The new Land Bill

It is universally spoken of here in very favourable terms. The local journal has issued a copy of the bill, and ths same is being widely circulated amongst the selectors in this district.

As far as can be ascertained the leading principles of the bill were warmly commended. It is deemed an honest attempt equitably to administer the public estate. Could a vote be taken here upon the measure, it is behoved an overwhelming majority' would be in favour of the bill passing without any amendment, unless in the one particular of auction sales.

The establishment of local land boards is regarded with great favour, and the provisions with reference to selection without residence will be openly availed of should the bill become law. - (Ref- The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)(about) Previous issue Tuesday 16 October 1883).


By 1820, farmers and graziers occupied much of the land within a radius of 200 miles of Sydney.

In 1826, the extent to which occupation of land was occurring caused Governor Darling to specify "limits of location" outside which land could not be occupied. These boundaries were primarily to protect settlers from Aborigines, and because the Police were unable to patrol an extended area.

However, the attractions of seemingly boundless areas of grassed land beyond the prescribed area proved an irresistible attraction to pastoralists and the government's edict was largely ignored.

For its part, the government decided in 1833 that it would not seek to remove "squatters" who had established unauthorised stock stations in the interior of NSW. In part, this was facing up to the difficulties of removing them; it was also recognition of the increasing political influence and respectability of such people.

(Ref - http://library.parkes.nsw.gov.au/history/squatters.htm)

Free Selection in NSW in the 19th Century


HICH LAND WAS AVAILABLE ? Land selection legislation differed from colony to colony. The most critical difference is that in some colonies selection was restricted to certain, albeit large, districts while in others Crown land almost anywhere could be selected. Many squatters agreed that there was plenty of land to go around.

In Victoria, about 13.9 million acres were set aside for selection (Note 91), almost a quarter of the land area of the colony. Whilst this seems a lot, some 31.4 million acres of Victoria's 56.2 million were held by squatters as licensed runs (Note 92). This was an area almost as large as England (Note 93). At worst, less than one third of land held by squatters was in danger.

In South Australia, the 1847 Order-in-Council did not apply, so the call to unlock the land was not as great as in the eastern colonies (Note 94). Selection was restricted to blocks of 40 to 640 acres in "agricultural areas" declared by the Governor (Note 95). The first declared areas under The Strangeways Act 1869 (SA) were of poor quality land, but in 1871 the government responded to pressure and opened to selection more and better wheat growing areas (Note 96). Generally "agricultural areas" seem to have been limited to land south of Goyder's rainfall line (Note 97).

Similar limitations were urged on Robertson in NSW, but rejected. This could be seen as an insistence on providing equality of opportunity, but we must not overlook the fact that survey may have been a prerequisite. Given the supposed lack of surveyors, free selection could have been delayed for many years.

Unlike Victoria and South Australia, NSW and Queensland did not have a fixed number of Members in the Upper House of Parliament, elected on franchise qualifications (Note 98). Obstruction in the Upper House could be overcome by having a compliant Governor nominate Members sympathetic to the goals of the majority in the Lower House.

These political differences, and corresponding limitations on areas available for selection, appear more important when considered in the light of how selection worked, and its potential for greater effect the drier and poorer the land became the further inland one goes. Both farmer and grazier needed water to survive. In good rainfall areas, with plenty of water to go around, small selections would have done much less harm to squatters than small selections around key waterholes in the dry outback. While some squatters would have been driven by greed to hang on to all they had (Note 99), for those in the dry areas it was less a question of sharing and more one of success or complete failure.

WHEN WAS THE LAND AVAILABLE ? Free selection was not imposed on the squatters overnight. The call to unlock the land had been building during the 1850s, and the squatters had been put on notice in NSW that it was going to be a reality, when from 1858 leases were issued subject to a right of resumption by the Crown before expiry. Robertson's land Acts did not take effect until the beginning of 1862, and did not override the legal rights attached to leases prior to February 1858 (Note 100). Pre-1858 leases were not available until the lease expired, which for an 1857 lease in the Unsettled District would be in 1871. Whether a run was held under lease or licence was therefore critical to the date on which the run became available for free selection.

