In Australian history, squatting and squatter referred to those who occupied large tracts of Crown land in order to graze livestock. Initially often having no legal rights to the land, they gained its usage by being the first (and often the only) Europeans in the area.
Evolution of meaning
The term ‘squatter’ derives from its English usage as a term of contempt for a person who had taken up residence at a place without having legal claim. The use of ‘squatter’ in the early years of European settlement of Australia had a similar connotation, referring primarily to a person who had ‘squatted’ on unoccupied land for pastoral or other purposes. In its early derogatory context the term was often applied to the illegitimate occupation of land by ticket-of-leave convicts or ex-convicts (emancipists).
From the mid-1820s, however, the occupation of Crown land without legal title became more widespread, often carried out by those from the upper echelons of colonial society. As wool began to be exported to England and the colonial population increased the occupation of pastoral land for raising cattle and sheep progressively became a more lucrative enterprise. ‘Squatting’ had become so widespread by the mid-1830s that Government policy in New South Wales towards the practice shifted from opposition to regulation and control. By that stage the term ‘squatter’ was applied to those who occupied Crown... Read More