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    South Australia - Northern Lands Development and Allied Matters

    Comments on Goyder's Line

    Squatters, Farmers and Closer Settlement

    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)

    Our legislation has brought the people here, crowded them together, and put the land - the sole source of their supplies - beyond their reach. A consequence of this is that many of the poor in this country are so caged up with vice and poverty that it is almost as improbable for them to be virtuous as it would be if they were in the worst dens of London.
    (Observer, 28 March 1868, page 12, 16 May 1868, page 7.)

    Land Anomalies - 1837 to 1838

    The Resident Commissioner and the Surveyor-General, in opening the work of the new colony, had first to order and arrange the survey of the City of Adelaide and the preliminary districts, extending from the city down to Cape Jervis, in which the preliminary land orders (mostly held by absentees) might be first exercised. No other country land was open for selection until the end of the first quarter of the year 1838, which was two years after the colony was proclaimed. The size of all sections up to this time was to suit the preliminary land orders, viz., 134 acres.

    After the best sections had been chosen, those rejected were cut up into 80-acre sections and 'green slips', as they were called; it was then that the 80-acre land orders could be exercised. As was natural, all the best sections as to quality of land, supply of water, or locality, were absorbed by the representatives of the preliminary land-order holders. The authorities had no power to place bona fide farmers on sections, although purchased and paid for in England, until after preliminary selections had been made.

    A further great evil arose - the commencement of land speculation by applications for special surveys of 15,000 acres, out of each of which after survey 4,000 acres could be selected and obtained at 1 an acre - thus, the number of absentee proprietors was further increased and the surveying and opening free districts for selection to bona fide applicants, for land for immediate agricultural operations, was hindered further. In consequence, the inhabitants were, for the first three years, wholly dependent on importations of flour and grain from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), at one time at the cost from 80 to 100 a ton. The parliament and government of the Mother Country must be justly blamed for the short-sighted and parsimonious policy they adopted in launching the colony, thereby leading to the most serious of the colony's first troubles.

    When the Act of Incorporation was granted it was stipulated that it should not be in force until the sum of 35,000 was realised by sale of land, and an additional of 20,000 by the issue and sale of South Australian bonds, and that amount invested in British funds 'as a guarantee that the colony would at no time be a charge on the Mother Country.' The negotiation of these bonds at such a time was, as a matter of course, a losing transaction. The treatment accorded to us may be termed, justly, as step-motherly. For such hard terms, the gentlemen on the committee for establishing the colony worked hard for three years, and at last accepted them on finding there was no prospect of obtaining more liberal treatment. Thus arose the necessity for the forced sales of land in London, at a reduced price. The South Australian Company, and a few fortunate private individuals, took advantage of the preliminary sale in England, and thus was created an absentee proprietary. These preliminary sections near Adelaide cost only 12 shillings an acre, with one town acre thrown into each.

    I do not desire to cast blame on the fortunate purchasers who came forward to invest their cash in a speculation, which was treated by the authorities as a wild scheme, but to explain the primary mistakes which resulted in the unfortunate crisis of 1839-40. The early settlers who had invested their capital in legitimate pursuits suffered great losses. The delays in obtaining land suitable for agricultural purposes caused many to adopt other pursuits, but when the crisis approached, and after flour had attained the unheard-of price of 8 to 10 a bag, many of those who had any means left returned to the pursuit they joined the colony to embark in, although in most instances with greatly diminished means.

    The Pastoral Era - Introduction

    There are hundreds of unlicensed squatters on the Crown lands within ten miles of Adelaide, who have huts, productive gardens, and milch cows, to the great loss of the honest occupiers of the purchased land in their neighbourhood.
    (SA Gazette & Mining Journal, 30 August 1849, page 2.)

    Prior to 1851 squatters held their runs on the uncertain tenure of an annual licence for which they paid a fee of ten pounds, irrespective of the area of the land upon which their sheep and cattle were depastured. They could lose their runs every time their licences expired, while in the interim period their holdings could be cut up into sections and sold without any prior notice.

    All improvements on the runs were made at their own risk and if they built shepherds' huts, or expended any money in preparing permanent watering places for stock, they were liable to have the said land put up to auction and sold without any recompense. Thus, in such circumstances they had no alternative other than sacrifice all that which had been accomplished, or enter into competition for the purchase of the land - the improvements they had made were paid for a second time!

    The new regulations which came into force in 1851 provided that all land not within Hundreds could be leased for pastoral purposes for a term of 14 years thus ensuring that a lessee could not be deprived of his run during that period as long as the lease conditions were complied with - These provided for an annual rental from ten shillings to one pound per square mile, payable in advance.

