During the first thirty years of white settlement, the South Australian Government sold Crown Lands only for cash with prepayment. Vast tracts of Crown Lands were leased by pastoralists to run their sheep. Small farmers could not support a family by growing crops on the standard 80 acre [32 hectare] sections which were too small to rest the soil by crop rotation. With high prices and the prepayment condition they were unable to compete with the pastoralists in land purchases. In the late 1860s when Victoria opened up the Wimmera district and brought in more liberal purchase conditions, many farmers left South Australia.
A number of proposals had been made to reform land purchases. After Henry Strangways was elected premier in November 1868, his proposal that land for agricultural purposes be sold on credit was debated in parliament. The Waste Lands Amendment Act (sometimes known as the Strangways Act) was passed in January 1869.
While the new Act continued the principle of gradual survey, Crown Lands could now be sold for cash or on credit. The credit terms were 20% deposit with the balance payable at the end of four years. No selector could purchase more than 640 acres (1 square mile) on credit. Selectors had to be over 21 years. Women could only be selectors if they were single or those married had obtained a judicial separation.
Particular areas were declared Agricultural Areas (AAs) in the Mid North, South East and on Yorke Peninsula. AAs could only be sold on credit. The land was surveyed into sections up to 320 acres. The land due to be released was announced in the SA Government Gazettes. The price was set equal to the value of the best land in the Hundred or AA. The price of unsold sections was gradually reduced at regular intervals until the minimum price of £1 an acre was reached. Application was made in writing. Selectors were required to reside on their land. They also had to cultivate their land and to make specified improvements. A Certificate of Title was issued once the selection was fully paid.
The pastoralists who had been leasing the land for their sheep runs on easy terms for many years, were given six months notice of the resumption of their leases. Some pastoralists attempted to purchase large areas of land by the practise of "dummying" where family members or dummy selectors were the nominal selectors. When the leases were terminated, huts, fences and waterholes remained. Payment of the newly opened lands often included an additional price paid for these improvements to the land. These varied from £1 to over £2000.
|The following valuations have been noted:|
|Shepherd's hut & drafting yards||£60|
|Shepherd's hut of 2 rooms, wire yard and well||£130|
|Hut (sheoak slabs with thatch roof)||£6|
|Slab hut (paling roof)||£3|
|370 rods of fencing, gum straining posts, wires & stakes||£55/10/-|
|Fence (pine posts and 5 wires)||£42|
|Fence (pine posts and 5 wires)||£14|
The farmers rushed to purchase land. The response caused new counties and hundreds to be surveyed across South Australia and opened for selection. The hundred was approximately 100 square miles and one town was surveyed in each hundred. In the first three years over a million acres were sold in the colony, 60% of these on credit.
Over the next few years a number of changes were made to the conditions. The credit term was extended to five years. The deposit was reduced to 10% on purchase with a further instalment of 10% due after three years. The selector had to cultivate at least one-fifth of the land each year. The substituted residence clause permitted a selector to apply to place his son, son-in-law or male relative or man servant on his land. Many selectors surrendered their original agreements and took out new agreements under the new conditions.
Selectors failing to fulfil the conditions or to pay amounts due were given a warning notice in the Government Gazette. A number of these selectors had their agreement forfeited or revoked. Others applied to transfer their selection to another farmer giving reasons such as old age, personal hardship, ill health and insolvency. The administrator of an estate would apply for transfer upon the death of a selector.
George Goyder, the Surveyor-General, following his many years travelling across SA, had advised that cereal crops could not be grown north of a line that became known as "Goyder's Line of Rainfall". This line indicated the southern limit of the 1865 northern drought. Beyond this limit of reliable rainfall was saltbush country where Goyder declared the land was only suitable for pastoral uses. The newly released lands had been within Goyder's Line and suitable for cereal growing. Prices soared. One selector in 1874 paid almost £8 an acre for 389 acres.
The first years were successful with good rains. Record harvests led to a demand for more land to be released for agriculture. The eager settlers disregarded warnings of drought. No account was taken of the soil fertility or rainfall variability and Goyder's Line was ridiculed. Theories abounded that "rain follows the plough" and "the far north was dry because no trees grew there". Scarce lands, good seasons and the income from sales persuaded the government in 1874 to open to selectors the whole colony as far as the Northern Territory border.
In 1877 all previous Land Acts were repealed and a new Act, the Crown Lands Consolidation Act, was passed. The maximum area of a selection was now 1000 acres. The payments were spread over nine years. Residents could purchase after five years if required improvements had been made. These included a dwelling house, farm buildings, fences, wells, dams and the clearing of land.
In 1880-1883 drought struck. In the north poor rains, attacks of the fungus red rust and locusts ruined the wheat crops. Winds blew away the cultivated soil. Many selectors had not yet harvested a paying crop. Farmers in the north of the colony reaped so little grain that they had no seed wheat for the next year. An experimental farm set up at Manna Hill was eventually abandoned. As the poor seasons continued, Goyder's Line was accepted - the lands beyond being best for pastoralists grazing sheep.
The Crown Lands Consolidation Act passed in 1886 set out new conditions for credit selectors. A mortgage could be taken out on a selection after 2½ years. A selector could surrender his selection in exchange for a 21-year lease of the same land. Sites for public or charitable purposes, such as a school, church, institute or hospital could be granted. Likewise sites for a blacksmith, carpenter, mill, store or post office.
While some farmers walked off their land, others under the new regulations were able to revoke their agreements and reselect in more suitable areas. Dotted across the northern lands are the ruins of abandoned stone huts and rusting implements - memorials to pioneers who were defeated.
In the South East, lack of drainage on the water-logged land, the long distance to markets and the dummying by selectors caused the system to fail. However, selectors within Goyder's Line, including those on Yorke Peninsula, were generally successful. Some selectors were new farmers, some were younger sons taking the opportunity to work their own land, others left their farms in the inner districts to purchase larger farms.
Despite drought and other set-backs, the twenty years after the introduction of the Strangways Act was a time of growth in the colony. The opening of new land resulted in the extension of railways and tramways to transport the grain to the ports on Spencer and St Vincent Gulfs where new wharves and jetties were needed. Towns flourished with flour mills, schools, churches and local newspapers being established.
New varieties of wheat, new methods of cultivation and the introduction of superphosphate fertilizer were all results of the spread of agriculture across South Australia. The experimental farm set up at Roseworthy developed into an agricultural college. The stump jump plough was invented to deal with the mallee lands of Yorke Peninsula. On each selection, a hut or house was built, fences erected, dams and wells sunk. There was work for carters, lumpers, labourers, seamen and all the businesses in the country towns.
The introduction of land sales on credit opened up the colony, provided new facilities and gave the small farmer, the agriculturalist, the opportunity to own his own land and to provide for his family.
The names of successful selectors were published in the SA Parliamentary Papers and the SA Government Gazettes.
The original credit selection records are held at State Records of SA at Cavan. The Index GRG 35/394 gives the selector’s name, agreement number, acreage and sometimes remarks relating to transfers and revocations. GRS 3569 is the file containing the original papers which are stored chronologically by agreement number in 130 boxes. The agreement number is required to access these and can be found in either the Government Gazette or GRG 35/394. A new number was allocated when a selector took out a new agreement under new conditions.