Free Selection in NSW in the 19th Century


The free selection legislation resulted in war between selectors and squatters, giving opportunities to rogues who stooped to false accusations, intimidation, and blackmail of selectors and squatters alike. Practices such as dummying and peacocking were widespread (Note 102).

Disputes arose over boundaries and the legality of impounding stock, and squatters on the bench meant that the selectors were at a decided disadvantage (Note 103). Nevertheless, squatters did suffer depredation of their stock by impoverished selectors.


Many selectors were not genuine. Dummying was practiced by squatters and selectors alike (Note 104), the squatters trying to protect their runs, and selectors trying to get sufficient land to make farming, usually with some grazing, profitable. It has been estimated that only a third of 62,000 selections between 1861 and 1884 were genuine, the rest being dummies, speculators, or squatters buying their own runs (Note 105).

Squatters might be subject to blackmail by their own dummies (Note 106), or be forced to pay off or buy out selectors of key parts of the run at outrageous prices (Note 107).

Squatters seem to have sometimes practiced dummying on a huge scale. On one selection day we have an example of dummies outnumbering bona fide selectors by three to one (Note 108). In that case the operation was foiled (Note 109), but once selection took place it seems that dummying was difficult to prove, and in any event virtually impossible to prevent reoccurrence (Note 110). On another occasion the large number of dummies for squatters physically prevented genuine selectors from getting into the Court House to lodge their applications (Note 111). Squatters also used dummies to hem in selectors to prevent acquisition of grazing pre-leases (Note 112).

Selectors used relatives, including children, as dummies to increase their landholding. So too did squatters. One unmarried squatter later admitted to borrowing about seven of his employees' children for the day, for a small fee, plus tea and cake for the kids, in order to select an extra 2,000 acres of his run (Note 113).

No attempt to close loopholes was made in NSW for fourteen years, and then amendments were essentially ineffective (Note 114).


No doubt the squatters would have preferred to continue enjoying their runs without having to pay more than a negligible amount for their use (Note 115). However, in order to protect their runs by purchasing through dummying and peacocking, many squatters had to go deeply into debt (Note 116). Some were victims of ruthless foreclosure and many ruined by the combination of overstocking (trying to pay their debts) and drought (Note 117).

Perhaps we can understand why squatters did not protect their runs more fully, when they had the chance, by contemplating the sheer size of the land they held. More land was held by lease or licence under the 1847 Order-in- Council than the total area of France or Spain or Great Britain (see Figure 1).

The average size of a run was about 30,000 acres. For this the squatter paid 2d per acre, for a total of 250, and it returned a profit of 1s 3 d per acre (Note 118), for a total profit of 2,000 per year. To purchase a quarter of the land would cost 7,500. Purchase instead of renting was clearly much less profitable.

The next part is about the Problems faced by Selectors, and the Conclusion

Note 102 See e.g. Clark (4), op cit, 168-9.

Note 103 See e.g. extract from The Armidale Express, 30 August 1873, in Russel Ward & John Robertson (eds), Such Was Life - Select Documents in Australian Social History, Vol.II, 1851-1913, Alternative Publishing Co-op., Chippendale, NSW, 1980, pp.134-5. See also Shann, op cit, 201-2.

Note 104 Where a dummy was not family, it was agreed that after the residence requirement had been satisfied, the land would be sold to the squatter: Lang, op cit, 102. Dummies in such situations may have lived in poor conditions: see Henry Lawson, Water Them Geraniums, in Document Set 8, p.16, at 17.

Note 105 Lang, op cit, 102. But see Document Set 8, p.20, where 20,000 left after 20 years of struggle. This suggests Lang has not allowed for failed selectors, nor the successful ones who moved on to bigger and better properties.

Note 106 Laidlaw, op cit, 199.

Note 107 Document Set 8, p.20; Lang, op cit, 102.

Note 108 Document Set 8, p.19.

Note 109 Ibid.

Note 110 See Document Set 8, pp.33-4.

Note 111 John Sadleir, Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, 1913, extracted in Ward & Robertson, op cit, 133.

Note 112 Shann, op cit, 202.

Note 113 From Reminiscences of Australian Early Life, by "A Pioneer", Marsden, London, 1893, extracted in Ward & Robertson, op cit, 134.

Note 114 Lang, op cit, 102.

Note 115 See Document Set 8, p.20.

Note 116 Dutton, op cit, 83; Document Set 8, pp.20-1; Shann, op cit, 210.

Note 117 Shann, op cit, 210.

Note 118 Document Set 8, p.5.

The next part is about the Problems faced by Selectors, and the Conclusion

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