    The Farmers Occupy the Land

    The Border-land newspapers are warning us of an evil exodus from this colony... 'Ride through the Penola country and northwards as far as the land is sold and you will find it has all been quickly swallowed up by the owners of the various runs... and is undisturbed except by the bleating of sheep, enlivened occasionally by a solitary boundary rider or a miserable tramp, who ekes out a wretched existence travelling from station to station begging for his daily bread.'


    In the 1860s, and the following decade, a persistent cry was abroad about the alleged insidious and ongoing robbing of the 'people's land' by squatters, and this agitation was so persistent in town and country, there arose a pressing and overwhelming movement for resumption of pastoral leases and agricultural extension.

    It was claimed that rain would follow the plough but, in the years ahead, those who attempted to farm outside of Goyder's line of rainfall were to learn that the plough, in the majority of seasons, would look in vain for the rain. A voluble reporter envisaged this embryonic Pandora's box being 'tickled into an abundant harvest and bearing on its breasts thousands of smiling homesteads of a well contented class of yeomanry, who [would] make South Australia a giant among these British colonies.'

    There were several factors which led to this indiscriminate quest for arable land; firstly, in districts such as that extending from Aldinga through McLaren Vale to Willunga the soil had become 'wheat sick' through over-cropping and, accordingly, those farmers whose cash flow had diminished sought greener pastures in the vast virgin lands to the north; secondly, the government was concerned at the exodus of farmers to the Wimmera district of Victoria and were intent on stopping the outflow of both farmers and capital; thirdly, the State's coffers could only benefit from revenue generated by the sale of land.

    Another cause of concern to many farmers was the system of leasing maintained by the South Australian Company and some other landlords which contributed to general dissatisfaction; for example:

    The company is disliked here for the same reason that absentee and rack-renting landlords are hated by the people of Ireland. The SA Company is an absentee corporation without a body to be kicked or a soul to be damned; it is purely a money-making machine.

    For the past 65 years it has preyed on the vitals of this State and will probably continue to do so until the crack of doom unless it is taxed out of existence by a material increase of the absentee land and income taxes.

    The conservative forces had both negative and positive argument against any change in the colonial land system - they consoled themselves with the reflection that reform was impracticable, that there could be no free selection without 'dummies' and no conditions of settlement that could not be evaded. Indeed, their creed was that by no law could capital be deprived of, what was defined by colonial gentry and capitalists of the day, its 'natural power'.

    The reformers themselves only asked that a fair trial be given to a certain principle - they did not guarantee it against practical difficulties or abuses, but undertook to grapple with them as they arose. Accordingly, Mr Strangways scheme, introduced into parliament late in 1868, had the constituent elements of free selection, deferred payments, classification and conditions of settlement. All of these had been offered previously to the parliament in isolated forms and refused. Indeed, the classification of the first Ayers scheme, for instance, was encumbered with an impracticable system of tender.

    Closer Settlement

    It is the usual fate of mortals to pass through the most momentous period of history without any due realisation of the magnitude of the scene before them, or any correct conception of a future which is always foreshadowed by a present. Never did this colony more urgently require wise statesmanship and a bold, comprehensive policy than now...
    (Register, 29 April 1874, page 7.)

    Following heated debate in the House of Assembly, and the introduction of a wealth of amendments in the Legislative Council, the Bill was finally passed early in 1869 and in that year Georgetown was one of the first towns surveyed to service land subdivided for closer settlement and, being within Goyder's line, was destined to flourish despite a satirical opinion of the infant settlement passed in 1875:

    The development of other arable districts with proven reliable rainfall surrounding towns like Anama, Euromina and Canowie was aborted by affluent pastoralists buying the land to the detriment of others who lacked the requisite capital. Thus, following amendments to 'Strangways Act', by 1874 Goyder's line was breached, new Hundreds and towns were surveyed and a great land rush began and it was not halted until Hundreds were created as far north as Blinman. The first town created outside Goyder's line was Pekina in 1875 followed by Orroroo and Wilmington in 1876.

    Thus, the migration of farmers was checked and demand for land for agricultural purposes grew with such astonishing rapidity that it became difficult for the surveyors to keep pace with the requirements of purchasers. Unfortunately, however, the work of unlocking the lands soon came to be overdone because, as the number of selectors grew, the clamour for more concessions and more land increased. Consequently, side by side with the advance of bona-fide settlement, there sprang up a passion for land speculation.

    Many men who had taken up their 640 acres were able, after getting two or three magnificent crops, to sell out their holdings for up to five pounds an acre, and thus acquire a competency. Many of them invested money in more remote selections, hoping to keep alive the game of making money. In due time, however, retribution came.

    The available country within the districts ordinarily visited by a regular rainfall became exhausted, but instead of this checking the demand, the cry arose that the land beyond must be opened up, and the size of selections increased from 640 to 1,000 acres.

