TAMING THE NORTH

I have been a voter since 1952 and, at every election since then, there has been someone, either a Prime Minister or an Opposition Leader or an aspiring MP, who has seriously threatened to develop Northern Australia.

Sadly, I still wait with fervent hope for a leader to appear who will actually do it. For the past sixty years it has simply been an exercise in vote gathering.

The prime reason for nothing happening is that politicians always call for private investors, especially one from overseas, to step forward and take the risks involved. For reasons that no politician can adequately explain, no government has ever offered to be the primary investor in a significant development project anywhere in the north of our continent. This raises the question as to why anyone should invest when governments don’t think its worth a go.

I cheered John Howard when he loaned government funds to enable the Adelaide Darwin Railway to be built, but the loan was a small one of the very minimum required for a very shaky start to be made. The consortium that built the track had no margin for error and so they inevitably went broke. This further deterred private investors from punting more capital on the North.

Nevertheless, Howard  deserves praise as he was the first and only Prime Minister who honoured the commitment made to build the railway as a basis of Federation in 1901. At that time, South Australia had refused to sign up to the Federation of Australian States unless an irrevocable commitment was made to immediately commence building it. For almost a century, the other States persistently ratted on the deal. This tells us a lot the integrity of political promises, a fact that is not lost on private investors.

Right now, the Turnbull Government has done the right thing by establishing a Fund to invest in Northern Development, but it is only a lender of last resort after a private investor has conclusively proved that it has tried all other financial options and been refused. This takes years to achieve and comes at great cost. We need a Fund that leads from the front.

All future governments are likely to be just as reluctant to invest tax payer funds in the North, but they must eventually face the fact that no one will pioneer a new industry in this remote part of our continent until there is adequate transport, energy and water provided by governments at an economical cost.

For example, a great start would be to immediately build a Northern Transcontinental Railway of Standard Gauge from Townsville to Wyndham as a Public Private Partnership owning 50% each.

This will mean rebuilding the narrow gauge Townsville/Mt Isa track as standard gauge, then constructing a new track across the Barkly Tableland to Tennant Creek to the huge benefit of the cattle industry there. Additionally, it provides rail access to both Darwin and Adelaide at that point.

The prime piece of the grand vision will be to build a railway from Tennant Creek across the Tamani Desert to the Kimberley, the Cinderella of the nation, thereby giving it rail access to the rest of the continent, something that should have been done a century or more ago.

A wise government would then add real lustre to the vision by building a railway from Cloncurry to a new port on the Gulf of Carpentaria located where the deepest water is.

In my wildest dreams, I can actually see a government also building a standard gauge track from there up to Cape York.

Of course, all this is of no avail unless someone uses those tracks. New industries must open up. There are endless possibilities to do this as happened when USA built its railways across the prairies.

A huge agricultural opportunity is immediately apparent.

Canals to convey tropical water from the Gulf Rivers down to the great black soil plains that surround Longreach and beyond would open up the greatest food bowl in the world. Similarly, the great droughts that restrict the productivity of Central Australia can be solved by diverting water from the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley.

We could talk about many more huge opportunities but, as Australia’s greatest pioneer John Flynn (The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes) once said,

“Great things only happen when courageous leaders take the huge risks needed to turn magnificent visions into shining reality despite everyone telling them it is hopeless.”

Flynn put those words into practice when he founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a world first that overcame incredible obstacles.

Oh, for such a leader to appear once more.

Yours at Large

Everald Compton

If you are new to my articles and wish to be advised by email of future postings, simply register your email address as indicated opposite or on the Everald@Large page of this website. Copies of the book about John Flynn – “The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes” are available here. 

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12 Responses to TAMING THE NORTH

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  2. Derek Browning says:

    My son works in remote areas of Northern Australia. A couple of years ago he was in the Fitzroy Crossing area. The stations there and through most of the North can carry more cattle per hectare than properties in the central and southern parts of the country. They have plenty of water due to the Wet season so they can also grow plenty of crops. Their biggest problem is lack of infrastructure. A simple thing like improving and sealing the Tanami Track would cut 1000K off the trip to Adelaide and Melbourne.
    The locals are frustrated at both State and Federal Governments for their lack of vision.

  3. Gabrielle Drinkwater says:

    Hello Everald you Wonderful human!!! When the Ad/Darwin Rail was discussed I made the SUGGESTION that IN THE BASE of the RAIL STRUCTURE there should WATER PIPES BUILT IN..to BRING WATER from NT to ADELAIDE..Simple I thought! BUT we ALL know what happened to THOUGHT!!!! Surely THAT SUGGESTION has merit for ANY FUTURE RAIL BUILDING???I even went as far as Suggesting some OASIS STOPS be created for Tourists where THAT SAME WATER could offer a SHOWER and some COMFORT…AH BUT TO DREAM!! Remember I’m TRYING to START
    ‘ MI mini Mansions Australia” to ENCOURAGE STRUGGLING SENIORS (like me!!)to BUY/RENT MODESTLY BUILT HOMES IN REGIONAL TOWNS where a GOOD General Store/postal/Sporting and CLUB facs/Good Medical/Ageing facs exist…I am looking for BACKERS and a couple rang in desperation having heard of my effort…THEY are PAYING $746.00 a FT.RENT for a House in the NHRS Scheme! WE the Non Superannuated SENIORS NEED HELP…..PLEASE assist me to put THE LIGHT BACK IN OUR EYES and have a JOYOUS late life.There ARE Modest DOLLARS to be made….with INTEGRITY!!

    contact me at…atmannahouse@bigpond.com……..PLEASE

  4. Peter Boge says:

    Mon 02 May 2016

    Peter J Boge

    3 Webster Court

    PETRIE Q 4502

    Dear Everald

    Recently I read that you had published a book ‘Flynn of the Inland’.

