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'A spot so eligible for settlement': Sport, Leisure, Class and community at the Swan River Colony 1829-1890

Stanley, Roy (2012) 'A spot so eligible for settlement': Sport, Leisure, Class and community at the Swan River Colony 1829-1890. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Most of Britain’s overseas colonies suffered many problems, having to negotiate seasons which did not match the accustomed months; hostile indigenous peoples; communication problems with the outside world; and a lack of essential supplies and amenities. The Swan River Colony, however, arguably suffered greater exposure to the above than the rest of Britain’s colonies owing to its insular geographical location; being a colony that nobody wanted or wished to visit; very little British government investment; and the existence of thinly scattered settlements with a combined population of fewer than 5000 by 1850, twenty-one years after settlement. A comparative example was South Australia, a colony settled in 1836, which had a population of approximately 40000 by 1850.

The colonisation of Swan River in 1829 was based on James Stirling’s ambitious propaganda and exaggerated claims for a spot so appropriate for settlement that it could no longer be over-looked. However, such motives became a recipe for disaster and laid the foundations for impending catastrophe, creating further complications exacerbated by a British government that declined to invest in the project; no short-term economic structure planned; the establishment of a colony administered and based on ‘class’ and private enterprise; a finite and scattered population; misguided financial speculation; and no skilled labour. Consequently, these reasons explain why the colony was painstakingly slow to project itself onto the colonial map of the British Empire. However, such a scenario did not dampen colonial enthusiasm. Such frequent setbacks only intensified and sustained greater fortitude and resilience that determined the character of the colony between the years 1829 and 1890. Indeed, they embraced a number of values inherent in Australian society today; cultural continuity, national honour, manliness, sportsmanship, competition, and most important of all, progress.

This thesis examines the development of sport and other leisure time activities at Swan River in the context of the above social and economic issues during the nineteenth century. As the colony progressed, sport and other leisure time activities played an important part in maintaining order in Perth and Fremantle and at the same time became a catalyst for social integration, bringing representatives of all classes together. Using newspapers and the scanty memoirs and diaries of the era, it argues that most sport and other leisure time activities were the sanctuary of the small oligarchical elite and under its control. The lower classes had their own pastimes, but little time to enjoy them. However, by 1890, several ‘new’ sports had been introduced, and the furtherance of ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture extended the colony’s overall repertoire for entertainment.

By the end of the nineteenth century the economic and social context of the colony had changed also owing to self-government and the discovery of gold, which generated unparalleled economic growth and prosperity. This established the benefits of full-employment, higher wages, and surplus leisure time for a rapidly increasing population arriving from the eastern colonies. Hence, with the arrival of more people democracy demanded representation and with it a shift away from an oligarchic society that had been so much a part of early colonial life and politics.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Durey, Michael
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