    It so happened that for a year or two the seasons were propitious and the notion gained currency that the rain followed the plough and that there was no climatic limit to the extension northward of agricultural settlement. Unhappily this theory has not stood the test of time for the number of lean years exceeds that of fat years and selectors have been reduced to the sorest straits:

    Nothing, indeed, could have been more injurious than the infatuation which carried settlers into districts absolutely unsuited for wheat growing, although well enough adapted for pastoral purposes. An industry for which the country was suited was driven out to make way for one for which it was not and the inevitable result was individual failure and national disaster. For years the ears of parliament were assailed by appeals for concessions which were granted.

    General Notes

    The intrusion into lands outside Goyder's line in respect of pastoralists and wheat-farmers and the effects of that intrusion and latter events may be studied, in part, from the following references - Register,
    15 March 1877, page 7a,
    9 and 19 April 1877, pages 4e and 6e,
    12 May 1877, pages 4d-6d,
    23 and 26 June 1877, pages 4d and 4e,
    20 July 1877, page 7d,
    4, 11 and 27 August 1877, pages 4d, 6f and 7a.

    Also see Register,
    5 November 1877, page 6d,
    10 (supp.) and 19 November 1877), pages 3d and 6d,
    9 January 1878, page 6c,
    6 May 1878, 6g (police protection),
    17 June 1878, page 7b,
    9 November 1878, page 6a,
    11 December 1878, page 6g,
    16 January 1879, page 5g,
    9 April 1880, page 4c,
    9 and 10 August 1880, pages 7b,
    12 November 1880 (supp.), page 1f,
    2 February 1881, page 6g,
    15 February 1881 (supp.), page 1d,
    13 and 26 April 1881, pages 7d and 1e (supp.),
    10 June 1881, page 7c,
    8 August 1882, page 1f (supp.).

    "The Line of Rainfall and the Land Act" is in the Observer,
    9 May 1874, page 3d,
    "Goyder's Line" in the Express,
    5 January 1906, page 4a,
    13 January 1906, page 9b,
    "Goyder's Line - How a Famous Boundary Was Delineated" in The Mail,
    2 April 1927, page 1b,
    "Goyder's Rainfall Line" in the Chronicle,
    12 and 19 September 1935, pages 7 and 6.

    "A Voice from the Northern Areas" is in the Register,
    4 October 1881, page 6e.

    Also see Register, 24 November 1881, page 6d-e -
    from this date until the end of March 1882 there is all but daily reference to this subject.

    A series of comprehensive and informative articles under the heading "The Agricultural Outlook in the North" is in the Register in 1882 - 21, 23, 24, 25, 28 February and 1, 6, 7, 8, 11, 16, 17, 21, 23, 27, 29 and 30 March:

    A threatened exodus of farmers and latter events are reported in the Register,
    8, 14, 15, 17 and 22 August 1882, pages 4f, 6f, 6e, 6g and 5b,
    2, 11, 12 and 27 September 1882, pages 1g (supp.), 6g, 6b and 6c:

    Also see 27 and 28 October 1882, pages 1b (supp.) and 1f (supp.),
    18 November 1882, page 6f,
    6, 10 and 29 December 1882, pages 1f (supp.), 7c and 7f,
    1 and 10 January 1883, pages 7e and 1d (supp.),
    25 January 1883, page 5g,
    6 and 10 February 1883, pages 7c and 2a (supp.),
    31 March 1883, page 6d,
    19 May 1883, page 5b,
    19 May 1884, page 7g,
    2, 7, 9, 16, 18 and 30 August 1884, pages 6b, 6b, 6a, 6a, 6c and 5b,
    15 May 1886, page 6f,
    14, 17, 19 and 20 July 1886, pages 3h, 7h, 7e and 6d,
    4 August 1886, page 3g:

    "Goyder's Line of Rainfall - The Leasing of Crown Lands" is in the Observer,
    30 August 1884, page 11c,
    "Outside Goyder's Line" in the Observer,
    16 January 1904, page 13a,
    "Goyder's Line - Cultivation or Pastoral" on
    13 January 1906, page 42a.

    "Outside Goyder's Line - Land of Strange Surprises" is in the Register,
    8 January 1904, page 7g,
    "The Great North-East" on
    16 June 1904, page 8g,
    "Through the North-East" on
    4 July 1904, page 8c,
    "Beyond Goyder's Line" on
    14 July 1904, page 6g,
    "Goyder's Line - Cultivation or Pasture" on
    9 January 1906, page 7g.

    "Goyder's Line - Its Delineation and Purpose" is in the Register,
    6 July 1912, page 18a,
    13 July 1912, page 49a.

    Reminiscences of "Farming Beyond Goyder's Line" are in The Mail,
    9 May 1931, page 9f.

    "Rent on Land Outside Goyder's Line" is in the Advertiser,
    4 May 1935, page 20e.

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