Section 4 [From Phillip to McKell, by Rex Ingamells]

[Editor: This is section 4 of From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia (1949) by Rex Ingamells.]

Golden democracy

W. C. Wentworth and the son of John Macarthur, leaders respectively of Emancipists and Exclusives, appeared on the same public platform in a campaign to keep cheap convict labour in the face of the movement to end transportation. The face of society had changed through free immigration and the increase of native-born; and earlier strifes became small issues, during the late thirties, in a society in which workers of town and country were backed by city merchants in demanding that the stigma of convictism be removed from the community. In 1841, there were 101,749 free citizens and only 26,977 convicts. Transportation to the mainland ceased in 1840, and to Van Dieman’s Land, now called Tasmania, in 1853.

Loss of the battle over transportation did not, however, dislodge the squatters from the dominant place in colonial life. Development towards self-government in New South Wales, from the Advisory Council of 1823 and the Council empowered to veto the Governor’s decisions, in 1828, to the two-thirds elective Legislative Council of 1842, was decidedly in the pastoral rather than the popular interest. From the economic depression which followed stoppage of transportation, the squatters, thanks to brilliant measures inspired by Wentworth in the Council, emerged secure. They stood as a solid bloc in the way of hundreds of would-be small landholders, and entrenched themselves deep in the country’s future economy by securing, in 1847, the right to buy any portions of their leases at £1 an acre. This enabled them to “peacock” their runs, pick the eyes out of the land, by buying up the watering places and rendering the rest of their holdings useless to others.

In 1850, the Imperial Parliament passed the Australian Colonies Government Act, making Port Phillip District a separate Colony, under the name of Victoria; conferring Legislative Councils, two-thirds elective, upon Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania; giving the five Colonies the power to set up their own Constitutions. Western Australia’s decision to take convicts, which she did from 1850-67, retarded her advance to responsible government until 1890; but all the other States had gained this before 1860.

Meanwhile, Edward Hargreaves’ discovery of gold near Bathurst, in 1851, started a train of discoveries in New South Wales, and particularly in Victoria, which eclipsed recent interest in the lost explorer, Leichhardt, and in a decade attracted nearly three-quarters of a million newcomers, mostly British, to Australia. There was a leavening of European liberals, English Chartists and Irish Rebels, who were to be a force in the ferment of Australian democracy, both on the diggings and after. Such people strengthened digger resentment against hard license regulations, and fostered the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, which, although quickly suppressed, won popular and Government recognition of the miners’ case; and such people, resenting the economic might of the squatter, clear for all to see when the glitter of gold had faded, were to assure that government should not be a monopoly of wealth. The White Australia Policy, given form half a century later, was a legacy of the Gold Rush period, when 42,000 Chinese presented forceful communities of competition among Victorian camps alone.

The Rushes which, at the outset, robbed squatters and farmers of labour, nevertheless helped the growth of the wool and wheat industries by necessitating more scientific methods, and providing, as the fever passed, a greater labour source. Australian sheep increased from 16 to 20 millions in the ten years. In less than that time, the area under cultivation doubled. Ships bringing immigrants competed for cargoes for the return to Europe, increasing the profits of primary producers in the Colonies. The price of wool in Europe rose over the ten years, but wages in the Colonies, soaring in 1851, had fallen considerably by 1857.

Fellow feeling among the working classes was heightened in this period, and Trade Unionism, the seeds of which had been planted earlier among free artisans in Sydney, was stimulated. In 1856, the Builders’ Eight Hour Day was established in Melbourne.

Railways, projected in 1846, were encouraged by the Rushes, so that in 1854 and 1855 respectively, the Port Melbourne and Parramatta lines were opened. Telegraphic communication was established between Sydney and Melbourne in 1858. Practically the only colonial-wide setback over the decade was sustained by manufacturers, who could not compete with imports brought by constant shipping.

When the gold petered out, most of the immigrant diggers stayed in Australia. Many carried swags, and democratic argument, in the Outback. Successors of these ex-diggers, travelling from shearing-shed to shearing-shed in later decades of the century, were to form their Unions and stage their Strikes. In the meantime, the Robertson land legislation of 1861 in New South Wales was devised to make available to small farming proprietors some of the large tracts of land the leases of which to the squatters ran out that year. With variations, it was copied by Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. The effect of such legislation, however, owing to poor administration, was to transform the squatters concerned into big freehold agriculturalists upon the choicest land, while many of the small men secured barren selections which they failed to farm. The sheep industry was pushed further back into the country.

