Squatters [28 May 1845]

[Editor: An article regarding the problems of squatters in colonial Australia. Published in Geelong Advertiser, and Squatters’ Advocate, 28 May 1845.]


There is something uncouth to “ears polite,” in the term “Squatters,” and there are actually persons who believe in the truth of the caricatures which have been drawn of them and their habits. Our English readers will have some difficulty in comprehending us, when we assure them that the Squatters are neither more nor less than “country gentlemen,” differing from the same class at home, only in respect to the treatment which they receive at the hands of government. In England the country gentleman occupies the highest rank, and enjoys the greatest privileges amongst commoners; while in Port Phillip, he is treated as a serf unworthy of the meanest political privilege, and his whole property is placed at the arbitrary disposal of, it may be, a petty tyrant, acting under the orders of a tyrant-general. When they seek for a redress of grievances, they are taunted with their anomalous position; and when they ask for a change in such position, they are denounced as unreasonable and factious. The state of society in New South Wales is, we will venture to say, without a parallel on the face of the whole globe; it would seem as if there were some truth in the theory that this half of the world is really upside down; for certain it is that the measures of the government are of a topsey-turvey character. This is especially the case with the electoral franchise, which excludes nine-tenths of the wealth and intelligence of the population, and embraces within its sacred limits some, we must say, very equivocal characters, with no doubt many redeeming exceptions. Still the system is bad, and it is with systems, not men, we have to deal.

The country gentleman, in this colony, is a squatter, because the government will not allow him to occupy the land in any other capacity; the absurd land regulations acting as a prohibition to purchasing. Whenever this absurd state of affairs is remedied (and remedied it will be, if justice prevails) the race of squatters will cease to exist; they will have become settlers — (At present the two names are, alas! of widely different meanings). Whenever that shall be the case; the “occupation” of the “Squatter’s Advocate” will be “gone,” and we are quite serious in protesting that we shall, by every means in our power, endeavour to cut our existence as short as possible!

Geelong Advertiser, and Squatters’ Advocate (Geelong, Vic.), 28 May 1845, p. 1

Editor’s notes:
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)

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