[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
A well-nigh extinct specimen.
Angus Cameron was one of the few squatters left in Australia who, after a pastoral career of forty years, was able to boast that he had never owed the banks a sixpence. When the Act of 1861 gave the Pastoralists of New South Wales one of two alternatives, Cameron, then a station-holder in the parent colony, decided to move on in preference to selling his manhood to the banks and his soul to the devil in securing his lease-hold by means of dummying.
Still following out the squatter’s true destiny, he eventually found himself owner of Isis Downs, where, thanks to climatic influences and distance from any of the land-grant lines, he was still practically left alone both by selectors and the Government. Thoroughly long-headed in the management of both sheep and cattle, and with neither money sunk in land nor interest on borrowed capital to cripple him, Cameron had for years been a comparatively rich man. On paper, safe investments amounting to £30,000, and a net return from the station of £2,000, certainly did look paltry beside a Riverina freehold valued at £300,000, with a rent-roll of £30,000 a year; but when it is remembered that the return from the Riverina property barely paid interest on the mortgages rendered necessary to create it, and that Isis Downs owed no man a shilling, it will be seen that Angus Cameron had little, if any, the worst of the deal.
On the introduction of the Act of 1861 — a measure avowedly to enable an industrious class of farmers to settle on the lands of New South Wales — members of Parliament who had been elected as friends of the landless poor strained every nerve to provide efficient weapons by which squatters could defeat and ruin the very men they had pledged themselves to protect. Filled with an insatiable land-hunger, the whole community wallowed in every kind of dishonesty. False declarations were made daily alike by squatters and selectors. Fraud, perjury, subornation, and bribery were universal. Any man who refused to do as his neighbour did, or to lend his name to a lie when wanted, incurred certainty of social enmity. Truth and honour ceased to be considered virtues in dealings connected with the public lands. And in this fearful wreck of national honour the individual squatter disappeared for ever. In his stead shadowy syndicates sprang into life from among the festering garbage of broken oaths and shameless trickery which now permeated the whole land system of the colonies. Stations grew larger and fewer; millions of improved acres became as complete a blank in respect to human existence and national well-being as a mangrove-swamp or a worked-out mine. All signs both of family life and local wealth disappeared. Of the thousands of bales of wool and flocks of wethers sent off these properties, in many instances not the value of a sheep skin remained in the colonies; as improvements were extended, both the management and labour were economized, so that upon millions of acres homestead life was represented only in the shape of a meagre cottage for the manager, and a filthy, pot-house hovel outside the horse-paddock.
A well-known land expert writing in 1893 thus describes a town in the richest pastoral district of New South Wales: ‘A Riverina town frozen in by station purchases, with a peacocked paddock held in the name of an English loan company at the end of every street, and no sign of rural or suburban life.’
The same writer, referring to the old squatters of Queensland, says: ‘There are no such squatters now. In country taken up lately, the universal system of absentee business ownership, the enormous holdings in the hands of financial bodies, and the employment of the native police, have impressed one common character upon frontier relations with the blacks; namely, that of irresponsible, callous cruelty.’ In Queensland in 1954 the aboriginals had practically dropped out of the question. Rum, opium, and prostitution had, to all intents and purposes, swept them out of existence. All else touched on by this old writer had, however, become intensified not only in Queensland, but throughout the whole of Australia. The bank crashes and universal depression of the year 1893 had brought land matters to a crisis, and now, with of course the exceptions which must naturally in all cases occur, pastoral and agricultural Australia lay bound and helpless in the hands of bowelless foreign syndicates, who squeezed out her life-blood, and gave nothing in exchange save a hopeless race of utterly worthless, if nominally cheap, jackaroos, and an equally hopeless and cheap, though less useless, horde of alien labourers.
To again quote a passage applicable to the whole of inland Australia: ‘It is certain that in the western half of New South Wales it would be impossible for purposes of defence to enroll a single squadron of Bush cavalry mounted on their own horses.’ Such was the state of affairs which obtained in Australia in September, 1954, intensified so far as the North was concerned by land-grant railway syndicates and unlimited coolie and Japanese labour.
As Cameron was his own master, he only employed white men; but while refusing to cut down wages, he as firmly declined to be dictated to by the unions. Still, such was his general character for hospitality and straight-dealing that he remained popular with both capital and labour. No swagsman was ever refused rations and a ‘doss’ in the travellers’ hut at Isis Downs, and no stranger could ever say that he had been turned away from the head-station, though many a one discovered that it was far easier to get into old Cameron’s house than to get out of it. They didn’t dress for dinner at Isis Downs. As its owner said: ‘Men can’t carry dress-clothes droving, and I don’t care to adopt the plan of the Bathurst potentate who bought up a job lot so that he might be able to provide guests who came unprepared.’ Neither did they provide lady’s-maids. On one occasion this caused serious inconvenience to a visitor. This young lady’s father, from being a draper in a small way, suddenly developed into a Southern wool king. Intent on gaining an entrèe into English society, the eminent financier had just concluded an arrangement with an embarrassed member of the aristocracy, whereby, in consideration of the payment of all his debts and a liberal income, the needy one undertook to face his relations with the squatter’s daughter. The young lady, in the course of her ‘starring engagement,’ chanced upon Isis Downs, where she electrified Heather by requesting the loan of her maid.
‘I assure you, dear,’ said she, ‘I don’t really know how to dress myself.’
‘She never did, poor girl!’ laughed Cameron when he heard of it; ‘but I little thought that when she used to look so dowdy in the store she was only working out an aristocratic destiny.’
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 156-160