Australian rural life - Did the bush barbarise its settlers? Major Essay

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

15 Pages, Grade: A



List of contents


Problems in selector’s lives

Role of the women

Family as the key

Freedom and happiness in the new land



In my essay I argue about the question if the bush in rural Australia in the 19th century is barbarising its settlers. While I am answering this question I am trying to give a representative insight into the life of selectors in Victoria.

Based on the statements of Manning Clark[1] and J.W. McCarty[2] I will show that even though there were a lot of different problems which made life hard for selectors, there was indeed a new kind of freedom and even a “progress towards happiness” for the early settlers. Looking at different primary sources (including collected data from selectors in the parishes of Kalkee) I finally want to disagree with Manning Clark’s statement that the continent itself is barbarising people. To understand the circumstances of living and to support my opinion I will also write about the problems that early settlers were confronted with as well as about the role of women and family.

Problems in selector’s lives

Manning Clark starts his article “Bush Barbarians”[3] with a focus on the squatters in Australia. This is also a good beginning for this essay and a first step to understand the circumstances under which selectors started their living in the bush. While M.Clark describes the difficulties of rich people when the first selectors started to cultivate the land[4], one has to know that the first established industry in Australia was wool in 1830. But the frontier at this time was a frontier of rich people and large land holders who came to Australia with a lot of capital. They created their own “little Britain”. People often sold their land in Britain to get a greater amount in Australia. When the first selectors came to farm their own small properties they were often confronted with these large land holders. M.Clark even writes about a “war” between those squatters and selectors.[5] Confronted with this situation there were nonetheless numerous people like Patrick Michael Fleming or Charles Fletcher[6] who came over to Australia to find a better way of living.

Farmers often only could survive in the bush because of the hard work they were doing day after day. We can learn from William Craig’s diary that there was always a lot of work like fencing or harvesting throughout the year.[7] Even on Christmas[8] he went for water casks and did some shooting. According to the diary the early Australian settlers had to be in good physical condition to run their land. The settlers had to produce everything they needed more or less of on their own. Hard work was essential to survival.

Subsistence was necessary and William H.Hird, a farmer in Victoria in the late 19th century, shows us the difficulties of trading in this period.[9] Even though he lived on good land where a creek and the Murray were near, he wrote about the bad conditions of trading cattle on the market. Out of 30 cattle, they could not sell one. While William complained about the dry weather that was responsible for the bad conditions to sell the animals, Thomas Hird had other problems with the dryness in the Australian South.

Crops were growing not that well without the needed rain and two dry seasons in a row made it hard for him to get the water supply for the household and the farm.[10]

We get similar information from William Ahsew.[11] He was a single farmer who worked three years in the parish of Kalkee. But, he had to transfer his property to his neighbour in 1878. He could not make a living on the land because it was to poor and therefore it did not pay for him to stay.

The first two or three years were especially hard for the farmers. It took a while to get the farm “running” and to establish the needed supplies. Besides hard labour, capital was essential to survive the first years. At this point I would like to come back to Patrick Michael Flaming who worked several years as an employee before he became a successful farmer in Portland, Victoria.[12] During an interview he suggested that one can not succeed without capital at all.[13] Furthermore, he has spoken about the bad seasons during the last three years and that he started his farming with some capital as well. According to this, another problem that selectors were confronted with becomes clearer. Patrick Michael Fleming tells us that he had heard of many people that had fallen into the hands of money lenders. Because of the high instances, the farmers were often not able to pay the money back and they lost their property and their existence.

Charles Richards of Kalkee[14], for example, farmed his land successfully and was able to apply for Crown Grand in 1979. Before he ran out of money he had to take out a mortgage three times. Finally he had to transfer his land.

Life in the Australian Bush was anything else but easy. In the following I would like to show how (or if) settlers were able to deal with problems and what made it worth it for them to run a farm in the Australian bush.


[1]: C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia IV: The earth abideth for ever 1851-1888, Melbourne University press 1978, p. 218: “By 1880 it looked as though the ancient, uncouth continent would destroy all human endeavours to create a class of small property owners between the big men and their employees. Once again, as in the convict period, the bush had barbarised its would-be robbers and destroyers. In the cities belief in progress had not been diminished by the survival of barbarism in the bush.”

[2]: J.W.McCarty, The inland corridor, Department of Economic History, Monash University: “Reading Clark´s book has been a moving and disturbing experience; but his picture of rural Australia still repels me, and even strengthens my previous view of rural Australia. I still think of a story of industries, and building homes and raising families. There was, overall, a progress towards material welfare in a democratic society; and, I believe a progress towards `happiness`.”

[3]: C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia IV: The earth abideth for ever 1851-1888, Melbourne University press 1978

[4]: C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia IV: The earth abideth for ever 1851-1888, Melbourne University press 1978, p.165-168

[5]: C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia IV: The earth abideth for ever 1851-1888, Melbourne University press 1978, p.168

[6]: Victoria and its Metropolis: past and present, p.6

[7]: William Craig, Diary, 1877

[8]: William Craig, Diary, 24 December 1877

[9]: Wiliam H.Hird, Letter to brother, sister and nice, Barkers Creek, Christmas Day 1877

[10]: Thomas Hird, Letter to uncle, aunt and cousin, Gunbower Creek, 24th 1877

[11]: Victorian Public Records Office Series (VPRS) 626/10/1101

[12]: Victoria and its Metropolis: past and present, p.6

[13]: Minuets of evidence: Royal commission appointment to enquire into the progress of settlement –under the land act of 1896, p.40/41

[14]: VPRS 626/1157/3649

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Australian rural life - Did the bush barbarise its settlers? Major Essay
La Trobe University Melbourne  (Faculty of Humanities and Social Science)
Outwest and Downunder
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Major, Essay, Outwest, Downunder, Australia, settler, frontier, history, 19th century
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Anonymous, 2005, Australian rural life - Did the bush barbarise its settlers? Major Essay, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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