The squatters clearly had plenty of time to obtain control over most of their runs by peacocking using the pre-emptive rights conferred by the 1847 Order-in-Council. The relatively small amount of land purchased between 1847 and 1861 (Note 101) indicates that not all squatters took advantage of this time, and explains why they had to resort to dummying and peacocking on a large scale after 1861.

The next part is about the Conflict between Squatters and Selectors


Note 91 About 4 million acres (i.e. about 7% of the colony) under the Nicholson Act 1860 (Vic), and a further 9.9 million acres (about 18% of the colony) under the Duffy Act 1862 (Vic): Ronald Laidlaw, The Land They Found, 2nd ed, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1979, pp.197-8. Clark (4), op cit, 167, gives c.10 million under the latter Act. Note 92 Document Set 8, p.5.

Note 93 See Figure 1 above.

Note 94 Document Set 8, p.14.

Note 95 Clark (4), op cit, 181. Responsible government was granted in 1856: R.D. Lumb, The Constitutions of the Australian States, University of Queensland Press, 1963, p.30. Accordingly the Governor would be expected to act on the advice of his Ministers: see L.J.M. Cooray, Conventions, the Australian Constitution and the Future, Legal Books, Sydney, 1979, pp.59- 61.

Note 96 Clark (4), op cit, 181.

Note 97 See Bill Murray, Crisis, Conflict and Consensus: Selected documents illustrating 200 years in the making of Australia, Rigby Publishers, Adelaide, 1984, pp.133-4.

Note 98 See Lumb, op cit, passim.

Note 99 See Gammage, op cit, 116.

Note 100 Robertson thought existing legal property rights in leases should be upheld: see Clark (6), op cit, 349.

Note 101 By 1846 about 4.85 million acres had been alienated: Mitchell, op cit, 65-6. By 1861 the total was just over 5 million acres: Gammage, op cit, 106. Shann, op cit, 207, gives 6.325 million acres.

The free selection legislation resulted in war between selectors and squatters, giving opportunities to rogues who stooped to false accusations, intimidation, and blackmail of selectors and squatters alike. Practices such as dummying and peacocking were widespread (Note 102).

Disputes arose over boundaries and the legality of impounding stock, and squatters on the bench meant that the selectors were at a decided disadvantage (Note 103). Nevertheless, squatters did suffer depredation of their stock by impoverished selectors.


Many selectors were not genuine. Dummying was practiced by squatters and selectors alike (Note 104), the squatters trying to protect their runs, and selectors trying to get sufficient land to make farming, usually with some grazing, profitable. It has been estimated that only a third of 62,000 selections between 1861 and 1884 were genuine, the rest being dummies, speculators, or squatters buying their own runs (Note 105).

Squatters might be subject to blackmail by their own dummies (Note 106), or be forced to pay off or buy out selectors of key parts of the run at outrageous prices (Note 107).

Squatters seem to have sometimes practiced dummying on a huge scale. On one selection day we have an example of dummies outnumbering bona fide selectors by three to one (Note 108). In that case the operation was foiled (Note 109), but once selection took place it seems that dummying was difficult to prove, and in any event virtually impossible to prevent reoccurrence (Note 110). On another occasion the large number of dummies for squatters physically prevented genuine selectors from getting into the Court House to lodge their applications (Note 111). Squatters also used dummies to hem in selectors to prevent acquisition of grazing pre-leases (Note 112).

Selectors used relatives, including children, as dummies to increase their landholding. So too did squatters. One unmarried squatter later admitted to borrowing about seven of his employees' children for the day, for a small fee, plus tea and cake for the kids, in order to select an extra 2,000 acres of his run (Note 113).

No attempt to close loopholes was made in NSW for fourteen years, and then amendments were essentially ineffective (Note 114).


