Lecture by Mr. McWilliam on Land Laws

24 August 1906 The Tumut and Adelong Times

There was a very meagre attendance at the lecture delivered by Mr. H. R. McWilliam, on "Our lost heritage, or the history of our land laws" on Tuesday evening last, at O'Brien's Hall, and space will not permit of our being able to reproduce our notes on same in full.

The lecturer spoke for three quarters of an hour, and at some disadvantage, for he was suffering from a severe cold.

He first dwelt upon the early days of settlement in the State, showing that the Orders-in-Council of 1847 were the means of handing over both agricultural and pastoral lauds of N.S.W. to the pastoralists.

Then came the Robertson Alienation Act of 1861, which had proved the most disastrous measure ever enacted.

Instead of separating the agricultural and pastoral lands and classifying them, they were disposed of together, the result being that a system consolidating large areas was resorted to, dummying being quite common, and people got hold of more land than their finances justified, thus making it incumbent upon them to borrow money, and now the bulk of the stations were held by financial institutions.

In 1883 dummyism had become so extensive that the Government appointed the Ranken-Morris Commission, who declared the provisions of the 1861 Land Act a failure, the lands having been monopolised by a few people.

A map was shown by the speaker of a district where 209,000 acres were bought at auction at less than 1   per acre, hemming in completely two small selectors.

Then, again, miner- al conditional purchases were secured where it was known that no minerals had ever been found, but there were no conditions to fulfil on such, the only drawback being that 2 per acre had to be paid instead of 1.

After the 1861 Act had been in operation for 20 years it was found that people on the land were beginning to decrease in number, instead of increase, as was intended.

Maps were exhibited showing that all the good lands of Tamworth, Hay, Goulburn, Young, Yass, Queanbeyan, and Wagga were pretty well alienated. 

Dealings with the A.N.A. Co. were also referred to, where lands worth 5 to 25 per acre, in the Maitland district, were given to the company in exchange for coast lands considered some of the roughest in the colony. 

At Grafton, it was pointed out, there was more land available than in the whole of the rest of N.S. Wales, and it was of magnificent quality, with a rainfall of 55 in. per annum.

In the Dubbo district, from Coonamble to Wellington, and in towards Nyngan, most of the lands had been given to Willis and his friends.

In the Myall district great favouritism had been shown, the average rentals obtained being 4d and 4d, but by some manoeuvre a friend got an immense quantity of land at a rental of d. 

Facsimile copies were exhibited of applications made for lands, showing unmistakable signs that the signature of Joseph Bonnom Stephens, as attached to several documents, was not written by the same person.

The 1895 Act, the speaker said, was the best that had ever been passed, but the matter of settlement leases in it was not satisfactory, as such were not a tangible asset, and no financial institution would to them.

The c.p. system had proved a failure in effecting settlement, as there was no restriction on land being acquired in large portions, and after 10 years holding the little holders could sell to the big ones.

The lecturer appealed to his hearers to take a keener interest in their country's welfare, to be more active in politics, and more particular in the selection of their members. 

He alleged that our bad land laws were due to the people alone, who were too apathetic to look after their own interests.

He concluded by ex-pressing the belief that if the 4,000,000 people in Australia who held a continent of 3,000,000 square miles did not properly develop the lands, some other race would ultimately step in and do it for them.

He was a great believer, he said, in closer settlement, and thought the land should be got back again by taxation.