While we might think we have a more subtle view of what land means, in the 19th century land was a way of retaining and generating wealth. The problem in the early days of the colony was that most of the best farming land had been locked up by squatters in long leases at generous terms.
In 1844 Governor of New South Wales, George Gipps, required settlers to pay a yearly £10 licence fee and limited the size of each run. After self-government was granted to Victoria in 1852, (under Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe) land continued to be administered under Imperial Acts and Orders-in-Council of the Governor of New South Wales.
In 1847, all land in the colony was divided into one of three classes: settled, intermediate and unsettled.
This legislation granted La Trobe the power to reserve land for public purposes, including land for towns, parks and gardens, for recreational reserves, and also reserves that specifically allowed for the preservation of land and water.
Throughout the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the Victorian government – in its ongoing drive to populate Victoria’s lands with farmers – developed land legislation addressed at specific issues such as the occupation of the arid Mallee region, the use of goldfields land, the ideal of a more closely settled rural population, and the settlement on the land of returned soldiers from both World Wars.
- Phillippa Nelson
Nelson, P 2009 Lands guide: a guide to finding records of crown land at Public Record Office Victoria , Public Record Office, Victoria, North Melbourne, Vic.
The Public Record Office Victoria is the State Government of Victoria's archive. They hold records and documents from European settlement of Port Phillip in the mid-1830s to today. The Lands guide is one of their publications which helps researchers and the general public to access their materials.
The drive to populate the land led to the mapping and survey of much of country Victoria. Between 1849 and 1871 Victoria was divided into 37 counties and nearly 2914 parishes. These parishes were then surveyed into allotments. This in turn allowed the colonial government to record the sale and transfer of land from the crown to selectors.
From the Victoria’s earliest days a battle raged between the powerful squatters who wished to maintain their extensive land holdings and those who advocated for small-scale agriculture and housing.
The Land Act 1862 (known as the Duffy Act) made 10 million acres (4 million hectares) of land- about 20% of the state- available to selectors. The government considered it a compromise between those who had been calling for years to release land for the poor man and the business interests of the wealthy squatters.
This attempt at reform was captured in the huge Duffy Map, which depicts the boundaries of the system imposed on the landscape by successive administrators, as well as the new land available for selection:
As it happened, the situation was far more complex than the neat depiction offered by the big map. Far from offering a political solution to the tensions between selectors and squatters, the Duffy Act (like other land acts which preceded it) contributed to yet more struggles and controversy in Victoria. Within days of the legislation being passed on 10 September 1862, it was clear that once again, large holdings of land were being acquired for sheep grazing rather than small-scale agriculture.
- Cate Elkner
Elkner, C 2007 'Putting Colonial Victoria on the Map', Provenance, September 2007, No. 6.
Land administration in the 19th century continues to affect the way that land in Victoria is used today. We can see from modern issues like housing density and Native Title, that modern Victorians are as wrapped up in debates about their state’s land as Victorians of the 19th century were.