No doubt the squatters would have preferred to continue enjoying their runs without having to pay more than a negligible amount for their use (Note 115). However, in order to protect their runs by purchasing through dummying and peacocking, many squatters had to go deeply into debt (Note 116). Some were victims of ruthless foreclosure and many ruined by the combination of overstocking (trying to pay their debts) and drought (Note 117).

Perhaps we can understand why squatters did not protect their runs more fully, when they had the chance, by contemplating the sheer size of the land they held. More land was held by lease or licence under the 1847 Order-in- Council than the total area of France or Spain or Great Britain (see Figure 1).

The average size of a run was about 30,000 acres. For this the squatter paid 2d per acre, for a total of 250, and it returned a profit of 1s 3 d per acre (Note 118), for a total profit of 2,000 per year. To purchase a quarter of the land would cost 7,500. Purchase instead of renting was clearly much less profitable.


Note 102 See e.g. Clark (4), op cit, 168-9. Note 103 See e.g. extract from The Armidale Express, 30 August 1873, in Russel Ward & John Robertson (eds), Such Was Life - Select Documents in Australian Social History, Vol.II, 1851-1913, Alternative Publishing Co-op., Chippendale, NSW, 1980, pp.134-5. See also Shann, op cit, 201-2.

Note 104 Where a dummy was not family, it was agreed that after the residence requirement had been satisfied, the land would be sold to the squatter: Lang, op cit, 102. Dummies in such situations may have lived in poor conditions: see Henry Lawson, Water Them Geraniums, in Document Set 8, p.16, at 17.

Note 105 Lang, op cit, 102. But see Document Set 8, p.20, where 20,000 left after 20 years of struggle. This suggests Lang has not allowed for failed selectors, nor the successful ones who moved on to bigger and better properties.

Note 106 Laidlaw, op cit, 199.

Note 107 Document Set 8, p.20; Lang, op cit, 102.

Note 108 Document Set 8, p.19.

Note 109 Ibid.

Note 110 See Document Set 8, pp.33-4.

Note 111 John Sadleir, Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, 1913, extracted in Ward & Robertson, op cit, 133.

Note 112 Shann, op cit, 202.

Note 113 From Reminiscences of Australian Early Life, by "A Pioneer", Marsden, London, 1893, extracted in Ward & Robertson, op cit, 134.

Note 114 Lang, op cit, 102.

Note 115 See Document Set 8, p.20.

Note 116 Dutton, op cit, 83; Document Set 8, pp.20-1; Shann, op cit, 210.

Note 117 Shann, op cit, 210.

Note 118 Document Set 8, p.5.



It had early on become obvious that small farms of 40 acres or so of Australian land were generally not large enough to form viable economic units (Note 119). Yet this was the lower limit on selections. To some extent this problem was recognised by the initial upper limit of 320 acres (Note 120), which itself was raised to 640 acres when found to be too small (Note 121). Generally it appears that a selector needed to have sufficient land to carry sheep, so that he could get through seasons too dry for crops (Note 122).

Perhaps the contradiction may be explained by the fact that, particularly in some settled areas, 40 acres of good, well watered land may have been an economic proposition, and that the legislation needed to offer flexibility. Another explanation is that the minimum was set low enough to give the appearance that workers were being given the opportunity to own land, i.e. seemingly keeping faith with the electors, while knowing that such a block would in general be too small to be successful.

In 1883 Commissioners Rankin and Morris reported that 1280 acres were required to make an economic unit in the remaining coastal lands, and 2560 required inland (Note 123). In fact, most successful selectors eventually owned between 640 and 4,000 acres (Note 124). Clark estimates that viability might be anything from 2 to 10,000 acres, depending on location (Note 125).


Many selectors seem to have extended themselves merely to get on to the land. Contemporary estimates suggest that more than 50% of selectors suffered a serious lack of capital (Note 126). Many seem to have fallen into the hands of loan sharks, from whence it was said impossible to escape (Note 127). Shopkeepers, merchants and banks (through agents) all seem to have been involved, charging interest rates varying from 12.5% to as high as 70% (Note 128). Eventually the Colonial Parliaments enacted Closer Settlement Acts in the 1880s to provide financial asistance to address this problem (Note 129).

