22 September, 2013

Soldier settlement reaches the rivers

European settlement of the land along the Barwon, Leigh and Moorabool Rivers began in 1837 with the arrival of a number of notable squatters who established vast (for the region) sheep and cattle runs. In these earliest days, much of the land was held by two large pastoral companies: the Derwent and the Clyde Companies, but over the next fifty years, leases changed hands, pre-emptive rights were granted and freeholds were purchased, giving rise to a number of "Estates" and "Stations" whose names are familiar even today.
A glimpse of the Moorabool Valley through the garden at Moranghurk
However, I will delve into the days of the "Squattocracy" in a subsequent post. This one will look at more recent events and was prompted by the launch last Sunday of a book commemorating the achievements of the group of soldier settlers who took up land on parts of the former Moranghurk Estate on the Moorabool River between Lethbridge and Meredith following the Second World War. The book is a two part publication titled "Moranghurk soldier settlement at Meredith: this is their story" which was compiled by local author Margaret Cooper.
Plaque detailing the soldier settlers of Moranghurk
So, what was soldier settlement and how does it relate to the Barwon and its tributaries? The answer lies in the early 20th century when the newly-formed federal government was keen to encourage the establishment of small farms in a bid to provide employment and improve the productivity of the land. This desire was heightened by the return of servicemen from the First World War who required employment. As a result, the government came up with the "Closer Settlement Scheme" which saw the allocation of parcels of land to would be farmers and - after the war - returned servicemen.
In Victoria, the scheme was administered by the Closer Settlement Board under the direct control of the relevant minister. For various reasons, including difficult economic circumstances, high land prices, inadequate land allocations and in some cases the selection of inappropriate settlers, the scheme was less than successful. There were complaints of government interference and the Commonwealth who funded the scheme lost money as did the various state governments and the settlers themselves. In Victoria, 17% of soldier settlers were forced off their properties by 1929 and royal commissions ensued in most states.

Many books such as this were published to provide advice
to would be settlers. Image taken from the Victorian State
Government website
However, Victoria fared better than the other states and in 1932 the Closer Settlement Board was replaced by the Closer Settlement Commission, an independent body who went some way to putting the system to rights.
During the Second World War, the need for soldier settlement was once again on the cards and determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, the Rural Reconstruction Commission was set the task of investigating the causes of previous failures and ensuring that they did not happen again. In this, they were largely successful and the second wave of soldier settlement saw a careful selection of applicants who were allocated viable blocks of land on reasonable terms in an improving economic climate. Not surprisingly perhaps, this second attempt was significantly more successful than the earlier scheme and between 1946 and 1959 the Commission purchased 1,206,660 acres of land for a total of £19,963,282.
Looking south from the Bannockburn-Shelford Road, once the Woolbrook
Estate/Native Creek No 2 Estate? across fields of canola
The plan which placed the men and their families on farms across the district from the 1940s until 1969, had a profound effect on the district in which they settled. Just as the arrival of the Geelong-Ballarat railway in 1862 opened up opportunities for trade and communication, the soldier settlers, through their development of the land, brought wealth to the region and their presence led to the establishment of many of the community facilities which still exist today in many towns.
To create these opportunities however, a significant amount of land had to be made available for purchase. Where possible, crown land was used, but this was not always enough so the government undertook measures to resume thousands of acres of land from the large estates.
Larundel Estate Soldier settlement plaque at Elaine
Along the Barwon, properties such as Ingleby were divided up whilst on the Leigh Golf Hill at Shelford along with the nearby Barunah Plains, Tall Tree and Shelford Estates were likewise purchased wholly or in part by the Commission. Upstream near Elaine, Larundel was purchased and on the Moorabool River Moranghurk was taken up. The table below shows the distribution of land from some estates across the region:

Year(s) sold
Number of farms
Janet Biddlecombe
1953, 1956
Tall Tree
Janet Biddlecombe
1947, 1951
Austin family
John L Matheson
1953, 1954, 1955
 Mt Gow
Estate MN Lees
Armytage family
Barunah Plains
Estate of James Russell
1951, 1958

Whilst soldier settlement was avidly taken up by the newcomers, the compulsory acquisition of lands which had in many cases been held by families for generations was not always well received. Janet Biddlecombe of Golf Hill felt that her property could be of greatest use to the community if it were maintained intact and was no doubt used to support her many charitable enterprises, however by the time of her death in 1954, the property was already in the process of being divided and sold.
Plaque detailing the soldier settlement of the Shelford and Golf Hill Estates
When faced with the resumption of his land, Norman Matheson of Moranghurk felt that the portion remaining to him was not large enough to be viable for the model stud farm he wished to develop and so decided to sell up the entire property. By contrast, in the case of Larundel, the property was already on the market and the whole therefore was available for purchase by the Commission.
Barunah Plains (aka Warruk-Barunah Plains and also known as Long Water Holes), on Warrambine Creek which flows into the Barwon to the West of Inverleigh was divided in two; half used for soldier settlement and half remaining with the Russell family who had held the land since the 1850s.

Wingeel soldier settlers (Barunah Plains South) memorial
In this way, the arrival of the soldier settlers and their families after the Second World War, changed the social and economic fabric of the land surrounding the Barwon and its tributaries forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment