Dennis Altman, Defying Gravity: A Political Life, reviewed by Graham Willett. [view]

 

Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow, Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, reviewed by Ian Morrison. [view]

 

Martin Shanahan and Gerry Treuren eds, Globalisation: Australian Regional Perspectives, reviewed by Matthew Lamb. [view]

 

Mark McKenna, This Country: A Reconciled Republic?, reviewed by Tony Smith. [view]

 

M S Bowles, Relearning to E-Learn, reviewed by Margaret O'Connell. [view]

 

Jenny Stewart, The Decline of the Tea Lady: Management for Dissidents, reviewed by Sylvia Alston. [view]

 

Peter Timms, What's Wrong with Contemporary Art?, reviewed by Lynne Barwick. [view]

 

Paul Sendziuk, Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS, reviewed by Dean Durber. [view]

 

Jennifer Mackie, Australia: An Introduction, reviewed by Mads Clausen. [view]

 

Graeme Davison, Car Wars: How the Car Won our Hearts and Conquered our Cities, reviewed by Nancy Cushing. [view]

 

Steve Eather, Desert Sands Jungle Lands: A biography of Major General Ken Eather, reviewed by Richard Gehrmann. [view]

 

Peter Brune, A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua, reviewed by Bernard Whimpress. [view]

 

Kevin Fewster Vecihi Basarin and Hatice Hurmuz Basarin, Gallipoli: The Turkish Story, reviewed by Robert O'Sullivan. [view]

 

Graham Seal, Tell 'Em I Died Game: the Legend of Ned Kelly, reviewed by Bob Reece. [view]

 

Elizabeth Rushen, Single and Free: Female Migration to Australia, 1833-1837, reviewed by Kirsten McKenzie. [view]

 

David Dunstan ed, Owen Suffolk's Days of Crime and Years of Suffering, reviewed by Paul A Pickering. [view]

 

Marsden Hordern, Mariners are Warned! John Lort Stokes and HMS Beagle in Australia 1837-1843, reviewed by Peter Stanley. [view]

 

Marsden Hordern, King of the Australian Coast: The Work of Phillip Parker King in the Mermaid and Bathurst 1817-1822, reviewed by Peter Stanley. [view]

 

Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, reviewed by John Frow. [view]

 
 Issue 44, August 2004  About Us  Index  Contribute  Style  Contact 
Leighton Frappell, Lords of the Saltbush Plains: Fontier Squatters and the Pastoral Independence Movement 1865-1866 (ISBN 1740970233), Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publications, 2003, 226 pages, paperback, $39.95, reviewed by Robert Hogg, University of Queensland.


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In Lords of the Saltbush Plains, Leighton Frappell tells the story of a mid-nineteenth century rural independence movement, the purpose of which was to establish a colony in the western half of New South Wales, from the Murray River in the south to the Queensland border in the north. The colony was to be known as 'Riverina'.

Observing the success of separation movements which were successful in establishing the colonies of Victoria (1850) and Queensland (1859), an unsteady coalition of squatters, townspeople and newspaper proprietors sought to establish a colony in which the squatter would reign supreme, thereby averting the perceived dangers of 'democracy' — in particular land laws designed to reduce the holdings of the squatters and open up the land for free selection. The story of the Riverina independence movement is one of naked self-interest, opportunistic coalitions, and political ineptitude. The movement was motivated by two objectives. Ostensibly, by flourishing the bogey of independence, it was hoped that the colonial government of NSW could be frightened into spending an increased share of public monies on the Riverina district. Not very far below the surface however, was an ulterior motive: to perpetuate on favourable terms squatters' leasehold tenure over vast areas of the western interior in the face of challenges to the status quo by a land—hungry populous and their 'radical' political representatives.

Leighton Frappell, former head of the School of History, Philosophy and Politics at Macquarie University, has written a complex and engrossing history of the independence movement, its key figures, and its significance in Australian history. It requires close reading as the events it relates and the places and people it describes have largely slipped off the historical radar screen, Western NSW not being an area which has attracted a great deal of historical notice. Deniliquin, on the Hay River, was the locus for pastoral dissatisfaction with the NSW government and the 'seat' of the exclusive and elite squattocracy who desired to rule 'Riverina' in 'oligarchic splendour'. Albury provided a second stage for the independence movement's machinations, even though in most versions of the independence scheme it was to be outside the borders of the proposed pastoral colony. While the names Gideon Lang and John Dunmore Lang (the two were not related), will be familiar to historians of colonial Australia, the names of newspaper proprietors George Mott (Border Morning Mail, Albury) and David Jones (Pastoral Times, Deniliquin), will be less so. The involvement of these proprietors in the independence movement is a reminder that the practice of media meddling in politics is not new.

The independence movement operated in fits and starts. The proposal for a new colony between Victoria and NSW was first put forward at Albury and gained some momentum with the founding of the town's newspaper by George Mott in 1856. Mott was a prime mover of independence, using his paper to air community grievances in the hope of shaking the government in Sydney out of its complacency and neglect. It did not take long for these grievances to coalesce, in the pages of the Post, into a scheme for an independent colony. Despite the support of confirmed separatist John Dunmore Lang, the scheme lapsed due to rifts between 'ultra' squatters who looked upon Albury as a hotbed of democracy and radicalism, the farming community and 'respectable' townspeople.

The movement had its biggest boost when Gideon Lang, squatter, parliamentarian, author of Land and Labour in Australia, and admirer of Garibaldi, entered the fray. Gideon Lang brought with him a creed of 'liberal conservatism', which consisted of the belief that politics is about the representation of interests, not people, together with a liberal acknowledgement of a popular or democratic interest alongside the interests of land and commerce. Lang was a realist among a group of squatters whose lack of political skill was matched only by a corresponding abundance of arrogance and greed.

However, Gideon Lang's efforts were to be in vain. The movement's objectives became obscured beneath a welter of associated issues including annexation of the district by Victoria, inter-colonial tariffs and the proposed construction of the perennial political palliative to disgruntled regions — a train line. Gideon Lang was prepared to settle for something less than independence from NSW or the absolute protection from free selection of the squatters' assumed land rights. He could see the necessity of opening up the land to agriculture and of encouraging the growth of regional towns. However, his pragmatic approach was not to prevail. Less politically astute Deniliquin squatters such as George Desailly, Robert Landale and William Bodribb proceeded by presenting petitions to the NSW Governor Young and Colonial Secretary Viscount Caldwell. These petitions were doomed to failure as the petitioners had no hope of satisfying the British Government's criteria for independence. Even on the most fundamental criterion, that a proposed colony have a population of at least 20,000, the 'Riverina' fell short by almost 13,000. In the end the movement was to collapse under the weight of its own ineptitude and apathy.

Nineteenth century secessionist sentiment has had its twentieth century counterparts. Both Sir Charles Court in Western Australian and Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen in Queensland during the course of their premierships threatened to take their states out of the Commonwealth, and North Queenslanders have from time to time mooted the possibility of becoming a seventh state. While such threats have always dissipated almost as soon as they are aired, their persistence from the nineteenth century to the recent past suggests that there lies in regionalism a certain amount of political clout. Subsidies for sugar growers and increased spending on roads in an election year could be seen as a form of regionalism. All the more reason perhaps to study, as Leighton Frappell has, the political history of regional Australia.

Reviewer: Robert Hogg, University of Queensland [details]





 
       
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