Lecture on the Land Laws

Showing the need for closer settlement

12 October 1906 Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser 

Other newspaper reports in other towns report on only parts of Mr. McWilliams lecture. The reporter in Jerilderie was either given a copy of the lecture or he/she was excellent in taking shorthand. Ed. tumuthistory.com.

On Tuesday evening last, Mr H. R. McWilliam, of Wagga, delivered an interesting and instructive discourse on "Our Lost Heritage".

The attendance, was disappointing considering the importance of the subject, and how vitally it affects the interests of Jerilderie. Mr. A. Sleeman presided.      

The audience had their attention first directed to the early stages in the history of New South Wales, and were pointed out the various steps that settlement had taken up to the passage of the "Orders in Council of 1847".

These memorable orders, divided all lands into three classes - settled, intermediate, and unsettled.

The settled districts comprised a comparatively small area so that the greater part of the colony was made available to the squatter. 

In the intermediate districts, leases of 16,000 acres were granted for 14 years, and in the unsettled districts twice that area was granted.

The most fatal provision in the Orders was to this effect:- "During   the continuance of any lease of lands occupied as a run, the same shall not be open to purchase by any other person or persons except the lessee thereof".

Thus for 14 years the greater part of the lands were locked, up from settlement.

The   squatter, moreover, was enabled to purchase one square mile out of every 25 square miles leased, and was thus enabled to secure all the choice blocks with river frontages or other points of vantage, a privilege not neglected.

It is rather interesting, in view of recent occurrences, to observe the manner in which these leases were obtained.

They were to be tendered for, but it was not-essential that the tenders’ should be the original squatters, or even for them to possess stock or the means for using the land.

Any person could tender over the head of the person in occupation, and there was no limit to the number of tenders which might be put in.

The words of Mr Rankin, to quote him gain- "A scramble followed the initiation of the tendering system, in which most of the prizes fell to businessmen and officials.”

Commissioners were appointed to examine the country applied for, and report upon the tenders.

These functionaries varied much in their morals and methods.

Some filled their positions honorably, but such were by no means the majority.

Some Commissioners sold runs like stock and station agents, while others became partners in squatting firms.

A laxity as to public duty was prevalent, and a secrecy and mystery in official dealings was maintained that provided a screen for every kind of fraud.

A very common trick practised by functionaries was to make a copy of a tender received, ante-date it, insert the name of an accomplice or friend, recommend it to the Minister for acceptance, and then intimate to the true claimant that the country applied for had already been allotted under a prior application.

Some real squatters with country, had tenders put in over their heads, and lost, their runs; but most of them, by taking time by the forelock and processing their claims personally, saved themselves.

However, the portions of grazing land which they secured, were   mere scraps compared with the enormous, principalities acquired by Government officials, commission agents, wine merchants, and jobbers.

Tenders were also cooked up from explorers' journals.

An accepted tender became at once marketable; it supplied the means to satisfy a pressing demand, or to smooth one's way through the asperities of the public departments.

As to the effects of these doings the Speaker quoted; the words of Mr. Epps, the able author of "The Land Systems' of Australia", he says:- "Thus were established, evils which have since  left their impress upon our life as a nation." 

Huge areas of' land were secured by men at absurdly low rentals, with the right to purchase practically as they might please. 

As was only to be expected, this right was well taken, advantage of.

And thus was placed in the hands of a comparatively few men a power fraught with incalculable danger to generations then unborn.     

With the advent of responsible Government a feeling of antagonism arose against the squatters, for it became apparent, that by the popular   agitation which led to the issue of the orders in council the squatter had come out by far the best.

In a very short time the new assembly possessed a strong party pledged to restore to the people the birth-right that had been withheld from them Party feeling ran very high.

The chief clamour was for free selection over all public lands.

After several attempts Sir John Robertson passed his Crown Lauds Alienation Act of 1861.

This provided for free selection in areas of 40 to 320 acres at a fixed price of £1.

No attempt was made to separate the pastoral from the agricultural land, so as to divide the squatting and farming interests into their proper spheres, but practically all the un-alienated lands were thrown into the pool to be scrambled for.

The consequences of this jumbling of conflicting interests were stupendous.

Before long a fierce conflict raged between selector and squatter, the position also loading itself to the practices of the blackmailer.

Sometimes a station was attacked only on its choice portions, or in other cases it would be attacked by a large body of selectors who were either bought off or so harassed that it was inconvenient for them to stay.

To combat them the squatters extensively resorted to dummyism, and by the additional means of volunteer land orders and auction sales were enabled to hem in selectors and cut off their grass rights, thereby making it to their interest to sell out to the station. 

Under such a system, fraud and chicanery flourished to a marvellous extent.

[As this lecture is rather long and our space limited this week we are compelled to hold the remainder of the lecture over till next issue. - Ed. J.H.]

