Public Meeting to Repeal Waste Lands Act

A public meeting, called pursuant to advertisement by Mr. C. H. Webb, Chairman of the Clare District Council, was held at the Devonshire Hotel, Mintaro, on Tuesday evening, May 3rd, for the purpose of petitioning the House of Assembly to repeal Clause 3rd of Act l8, 1858, commonly called the Amended Waste Lands Act. The requisition upon which the meeting had been convened was signed by Messrs. Peter Brady, Daniel Brady, George Faulkner, Thomas Miller, James McWaters, and others; and shortly after 7 o’clock, on the motion of Mr. P. Brady, Mr. C. H. Webb was called to the chair, about 60 persons being present.
The CHAIRMAN opened the proceedings by reading the requisition, and his reply thereto; and observed that they had met to consider one of the most important subjects ever entertained by a public meeting in South Australia. They had met to consider whether a certain clause in the Waste Lands Act was fair and just between man and man. As far as they had yet arrived at any conclusion upon the matter, it appeared that the opinion of the people was unanimously opposed to the cause in question; as they considered what he (the Chairman) felt, that it existed only for the benefit of one class, to the injury of the masses. The Chairman then read the objectionable clause, and observed that according to that enactment, if any person had cattle that might stray on to a squatter’s run, he would be fined £10 for the first offence, £10 at least for the second offence, and for a third offence a fine of not less than £20, nor more than £50. Those were the penalties which the squatter could have imposed and levied against any poor man whose cattle might happen to stray; but what was their privilege against the squatter? The agriculturist had to pay in the first instance £[1] an acre f[o]r his land, and then, pay about £3 an acre more for fencing, building, and other necessary improvements. They should remember the squatters only paid about a farthing an acre; but if the squatter trespassed, all that they would recover against him was for the first offence, a halfpenny; for the second offence, a halfpenny ; and for the third offence, another halfpenny. He (The Chairman) would ask, was such a law to be allowed to exist? Was it fair, was it just, was it honest; that any one class of men should be allowed to inflict such heavy fines as he had stated, as against the agriculturist who had paid for his land, while a penalty of one halfpenny only was authorised against the squatter, who paid a farthing an acre; but that was precisely how the law stood. He had heard of some of the squatters going about the Clare distict (sic) lately trying to hoodwink the people, and saying that the law did not stand as had been represented; but he would beg of them not to allow themselves to be hoodwinked, as there was no mistake in the matter. The original Waste Lands Act showed clearly enough what the Government meant, and that was, that all [leased] lands were waste lands of the Crown. The Chairman referred to clauses 3 and 6 of the original Act, and said that his object was to prove that waste lands of the Crown were those which were not sold, not alienated altogether from the Crown. The speaker then referred to a number of informations which had already been laid under the 3rd clause of the Act and to a recent visit of Mr. Hawker to the Clare district, observing that although Mr. Hawker had stated that he had never impounded any cattle in Clare, he (the Chairman) could tell him that he had done so; and more than that he had impounded some of his (the Chairman’s) own. The Chairman then read an extract from Mr. Hawker’s speech in the House of Assembly, when the Waste Lands Act was under consideration, as follows: “Mr. Hawker should support the clause as it stood, and perhaps had reasons for doing so which the hon. member for Light had not, for he was one of the victims to which the clause applied. Hon. members were not aware what detriment runs were subjected to by unlawful depasturage. Some time last year his manager rode over a portion of his run, about three or four miles from the head station, and counted 400 or 500 head of cattle and 70 head of horses belonging to other parties, all within a radius of two miles and a half. In various other portions there were mobs of 50 or 60; and he believed that on his run, unassessed by the Government, and on a large portion of purchased land there were on an average 800 or 1,000 head of cattle, and from 100 to 150 horses. The system adopted was for a party to buy half an acre of land at say a village called Clare, and he then thought he was entitled to run a herd of 50 or 60 cattle. He could not do so in Clare, as it was all fenced in, and the cattle were consequently driven to the centre of his (Mr. Hawker’s) run, and there turned out. It was disagreeable to impound cattle, and he had never done so, particularly as he did not wish to interfere with the owners of sections who only grazed one or two cows, for although they certainly eat the grass for which he had to pay, he should be sorry to oppress any one. [The Chairman here remarked that he should be sorry to use harsh words, but that statement was untrue.] He (Mr. Hawker) never meant to do so, but he denounced the systematic manner in which parties purchased cattle to turn out upon the run for which the squatter had to pay rent. In the north so great had the annoyance become that many had been forced to impound; and although he had not yet done so, he felt he should be driven to it. Some of the runs near the Burra had actually been taken out of the squatters’ hands. No Bench of Magistrates would fine for a mere accidental trespass; but where men systematically turned out large herds of cattle upon runs for which the squatters had to pay, he thought it right, that the Magistrates should have a considerable latitude allowed them; in such a case, for instance, as that which occurred, and which he could prove, when his stockmen brought down 150 head of cattle upon his run, and dared him to impound them, stating that if he did they would oppose him in the purchase of land, and burn his run.” These were Mr. Hawker’s words on the passing of the clause, and when he could come into that district and say that he never supported the clause, he was so amazed that he really did not know what to say. The fact was, they were all thoroughly ashamed of the clause, and now both the Government and the squatters turn round and say, we do not mean it. He (the Chairman) would advise them not to be put off their guard, but to stand together, and be all of one voice, or they would be swamped, and would not be allowed to retain even a head of cattle. He would observe that at one of the meetings upon the same subject, held in Clare, Mr. Hawker’s overseer attended and disputed the meaning of the clause; upon which he (the Chairman) was induced to write to the Attorney-General upon the subject, and the following were copies of the communications—his letter and the Attorney-General’s reply:—
“Has a Court of competent jurisdiction the power to enforce the penalty under clause 3 of the Waste Lands Act, viz., can the Ranger of Crown Lands sue for a penalty from ———, if his cattle can be proved to be depasturing on any run already leased from the Crown?” Attorney-General’s answer—”In reply to your letter of the 11th last, I beg to state that I think the Ranger of Crown Lands may lay an information in a Local Court for the first and second offence; and such Court might inflict the penalty for any breach of the Act; but that it would appear doubtful if the case suggested by you would come within the provisions of the Act, since land which has been leased would seem not to be part of the waste lands of the Crown.”
