Land uses in Australia, late 18 th century

Land uses in Australia, late 18th
century – mid 19 century
Dr Dmytro Ostapenko
[email protected]
Presentation outline
Australia: the nature of the continent
The first Australians: Indigenous land uses
European settlement in Australia, 1788-1820
The pastoral age, 1820-1850
The golden age, 1850-1860
Rainfall and evaporation of the continents
Average annual
rainfall (mm)
% lost as
North America
South America
Davidson, European Farming in Australia, p. 7
Felling the tall timber in
from M Cannon, Life in
the Country: Australia in
the Victorian Age, Currey
O'Neil Ross, South Yarra,
Vic., 1978, p. 86
The painting of unknown artist, Government agricultural establishment Castle Hill, c. 1806,
accessed at,
Physical environment
Mild climate
Low rainfall/high evaporation
River system contains little water
Forests along the coastal wetter areas
• Land resources are enormous in terms of
Australia’s population
Indigenous land uses
• Relied almost entirely on food gathering, hunting
and fishing for their subsistence
• Semi-nomadic way of life
• Generally sufficient food supplies
• Land was collectively ‘owned’
• Incompatibility of the Aboriginal and European
land uses
European settlement and land use in Australia in
1788 – 1820
• Social and political factors of settlement
• Failure of state farming
• Granting land to ex-convicts promoted smallscale private farming
• In 1821, there were 1665 owners of land (64
% of all granted in preceding years), 1245 of
whom had holdings below 99 acres.
James Atkinson, An Account of the State of
Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales, 1826
• If a foreigner who had travelled through England,
were afterwards to visit New South Wales, he
would scarcely be able to persuade himself that
the inhabitants where derived from the same
stock; he could hardly believe that the people,
who, in their mother country, cultivate their lands
with such preserving industry and intelligence,
should here became so extremely slothful and
negligent; yet such is the case – the state of
agriculture being rude and miserable in the
Robert Ross, Lieutenant
Governor (1788)
“ I do not scruple to pronounce
that in the whole world there is
not a worse country than what
we have yet seen of this. All that
is contiguous to us is so very
barren and forbidding that it
may with truth be said, here
Nature is reversed”
Official Land Policy in the 1820s-40s
• Influenced by Wakefield's theory of systematic colonisation –the
state as highest regulating authority had to maintain a perfect
balance between land, labour and capital in Australia
• This balance would foster the development of farming in Australia
1831 – abolition of grant system to commence land sales
• 1829 – establishment of the Swan River colony
• 1834 - British Parliament passed the South Australia Colonisation
• Between 1831 and 1850, 175350 free migrants came to Australia,
65 percent of whom were assisted ones
Expansion of pastoral industry and European settlement
in 1820-1850
• Discovery of fertile plains further inland
“We had at length discovered a country ready for the immediate reception of
civilized man…Unencumbered by too much wood, it yet possessed enough for
all purposes; its soil was exuberant, and its climate temperate … it was
traversed by mighty rivers, and watered by streams innumerable. Of this Eden
I was the first European to explore its mountains and streams … and, by my
survey, to develop those natural advantages, certain to become, at no distant
date, of last importance to a new people. “
Major Thomas Mitchell, the Survey-General of New South Wales (1836)
• Large areas could be occupied at little cost by graziers, despite the attempt
of the government to prevent uncontrolled spread of settlement
• High wool prices make wool production profitable
• Almost all of the capital required consisted of livestock, a form of capital
which reproduced and increased itself
• In 1821 in NSW - 100,000 sheep. By 1850 – 12 million in NSW.
Political tensions between the colonial
authorities and the squatters
• Official attempts to restrain settlement: 1829 ‘limits of location’
• Demands for security of land tenure
• Compromise between the government and
the squatters: The Order-in-Council of 1847
John Hood, Australia and the East, being a journal
narrative of a voyage to New South Wales, 1841
• In the levels around Richmond [agricultural
district in the vicinity of Sydney], I saw ... real
agriculture. Ploughs with two horses, instead
of half a score of bullocks, and ridges manured
for wheat as in Old England; the rich, deep
black soil ... reminded me of the best land to
be seen at home
The golden age, 1850-1860:
Agricultural change in Victoria in the 1850s
Number of
1,000 (estimate)
Cultivated area
Wealth of
farmers (from
D Ostapenko, ‘Growing Potential: Land-Cultivators of the Colony of
Victoria in the late 1830s-1860’, PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 2011
Dream of an Australian
A yeoman - a person who owns and
cultivates a small farm;
specifically : one belonging to a
class of English freeholders below
the gentry
Call to unlock the land – free selection
Land Acts of 1860s-70s aimed to
undermine the monopoly of the
squatters and promote the
establishment of yeomanry in
Christmas card from M
Cannon, Life in the Country,
p. 126
Land Uses
Public Perceptions
Small subsistence farming
Unwelcome, hostile,
uncivilised land
Expansion of commercial
sheep farming
Sheep walk; land in which
it was relatively easy for the
small man to live
Gold mining, small-scale
profit-making cropping
Land of opportunities,
vision of an Australian

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