07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Thursday, February 23, 2012


In a leap of faith, driven by desperation and the chance to improve the lives of their families in Australia, men took advantage of the Selection of Land Act, and staked their claim on parcels of crown land. Unfortunately, for many inexperienced in the ways of farming in a harsh continent like Australia, they were doomed to failure and heartache. Many not only lost their land but their lives. Others struggled on for years, their lives blighted by bitterness and regret at a leap of faith that didn’t deliver the riches they had dreamed of. Some made an adequate living. A few, of course, prospered. Rather than a leap of faith, I would call it a lottery. It all depended on the experience of the man, but more importantly the quality of the land on which he selected.

In Australia the 1860/61 Land Act allowed free selection of crown land. This included land illegally occupied by the squatters, (wealthy ranchers), who had managed to circumvent the law for years. A similar scheme apparently operated in the US as well, (nesters against the ranchers).

The Act sometimes allowed selectors (small farmers) access to the squatters’ land, and they could purchase between 40 and 320 acres, but after that, the authorities left them to fend for themselves. Not an easy task against the wealthy, often ruthless squatters who were incensed at what they thought was theft of their land.

The Act of Selection was intended to encourage closer settlement, based on intensive agriculture. Selectors often came into conflict with squatters, who already occupied land. The bitterness ran deep for many years, sometimes erupting into violence.

Steele Rudd (a pseudonym for Arthur Hoey Davis 14.11.1868 – 11.10.35), an Australian author wrote a story On Our Selection. He based it on his father’s experience as a selector struggling to make ends meet on a small parcel of land.  It started out as just one chapter published in a magazine in December 1895 and eventually became the basis for Dad and Dave, a popular radio series which ran from 1932 – 1952.

Henry Lawson 1867 – 1922, was born on the gold fields of NSW. Many believed him to be the first poet to capture the Australian way of life. After a childhood ear infection, he was totally deaf by the age of 14, and he grew up to be bitter about his poverty and ill-fortune.

In 1888 he started publishing his stories and poems.

The Fire at Ross’ Farm, was a classic poem about selector versus the squatter.
Robert Black, the squatter’s son, loved Jenny Ross the selector’s daughter.
When Robert tells his father about the bushfire (wild fire) threatening the Ross farm, his father said, and I quote these couple of lines from Henry Lawson’s poem, which I feel epitomise the extent of the hatred and mistrust between the squatters and the selectors.

Then let it burn the squatter said, I’d like to see it done

I’d bless the fire if it would clear Selectors from my run (run is an old, no longer used, Aussie term for ranch).

Frontier Wife, from The Wild Rose Press, is set against this background.

The heroine’s uncle selected 80 acres for his farm on Adam Muno’s 40,000 acre property.

Tommy Lindsay arrives in colonial Australia to claim the rundown farm she and her brothers have inherited.

Hidden behind her fragile English rose beauty, beats the heart of a courageous young woman. She will need all this strength to survive the unforgiving heat, and the dangers lurking around every corner.  Lost in the bush, capture by a feral mountain family, raging bushfires are nothing, compared to the danger she faces if she gives her heart to wealthy squatter, Adam Munro.

Adam has no room in his heart to love a woman.  All he ever wanted was a presentable wife who would provide him with heirs.   He didn’t need passion in his life, not until he met the beautiful English rose living next door to him.

Only in the new world can a highborn young Englishwoman and a tough frontier man, ignite the passion that will fulfill their hopes and dreams in ways they never imagined possible.

 Margaret Tanner
Australian Historical Romance Author


Paty Jager said...

Interesting information, Margret. I've often wondered how Australia correlated to the U.S. in their growth and it seems they had the same growing pains.

Sarah Raplee said...

Fascinating - I love history and don't know much Australian history, so I really enjoy your posts, Margaret!

Our countries seem to have grown in parallel in many respects. Love your choice of setting for this story!

Judith Ashley said...

Thank you for again sharing a piece of Australian history. Our countries do share some similar issues in our pasts. Your reframing of the Act of Selection to a lottery makes sense. It really did depend on the the quality of the land and the experience of the settler.

How do you think the dynamics of a story set against this backdrop would change if the heroine was the daughter of a wealthy squatter and the hero was the inheritor of the farm? Is there any way, given the times, that they could come together or were the social rules of the times too rigid?