Emergence of Small Scale Settlement: ‘Locking Out’

At the end of the 1850s gold was discovered at Kiandra in the Snowy Mountains and ‘gold fever’ hit the south coast. The increased population in the area that resulted from the movement of miners into the area, although a largely transient population, resulted in the development of roads and the establishment of coach services and roadside inns. The gold rushes also led to an increased demand for agricultural products in order to feed the dramatically increased population.

These developments all contributed to increasing mobility within the area and to the growth of European settlement with its concomitant alienation of land from the Aboriginal people of the area. The ‘locking out’ of the local Aboriginal people from their land through the imposition of small scale European land use patterns had begun.

Within the European community in the years following the gold rushes of the 1850s the issue of access to land rapidly came to dominate the political landscape of New South Wales. A strong popular demand to ‘unlock the lands’ and allow small selectors access to the vast tracts of land held under pastoral lease emerged.

In 1861 two Acts, colloquially known as the Selectors’ Acts and Robertson’s Acts, attempted to address this demand in New South Wales. The impact of these Acts on landholding patterns was limited, the 1884 Crown Lands Act was the next major legislative attempt to shift the nature of land holdings. Both this Act and the following legislation that culminated in the Closer Settlement Act of 1905 were more effective in altering the nature of land holdings.

The 1861 Acts had an impact on the South Coast with the movement of small scale settlers into the region in the 1860s as the large pastoral leases began to be broken up into small allotments.96 In the period from 1860 to 1900 a shift occurred over much of the area under consideration from pastoralism to agriculture, intensive grazing and associated activities (ie. cropping and pig raising) as the primary form of European land use.

The intensification of land use and the associated decrease in property sizes and increase in land enclosure resulted in increasing restrictions on Aboriginal people’s capacity to reside on, travel over, and utilise the resources of the country.

Excerpt from Eurobodalla Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, South Coast New South Wales, 2005. Story contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School.