Place, power & social law : a history of Tasmania's Central North, 1810-1900
AbstractThe thesis explores the linked themes of place, power and social law in Tasmania's Central North during the colonial period. A solid attachment to place, usually through land ownership restricted to small elites, was a necessary precondition for meaningful engagement in social, economic and political decisionmaking; social law, which focussed on power relations in specific local places, worked to maintain this privileged relationship. This tripartite relationship, which constitutes an underlying organisational framework for the thesis, is explored in several contexts. In pre-invasion places, the control of tribal land, the practice of tribal law, and the conception of nature as an active participant in daily life empowered Aboriginal communities, encouraged individual participation in collective life, and promoted social cohesion both within and between social units. In colonial society, a solid attachment to place and hence full participation in the social process was the privilege of a select few. Social law legitimated a class structure of prosperous landlords, struggling tenant farmers and itinerant agricultural laborers. Conceiving nature as an aggregation of passive commodities, farmers and their workers induced radical transformation in ecological communities; social law was deployed in the hope of limiting the damage. From the late 1850s, local landed elites assumed formal political power in both local and central places. Most social law preserved elite interests, and a system of local authority policed emancipated farm labourers in the region's country towns. Aggrieved groups contested elite power in local places. Using the threat of force as their major weapon, Aborigines resisted an invasion characterised by the rule of men. Some convicts engaged in organised insubordination, and many emancipists asserted economic independence and social distinctiveness. Small farmers challenged the power of colonial parliament to deny them a tariff for wheat and reform of the 1874 Landlord and Tenant Act. Few, if any indigenous ecological communities survived intact, but nature demonstrated an ability for vigorous regeneration and accommodation of exotic flora and fauna, as well as a capacity to frustrate farmers' expectations of agricultural prosperity. Relations of power between the regional place and its political centre in Hobart were often strained, especially with regard to the eradication of noxious pests and diseases and police management, and did not always conform to recognisable class distinctions. Local concern derived from perceived violations of local authority and its attendant ideologies of individual liberty and the rights of property. By century's end a new generation of colonial politicians hostile to local authority had successfully promoted the rise of central authority and parliamentary democracy; in the wake of this shift, the influence of individual liberty and property rights as ruling ideologies waned. Social and political power was henceforth more widely shared, as was property, opportunities for meaningful attachment to place increased, and the focus of social law shifted from protecting privilege to promoting the common good. Achieving a place of 'common good', however, proved more difficult than its promoters imagined.
Breen, Shayne (1997) Place, power & social law : a history of Tasmania's Central North, 1810-1900. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.