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LAND SETTLEMENT AND LEGISLATION.
By H. Heaton. The key to the first century of Australian history is the land, its use and tenure. By the attraction of our vast, empty spaces, population has, in great part, been drawn here; the produce of the soil has helped more and more to feed crowded Europe; droughts, floods, pests, diseases, and transit prob. lems have puzzled the wits of our scientists and engineers. The overgrown capital cities have lived partly by serving, partly by exploiting, the rural worker, depressed when misfortune befel him, prosperous when all went well out-back." Finally, the devising of satisfactory land laws has confronted our Governments with their most vital task; and, whatever may be the future of its industry and commerce, the real progress of Australia will still depend ultimately on the man on the land.
The first aim of this chapter is to describe the manner in which the land has come to its present usages, and the chief problems which still confront the producer. Having done this, we can then pass on to considerations of land tenure and legislation, and see how, and with what success, land laws have endeavoured to create a flourishing and progressive rural society.
The Pastoral Age. When the first settlement was made in 1788, Governor Phillip and his masters in Downing Street had no idea of the size of this new colony, and no policy for its development. Australia was a lump of land, area unknown, to one particular point of which undesirables were to be sent for the reform of the convict and the relief of the old country.
But, since this prison settlement was so far from European sources of supply, it was necessary that it should become as self-sufficing as possible, so far as foodstuffs, at least, were concerned. Hence, live stock was obtained, and government or private enterprise soon converted the area around Sydney into a more or less successful mixed farm. Here the official policy stopped. So long as the land could keep pace with the wants of the settlement, little more was expected or desired.
This conservative policy left the initiative to private persons, and such initiative soon manifested itself. Clergy, such as Marsden the second chaplain, and officers such as McArthur, spent their spare time on the land which they had secured, and laid the foundation of the pastoral industry. English manufacturers in 1803 voted McArthur's specimens of merino equal in quality to the best Spanish. Six years later 245 lb. of wool were exported from Sydney, and in 1848 there were nearly 15,000,000 sheep in the continent, in addition to 2,000,000 cattle. For half a century after McArthur's trip to England, Australian development depended entirely on the pastoral industry. Wool was king.
Many factors contributed towards this supremacy. In spite of the steady stream of immigration, forced or free, labour was far too scarce to allow much land to be tilled. Further, it is questionable whether wheat would have found a profitable market in Europe. Wool, on the other hand, was wanted in unlimited quantities for the new power looms of Yorkshire. It was easily produced; the climate was so suitable that sheds were not needed for the flocks; the food supply was adequate, and the supply of labour required small, except at shearing time.
One thing more was needed--space for expansion. So long as activity was limited to the nineteen counties of the settled area between the coast and the Blue Mountains, there was little room for big flocks. The available land here was quickly appropriated, and could only be secured by newcomers at high prices. The mountains were the bar to pastoral
progress. What lay beyond-north, west or southno one knew. Hence the economic importance of the journeys of the inland explorers cannot be overestimated, and those travels of Blaxland, Wentworth, Oxley, and Sturt, which are the bane of the Australian schoolboy's existence, assume real interest when we regard them as preludes to pastoral migration. Blaxland crossed the mountains and penetrated as far as the Bathurst Plains in 1813, and from that date onward the movement into the backblocks went incessantly. The track of each explorer soon became a stock route, trodden by thousands of sheep. News of the vast spaces soon reached England, and Bigge's report of 1822-3 gave a glowing account of the immense areas awaiting population. Then began the stream of immigration of intending pastoralists, which reinforced the flow of migrants from the settled areas of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. The newcomers were often men of good birth or education, young men endowed with wealth and a spirit of adventure, who came possibly to make fortunes--certainly to see life." Having acquired their flocks and herds, and secured the necessary supply of labour, they went out, along some already recognised route, up some river, or on a new track blazed by themselves, in search of suitable pasturage. In this way N.S.W. was overrun by 1840; Victoria was invaded from the north and from Tasmania after 1836; Queensland took her pastoral pioneers from N.S.W. during the forties, and, in turn, gave the first settlers to the Northern Territory in the seventies. Sturt's trip down the Murray in 1830, and the settlement of Adelaide in 1836, drew. attention to South Australia, and by 1848 there were over 1,000,000 sheep in that State. Only Western Australia, cursed by its abortive start in 1829, lagged behind.
Early Obstacles. The pastoral occupation of the continent was carried out in face of great difficulties, dangers, and
inconveniences. Surveys of the land, roads, railways, climatic data, all were non-existent. Floods, droughts, and fires had to be faced. Labour was scarce on the out-back stations, and supplies of food, etc., might be held up by any one of a host of misfortunes. The blacks received every grade of treatment, and frequently avenged themselves on their white neighbours. The bushranger and escaped convict were only a little less dangerous than the aboriginal. Even should the squatter escape violence at the hand of man or nature, his troubles were still many. Stock diseases were little understood, passed easily from flock to flock, and were difficult to eradicate. Pests, whether native or imported, defied all attempts at extirpation. Finance might also be as great a source of worry as the pests. Few men succeeded in keeping out of the grip of the banks, and the prevailing rate of interest was at least 10 per cent., the grip was often a strangle-hold. Finally, the tenure of a “run was insecure until 1847, and so it was impossible to build a permanent, comfortable home. Under the weight of such dangers and discomforts, many men broke down, and their runs, won by a life-time of hard labour out of the virgin bush, passed into the hands of others; the first squatter made the run, the second made the fortune. Still, many more succeeded. Their flocks multiplied, their bank balances grew steadily, and eventually they were able to place the station in the hands of a manager, or sell out, and go to live amidst the social comforts and political excitements of the capital, or return Home to England.
Those who believe with Marx in the economic interpretation of history will find much support in Australian conditions before the gold rush. Wool was the one great product, and the squatter the outstanding figure of the continent. Everything bowed to the sheep and its owner, and life was as the pastoralist made it. Towns grew up on sites most convenient for collecting the wool or supplying the wants of the stations; finance and commerce were completely dependent upon the annual clip; booms and depressions found their source in speculations in land or stock, and the employment of almost the whole population was determined by the requirements of the staple industry. Rural and urban society, religious and moral conditions, were under the same influence, whilst the squatter became more and more the dominant figure in politics, influencing the opinion of Downing-street, and finally evicting the autocratic governors.
Such were the conditions in 1850. The whole mainland east of a line from Adelaide to Brisbane was one huge sheep station. So extreme was the concentration on wool that this area did not grow sufficient corn to feed itself, and imported largely from America and Tasmania. In New South Wales, out of nearly 6,000,000 acres alienated from the Crown, only 164,000 were under cultivation in 1848. Tasmania alone stood out as a nicely-balanced producer. The progress of the island had been steady, and although sheep had received much attention, agriculture had not been neglected. Hence, in 1848, Tasmania possessed 1,750,000 sheep, had 170,000 acres under cultivation, and was exporting a great variety of produce to Sydney, Melbourne, Mauritius, and elsewhere.
Change and Progress. The gold discoveries caused ten years' dislocation, and brought permanent changes into the rural life of the south-eastern States. For a time the scarcity of labour caused a reduction in the scope of pastoral operations, a reduction which the importation of Chinese for station work did little to check. The scarcity disappeared in time, and from 1860 onwards the wool output mounted rapidly each decade. Droughts, pests, and other troubles had still to be faced. New land laws made the squatter their target, and succeeded in driving him off some of the fattest lands. The growth of the Australian Workers' Union knit shearers and station employees into the strongest trade union in the continent, to