Squatters Productive Of Much Evil

The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal

3 December 1836

The system of squatting, or taking unauthorised possession of Crown lands, it will be seen, by the following evidence, is productive of much evil in New South Wales.

This system, unless our land regulations are remodelled, will, before long, find its advocates in this Colony, and will be introduced on the borders of our Settlement.

The process of English law at present in force in the Colony of New South Wales by which intruders are removed from Crown lands, is much too tedious to meet the extensive mischief represented to prevail there.

An application is about to be made to the Colonial Legislature for a more expeditious process, when His Excellency the Governor has intimated his intention of promulgating an arrangement for authorising a temporary occupation of Crown lands, to be let on lease, by persons from whom no aggression on the property of others can be apprehended.

The arrangement will embrace the occupation of lands beyond the limits of location, but within such bounds as the Government shall determine:

Extract of the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee of the Legislative Council, on Police.

T.A. Murray, Esq., J P., called in and examined:

There are several parties of squatters in my neighbourhood.

I detected, not long since, three men at one of their stations slaughtering one of my own cattle.

I have strong reason to suspect that these people are, in general, illicit sellers of spirits.

I had occasion to search one of their huts some time ago, at a considerable distance from my own place, and found in it many signs of its being a "grog-shop," such as an empty keg, empty bottles, and measures (the latter, however, might have been used for ordinary purposes as well as for measuring spirits), together with a number of order's drawn by overseers of large establishments in the neighbourhood on the proprietors for small sums of money, but amounting in all to about one hundred pounds.

The owner of the hut had no ostensible means whatever of getting these orders honestly.

I can, of course, say nothing of this man's character from my own observation, having never seen or heard of him before; but I have not the slightest doubt, judging from the circumstances observed on this, occasion, of the correctness of the common report of his being a "notorious grog-seller."

Many of the small settlers are also in the habit of selling spirits; but it is most difficult to obtain proof against them.

I consider that the greater part of the crimes committed in the interior arise from the sale of spirits; many persons dispose of it in quantities not less than two gallons at a time, thereby avoiding the penalty for retailing without a license.

This large quantity is obtained by a number of convicts and other servants clubbing together for its purchase.

W. H. Dutton, Esq., J P.:-

I regret to add, that there can be but little doubt of the fact of food and shelter being readily afforded to bushrangers, in many instances, in this district by squatters, and the facility with which men becoming free can, as such, occupy Crown lands in the immediate vicinity of their former masters, or as ticket-of-leave holders, hiring themselves as labourers and stock keepers with squatters already established, has become a source of great and increasing evil.

These persons are invariably the instigators and promoters of crime-receivers of stolen property illegal venders of ardent spirits, and harbourers of runaways, bushrangers and vagrants,

The congeniality of habits between master and man, the absence of all restraint, and the predatory life they lead, whilst collecting stolen cattle, has a charm for them which even considerably higher wages in the service of respectable employers will not induce them to quit.

They keep up a constant intercourse with our assigned servants, and, knowing the weak points of each establishment, seize their opportunity and commit depredations, particularly on cattle, with impunity.

I am convinced that all these petty pilferings occurring on our properties might be traced, directly or indirectly, to the agency of these squatters.

I would strongly recommend the necessity of placing all unauthorised occupants of Crown lands under the surveillance of the various Benches.

Let each occupant be imperatively required to produce certificates as to character, signed by not less than two magistrates. He should also be obliged to state the intended nature of his pursuits, and prove, to the satisfaction of the Bench, that he has the means of earning his livelihood honestly in the avocation he purposes to follow.

These certificates might be renewed annually.

At the same time it is necessary that power should be given the magistrates to eject all persons from Crown lands whose conduct is proved to be disorderly or suspicious.