed in return for what we send, by the rapidly increasing colonies of Britain in the south. Where the camel pioneers the way, telegraph and tramway and railway will in due course inevitably follow. There will be a rush of travellers, and of at least the lighter and not least valuable kinds of merchandise, through the sandy wildernesses of our present terra incognita. Who that looks at the progress of new countries in these modern days - at the doings west of the Atlantic and on our own shores - can doubt the advent of such a spectacle? Can we not discern the probability of great cities beside the now lonely waters of Carpentaria - and it may be at the junction-point of cross lines of traffic even in our most unpromising interior - like another Petra in the Idumean desert? There is nothing improbable, much less impossible in such conjectures, in this era, and in the hemisphere of change and growth. And had not Melbourne, the foremost Australian emporium, a primary interest in their realization? - in merchanting and manufacturing not only for Asiatic consumers, but for the colonies of our own people which will naturally arise in the fertile tracts of the interior and of the north of this continent? But to possess the foremost place in such commerce then, she must take care not to lose her position of eminence now. It must be fortified before too late by the background of a thriving and numerous agricultural population. She must not let the sceptre depart from her by allowing the Vandal squatter to preserve his "right of wilderness where there should be well-bought farms and bustling husbandmen to prop up and sustain her prosperity by buying and selling in her marts. Nature does not "put new wine into old bottles," and the restoration of a decayed city is a spectacle the world rarely beholds. For such a town has ceased in its decadence to be the focus of the enterprising and the energetic. Its attraction has passed away, and when the hours of opportunity come again and the spirit or the strength are wanting to compete with the young and vigorous rivals which spring into existence with the free burst of circumstances. The "whip hand of all compeers at this end of the world still the prerogative of the capital of Victoria; but let it not be forgotten that it must some day be very easily lost. There are prospects before this community which for others indeed have had the fortune to have presented to them; but verily the road to the realising thereof is not a crooked or narrow one. It lies only through the progress of the community at large, not through the aggrandisement of an occasional individual or the selfishness of a class. And the mercantile men of Melbourne would do well to take this fact into consideration.