Free Selection in New South Wales
SINCE the agitation of Robert Lowe the movement for small settlement had been growing in New South Wales and the farmers pressed north to the river cattle runs just outside the previous limits of location.l That is, they clashed with the squatters and, especially after the distress of 1854, petitions began to ask for wider range of selection and free choice. But there was a long delay and, even after responsible government had come into operation, no land law was passed until five changes of Government and four dissolutions.2 There had been preliminary skirmishes in 1856 and 1857 but the two Bills of those years merely provided scope for a debate on the question.s Until 1860, nothing was done although the question was gaining in bitterness every year. 4
John Robertson, the leader of the reformers, had been biding his time. Even in 1857, his proposal had been vetoed only by the Speaker's casting vote and, during the next three years, he allowed the popular agitation and the long depression to affect his ends more surely than a parliamentary campaign.5 Therefore, when he appealed to the people against the Council in 1860, he merely laid the spark for the long-prepared explosion.6 Even then, the measures were passed only by a threat to swamp the Council and by the actual creation of a new CounciJ.7 New South Wales obtained free selection by a popular campaign of four years and by political pressure; and there was much to justify the view that the Robertson Acts could not 'be regarded as expressions of the deliberate wisdom of the Parliament of the country'.s
There were two Bills thus forced through the Legislature in October 1861, one for alienation, one for occupation, of Crown lands. The key to the first was free selection within certain areas - the old settled and intermediate lands. Anybody could select from 40 to 320 acres within these vast limits on condition of paying a quarter of the purchase price, and residing on the land. At the end of three years, the balance was to be paid and freehold given. The outstand-
ing feature of the plan was its simplicity, for the whole area was open, the formalities few, the terms of payment easy. But the old auction system remained intact, the reason for this not being clear.