Lecture on the Land Laws.

19 October 1906 Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser 

[This lecture is continued from last week]

Various attempts were made to remedy the defects of the 1871 Act, but they were ineffectual patchings in fact the old feuds between the two classes were intensified, with the result the Public estate was, being rapidly monopolised until at last public opinion revolted against the whole system, and compelled the appointment of the Ranken-Morris Commission in 1888.

In very concise and able report it was shown that the system of free selection had worked well in the old settled districts in spite of the comparative inferiority of the country.

This was due to the fact that the land selected had not been adversely occupied, selection as a rule accomodating itself alongside the freeholders without hitch or antagonism, and without the financial distress of either. 

In the majority of cases, however, it was shown that where the pastoralist had been in adverse occupation, the result had been disastrous to the selector, and in speaking of the comparison said. "If   those lands have actually passed away without remedy they may still be serviceable as showing the logical outcome of the policy pursued in the past.

Under a law which professed to part with land solely for agricultural purposes, the cream of Riverina has been mostly handed over to capitalists, in no way concerned with the well fare of New South Wales, who hold the land without supporting a tax-paying  population and carry away the wealth of our pastures without contributing to the political and social well being of the State".

At this stage Mr. McWilliam illustrated his remarks by showing maps indicating the method by which the large holdings are accumulated and also another set showing the land which remains to the people, which, needless to say, is very little except in undesirable parts of the State.

These maps were highly interesting and proved better than words could, how iniquitous had been the methods pursued in the past. 

Continuing, he said it was shown that the commission report in 1883 was followed the 1864 Act which applied the brake somewhat to the rapid accumulation of large estates, but ultimately it was found that the settlement under that Act also reverted largely to the large holdings. 

The effects of this sad waste of the heritage of the people can be seen on the north about New England, on the south, about Monaro, and on all the central tablelands or western slopes.

It is apparent in our towns.

What is the cause of the departed glory of our country towns ?

Why is it the inhabitants tell you of the one time, prosperity of the district.?

Where are the towns that have not got "has been" history?

 Alas they are few.

The cause is the accumulation of large landed estates by a few persons and the consequent depopulation which inevitably follows such accumulation.

Go down any of the streets in our country towns and you will be informed that this man once held a nice property in a favoured locality, and that that man was at one time very snug on another homestead, whilst a third had his holding seized by the bank.

These men's sons now cart wood to the towns folk, or are grooms at the hotels or rouseabouts or such like, or maybe they have drifted to the city.

They have no certain occupation, the only thing they are certain about is that while their fathers and grandfathers ravelled in the privilege of free selection they and their children can look in vain for any suitable land in their native districts.

They must either move on or take what work offers.

Now let us examine the effects of the 1905 Act: here we find a distinct advance in land legislation and through its provisions the rising towns of Barrigan, Finley, Lockhart, and Germanton, have taken root, and much of the small settlement around Jerilderie was established.

The following figures will illustrate the benefit derived from that Act. 

Now we find, that at the end of '04, there were in existence 4,498 homestead selections or grants, and that approximately 6,789 original conditional purchases have been confirmed during that time, and if settlement leases be added, of which there were 1,567 at the end of '04, the total of new residential holdings acquired practically since the '95 Act came in force, amounts to 12,254.

At the end of March '95 there were 59,020 holdings of alienated lands in areas from 1 acre upwards and comprising an average of 707 acres per holding, while in March '04, there were 74,128 holdings for an average of 641 acres showing for the period an increase of 15,108 holdings.

With this large increase in bonafide settlement we find a large increase in cultivation and the following table illustrates the relative increase in cultivation in the four geographical divisions of the State:-      

                                  March 1895    March 1004    Increase acres.

Coast                                    275,269          316.693           49,924 

Tableland                             380,545          708,049         327,504 

W. Slopes and   Riverina       653,445      1,403,190         859,745   

W. Plains                                 16,205           24,987             8,783   

The total area cultivated, including grass sown lands

was     1,688, 542 in 1895 or an average per inhabitant of 1.5 and 

            3,095,430 in 1904, or an average per in habitant of 2.8.

Then again, compare the percentage of increase in cultivation on the different groups of holdings. 

Holdings                        March 1895     March 1904  

 31 to 400 acres             12.06                15.40 

401 to 1000 acres          6.12                  10.71 

1001 to 10,000 acres     2.68                    4.80 

10,000 upwards             0.49                    1.29 

It will be noticed that the greatest increase is in those holdings which are more common on the tablelands, and western slopes, and as in these parts new settlement has progressed the most rapidly of late, it may be inferred that much of this is due the unlocking of the pastoral lease lands and to the provision, of the '95 and subsequent Acts in securing only bonafide settlement and thereby ensuring a greater use and cultivation of the soil. 

