From Squatters to the Selectors of the land

From Squatter to Selector

In the period from 1839 to 1860 the squatters virtually controlled all the pastoral land which was held under licence from the Government. The squatters were generally men of means and education who had immigrated from England, Scotland and Ireland.

Edward Khull who took up the Tallygaroopna Run, the largest in the Murray District, as well as being listed as a squatter was also a printer, gold buyer and speculator. Sherbourne Sheppard after whom Shepparton was named was of Irish descent whose family had been granted an estate in Ireland during the reign of William 111 was also a man of means. He took over the Tallygaroopna Run in 1843 when Edward Khull abandoned it.

Joseph Raleigh who was one of the early occupiers of the Noo-rilim Run had interests in several other pastoral runs as well as interests in shipping and trade. These squatters who had obtained some wealth were in a position to buy stock and pay the sheppards to look after them.

In 1848 William Snow Clifton of the Arcadia Run had 5517 sheep, 28 head of cattle and 11 horses. As well as the 10 Pound fee for the pastoral licence there was also a fee for each of the stock on the run. The squatters had to have the necessary financial resources to pay the Government and the workers wages.

Following the Government Proclamation on June 30th 1851 that the area of Port Phillip be a separate colony and be named Victoria, elections were held, the first Parliament was opened November 26th 1856. It was the thought of the new Government in Victoria that men who did not have the financial resources of the squatters should be given the right to obtain parcels of land on which they could grow crops and graze animals.

From the 1860’s several Land Acts set out the terms and conditions upon which land could be selected and occupied by pastoralist’s and farmers.
The first Land Act of 1860 (known as the Nicholson Act) saw three million acres of Victorian country divided into surveyed allotments of 80-640 acres. However the terms were not favourable to men of limited means and still favoured occupation by the squatters.

The second Land Act of 1862 (known as the Duffy Act) set aside ten million acres in similar size allotments to the original Act, this also failed for two reasons. The Duffy Act only prescribed the erection of a house or hut on the land but not residency. The squatters were able to get around this requirement by erecting a portable house on the land and then moving the house from one selection to the next.

Secondly the squatter’s used ‘dummies’ , who were often employees of the squatter, friends of the squatter or family members. ‘Dummies’ were used to make a bid on behalf of the squatter for a surveyed piece of land. In this way, the squatters ensured that their current acerage was retained.
Another ruse used by some of the squatters was called ‘Peacocking’, this was a practice used by dummy selectors who would pick the best area out of a squatting property so as to make the intervening land useless, ie access to watering points or a road.

Another tactic used by the squatters or their agent was to select land that another boni fide selector had claimed, if more than one person selected the same land, the land was then put up for auction, the squatter with better resources was in a more favourable position to obtain the land.

In 1865 the amending Land Act (the first Grant Act as it was known) only slightly changed the terms and conditions of the selection process. However the Land Act 1869 (the second Grant Act) effectively opened up the whole Colony of Victoria for selection, including a large portion of unsurveyed land. One of the disadvantages was that a person could only select up to 320 acres, which was often too little to make a viable living. A loophole in the legislation allowed other family members to also select land, allowing a larger area to be obtained which gave the enterprise a better chance of being more successful. It also gave more generous terms for payment of the land and subjected the whole system to closer scrutiny.

This Act did impose strict conditions in an attempt to ensure that only bona fide selectors obtained land. Each applicant, after selecting not more than 320 acres, was required to appear before a Local Land Board for assessment. When the licence was approved, the selector was required to live on the allotment, to fence it, and within the first three years to cultivate at least one acre in ten. He had to pay an annual rental of two shillings (twenty cents) per acre, which after three years entitled him to be issued with a lease, and at the end of a ten year period, or on full payment of one pound (two dollars) an acre he would be issued with a title for the land.

Local Government.

Victoria has had local government (Shires) in some areas before it separated from NSW in 1851. The area around Benalla became a Road District on September 4th 1868 and then became a Shire on September 3rd 1869. The Benalla Shire at that time included the land that in 1880 was annexed and became the Shire of Euroa, Arcadia was included in this area.

