Investigation 1

What was life like on the land in Queensland in the late 1800s?

Much of Queensland’s wealth came from the land. In the early years of the colony, squatters set out to occupy vast areas, often forcing the Indigenous people from their country in violent struggles. Not only did the squatters control large sheep and cattle stations, they employed many people, such as drovers, shearers and domestic servants. Surrounding towns depended on the stations to use their processing factories, port facilities and other services.

Rural life was often difficult, with farming families having to withstand years of floods or drought. Farmers who came after the squatters, usually did not have enough resources to see them through the lean times. And, some were forced to sell their farms, move to town or become labourers for bigger landowners. The lives of these small farm owners inspired Arthur Hoey Davis, who published his stories under the name Steele Rudd. He wrote On Our Selection, a serialised story of farming life on the Darling Downs, which appeared in The Bulletin magazine in the late 1890s.

Your Task

Examine texts about rural Queensland in the 1800s, and find out about the kind of people who lived there during that time.


  1. In pairs, explore the list of station supplies and consider the following questions.
    • What kind of work might I & R Lawson do?
    • What kinds of goods are being requested?
    • Are the quantities of goods being requested small or large?
    • What evidence is there that I & R Lawson are responsible for other people?
    • What might these other people do for I & R Lawson?
  2. With your partner, examine the extract from On Our Selection by Steele Rudd and consider the following questions.
    • Using one word, how would you describe the family’s house?
    • Do you think they had a difficult or easy life to look forward to? Why?
    • What evidence is there in the extract that this family have ‘made a go of it’ on their farm or ‘selection’?
    • Would this family have written a list of purchases like the one by I & R Lawson? Justify your answer.
  3. Examine the photographs of the two houses in southern Queensland in the 1800s. Match the texts you have explored to the photographs. Explain to another pair why you matched the particular extract to the particular photograph.
  4. Do one of the following tasks.
    • As a 19th century traveller in Queensland, write a diary entry about the responsibility of being a ‘squatter’ or owning a sheep station.
    • Create a cartoon or act out an encounter that depicts the differences between life on a large sheep station and life on a small family farm.
  5. As a class, discuss why someone might choose the life of a small farmer, instead of working for a wealthy landowner in Queensland in the 1800s.