Squatter was the name given to a settler in Australia or the United States who occupied land in an area that had not yet been surveyed by the local government. Once the government claimed all the land for itself, rights were subsequently sold to those occupying it, and an area would typically be claimed by its first European settler. Thus squatting was a stepping stone to becoming a prosperous landowner. In Australia they were described as the squattocracy, indicating how wealthy they had become. What happened to the native Aborigine population is often ignored. In Australia’s most famous song, Waltzing Matilida, a squatter is mentioned positively:
Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
The squatters we know today, who occupy buildings illegally, only came to the fore in Europe and the United States in the 1960s. There are famous communities of squatters, Christiania in Denmark or Hafenstrasse in Germany. According to some statistics up to 1 billion people around the world live in property they do not own, rent or have permission to use, and for many people trapped in poverty squatting is a basic social necessity. It can also be an effective political statement. In the mid-1990s a group of squatters in England famously converted an abandoned courthouse into a community centre. Those who support the rights of squatters point to the fact that in the United Kingdom alone there are 650,000 empty properties.