Labour History

Striking out for Independence: Moves towards Self-Determination and Self-Sufficiency on the Southern Monaro Property of Bibbenluke, 1861-84

Labour History (2000), 79, (1), 123–139.

Abstract

This article looks at the changing relationship between workers and manager on the southern Monaro property of Bibbenluke, after the introduction of the Robertson Land Acts1 on 1 January 1862. The Morris & Ranken Report2, set up in 1883 to assess the success or failure of these Acts, reported widespread abuse and evasion of the law by landholders, particularly in outlying regions of New South Wales. The Bibbenluke-Bombala district lies between two regions chosen for specific investigation: the tableland region near Cooma and the coastal area of Bega. Close investigation of Bibbenluke property records3 reveal that the manager conformed to the stereotype of the defensive (or ‘aggressive’) squatter, determined to repel selectors. The day-to-day analysis also revealed another trend. From the mid-1860s, workers began to express a need for independence and self-sufficiency: seasonal workers demanded better working conditions and permanent positions became difficult to fill. Some dummy selectors used their blocks for their own monetary gain; others were difficult to shift. At the same time, loyal dummy selectors were learning the skills gained from farming their own plots and, in the 1870s, struck out on a path of independence, applying their knowledge to the working of their own selections. Some maintained either part-time or permanent employment on Bibbenluke; others achieved complete independence. Thus society changed from early Victorian English paternalism with its strict, hierarchical and static working environment to one which allowed a blurring of the rural classes.

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