Blame and martyrs
: the Commonwealth government's administration of the Northern Territory pastoral industry, 1911-1978

  • Edward James Ling

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This dissertation is a study of the Commonwealth Government’s administration of the Northern Territory’s pastoral industry from 1911 to 1978. From the beginning the Commonwealth adopted the objective of closer settlement, looking to the pastoral industry as the genesis of the Territory’s development. Pastoralists, particularly larger corporate ones, would develop the Territory’s rural lands and the Commonwealth would then resume some of those lands for closer settlement, usually by agriculturalists, mixed farmers, or for smaller grazing properties. This in turn would be followed by the development of population centres, and further expansion. To achieve its goals, the Commonwealth relied on leasehold land usage and refused to allow freehold. Leasehold enabled the Commonwealth to reacquire pastoral lands at certain intervals. 

    The Commonwealth’s policies brought it into conflict with pastoralists and their representative associations. Many pastoralists were opposed to closer settlement and actively sought to exploit Territory lands for short–term gain. The title of this dissertation – ‘Blame and Martyrs’ – has been chosen, firstly to reflect the culture of negativity and blame levelled against the Commonwealth for the pastoral industry’s supposed lack of development and support. Secondly, pastoralists frequently portrayed themselves as pioneers or martyrs, struggling to make a living while oppressed by an uncaring Commonwealth administration. The image was a false one, yet many pastoralists adopted it. 

    It is argued that corporate pastoralists occupied vast tracts of land, far too large to be effectively managed. They resisted all attempts by the Commonwealth to resume their land, while complaining about their supposedly high management costs, and blamed the Commonwealth for the financial losses they sustained, losses which were often caused by their own actions. Smaller, family pastoralists likewise blamed the Commonwealth for their misfortunes, refused to acknowledge their own contribution to those misfortunes, and relied on the Commonwealth for financial support to such an extent that it ultimately became a substitute for good management. 

    This dissertation is a defence of the Commonwealth, as events are viewed through its eyes. The study does not absolve the Commonwealth from blame, as it made a number of mistakes during its administration of the Territory’s pastoral industry; however, it is argued that failures were as much the fault of pastoralists and their representative associations. Throughout its tenure, the Commonwealth introduced a number of initiatives intended to foster development within the industry. Many pastoralists failed to respond to those initiatives, frequently sought to undermine the Commonwealth’s actions, blamed it for the lack of development in the industry, and refused to acknowledge that they too had responsibilities if their industry were to prosper.
    Date of Award2010
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Carment (Supervisor) & Alan Powell (Supervisor)

    Cite this