Following the Land Acts of the 1860’s the Squatters lost control of the large areas of land that they had occupied. Many of them took up the land around their homestead. The Pre-emptive Right allowed them to take up a square mile or 640 acres around their homestead, many also selected extra blocks of land to give them a bigger holding.

A map of the Parish of Arcadia dated May 31st 1866 shows the various surveyed allotments of the area. It shows that there were about fourteen selectors who held land in this area at the time. (There may have been others who had selected land but had not been included on the map?) It appears from the map that land adjacent to the Goulburn River was the first taken up, the reason was most likely the water supply in the river, and it was also where some of the best land was situated.

Arcadia Parish Map 1866 showing land that had been taken up by the selectors.

There were eight selectors who had taken up most of the land in the area between the Goulburn River and the Castle Creek. The surveyors had made the comment on the map about this land,”Light sandy soil of fair quality”, and “Good agricultural land subject to innundation”.
The following names of people were some of those who had selected land adjacent to the Goulburn River. Michael Kearney, Archibald McMillan, M.Harrington, A.Sinclair, William Wright, James Miller (Squatter), J.Chapman, William Miller(son of James Miller).

The landholder with the most land was James Miller who had 1028 acres under his control. Archibald McMillan also had considerable property as well as the property he had selected to the north of the Arcadia Parish, he also occupied the Arcadia Run. In 1874 McMillan advertised his Arcadia Run including 500 acres of land, the homestead ( which was located in the present Arcadia Downs area, just south of Shepparton ) and the stock for sale. He felt that after the selectors had claimed much of the land that he used to occupy, he could no longer make a living off the land that remained and was relocating to northern NSW.

On the east side of the Castle Creek the following names appear. Sam Kerr, H.Thrum, G.Spencer and M.Spencer (husband & wife who later opened a hotel on the corner of the present Goulburn Valley Hwy and Karramomus Rd). H.Wilkinson. Patrick Murphy.
The comments of the surveyors regarding this land read as follows.
“Indifferent soil timbered with Box and Black Acacia”; for land near the Castle Creek, and “Permanent Water” in the creek. The last comment regarding the permanent water may well have depended on the time of year that the survey was carried out? Further east of this area there are no names for the surveyed allotments on the map, where the comment by the surveyors was ‘Wet clay soil timbered with box’.

In the Benalla Shire rate book for 1869 there is only one landholder listed in the Arcadia area, that was Michael Kearney having 845 acres. Two years later in 1871 there were nineteen landholders listed, this included most of those listed above plus other selectors who had come in to the area. Of significance was Richard Pethybridge who selected his land in the late 1860’s. The property he selected remained in the Pethybridge family for nearly 100 years.

A list of selectors from the Benalla Shire rate book who held land in the Arcadia District in 1871: William Cockburn 491 acres; Conalin Malachi 85 acres; Richard Fleming 445 acres; John Glenn 582 acres; Michael Harrington 160 acres; Michael Kearney 900 acres; Samuel Kerr 160 acres; James Leahy 160 acres; John & Patrick Mc Cluskey 560 acres; William Miller 154 acres; Hugh McDonald 381 acres; Richard Pethybridge 596 acres; George Spencer 284 acres; Peter Sinclair 630 acres; Andrew & Joseph Sinclair 534 acres; Henry Thrum 57 acres; William Wright 160 acres; James Miller 939 acres; Archibald McMillan 647 acres.

Perhaps there was some lag time for the names of selectors being recorded on the map to when they were officially listed in the Shire rate book? Land also changed hands for various reasons, ie. the holding not ‘big enough’ to be financially viable; the limited resourses of some of the early selectors to carry out the requirements stipulated under the Land Act. These are two of the reasons, no doubt there were others.

Severance from Benalla Shire.