Unlike livestock, crops could not walk to market, and transport costs for agricultural produce were prohibitive (Note 130). In many areas the soil was inferior, and climate simply unsuitable for agriculture (Note 131), and while grazing was suitable the block sizes were much too small for economic activity.

Lack of capital led to inefficiencies in an already precarious situation. Like Dad and Dave, some probably had to clear land and hoe for planting without a draft animal to help (Note 132). Failed selectors sometimes were forced to abandon their land (Note 133), or lost it to their creditors (Note 134). Many hung on in misery (Note 135).

On the brighter side, selectors in areas more suited to farming were often successful.

Wheat cultivation expanded from 1 million acres in 1871 to over 3 million in 1881 and 5 million by 1901 (Note 136). However this does not necessarily equate to successful selectors. The squatters recognised in Australia felix the finest wheat fields in Victoria (Note 137), but were prohibited by government order from cultivating more than needed for their establishments (Note 138). No doubt after Duffy's Acts the squatters also cultivated wheat when economic to do so. Yet much of this expansion was due to farming by selectors. This is supported by the population statistics for the wheat areas of Western Victoria, showing a huge increase at this time (Note 139).

Detailed studies of the Riverina suggest that much genuine settlement took place there as well (Note 140), although success was limited to certain favoured areas (Note 141). Selectors also established themselves on the Darling Downs, in some districts about 36% surviving into the 20th century (Note 142). Selection was also successful in the higher rainfall areas on the northern rivers of NSW (Note 143).


Huge parts of Australia were permanently alienated from the Crown, ending up in the hands of squatters, large scale selectors and financial institutions (Note 144). By 1881, 96 landholders had freehold estates covering 8 million acres, averaging 84,000 acres each (Note 145).

In the end, the poor land and climate meant that most small selectors failed, although there were successes in some districts.


Note 119 Mentioned above.

Note 120 Section 13, The Alienation Act 1861 (NSW), in Document Set 8, p.11.

Note 121 See e.g. opinion of J.A. Buchanan, valuer and rate collector, Wimmera Shire, Western Victoria: Document Set 8, p.18; cf. Dutton, op cit, 83.

Note 122 See Document Set 8, pp.18, 27, 32 & 34. See also Shann, op cit, 199.

Note 123 Clarence Karr, "Mythology vs. Reality: The Success of Free Selection in New South Wales", (1974) 60 JRAHS 199, at 203.

Note 124 Ibid, 200.

Note 125 Clark (4), op cit, 174.

Note 126 Document Set 8, p.34. This is consistent with the wages and savings analysis above.

Note 127 See Document Set 8, p.18.

Note 128 See e.g. Document Set 8, pp.18, 25, 26, 33 and 35.

Note 129 Clark (4), op cit, 343.

Note 130 Ibid, 174.

Note 131 See e.g. Document Set 8, p.16. See also Dutton, op cit, 83.

Note 132 Steele Rudd (Arthur H Davis), "Starting the Selection", in The Bulletin, 1895, reprinted in The Bulletin, Centenary Issue, 29 January 1980 (The Bulletin), pp.265-6.

Note 133 Illustrated by Will H. Ogilvie, Abandoned Selections, in Document Set 8, p.22.

Note 134 Document Set 8, p.17.

Note 135 See e.g. Clark (4), op cit, 344.

Note 136 Hunt, op cit, 239-42. See also Document Set 8, p.29.

Note 137 When they first arrived there it was still part of NSW: Shann, op cit, 195.

Note 138 Ibid.

Note 139 Document Set 8, p.29.

Note 140 Gammage, op cit, 107-8.

Note 141 Only 244 of 1426 selectors were left after 17 years, only 48 of whom were trying to make a living from cultivation: Shann, op cit, 205.

Note 142 Waterson, op cit, 100.

