Soldier Settlement was a federal, but state administered initiative which began during WWI. Land was purchased by government to provide small farms for returning servicemen, often on leasehold.
One person who applied was my great-uncle Arthur Singleton, from Ulverstone. With the 12th Battalion he had taken part in the landing at Gallipoli and the Battle of Lone Pine. After being repatriated as injured to Cairo he went on to fight in France.
His application form suggests he was an ideal prospect, well apart from that tiny, twenty pounds of capital. Arthur was a farmer’s son, as so many who enlisted in Tasmania were.
Notes added to the form after approval was granted indicate structures on the 97 acre property, probably a simple dwelling and outbuildings. The overall value was £,1460.
The farms were located at Upper Castra, 20 kilometres south of Ulverstone. The following photo was taken in 1913 and shows how harsh the landscape was as the thick bush was being cleared.
Community life revolved around local churches, (strict Methodist in Arthur’s case), and local cricket matches. From the Upper Castra news in The Advocate, November 19 1921;
In a book written by Ulverstone GP, the late Dr Tony Large, local resident Bill Melville spoke about problems associated with the Upper Castra settlement; ‘See, after the First World War they had all these houses built for ‘Soldier Settlers’. Then they couldn’t, things were no good on the farms, they brought the houses down here after. Yeah, when the Soldier Settlers went bust. Blackberries got them, one thing and another. Lot of them knew nothing about farming. Lot just walked out. ‘
Among the ‘one thing and another‘ was……. rabbits! But there were so many other issues. Arthur Singleton, and probably many like him, were not strictly truthful on their applications. Arthur stated that he had no physical disabilities related to his war service, failing to mention a reconstructed shoulder which would trouble him all his life. More importantly, there was no way of evaluating or even recognizing the mental damage suffered by the ANZACS.
By 1922 Arthur was having problems with alcohol. His marriage failed and his wife left. The struggle to care for his children alone was simply too much. He walked off the property the following year, as his mental health completely broke down and he was admitted to an asylum. The children were sent to an orphanage in Launceston.
Early in 1923 the Minister responsible for the settlements in Tasmania stated that there had been 482 cancellations of leases, 24 per cent of the total granted. Arrears in rent totalled ₤1,260,000, despite concessions given to struggling ex-soldiers. amounting to ₤243,000.
In the first decade of the system, a heartbreaking 61% of the 1,976 leases granted in Tasmania had been broken . This was one of the highest failure rates in the country. Of course, some families prospered. Upper Castra is now a thriving rural community.
AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSION…..
During the war Arthur Singleton spent months at the 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth, following major surgery on his shoulder. Co-incidentally, the artist Arthur Streeton was working there as an orderly. At 48, Streeton was considered too old for active service. When he returned to Australia Streeton painted the following image of an ex-digger, working on his Soldier Settlement plot in Victoria.
IN THE NORTH…
Oh my word, imagine the heat under that roof!
Soldier Settlement farms were also allocated during and after WWII. I have not investigated the later scheme, but one hopes that lessons had been learned and that the success rate was higher.