Squatting Landscapes in South-Eastern Australia (1820–1895)

12th November 2013

Iain Stuart

PhD, Prehistory and Historical Archaeology, University of Sydney, Sydney, January 2000

This thesis applies the cultural landscape concept to the history of squatting (sheep and cattle farming on Crown Land outside the limits of location) in south eastern Australia to revisit the question of squatting and the land question in Australia. Using the techniques of historical archaeology as applied to cultural landscapes the thesis aims to examine the engagement between squatters and the landscape.

After reviewing the history of the cultural landscape concept, the thesis proceeds along two lines of inquiry. Firstly, it discusses the history of squatting at the broad level seeking to understand the overall processes that created squatting landscapes. Secondly, it develops landscape studies on two squatting runs, Lanyon and Cuppacumbalong (located near Australia’s capital city Canberra that was not constructed until 1911). Lanyon is studied as an example of pioneering and establishing squatting runs. Cuppacumbalong is studies as an example of maintaining the squatting run over a period of time against broad processes such as economic fluctuations and the mid to late 1800s selection movement.

The overview of the history of squatting argues that while the main driving force of squatting was the economics of the wool industry which, in collision with the Colonial Government’s land policy produced the phenomena of wholesale illegal occupation of Crown Land across much of south eastern Australia. The settlement pattern created was driven by the occupation of grassy plains suitable for sheep farming. However, despite their insecure hold on the land the squatters strove to create buildings structures and landscapes that were expressions of their respectability. This respectability aided them in their struggle for security and conversion of squatting runs into secure leasehold. This security was challenged by the selection movement that aimed to create small farms for respectable and hard-working ‘yeoman’ farmers. The methods chosen by Government to promote selection varied over time and from State to State but shared a general idealistic view of the economies of small farming and ignorance of the environment.

Selection pitted the squatter and selector in a conflict to attain the same ideals of respectability and domesticity often on the same piece of land. This explains the often-ambiguous attitude of the squatter at times bitterly opposing selection but also often seeking accommodation with selectors. The nature of the conflict between squatter and selector was mediated through Crown Land statutes and regulations and this gives rise to the form of the cultural landscape in many areas.

Research into Lanyon resulted in a substantial review of the established view of Lanyon as a landscape of ‘captive labour’ to one where evidence of coercion in the landscape does not exist. The owner of Lanyon at the time James Wright is shown to have initially attempted to coerce his convicts but later seems to have come to another (unknown) arrangement to ensure their productive work. Wright was caught in the 1840s depression and became insolvent but was able to husband his estate sufficiently to establish himself on his squatting run at Cuppacumbalong (part of the Lanyon estate).

Cuppacumbalong was sold by Wright to the de Salis family in 1855. Detailed analysis of the squatter/selector conflict is undertaken using the Conditional purchase records, the diary of George de Salis and the landscape itself. This shows how the patriarch of the family, the Hon. Leopold Fane de Salis (MLC), husbanded his estate to create a freehold estate out of the squatting run. This was done by a mixture of using family and dummies to select important areas of the estate (the flats) that gave the family control of the most economically valuable parts of the land. From this base, de Salis was able to ‘quarantine’ hostile selectors and accommodate ‘friendly selectors’.

As Leopold de Salis operated through the provisions of the various Crown Land Acts (which he as an MP was able to shape), he along with the selectors was forced to ‘improve’ the land. This involved erections of residences (huts), fencing and clearing. From the conditional purchase records, it is clear that the bulk of the improvements went into ring barking and clearing the land. Thus the creation of squatting landscape in this case was a complex interaction of the desires of the de Salis’ to maintain their estate, the desires of selectors to create small farms, the Lands Acts and their regulations and the environment. Overall the thesis concludes that in understand squatting and squatting landscapes both the broad process that shaped the development of squatting and the individual responses to the process need to be understood in order to break free from historical cliches and to paint a rich picture of Australian history.

Stuart, I.
Squatting Landscapes in South-Eastern Australia (1820–1895)
Thesis Abstracts
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