A notice in the Victorian Government Gazette of June 13th 1879 advised that a petition signed by 276 ratepayers in the South West Riding of the Benalla Shire requesting that the area be severed and to be formed into the new Shire of Euroa in which there would be nine members from the three Ridings of North, Central and South. The Shire of Euroa was constituted on October 20th 1879.

One of Arcadia’s early selectors Peter Sinclair ( no relation to Andrew and Joseph Sinclair, who were also early selectors) was one of the first councillor’s representing the Central Riding to serve on the new council. Peter acquired a large amount of land in the area and was also the proprietor, in the early days of one of the general stores in Arcadia.

In 1880 the Euroa Shire rate book showed that there were about fifty five individual landholders with an average farm size of about 360 acres ranging in area from thirty seven acres to 1654 acres. There were three landholders with big acreages , Michael Kearney 1276 acres, James (Squatter) Miller 1460 acres, Peter Sinlair 1654 acres. The land was mostly held under a lease agreement from The Crown, some land had been purchased, the three largest landholders had purchased their land.

During the boom times of the 1880’s a time when overseas investment money was being poured into Australian property. Arcadia was touched by this investment boom when part of a farm just east of the railway station was subdivided, the blocks being sold on a per foot basis. Arcadia was described in an advertisement in the Goulburn Advertiser on October 19th 1888 as The Chicago of Victoria. Sales to the amount of 2000 Pounds ($4000) were effected on the day with about half of the blocks being sold’

Goulburn Advertiser 19 October, 1888.

During this time railway lines were being built and current lines were extended through out Victoria. In January 1880 the Murchison-Shepparton section of the Goulburn Valley line was opened, it had been built by E Millar at a cost of 70897 Pounds ($141794). E Millar had also built the Mangalore to Murchison railway line in 1879 for a cost of 47887 Pounds ( $95774 ).

The establishment of a railway line and Station at Arcadia was a great asset for the farming community in the district. In many instances the rail station consisted of only a platform where people could board the train and produce could be loaded more easily.

In time a small building was erected on the platform to provide some form of protection from the weather. A goods shed, sheep and cattle loading yards were built by 1887.

The Arcadia Railway Station circa 1900

Note the short length of the platform. The appearance of the building did not change for the duration of it’s life.

The Arcadia Railway Station and Goods Shed circa 1910

A railway station appeared about every 8 to 10 kilometers (as the crow flies) along the rail line to service the people of these districts. Why was the Arcadia rail station erected at this particular point? Perhaps it was because James Miller ( Squatter ) had his homestead nearby, which also included a vineyard. No doubt he would have had several employees to assist with the farm work, who possibly lived near by, so perhaps there was a sense of a small community here at this place called Arcadia.

There was some agitation from a section of the community shortly after the line was opened to have the station moved about two miles to the north, however this idea soon faded away. The railway line brought prosperity to the area, people such as station attendants, gangers who took care of the maintenance of the line, the gate keepers, there were gates at every rail crossing which had to opened and closed as the trains went through. These people added to the general population of the area.

The railway and the station provided a service not only for the local population but also to the farming communities of Karramomus and Miepoll. Prior to the rail line being built the selectors would cart their produce, grain, wool, wood etc by wagon to the railheads of Euroa and Longwood on the North East line. In return the trains brought back fertiliser, building products and food etc.

As communities saw the benefits of having railway lines and stations established to bring trade and business to areas which previously had only been serviced by horse drawn coaches and wagons; a move to establish a rail line linking the North East line, the Goulburn Valley line and the Sandhurst line was proposed. Several routes were suggested for the location of the line. As reported in the Goulburn Advertiser of July 19th 1889, a committee had been formed at Arcadia to press for the line to go from Goornong through Arcadia meeting up with the North East line somewhere between Violet Town and Benalla. Following the consideration of the proposals for a considerable time, The Standing Committee on Railways squashed the proposals on economic grounds. While they could see some advantages in linking the three rail lines the financial loss would be too great. A full report by the committee was printed in the Goulburn Advertiser on August 16th 1901, some eleven years after the proposal was first made public. As time has marched on many of these small ‘feeder lines’ have closed down, ie the Murchison East to Colbinabbin/Girgarre line, along with many others through out the State.