Note 143 See Prentis, op cit, 101.

Note 144 See Shann, op cit, 208.

Note 145 Ibid.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Baker, D.W.A.: "The Origins of Robertson's Land Acts", (1958) 8 Historical Studies: Australia & New Zealand 166.

Butt, Peter: Land Law, 2nd ed, Law Book Co, North Ryde, 1988.

Clark, C.M.H. (1): A History of Australia, Vol.I, Melbourne University Press, 1962.

Clark, C.M.H. (2): A History of Australia, Vol.II, Melbourne University Press, 1968.

Clark, C.M.H. (3): A History of Australia, Vol.III, Melbourne University Press, 1973.

Clark, C.M.H. (4): A History of Australia, Vol.IV, Melbourne University Press, 1978. Clark, C.M.H. (5): A Short History of Australia, 2nd ed, The Macmillan Company of Australia, South Melbourne, 1981.

Clark, C.M.H. (6): Sources of Australian History, Oxford University Press, London, 1957.

Cooray, L.J.M.: Conventions, The Australian Constitution and the Future, Legal Books, Sydney, 1979.

Durack, Mary: Kings in Grass Castles, Corgi Books, Falmouth, Cornwall, 1966.

Dutton, Geoffrey: The Squatters, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, Victoria, 1989. Gammage, Bill: "Who gained, and who was meant to gain, from land selection in New South Wales ?", (1990) 24 Australian Historical Studies 104.

Gilbert, P.F.: Gold, Jacaranda Press, Milton, Queensland, 1970.

Hibbert, Christopher: The English: A Social History 1066-1945, Guild Publishing, London, 1987.

Highsmith, Richard M. Jr.: Case Studies in World Geography: Occupance and Economy Types, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, USA, 1961.

Hunt, O.W.: Australia in the Making, Revised ed, Whitcombe & Tombs, Sydney, 1966.

Karr, Clarence: "Mythology vs. Reality: The Success of Free Selection in New South Wales", (1974) 60 JRAHS 199.

Laidlaw, Ronald: The Land They Found, 2nd ed, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1979.

Lang, : Crown Land in NSW, 1973, extracted in Macquarie University School of Law, LAW 401 Land Law Course Materials 1989, Macquarie University, 1989.

Lumb, R.D.: The Constitutions of the Australian States, University of Queensland Press, 1963.

McQueen, Humphrey: A New Britannia, Revised ed, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1976.

Mitchell, Bruce: The Australian Story and its Background, F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1965.

Murray, Bill: Crisis, Conflict and Consensus: Selected documents illustrating 200 years in the making of Australia, Rigby Publishers, Adelaide, 1984.

Moore, Peter J.: O'Dea's Industrial Relations in Australia, 3rd ed, West Publishing, Sydney, 1974.

O'Farrell, Patrick: The Irish in Australia, New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1987.

Prentis, Malcolm D.: The Scots in Australia, Sydney University Press, 1983.

Rolls, Eric: A Million Wild Acres, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, Victoria, 1984.

Scott, Ernest: A Short History of Australia, 7th ed, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1947. Shann, Edward: An Economic History of Australia, Cambridge University Press, London, 1930.

Sherington, Geoffrey: Australia's Immigrants, George Allen & Unwin, 1980.

Ward, Russel: The Australian Legend, 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1966.

Ward, Russel & Robertson, John (eds): Such Was Life - Select Documents in Australian Social History, Vol.II, 1851-1913, Alternative Publishing Co-op., Chippendale, NSW, 1980.

Waterson, D.B.: Squatter, Selector, and Storekeeper: A History of the Darling Downs, 1859-93, Sydney University Press, 1968.

Wood, W. Allan: Dawn in the Valley: The Story of Settlement in the Hunter River Valley to 1833, Wentworth Books, Sydney, 1972.

This report is submitted in good faith. All endeavours have been made to make all entries authentic and correct. For any corrections and additional valuable information, maps and photos you may have please contact John

To Home