Volume 60: William Campbell letters, 1846-1894: No. 261
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[The] Grazing Rights Bill.
(Extracted from the Sydney Herald.)
The bill to deal with the grazing rights of free selectors, although called a declaratory measure, is in reality an amending one. It supplies an important omsion, [omission ?] and creates new conditions as necessary to the taking up of the grazing right. It is substantially the same measure as that which the Upper House rejected last session, and it introduces to the notice of the public no fresh principle. As our readers will remember, it provides that the conditional purchaser shall mark out his grazing right with pegs; that he shall give notice thereof to the squatter whose run he is diminishing, that the latter may enter objections, and that disputes may be settled by arbitration. When the measure was introduced last session, we considered it an improvement on the existing law, and regretted that it failed in receiving entire Parliamentary sanction. Nothing that has occurred since has made the change less desirable. On the contrary, we have seen the quarrel as to the position and legality of the grazing-right lead to violence and death; and anything that may tend to diminish such quarrels will be a benefit to the community. The measure will be no injury to squatters, but rather a benefit, as tending to define doubtful rights; and if the free selector is compelled to do more than at present in the way of defining and announcing his claim and submitting it to arbitration if contested, he gains, on the other hand, in the distinct legislation of his position as a freeholder. It gives him a status which the framer of the existing law may have intended, but which its wording did not unambiguously afford.
In its present shape, the word "pre lease" is used to signify a prior right to lease attaching to the freehold or conditional possession of land. This is an improvement on the phrase "pre-emptive lease," the use of which has been the cause of much confusion of thought. The word pre-emptive implies a prior right of purchase, and was used strictly in that sense in connection with the old leases under the Orders in Council, which gave to the squatter a prior right to purchase any portion of the land leased to him; but the grazing right attached to a freehold or to a conditional holding, carries with it no such purchasing privilege, and it was a misuse of language to apply the word pre-emptive to what was merely a right of lease.
Though the short Act now before the Legislature is, as far as it goes, an improvement, it does not touch the real difficulty of the conflict of grazing rights, nor will anything but fencing ever conquer that difficulty. Cattle accustomed to a run cannot learn suddenly to respect the meaning of four upright pegs, and will stray where they have been wont to do, quite unconscious that new rights have sprung up in the night, that they are transgressing the provisions of the law, and bringing their owner into trouble; nor can the most sleepless vigilance on the part of the squatter prevent trespass. Where the free selection has not been bona fide, and where a man who has a spite, or who is too lazy to work finds that he can make more by impoundings than he can by honest industry, the squatter is in evil case.