Squatters and Squatting

The Sydney Monitor

16 May 1835

There was a good article on the difficult subject of squatting in the Gazette lately. Since our visit in Argyle, we have become more acquainted with squatters and squatting.

We have seen some of the places which are occupied by squatters, and the persons who squat on them.

The squatter is generally a freed man, sometimes a ticket-of-leave-man, who, under the colour of a very small paddock of wheat miserably fenced, earns a livelihood for self and family, and amasses property by stealing horned cattle, to which is added, (if he live by the road-side) the selling of ardent spirits secretly, or, as it is called, "on the sly."

But there are other squatters, say one in half a dozen, who live by honest industry; of these some are labouring men, who live by splitting timber and setting it up on the farms of their wealthy neighbours in the shape of fences, posts, and rails; and some are gentlemen, who have not yet been able either to select their land, or who have not yet obtained such land as they have selected and wish to purchase.

To pass a law therefore, utterly to abolish squatting, would be unjust, for it would be punishing the meritorious for the sake of the undeserving.

On the other hand, to permit cattle stealers & sly grog sellers to settle in every district by the dozen and score, and to annoy their neighbours by their had conduct, the terror of the honest settlers, the same as the gypsies of England, or the Rob Roys of Scotland do, or used to do, is equally unjust to the meritorious portion of the farmers in New South Wales.

It has always appeared to us, that in order to squat, that is, in order to have a right to reside for a longer or shorter time on a piece of Crown land, the party so doing ought to be compelled to take out a licence from the nearest Bench of Magistrate.

And it should be the duty of those Magistrates to grant licences only to persons of good character. It should not be rendered necessary that Squatters should renew their licences oftener than once a year, but it should be competent for the Magistrates to summon any Squatter before it at any time, and to interrogate him on such points as they may wish to be informed, and in case his answers are not satisfactory, to give him notice (say one month) to quit.

 And it should be made competent for the same Bench to use force to make him quit at the end of the month, by pulling down his bark hut in case he refuse to quit voluntarily.

It is notorious, that the Squatters throughout the Colony have become owners, suddenly, of whole herds of cattle; yet having no apparent means except those of purloining, of becoming possessed so suddenly of such cattle.

A Squatter is to the Grazier something like what the native dog is to the sheep-holder.

There are several modes practiced by dexterous and experienced Squatters in stealing cattle.

One is, to watch an opportunity of taking his own tame cows (previously stolen perhaps), to the place where the fat heifers, or bullocks, or horses, of his neighbour are known to graze at the time, and driving them off by moonlight, every night, until they reach Sydney.

The horned cattle are sold to the the buchers; the horses kept until shipped off to Van Diemen's Land. But the more common and extensive depredation of the experenced Squatter is, to drive, away cows which are just ready to calve, and to keep them in ravines, gullies, and mountains, until the calves be ready to wean.

The calves are afterwards driver to the general herd and branded. The mothers finding themselves deprived of their calves, generally make away for their old quarters whence they were stolen.

The owner is glad to see his cow return, but is sorry to see her return without her calf.

A Squatter who is dexterous, by depriving his twenty neighbours of half a dozen calves a-piece every year, finds himself at the end of three or four years, as great a cattle owner as any of them. And no one can swear to his cattle?