A summary of key information
"When the British settlers arrived in Australia, they considered the land to be 'free' for them to take, regardless of the fact that the First Nations people had been living there for thousands of years. Therefore, the European colonists claimed ownership over sections of land without any direct approval from governments or local people. The new landowners were known as 'squatters'. and they quickly became very wealthy and powerful by grabbing large sections of land and raising as many cattle and sheep as they could.
As wealth from the Gold Rush began to dry up, the former gold miners began looking for other ways to draw and income and most of them wanted to become famers. Unfortunately, by this time, most of the best land had been taken by the squatters. The only land that was left was of little use to potential farmers. As a result, there was a growing anger towards the squatters by the new poor farmers.
The British government had been trying to create new laws to limit the growth of the squatters' financial dominance and in 1857, the ‘Land Convention' was created, which sought to create a more equitable distribution of the land amongst the colonists. Beginning in 1860, a series of Land Acts were created in many Australian colonies, which allowed new farmers to select and buy some of the land controlled by the squatters. Therefore, the new farmers were known as ‘selectors’, since they could 'select' the land they wanted. However, the farmers still had to bid for the land at auction, which favoured the richest of the new farmers who could afford to afford the highest prices.
Unfortunately, these Land Acts failed to redistribute the best of the agricultural land from the established squatter domination. This was primarily because the squatters used their wealth to pay for fake farmers, called ‘dummy' bidders, to buy back the land taken from them. As a result, the squatters remained powerful and wealthy landowners, while the selectors were left to try and farm small, unproductive parcels of land."
Squatters and Selectors Sources. (2021). History Skills.
A Victorian police officer from the 19th century explains how the squatters undermined the success of the land acts.
"It was also in the early [1860s] that the quiet of [the] Hamilton [region] was disturbed ... The first … Land Act, providing for free selection of Crown Lands, had just come into force, and the momentous question of parceling out the fertile lands of the Western District had to be faced. It was an anxious time for the existing occupiers — the squatters ... There was another crowd, too, but of persons quite unknown in the neighbourhood, and who appeared to be acting under some sort of leadership ... It seemed ... as if the strangers held possession, and the squatters were shut out while being stripped of all they possessed. But there were wheels within wheels ... Communication passed between the squatters and the leaders of the strange crowd ... with the result that the squatters continued in undisturbed possession of their holdings, while not a single [one of these] stranger[s] was known to settle in the district at this time ... The first ... Land Act was a failure."
Sadleir, J. (1913). Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer. George Robertson & Company, pp. 114–15.
John Sadleir was a police officer in Victoria during the 19th century.
Copyright: Public Domain
A newspaper article from 1853 complaining about how much power the squatters have compared with the selectors:
"The great sheep-owner may have half a million of acres for nothing—may accumulate a hundred thousand pounds by selling wool and [cattle...] but... the man who comes here to create a home by his [hard work], and to aid in developing the resources of the country—is to be [shamefully] driven away from it."
Unknown Journalist. (1st February 1853). The Argus. Melbourne, Australia.
The Argus was a daily morning newspaper based in Melbourne, Australia. It was in business from 1846 to 1957.
Copyright: Public Domain
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