4 The Pound and the “Bowmans Forest Farmers Common”

An unusual feature of early settlement in Bowmans Forest was the establishment of a “Farmer’s Common”. The idea of the “Commons” (land available for shared use by the community) had disappeared from the English landscape due to the “enclosure” acts by the time Victoria adopted land selection. Several of the original selectors had experience with the concept of the commons in Britain and successfully lobbied the government to provide one. Its purpose was to provide grazing land for local purchasers of land on unsold allotments and designated unsurveyed land. Finally the government agreed and established one in 1860. Initially the “Bowmans Forest Farmers Common” comprised an area of 4200 ha. It had an appointed local manager (often one of the original selectors) who employed a herdsman. Cattle discovered that were not branded with the “Common” brand (“BF”) were subject to “impoundment” in a “Pound” (livestock yards). The offending owner had to pay a fine to retrieve them.

​There were numerous disputes about the operation of the Common, mostly about the larger and more influential landholders appropriating parts of it for their exclusive use. Managers changed frequently as a consequence. The employed pound herdsmen were often accused of impounding stock illegally to profit from the fines. Doctor MacKay from neighbouring Whorouly (the former owner of Whorouly’s squatter’s run) carried on a lively correspondence with the Lands and Survey Department for years about his claim for compensation for the Common land in the Basin that had been opened up for selection. Also there were complaints about his stockmen seizing unbranded cattle to augment his herd. Finally the increased land selection reduced the area available for grazing and the Common ceased to exist in 1885. Once again the “tragedy of the commons” was proved by the fact that when the resource is scarce, rivalrous in consumption, and no one can be excluded – failure results.