Owing to the precarious nature of the Goulburn River to the south there was very little activity of paddle steamers carting produce along this section of the river. In 1875 the paddle steamer Emily Jane made an exploratory journey from Shepparton to Murchison, but the opening of the railway put an end to any further thought of transporting produce on the river.

The railhead at Arcadia also provided opportunity for other businesses to be established nearby. Selectors were obliged to clear a portion of their land each year and to sow crops. The timber was felled, cut into seven foot billets, then carted into the rail station yard where at times three saw mills operated. The wood was cut into foot blocks, loaded onto ten ton rail trucks, carted to Melbourne where it was used by the people for heating and cooking purposes. The last saw mill to operate at the Arcadia railyard was owned by Peter Baldi and closed down in the 1940’s. Two redgum saw mills operated in the district during the boom times as well.

A wagon load of wood loaded ready to go to one of the sawmills circa 1900
Peter Baldi’s sawmill which was the last one to operate in the Arcadia rail yard circa 1930

Between 1890 and 1901 other small businesses that operated at Arcadia to service the local community included a wine shop, two blacksmiths, a creamery, hotel which was situated on the Three Chain Rd now the Goulburn Valley Freeway, butcher shop, two general stores, bootshop, boarding house, also a punt operated to cross the river just below the township.

Arcadia Creamery and The Butter Factory.

Many of the early settlers milked a few cows on their selection, this provided some regular income for the farmers, however I would suggest that in this area with hot dry summers it would have been a seasonal activity, happening more in winter – spring months of the year, when there would have been more green feed for the cows to graze. It would have been a case of all hands helping with this daily chore, with the older children of the family helping with the milking, by hand, before and after attending school. The farmers then carted the cans of milk to the nearest creamery to be separated, there was at least one creamery in each district to process the milk.

The Arcadia Creamery was established and opened in December 1891 near the corner of the Euroa – Shepparton Road and Zoch Road. The cream was carted to the Arcadia Railway Station from where it went to a bigger town to be made into butter. However the business fell on hard time, drought or financial difficulties may have been the cause for the business to go into liquidation by the end of 1892, the remaining assets of the business were sold in December 1893.

The supply of milk in the area must have been plentiful for in the year 1900 the Melbourne Chilled Butter Company built a butter factory near the railway station, the cost at that time being 5000 Pounds ( $10000 ) it was a modern factory with electric light. They constructed a short rail line across to the station where they built a cool room in which to keep their produce cool until taken by train to other destinations. The butter factory was still operating in the year 1916.

One of Arcadia’s general stores, this one owned at the time by Mr Winkle and was located on the main street.To the far right can be seen the faint outline of the roof of The Butter Factory circa 1910.

There was quite a large population in the area defined as Arcadia. In the Victorian Government Gazette of February 10th 1893, the Licensing Act of 1890 stated the number of inhabitants in each of the following districts were as follows: Rushworth 3170; Murchison 560; Mooroopna 3905; Shepparton 2375; Arcadia 2680. On Feburary 9th 1900 it stated the number of inhabitants were as follows: Rushworth 4060; Murchison 615; Mooroopna 4485; Shepparton 2560; Arcadia 2455. The boundary of the Arcadia District for this count is not known, but it is an interesting statistic?

The quite large population of the Arcadia District appears to reflect in the business carried out by the Post Office at this time. Following the opening of the railway line a Post Office was established at the Station in 1882, up until this time mail was delivered and collected at Pethybridges and also at McCluskeys Hotel. By 1884 the Station Post Office was the more important of the three, in this year 4290 letters and parcels were handled by this Post Office. Telegraph facilities were introduced in 1887, in the first year of operation 417 telegrams were transmitted and 309 were received. In 1906 this Post Office handled mail, postal notes and the telegraph service. Mail in this year numbered 21897 items, which rose to 43307 items in 1909 peaking in 1910 to 74506 items. In June 1909 a second post office opened in the town and gradually took over all the business from the Station Post Office. The population served by the Arcadia Post Office in 1906-1907 was stated by Australia Post to be 400 people, rising to 479 in 1910.