    I have a lot of Australian books which I’ve read.

    I’d like to order a copy, please.

    Please advise how I can pay for it via a bank deposit, and which bank etc.

    I have all of your newsletters and admire your tenacity and optimism.

    I’m hoping to see the Inland Rail eventuate. I am almost 77.

    Regards and thanks.

    Peter J Boge

  5. Lindsay Smith says:

    You are a real dreamer Everald.

    You can’t even get them to fund inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane, therefore expecting funding for anything else is simply a pipe dream.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Everald May I send you a quote from a great Australian – Jeff Kennett ( in case you have not seen it) : People have pursued office, rather than winning office to deliver an agenda. Unquote.
    Find a man who will fight for an agenda and you will have the man to develop the North.
    In my years of voting I have yet to see the man who went in for his country before his own ego.
    Don’t get me started. Cheers Bill Conry

  7. Rod Foster says:

    Charles has a fascinating comment. But he does ask the question “Why do we want to develop the north?” We can talk about the economic reasons, as do your other comentators, and so on but people don’t want to live there. It’s virtually impossible to get them to travel 2 hours out of the city. The South Burnett is a case in point. Only 2 1/2 hours from Brisbane with lots of goodies etc particularly good wine and food but it’s just too far off the Bruce Highway. Billions are being spent in the capital cities so that young people can have cheapo housing and easy travel. The houses they want are the McMansion type, bad for the environment but they get very concerned about coral bleaching of the reef in the north where they’ll rarely go anyway. Yes I’m very cynical but for good reason as the region in which I live gets very little from any govenment and could be developed with a fraction of the cost of developing the north. Everald I know you have a passion for the development of the north and so do the people who live there and there is no doubt a huge economic benefit but maybe it can be acheived without too much “development”. Frankly it’s all very well talking about this but unless those proposing such events are prepared to put their money where their mouths are then perhaps pouring the billions into where people want to be is the best use of our funds. I don’t want to live in the north. Darwin would be a good place and my daughter lives there but I don’t want to live there. Anyway I’m too old for all this now.

  8. Keith Buckley says:

    Great ideas and add drought proofing the inland. Why Oh Why don’t the Federal Government start many funds and offer 5% guaranteed to self managed super funds/ savers/ etc who are looking for a safe haven for their money. In these uncertain times all governments can do is reduce interest on money in the hope we will spend. Shows you how dumb they think. They penalize the daylights out of us older generation. The people with savings are frugal by nature, that’s why they are in that position, why put hour hard earned funds into the stockmarket when any savvy invester knows that it has the daylights manipulated out of it through shorting, and all the many derivatives that Wall Street / Hedge Funds can conjure up to part us from our savings. All retirees are looking for is a safe haven and Government can do two wonderful things at once. Give us a guarantee of say 5% and build a better future for all Australians. It would also provide enormous employment as did the Snowy Mountains Scheme. A long finished project that is still providing benefits to this nation. The politicians of today can only see one term at a time because they do a poor job. When will they learn that if you do a good job you don’t have to worry about your job. I wish you well Everald as I have long held with one your great ideas of building a rail from Melbourne to Darwin. You spoke of it at Geebung Rotary back in the eighties, remember.

  9. Roth, Michael says:

    Everald,

    I agree with your sentiment but still think the Iron Boomerang project is the standard rail link that should be built across North Australia.

    The possibility of having the lowest marginal cost pig iron manufacturing operations, linking our major coal and iron ore deposits should reduce the risk. With government investment or loan guarantees, restrictions on port and sea channel movements, and a growing need to address industrial air pollution in Asia, I think momentum can build.

    Cheers, Michael

    Sent from my iPad

  10. Ron Jane says:

    Good comments, but we could have a good source of funds if only Keating, the founder of compulsory superannuation had made it that the government ran the scheme, thus ensuring the investors were not ripped off by financial institutions, to make their own fortunes. Also allowing the government to utilise the funds for infrastructure purposes only. Win, win for Aussies and the government. (If I remember correctly to British do it that way!?)

  11. Terry Bowring says:

    Everald

    Good article. On the subject of agriculture in North we still need some background on how reliable various cropping or pastoral activities will be even with addition of new water to keep annual growth reliable . As you know Barnaby Joyce is looking at a number of new dams in north east and west. As I understand it CSIRO is also involved in pre-growth testing to ensure agri/food outputs from regions that can benefit from new water will also be as productive as expected to generate profitability . This sort of pre-evaluation was also carried out in USA before many of their canals were constructed. For certain agricultural outputs in the north checks of availability of suitable future labour will also be important, living and working in the north is not easy as can be well demonstrated by flying over regions and seeing little activity, I often wonder what opportunities exist to bring in more immigrants .

    Regards

    Terry Bowring

  12. Charles says:

    Of course the first question we must ask is exactly why we want to develop the North. It is one of the few areas still of significant natural value and largely untouched, serving as an important biological habitat and climate cooling area.
    Secondly, the seasonal variation and evaporation of the water supply make it largely unusable.
    Mankind does not have to take over, occupy and develop every square centimetre of the Earth. We must take steps to control the excessive human population growth, not invade and destroy the few remaining unpopulated areas.

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