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Colonial life - 1780 to 1890 

Rum Colony 

 Detail of image of colonial Sydney
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Because the colony of New South Wales was so far from England and so dependent on importing all its essential items, it quickly became a scene of profiteering, wheeling and dealing, exorbitant profit margins and outright rip-offs. Since essential items were scarce, people could charge whatever they liked for them, no matter what condition they were in. 'Caveat emptor'– which means, 'let the buyer beware'– was the order of the day.

Bartering was the mainstay of the fledgling economy. The New South Wales Corps, or the 'Rum Corp' as it became known because of the monopoly its officers held over the lucrative rum trade, took full advantage of the shortage of official currency. Rum was used in place of cash.

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Throwing off the shackles 

Even prior to the crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813, however, the character of the colony was changing. Free settlers were being encouraged to migrate and government and judicial institutions were making important changes. As early as 1806, bakers, publicans and butchers were licensed. In 1825 the price of bread - a staple food item - was controlled.

By 1814, New South Wales’ first Supreme Court was operating. In 1832, the colony adopted the British Weights and Measures Act. This established standards and penalties for supplying incorrect or underweight goods. A set of standard weights and measures was despatched from Britain and deposited in the Colonial Treasury in Sydney Town.

In 1842, representative government was established in New South Wales. By 1847, convicts accounted for only 3.2 per cent of the population compared with 37.7 per cent a decade before. In 1851, Victoria became a separate colony. Business was growing more diverse. All these factors prepared the way for independent law-making.

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Gold rush fever 

In the years between 1851 and 1861 Australia’s population trebled. The Gold Rush attracted people from all over the world. This in turn encouraged trade and provided much-needed capital for development.

The following decades were a period of boom and bust. Little attention was paid to consumer issues. Despite this, a prosperous consumer market was developing. The standard of living among the working classes in Australia was said to be one of the highest in the world.

Go to Laying down the foundations - 1890 to 1925

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