Victoria instituted Protection in 1866, following a campaign by David Syme, proprietor of The Age, Melbourne newspaper, to encourage manufacturers; and, as a result, the number of Victorian factory hands, in 1874, as compared with 1864, was quadrupled. But it was not long before Free Trade New South Wales overtook and passed Victoria in industrial progress. Troubles hung upon the protective policy, for it brought a train of border restrictions among the Colonies. New South Wales found it necessary to impose revenue tariffs, but, set in the counsel of Henry Parkes, remained essentially Free Trade until Federation, and Commonwealth adoption of Protection.

During the second half of the Nineteenth Century, Australian colonization acquired a general cohesion. Western Australia remained geographically isolated, but the fantastic dash of Eyre, in 1840, from Port Augusta to Perth, provided a closer psychological link with the eastern Colonies. The explorers, Gregory and the Forrest brothers, opened up new districts for settlement in the West, and in the late eighties and early nineties the Kimberley and Coolgardie goldfields boomed. Expeditions of Sturt towards the centre of the continent, in 1844, and Stuart from Adelaide to the Indian Ocean, in 1862, happier in result than the tragic journey of Burke and Wills of 1860, provided the groundwork for the building of the Overland Telegraph, completed in 1872. This, bringing four Australian cities in cable communication with the outside world, at the Darwin terminal, was the one indubitable achievement of the South Australian administration of the Northern Territory, undertaken in 1863.

Factory Acts, Education Acts, the establishment of Australian Universities, William Farrer’s development of rust-resisting wheat, the sinking of artesian bores, the freezing of meat for export, the discovery of silver at Broken Hill . . . These and other matters contributed to the quickening and development of Australian life and character. The economic crisis and Bank Smash of the early nineties, following a period of over-investment, forced a slowing down in developmental programmes. Strikes had proved insufficient instruments for Labour advance, so Labour turned to political action for seeking the conditions it wanted in industry, having a notable influence in New South Wales legislation even before Federation.

In the nineties, The Bulletin writers, outstanding among whom was Henry Lawson, evidenced strongly and romantically the development of an Australian sentiment; but consciousness of the need for a united defence policy was the chief factor inducing the Colonies to federate. Queensland’s annexation of Papua, in 1883, and the undertaking of the other Colonies to contribute to its administration demonstrated the practical Australian outlook on the defence question.

Parkes was the chief protagonist in the movement which led to Federation. A series of conferences between the Colonies occurred from 1883-98, in which the programme slowly ripened. Finally, in 1900, the Imperial Parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, and Federation was realized on 1 January 1901. Federal legislation was vested in a Governor-General, appointed by the Crown, an elected Senate and an elected House of Representatives. Broadly speaking, powers entrusted to the Commonwealth concerned defence, customs, post and telegraph services, navigation and fisheries, marriage and divorce, bills of exchange and promissory notes, coinage, copyrights and patents, external affairs, and such other matters as might be approved by States concerned.

Rex Ingamells, From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia, Jindyworobak Publications: Melbourne, 1949, [pages 20-26]

Editor’s notes:
Outback = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback” (variations: out back, outback, out-back, Out Back, Outback)

peacock = to “peacock” is to engage in “peacocking”, i.e. to pick out the best parts of a land area; with the introduction of laws enabling “free-selection” of land in the 1860s, which opened up public lands for sale, including those lands that squatters had previously leased, squatters could carefully select the best areas of their land (especially sections encompassing creeks, rivers, and waterholes), thus rendering other areas virtually useless for farming, and therefore stopping potential purchasers from buying up parts of the squatter’s land; the Border Mail (Albury) said that “As the square mile can be taken up in forty-acre allotments, every five square miles may have, at the option of the squatter, sixteen “eyes,” and the holder of an area of 20,000 acres can have as many “eyes” as Argus spread over the run like a peacock’s tail”
See: ““Peacocking” a run”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 30 August 1875, p. 4 [includes text from the Border Mail]

selection = an area of land obtained by free-selection; land owned by a “selector”

squatter = in the context of Australian history, a squatter was originally someone who kept their livestock (mostly cattle and sheep) upon Crown land without permission to do so (thus illegally occupying land, or “squatting”); however, the practice became so widespread that eventually the authorities decided to formalise it by granting leases or licenses to occupy or use the land; and, with the growth of the Australian economy, many of the squatters became quite rich, and the term “squatter” came to refer to someone with a large amount of farm land (they were often regarded as rich and powerful)

swag = a swagman’s bundle, being a number of personal belongings rolled up in a piece of calico, tent-fly, or blanket, secured tightly together (e.g. with rope or straps), or placed inside a cloth bag (such as a flour sack); swags were hung from the shoulder, making them easy to carry whilst their owners tramped many miles; a swag was also commonly referred to as a “bluey” (from the colour of the blankets, which were often blue), “drum”, or “Matilda”

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