The area covered by the licensing Act for the number of inhabitants and the Australia Post population count is not known, nor is the criteria for the count, but the amount of business carried out by the Post Office is significient. The Australia Post information was kindly provided by Mr Colin Duggan, Historian Australia Post.

The Euroa Shire rate book for the 1900 shows that about 24000 acres in the Arcadia District had been taken up by the selectors. There were fifty three individual land holders with an average area of 450 acre, ranging in size from 38 acres to 1709 acres, this did not include small house blocks of which there were about ten. The selectors with the biggest acerage were: Michael Kearney 1709 acres; Andrew & Joseph Sinclair 1173 acres; Young Walker 1479 acres; Estate of James Miller 1210 acres; Pethybridge family 1666 acres.

Droughts and financial committments coupled with the fact that some selections were too small to be viable, forced some of the selectors to sell up and move on. Even some of people who had control of large holdings found that their expenses out weighed their income and their way of life could not be sustained.

Shepparton News 12.5.1895
Goulburn Advertiser 25 May, 1900.

The following is the story about two of the first selectors in the Arcadia District, about their families, the highs and lows as they struggled to improve their land and to make a living from their land.

Michael John Kearney.

Michael Kearney was one of the first men to select land in the Arcadia area. He staked a claim on some of the best land in the north west corner of the parish, which assured him at most times to a plentiful supply of water from the Goulburn River. He named his selection Castle Bend, this same land retains the Castle Bend name today.

Michael was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1836 and like many of his Irish countrymen he saw Australia being able to offer a better life, with more opportunities than what was available in Ireland. In 1857 at the age of twenty one years he migrated to Australia aboard the ship British Empire, he disembarked at Morton Bay, Brisbane. Sometime later he came down to Victoria and settled at Kyneton, where on April 22nd 1861 he married Jane Dunne, who had migrated from Tipperary Ireland and was aged seventeen years. Jane gave birth to ten children over the next fifteen years, but tragically only three survived to adulthood. Then on July 27th 1876 Jane died from health complications, leaving Michael to raise the four remaining children.

At Kyneton the Kearneys had a business as a licensed victualler or publican, and ran a hotel called The Woolpack. Most of the land around Kyneton and central Victoria had been claimed by the selectors following the gold rush of the early 1850’s, consequently the move was eastward where there was still land available for selection. Quite a number of people came across from the Kyneton area to take up land in the Goulburn Valley.

On his journeys from Kyneton to Castle Bend at Arcadia, the Muddy Creek at Moorilim had to be crossed. Here Michael saw an opportunity to conduct a business as this road was the main route for people travelling from the goldfields of Ballarat and Bendigo to the goldfields of North East Victoria. Michael built a hotel and general store on the west side of the creek, which opened for business about June 10th 1871. He also would have provided a service of conveying people and their possessions across the creek when there was a good flow of water in it. In 1867 a contract was let to John Greaves to build a bridge over Muddy Creek at a cost of 710 pounds. (Vic Gov Gazette Sept 3rd 1867.

Another of the early selectors Samuel Kerr offered a small block of land near the corner of the Arcadia road and the Three Chain road ( Now Goulburn Valley Fwy ) for the erection of a Roman Catholic church and school. Here a young school mistress Louisa Pistoria was employed to teach the children. Louisa while at Arcadia boarded with the Sam Kerr Family who farmed on the land beside the school and church. Michael Kearney would have passed nearby on his way to and from Castle Bend. The only hotel at Arcadia was also situated on the Three Chain road just a little south of the school. The meeting between Michael and Louisa resulted in them marrying in 1879, he was aged forty three years and Louisa was aged nineteen years, her father was Joseph Pistoria who had married Mary Doolan an immigrant from Kilkenny in Ireland.

