chapter  15
18 Pages

The Squatters and the Government

THE TERM 'squatter' reached Australia from America but soon acquired a very distinct connotation. In America the squatter was a poor man who without any claim sat down on a small farm - a homesteader.1 The word was first used in Van Diemen's Land because of the peculiar characteristics of that island. There. everybody was both a farmer and a grazier and. as such settlement pushed to the central mountains in the twenties, there emerged a class of what might be termed frontiersmen -'bushrangers' or ex-convicts or shingle-splitters or small cultivators who gathered flocks both by legal and illegal means. These people were known as 'squatters' even in the twenties and their holdings were termed 'runs'. An order of February 1828, against 'the practice of Squatting. as it is denominated in the colony', said that 'the huts of these people (some pursuing ostensibly the occupation of surveyors or splitters) have been the constant resort of runaway convicts and others whose characters are of the most vicious stamp, and the area of their Sheep Runs has formed a most convenient depot for stolen sheep'.2