The “tiresome labor question”

The lack of investments in new mining technology in Australia is traced back to high labor costs and combative unions.

As part of a description of North Queensland as rich in resources yet barely cultivated, Ross presents two tin mining operations, one using more antiquated technology than the other. (For a similar episode, see: Australia’s barely tapped resources) Photographs underline his point. “It would be inexplicable”, writes Ross, “why under such circumstances no capital can be acquired for mining with modern machines, if there was not, yet again, the tiresome labor question.” [p. 217] This refers to the high minimum wages and strong unions, which Ross blamed for Australia’s trade and unemployment crisis even before the start of the Great Depressions. In the way Ross connects the issue of labor here with fertile, but untapped land, it contributes to his key argument that the Australian population is wasteful in the way they choose to cultivate their territory. (See: Playing gods with insufficient means)

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] Im tropischen Urwald von Nordqueensland. In: Der unvollendete Kontinent. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1930; 216–7, 216 verso, 217 recto, verso.

Topic: Engineering
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

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