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Place, power & social law : a history of Tasmania's Central North, 1810-1900


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Breen, S 1998 , 'Place, power & social law : a history of Tasmania's Central North, 1810-1900', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The 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.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Breen, S
Keywords: Tasmania, Northern
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1997 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D)--University of Tasmania, 1998. Includes bibliographical references

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