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2-336 (Raw)

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author,male,Haygarth, H.W.,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Ward, 1969
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2-336-raw.txt — 5 KB

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In the large grazing districts, where the boundaries of the land, over which each stockowner exercises his right of pasture, are not clearly defined by means of fences or hedges, as in more civilized countries, disputes are naturally of frequent occurrence. When a station changes hands, it is usual for the purchaser to ride round the outside of it, accompanied by the neighbouring settlers, so that the limits may be mutually agreed upon. But in spite of every precaution misunderstandings will arise; in process of time some hill or gully, which had originally constituted the landmark, becomes forgotten, or mistaken for another and the result is, that the right of pasture is claimed by both parties. Remonstrances succeed each other, but in vain; each claimant is resolved to trust to his own memory rather than to that of his neighbour. Matters remain in this unsatisfactory state for a time, until some fine morning, one of the disputants, seeing a large flock of sheep, not his own, upon the contested ground, loses all patience, and starts off, on the very first horse he can catch, to the commissioner of crown lands for the district; and by him, after he has told the usual story about encroachment, damage done to his run, representing himself as the sole legitimate owner of the contested spot, and a most ill-used individual, he is informed that his neighbour, whose forbearance also appears to have been exhausted much about the same time, has been to the commissioner upon the very day before, and has lodged. mutatis mutandis, the same complaint. Things having come to this pass, the decision is left wholly to the commissioner, who, seeing no prospect of an amicable arrangement, appoints a day for his requested visit to the scene of controversy, usually within a month or so from the period of the appeal to his judgment; during which the disputed pasture is occupied by both parties, and consequently soon becomes as bare and nearly as well polished, as a mahogany table.
The court of inquiry is usually held at the head station of one of the claimants, and thither the commissioner arrives on the day appointed, where he meets both the proprietors, each with a host of witnesses. The first occupant, or he who purchased his right of pasture from the first occupant, is the lawful owner, and the point at issue consequently is the fact of prior occupation.
On the witnesses being called, first comes the shepherd of the plaintiff A, who affirms that he has been several years in his master's employ, and has fed his flock upon the disputed land ever since he can remember. Next appears the stockkeeper of B, who declares on the other hand that his master's cattle occupied the place before any sheep were brought into the neighbourhood, and offers, in corroboration of his testimony, to point out the marks of their old 'rendezvous'. [202] But A. also produces his stockman, who states his conviction that the said rendezvous was not made by B's cattle at all, but by a herd belonging to a former owner of his master's station. 
B. again calls up a witness of longer standing in that part of the country, and the scale of testimony is once more evenly balanced; and thus each party goes back a step beyond the other, and the subject of contention, like a Welsh pedigree, bids fair to be lost in the clouds, while the unhappy commissioner, amidst such conflicting evidence, is gradually taking leave of his wits. In addition to the usual causes of his perplexity, he loses much time from the difficulty in arriving at the real names of some of the attesting parties, for, in the bush of Australia, aliases are frequently as prevalent among the labouring classes as in the English collieries. Some of these are ludicrous enough: a neighbour of ours had a stockman who often used to be sent to our assistance at 'gathering' times, and was only known, probably from his rough-riding feats, by the title of 'Go by 'em'; and I remember that on another occasion, when it was necessary to discover the real name of a man in our district, for the purpose of taking out a warrant against him, for having aided and abetted a party of bushrangers then in the vicinity, we could get no further, for some time, than the sobriquet of 'Terrible Tommy'.
However, to return to our trial. A. now brings forth his reserve, a man who, by his own account, is of so long standing in the neighbourhood as to have been what is called in the colony a 'first fleeter'. He declares that he has been originally in the service of the actual explorer and earliest occupant of the run, part of which is now in dispute, from whom it gradually changed hands, until it fell into those of its present owner. Now, as this man is the oldest of the party, and can therefore claim the longest memory, and as, moreover, he takes care to interlard his testimony with remarks upon the 'first sight of the district', wild blacks, and flocks of kangaroos in quiet possession of the plains, all the other witnesses are put to silence, and listen in admiration to their more enterprising companion.
The matter now seems brought to a conclusion, and A. and his party are already congratulating themselves on the result; but just as the commissioner is on the point of deciding the contest in their favour, a sudden idea crosses his mind: he remembers that this primaeval settler, though acknowledged to have been the first occupant, omitted, on one occasion, to pay his annual assessment for stock, which has not been subsequently made good; this completely alters the state of affairs; A's claim, arising from his prior occupancy, is lost, and his opponent, whose predecessors have been more punctual in their payments to the crown, is installed in possession of the disputed pasture.