In comparing the progress of settlement   with that of the population, there was in '94 one holding for every 22 persons, and in '03, one for every 19, showing a greater proportion of holdings to the population in the latter year.

 On the other hand there has been no withdrawal from the   population of the Metropolis, rather has the percentage increased in favour of the city, Sydney in '91, having 33.86 of the population of the State, and in '01, '02 and '03, it has remained over 35 or very nearly 36 per. Cent. 

The question also arises; to what extent have our recent laws attracted immigration?

Unfortunately the figures rather disconcert one, from '94 to '03 the excess of immigration over departures ouly amounting to 1,219,

It might have been anticipated that settlement would have proceeded at least at the same rate as the opening of new railways, or the increase of the Public Debt.

The contrary   is the case. In June '95 there were 23.3   holdings from 1 acre upwards to each mile of railway then existing, whereas in June '03, there were but 22.9 similar holding to the mile.

At the same periods the Public Debt was £986 per holding or £47 12s 7d per inhabitant and £1,077 per holding or £54 14s 3d per inhabitant. 

With regard to the various methods of obtaining Crown Lands, the C.P. System is the most popular.

The new C.P.  Lease has filled a great need, and should enable the poorer class of settler to make a fair start.

Homestead Selections and Settlement Leases have been in demand on account of the extremely favourable terms under which they were offered, but the holders of these tenures are more or less anxious to be allowed to convert them into C. P. Lands.

There is a desire to be rid of the everlasting residence and rent on the Homestead Selection, whilst the Settlement Lessees have not the marketable asset they would have, were they allowed to conditionally purchase their holdings.

Such a conversion would seem desirable as regards Homestead   Selections, if the permanency could be secured by the restriction on purchase as is enforced with regard to C.P. Leases so that the selection would not revert to a larger holding, and it might be as well to allow Settlement Lessees to convert, their leases into Conditional Purchase Leases.

Under the Closer Settlement Act the applicant has to select all his block as a purchase, whereas the successes of the C.P. system have been due  in a large measure to the principle of allowing three times the area of the purchase as a lease at a very reasonable rental.

A similar right under the Closer Settlement Act would be a welcome addition to its already beneficent provisions. 

Mr.McWiinnm then proceeded to deal with the effect of Political influence, which he said had most damaging effects upon our land policy and a great many of the ills that now retard the progress of New South Wales may be traced to the underground machinations of the unscrupulous political land agents.

The Commission of 1883 stated, "In addition to the defective construction of the various Land Acts the large permissive powers always appended have involved a most unnecessary and pernicious exercise of Ministerial discretion. It is possible there may be com- munities elsewhere to

which the exercise of Ministerial discretion may be an ad- vantage, but the effect in New South Wales, through the endless diversity of interpretations and misinterpretation for years has been to annul the value at the law altogether.

The plain meaning of any existing Act is now of less weight than the caprice or bias of the Minister and it is notorious that the most effective mode of getting business done at the "Lands" whether in terms of the law or with the view of thwarting operation is to select a land agent who is a member of the popular branch of the Legislature. 

In conclusion, the speaker pointed out that the chief cause of the maladministration of the land system has been the apathy of the people.

He considered our people were not imbued with a patriotic and national spirit.

We had a vast continent of 3,000,000 square miles with a handful of 4,000,000 people and we cried out to the teaming millions of Asia that, this Garden of Eden was for us alone. 

We did not properly use one twentieth part of its wealth, yet we refused to let others in to assist. If we wished to keep this continent for a "White Australia" we must see to it that we induce closer settlement and consequently immigration from Europe.

Only by inducing a steady stream of European immigrants into the country, can our race ultimately hope to retain this land against the increasing civilization of the Eastern millions and the only way to induce that immigration was to open up our large estates for agricultural settlement.

We have built railways to develop the country and the greater traversed lands which were still used for the same purpose before even railways were established in Australia. 

This was not right and the sooner we made it right the better for our national prosperity.

The speaker deplored the   lack of settlement along the Jerilderie line and said it behoved the people of this district to stir up and insist on having that settlement in this district which its fertility demanded.

He instanced the towns of Wagga, Tamworth, and Murrumburrah where by consistent agitation they had compelled the attention of the Ministry with the result that each of those towns would shortly have very large, estates resumed in their vicinity.

 Jerilderie should do likewise.

Mr. McWilliam expressed the hope that his address might stir a keener interest in our political welfare and in the foundation of our national existence - settlement.

He advocated that our youths and children should be taught early the lessons of patriotism and we might then hope for a more sturdy growth in our political body. 

The meeting closed with a vote of thanks to the speaker, moved by Mr. Sleeman who was in the chair and seconded by Mr, Elliott, and carried by acclamation, .