The Land Problem

Like ourselves, Australians dreamed of a countryside settled by prosperous family farms. But whereas much of our good land was not settled until the farmer came to it, the best lands in Australia were first occupied by sheep. If farms were to be found, it had to be done by displacing the squatter, and pushing him farther back in order to make way for the plow. Various laws were passed to allow a farmer to go onto a ranch, select a desirable patch, settle on it, improve it, and then buy it. But the sheepmen naturally resented this attack on them and their industry, and resisted it, not with guns but by buying the “eyes” of their ranches—the good pieces, river banks, and water holes—thus rendering the rest of the area useless to anyone else. Out of this battle between squatter and “selector,” the former usually emerged victorious and the farming area spread only very slowly.

Eventually other methods were tried. Some of the large ranches were bought back by the governments, supplied with railroads, irrigated where possible, and cut up into farms which were sold to settlers. After World War I more land was bought and made into farms, orchards, vineyards, and so forth, for over 30,000 veterans. Meanwhile attempts have been made to compel large landowners to break up their holdings or to put them to better use. The weapon used was a land tax which was especially heavy on large estates and on land owned by absentees. The result of these plans has not been remarkably good. The “closer settlements” on repurchased lands have done well, though the land was expensive. The soldier settlements were a mixed success, for at least a third of the veterans eventually quit their holdings and the governments lost well over $100,000,000 on the scheme.

From EM 44: Australia: Our Neighbor Down Under (1944)