He (the Chairman) would leave it to the meeting as to whether they could understand that letter or not. The Attorney-General at first said that the Crown Lands Ranger could lay an information, and then again, he said he did not think he could. He had asked several lawyers also about it, and they considered the clause to be so indefinite, that if any proceedings were taken under it, the probability was that they would be quashed. He might mention that out of 70 informations laid at the Burra, convictions had been made in 50; but he was glad to say that they were getting up a memorial upon the same subject at the Burra, and he trusted that the meeting assembled would work, and that they would all work hand in hand with all parties till they succeeded in getting the obnoxious, tyrannical, and unjust law repealed. (Cheers )
Mr. P. BRADY moved the first resolution (for which see our advertising columns), and said that the third clause of the Waste Lands Act was the most tyrannical law he ever knew, more especially to the small settler; but it also affected the large settler as well. For himself he might say that he had bought £2,000 worth of land, if he required to convey his produce to the Burra or elsewhere, he must camp out with his bullocks at night, but if he did so, and they happened to stray on a squatter’s run, he was liable to be pulled for it; and if the same thing happened in a week or fortnight afterwards, he was pulled again, and got another dose; so that he was compelled either to give up the carting of his produce or else he should be forced to grow food for his bullocks and carry it with him to feed them on their journey. If he yarded his bullocks, they might break out or get astray, and he would be prosecuted again, and he therefore felt called upon to raise his voice against the clause as one of injustice and tyranny.
Mr. MADIGAN seconded the resolution.
Mr. TOOR (sic) supported the resolution, and said that he had a few hundred head of cattle in the hundred of Stanley, and he had bought some sections there adjoining Mr. Peter’s run. Well, Mr. Peter’s overseer impounded some of his cattle, and both he and his brother were prosecuted for the trespass. In the first place his brother had to pay threepence per head damages at the pound, and then subsequently he as the owner of the cattle was prosecuted under the Act; but the summons was dismissed, as the Magistrate did not understand it. It was actually dismissed, but he (the speaker) had to pay one pound costs, and a fine of five shillings. Mr. Toor (sic) continued to describe the hardships which would be inflicted by a continuance of the present law, and concluded by hoping that all squatters who impounded other people’s cattle, would never have anything to drink but goat’s milk.
The resolution was then put and carried.
Mr. MCKENZIE moved the second resolution, and observed that although there were great causes of feeling upon the subject of the third clause of the Act, he did not find fault with any member or members of Council who assisted in passing that clase (sic), for if they would take all Acts that had ever been passed, they would not find one without error of some kind or other. No doubt that many parties had been hot tempered and angry, and perhaps not without cause; but if that portion of the community which felt itself aggrieved, represented their views to the Government, they would in all probability get the obnoxious clause repealed. He must say, there had been a great deal of provocation given to the squatters, and people who now spoke very loud, should learn to guard their tongues a little better. If the squatters paid what the Government required to be paid, what more could be expected of them? He was sorry to say there had been many disgraceful meetings held in the North complaining of the squatters, and he really felt that the clause of which all now so much complained was forced on the squatters; they could not help it, for no man would allow 400 or 500 head of cattle to be fed on his run, and suffer himself to he ridiculed at the same time. He (the speaker), however, did not want to take part with the squatters; he only spoke as he felt, and he was glad to see the people in their present course, endeavouring quietly and peaceably holding their meetings, to obtain a repeal of the obnoxious clause.
Mr. FAULKNER seconded the resolution, which was carried unanimously.
Mr. COX moved the third resolution, and observed that if the law so much complained of were allowed to continue, it would be the key to the ruination of the colony. He believed that there were many more besides Mr. Hawker to blame for it. All the squatters had a share in it, and their object was to drain all the small farmers of their cattle, and then up would go the meat to an exorbitant price, as there would be no competition, and the squatters would have everything their own way.
Mr LEIGHTON seconded the resolution, and it wa[s] carried.
Mr. MCKENZIE suggested that a time and place should be named for the Committee to meet. He was not himself a resident of Mintaro township, and the people of the Wakefield ought to be consulted;—there was no time either for sleep or consideration; they should go to work at once.
The CHAIRMAN remarked that he had had a conversation lately with residents of the Wakefield, and they said that they had got no squatters up there; the question did not interfere with them; and that they (of the Wakefield) should have nothing to do with it.
A Committee of twelve, with power to add to their number, was then appointed.
Mr. GIBSON moved and Mr. BROWN seconded a vote of thanks to the Press, coupling with it the names of Mr. Laurie and Mr. Allen.
The vote was carried, and acknowledged in suitable terms.
Thanks were then voted to the Chairman, and the proceedings terminated.