Reservations on the Gocup and Gadara Runs
10 May 1864 The Sydney Morning Herald
THE complaints about undue reservations on the Gocup, and Gadara runs, in the Tumut district, have been on more than one occasion brought before Parliament. Correspondence on the subject was published some time ago, and now a more complete view of the case is afforded by the evidence given before a select committee.
The report of that committee states that the reserve was excessive, and that the complaining squatter suffered injury to an extent deserving of compensation.
Mr. Robertson was nominally on the committee, but as may be supposed was no party to the report, which is a virtual censure on his administrative action.
Having perused the evidence, we are bound to say that though it reveals in several points the injurious working of the Land Act, it does not prove that the Minister acted with any intentional unfairness, or in an arbitrary manner.
The reserve includes about 122 square miles, and certainly not more than 12,000 acres have been selected. From this the inference is naturally drawn that the reservation was preposterously excessive, and that much land has been withdrawn from lease prematurely.
But then it appears that this reserve was first designed and recommended to the Government by the local Commissioner for Crown Lands -
Mr. Lockhart, the natural authority on which the Minister would lean for local information.
The recommendation was made in 1860, when Kiandra was at the height of its fame.
If that gold-field had answered the expectations that were then formed, the Tumut would have been the granary for that gold field.
Mr. Lockhart thought that there would be 50,000 or 60,000 people resident at Kiandra, and planned the Tumut reserve proportionally.
We know now that this expectation was all a delusion, and the actual proclamation of the reserve did not take place till after Kiandra had collapsed.
But it does not appear that the Minister knew the motive that prompted Mr. Lockhart's extensive design, or was in anyway advised by his officers to reduce it.
On the contrary, Mr. Adams, the district surveyor, says, that he was always anxious for extending the reserve, and that it would have been difficult within a reasonable time to have plotted a much smaller one, as it would have required a detailed survey to pick out and describe all the good and available land.
The block as reserved includes all the desirable land, but includes also a great deal of inferior land.
Practically, no doubt the reserve has proved excessive, but the Minister acted in harmony with the expressed opinion of his local subordinate officers, nor does it appear that he wantonly strained the law, or purposely sacrificed anybody, either to please himself or to please others.
In making a reserve there is always a difficulty in determining the exact quantity wanted.
If enough is taken there is always a probability that there will be more than enough, and if the reserve is stingy it is sure to leave somebody unsatisfied.
If a Minister does not hit the exact medium between too much and too little with precise accuracy, it is always fair to judge his action in the matter with leniency, for the discretionary power given to him is one which is difficult to exercise, and as to which he must be largely guided; by the opinions of others.
The power to make reserves is not a new one given by the Land Act.
It existed before that Act was thought of, and is based on the Orders in Council.
There never was a reserve probably at which somebody did not feel aggrieved, and there is probably still much land locked up which several some bodies think ought to be thrown open.
The Gocup and Gadara runs embrace an area of 142,000 acres, of which only 6000 acres, or about one-seventh of the whole have, been sold.
That so much has been alienated is a sufficient proof that there was a bona fide demand for some extent of land, but the reduction in the pastoral value of the runs was excessive, as compared with the deduction from them.
Previous to free selection there were 1700 or 1800 head of cattle depastured there, afterwards the number was reduced to 900 or 1000.
That is to say, the withdrawal of one-seventh of the land left the remaining six-sevenths, capable, of carrying only half the original amount of stock.
This is partly explained by the fact that the selected land is the richest and most fattening part of the runs, while what is left is the more barren and mountainous portion of it.
But it is also largely owing to the disturbed occupation arising from the intermixture of other cattle.
Mr. Broughton makes a special complaint that an improved clover paddock adjoining his purchased land has been selected by a neighbour, though his own application to purchase it was rejected.
But it would seem that his application was made under the pre-emptive right, and that right was extinguished by the proclamation of the reserve.
He had improvements on this land which he valued at £50, but that was not enough to protect a paddock of 160 acres, as, according to the Act, the improvements, to give the owner a pre-emptive claim, must be worth at least a pound an acre.
It seems hard, no doubt, that an improver should see any of his handiwork pass away into the hands of another, but there must be some limit fixed, or else squatters, by distributing peddling improvements, would close the whole country against selection.
It would meet all equitable claims if improvements when under the pound an acre were paid for in cash, as their value, though this rule could not be made always to apply to fencing, where only a small part of a fenced paddock is selected.
Mr. Broughton's sufferings, however, do not seem to require very much commiseration when it appears that he or some member of his family has enjoyed quiet possession of the run for more than twenty years.
The rent and assessment does not exceed eighty pounds a year. Some of the land, too, is very valuable, so much so that purchased portions were let by Mr. Broughton to tenants at ten shillings an acre on seven years leases, the tenants being bound to leave all improvements.
For two eighty acre farms, therefore, he got as much rent as he paid to Government for the whole of the two runs. Nor was this all.
For as an inducement to take farms, each tenant was allowed to graze one beast on the run for every two acres that he rented. This was virtually subletting part of his own run.
Mr. Lockhart, the commissioner, considers that this was against the spirit of the Orders in Council, though it would be difficult to prove it so.
But he threatened at one time to report him, and get his lease cancelled.
The tenants, however, did not get grazing enough, and they split with their landlord because he impounded their cattle when they ran more stock than he allowed.
It was they who signed the petition for the reserve, and it is they who have been the free-selectors. Small blame to them.
If they could get as freehold for five shillings cash, land equal in quality to that for which as tenants they had been paying ten shillings a. year, they were quite right to seize all the advantage the law allowed them, and make homesteads for themselves.
Mr. Vyner, one of the witnesses, said that free selection was intended for agriculturists, and that it was not fair to turn out a squatter simply to hand the land, over to (others who would merely continue to use it for practical purposes.
But then the tenure is changed, it would not be fair to turn out one leasehold squatter, simply to put in another leasehold squatter, but it would be fair to displace him to make way for freehold graziers.
The free selectors are inchoate freeholders.
Purchasers of land are not to be under compulsion as to the use they will make of their broad acres.
They may grow grass or corn according to what will suit them best.
There appears, however, to have been one technical flaw in the proclamation of this reserve.
The land was withdrawn from lease under the 5th clause of the Occupation Act.
But that clause distinctly states that no reservation or dedication can be made without an abstract of it having been laid before both houses of Parliament one calendar month previously.
Parliament was not sitting at the time and this condition, therefore, was not fulfilled.
How far that flaw affects the validity of selectors titles based on the proclamation of the reserve is an interesting question for those immediately concerned.
There are some other points in this evidence to which we shall refer.