Up Came a Squatter: Niel Black of Glenormiston, 1839–1880
NewSouth $49.99 pb, 328 pp, 9781742235066
At the launch of Up Came a Squatter, Geoffrey Blainey reflected on how important the wool industry was to Australia for more than a hundred years. He noted that forty or fifty years ago you would not have bothered to mention the fact: it was as understood as the vagaries of Melbourne’s weather. Now wool is not even among Australia’s twenty top exports. Many of those present listening to Blainey and the author speak were from the Western District, descendants of Niel Black and others who established squatting runs in the 1830s and 1840s on the lands of Australia Felix ‘discovered’ by Major Mitchell during his overland expedition of 1836. An inevitable result of the land’s rapid occupation by squatters was the dispossession and near destruction of the local indigenous peoples.
Niel Black was a Scot from Argyll shire with extensive farming experience. He came to Australia in 1839 having formed Niel Black & Co with his own capital and that of two Scottish partners, one a first cousin of the future statesman William Ewart Gladstone. Black developed their land holdings on two core principles. He would not borrow money but only use the partners’ capital, and he would not break the sixth commandment. He deplored the boasting of some of his fellow squatters about how they had killed Aborigines on their runs who had stolen sheep or speared a shepherd. To overcome his moral dilemma, he made a conscious decision to buy an established run where the Aboriginal ‘problem’ had been solved by others before him.