Louisa and Michael Kearney

Together they brought up the children from Michaels first marriage, Ellen, Bert and Gus, as well as ten children of their own. Prior to the turn of the century both Bert and Gus were to distinguish themselves in the sporting arena. Michael Joseph or Bert as he was better known attended Geelong College, played football with the Geelong Football Club around 1890, later playing for the Essendon Football Club. Bert later moved to Echuca where he became a well known stock and station agent. Augustas Daniel, known as Gus also attended Geelong College, went on to study medicine at Melbourne University and completed his degree at the University of Edinburgh. He was a champion tennis player and as described in a report in the Goulburn Advertiser of 1897, “Mr A Kearney has again carried of the tennis championship of the colony”. In fact he won the New South Wales Open twice and the Victorian Singles Title six times. The player profiles of the Essendon Football Club describes Gus as”an outstanding” follower who had played in three of the four Essendon Association premiership teams between 1892 and 1894 after coming from Geelong College. He also played intercolonial football in 1893. Kearney was in Essendons first league game in 1897 and was a superb player in the premiership victory in that year. He was also Essendon’s vice -captain in 1897 and 1898. At the end of 1898 he left for Scotland to complete his medical studies. Tragically he died in 1907, due to complications following an operation. He was aged thirty six years.

A map dated 1866 of the Country Lands Parishes of Dargalong, Molka and Arcadia, Murray District, shows Kearney having 361 acres in the Arcadia Parish, which formed part of Castle Bend. By 1875 he is listed in the Benalla Shire rate book as having 1276 acres and by the year 1900 was listed in the Euroa Shire rate book as having 1709 acres. He had extended his farming interests into the Molka area as well.

Following the opening of the Murchison/Shepparton rail line in 1880, Kearney established a timber mill on his property Castle Bend where a plentiful supply of redgum trees were available for milling. To facilitate the transport of the milled timber he built a rail siding and a short rail line from the main line to the mill.

A report in The Goulburn Advertiser on February 11th 1898 talks of ‘the continued drought’, where farmers were finding it very difficult to grow crops and have drinking water for cattle and sheep. At this time there wasn’t any irrigation on the east side of the Goulburn River, it was to come some years later. There was also talk of a financial crisis in Victoria, the Bank of Victoria had monetary problems as reported in The Shepparton News on May 12th 1893. The oral history of the Kearney family suggests ‘that Michael employed up to eighty people at times – wages had to be found for his employees’. Perhaps these factors combined with drought was part of the reason that the property Castle Bend was advertised for sale, to be held on October 21st 1901. The property advertisement for the sale, showed that Kearney had an extensive acerage under crop, amounting to 700 acres. Clearing and ploughing the virgin soil, sowing the crops on such a large area would have required extensive labour and many many horse teams to get the crop in the ground. This would have been a very big undertaking at this particular time in history.

Advertisement 21 October, 1901.

Then in 1909 Kearney again sold a large parcel of land in both the Arcadia and Molka Parishes, here 1703 acres were auctioned, this land being of poorer quality than the land at Castle Bend. Access to water wasn’t as assured either, although one allotment had access to the new Main Eastern Chanel.

Land Sale 1909.

Following the sales of Kearneys extensive property in 1901 and 1909, Michael concentrated his time and effort into the running of his hotel and store; it was known far and wide as The Commercial Hotel or Kearneys Hotel. However he suffered ill health in the latter part of his life and passed away at his home at Moorilim on June 15th 1915, aged seventy nine years.

Obituary notice 25 June, 1915.

Following the death of Michael his wife Louisa and daughter Nora continued to run the hotel, store and post office at Muddy Creek. In 1922 a telephone exchange had also been established there. In 1924 Kearneys sold the business situated beside the Muddy Creek and Louisa retired from business after being a resident of Moorilim for forty five years.

Notice 1 December, 1922.
Sale notice 24 November, 1923.

On December 31st 1928 under the provisions of the Licensing Reduction Board the hotel was closed.