In 1835, Britain declared Australia terra nullius, ‘nobody’s land’, thus free for colonization without having to bother with irksome negotiation or treaties with its aboriginal inhabitants. The colonial government, established to control penal colonies, was autocratic, and the vast wilderness attracted ‘squatters’, free settlers, as well as freed and escaped convicts looking to own their land away from government scrutiny – and taxes. In 1838, the Royal Geographical Society essayed one of several attempts to create a new regional structure for the continent. The author was James Vetch, a military engineer, who had never actually visited Australia, which he viewed as ‘in the lowest state of civilization…and most abject in means of bodily comfort and enjoyment’. His proposed divisions paid scant regard to the minimal known geography, and borrowed the names of the explorers who first visited the areas delimited, the exceptions being ‘Victoria’ and ‘Guelphia’ (after George III’s Welf German family roots).
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