University of Tasmania
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Cronyism, muddle and money: Land allocation in Tasmania under the Waste Lands Acts, 1856-1889

posted on 2023-05-27, 14:36 authored by Meikle, B
With the granting of self-government to the colonies of eastern Australia in the 1850s, each colony became responsible for its own land legislation. Each produced legislation that enabled settlement by small farmers, the selectors. In New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland this led to conflict between the selectors and those who had previously established their sheep runs on the land, the squatters, as they became known in Australia. The land legislation also enabled the development of agriculture in those colonies. Tasmania produced twenty-one Waste Lands Acts over a period of thirty-one years, and introduced a number of land schemes to attract immigrants. In spite of these attempts, the Tasmanian economy remained in depression, agricultural output declined, and immigration stagnated. This thesis argues that the Waste Lands Acts of Tasmania were critical for the economic development of the country. Under British rule, the land legislation had created a monopoly in which the large landholders, the pastoralists, controlled the best land and the parliament. After self-government, the Waste Lands Acts determined how and where people lived and they determined the economic and political relationships between the small farmers and the monopolists. This thesis has two major lines of enquiry. The first is centered on the land legislation, the Waste Lands Acts of Tasmania, under which land was alienated from 1858 to 1889. The second examines the way people lived under the provisions related to small farming. The main sources used include the legislation, the parliamentary papers, the parliamentary debates, and the official archives. A number of farm diaries and associated correspondence, from both the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO) and from private collections, have been used, as well as contemporary newspapers and journals. The thesis has three parts. The first contains introductory material. It examines the systems of land alienation and the way people lived under these prior to self-government. It then provides an economic history for the period studied here, 1858 to 1890. The second part analyses the Waste Lands Acts, the debates that drove them, their provisions, their economic impact and the way the new settlers lived under them. The third part is a case study of an agricultural area opened for settlement under the Waste Lands Acts. This thesis contributes to knowledge by providing an economic and social history of a period previously little studied. It found that democratization of land ownership, a major driving force behind the land legislation in the other Australian colonies, was largely absent in Tasmania. Instead, the Waste Lands Acts were driven by the ideal of improvement, which was to be achieved by settling yeoman farmers on the land. Their implementation was flawed. The financial constraints, under which the Tasmanian government operated, meant the primary purpose of the land legislation must be to raise revenue, not encourage agriculture. They fuelled a pastoral land grab. Settlement of agricultural lands and exploration of the rich mineral lands were delayed by the practice of withdrawing lands from selection on the grounds that they might be auriferous. The operation of the Waste Lands Acts was further hampered by the refusal of the Legislative Council, Tasmania's upper house in parliament, to agree to the construction of roads and bridges in the new areas being opened up. This prolonged the economic depression. In spite of these hindrances, selectors did establish new farms, contributing to the restructuring of agriculture and helping to fuel the development of regional economies.


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