'The 1820s to the 1860s were a foundational period in Australian history, arguably at least as important as Federation. Industrialization was transforming Britain, but the southern colonies were pre-industrial, with economies driven by pastoralism, agriculture, mining, whaling and sealing, commerce, and the construction trades. Convict transportation provided the labour on which the first settlements depended before it was brought to a staggered end, first in New South Wales in 1840 and last in Western Australia in 1868.
'The numbers of free settlers rose dramatically, surging from the 1820s and again during the 1850s gold rushes. The convict system increasingly included assignment to private masters and mistresses, thus offering settlers the inducement of unpaid labourers as well as the availability of land on a scale that both defied and excited the British imagination. By the 1830s schemes for new kinds of colonies, based on Edward Gibbon Wakefield's systematic colonization, gained attention and support. The pivotal development of the 1840s-1850s, and the political events which form the backbone of this story were the Australian colonies' gradual attainment of representative and then responsible government.
'Through political struggle and negotiation, in which Australians looked to Canada for their model of political progress, settlers slowly became self-governing. But these political developments were linked to the frontier violence that shaped settlers' lives and became accepted as part of respectable manhood. With narratives of individual lives, Settler Society shows that women's exclusion from political citizenship was vigorously debated, and that settlers were well aware of their place in an empire based on racial hierarchies and threatened by revolts. Angela Woollacott particularly focuses on settlers' dependence in these decades on intertwined categories of unfree labour, including poorly-compensated Aborigines and indentured Indian and Chinese labourers, alongside convicts.' [publisher's summary]