Why is our settler big? The Pikedale Soldier Settler Scheme was the biggest in Queensland, both in area, and number of men involved. It was one of the first, and the most notable for creating a harsh regime for these inexperienced settlers. The failure rate was incredibly high but not because the men did not work or try to carry on. The official Inquiry showed it was an almost impossible task to deal with developing a farm within the guidelines, repay the loan, and feed and educate your family.
The Inquiry laid no blame on the men and their families. No land was given to the men, there was a substantial Mortgage which went with every block. As the blocks were balloted, not every man was allocated his block of choice. Most of the men were inexperienced, but promised training. Therefore they would not have had the experience to pick the most suitable block.
The tools deemed necessary for the new settler were a horse, a plough, an axe – and a wife! It was a lonely life, and very hard work clearing the bush and planting a new orchard. Therefore the wife was an essential part of the settler’s life. She was companion, help meet, wife and caring mother.
The settler’s wife lived in the bush with a bark hut in the beginning, no running water, certainly no electricity, an isolation caused by no transport other than walking, no telephone, and bush tracks to the store or butcher. Imagine having a baby in a bark hut with only a neighbouring woman in attendance, and then each day having to boil the nappies in a copper outside the hut, after bringing water from the creek, as well as keeping the new baby fed and safe. In one case the Bush Nurse could find no food for the new mother when she went to cook her a meal before leaving to return to the Amiens village.
There are numerous reports of babies sleeping in the galvanised bath tub, and some cases where the families were so poor they boiled sugar bags until they were soft so the baby could be kept warm with those hessian bags for blankets. The wives of these settlers have never been acknowledged or honoured in any way. It is time they were.
The inclusion of the settler’s wife in this tableau will help future generations understand what these women gave to this community, as well as their own families. These are the women of the CWA, the women who held dances (initially in a railway carriage) to fundraise for various improvements in the area – the School of Arts lending library, the Community Hall, helped the Red Cross provide the Bush Nurse and her housing. They literally made a caring, sharing, and supportive community from a group of people who had not met prior to arriving on the Granite Belt. We must honour them…
Information will be set out on plaques for future generations, ensuring the story of the soldier settler experience is not forgotten. These families greatly developed the fruit industry in this district especially in the western sector, from Cottonvale to Amiens around the purpose built railway. As the branch line to Amiens commenced at Cottonvale, it is appropriate that visitors can learn part of the story where they turn off the main highway to go to Amiens.
Community input has been almost overwhelming, and the positive attitude is a reflection of the hope and mateship these settlers brought to the area when they arrived with their families. In most cases they wished to build their own family farming dynasty. There has been little recognition of the contribution of soldier settlement throughout Australia. There has been NO recognition of the part played by the settler’s wife.
Throughout Australia there were more than 800 soldier settlements, with varying numbers of participants. We should honour all of them – remember the greater majority had wives and children. The experiences of these settlements affected some families for generations.
This monument to the soldier settlers and their wives can be only partly funded by grants. There are no grants available which relate to honouring the “wife”. This is an essential part of the tableau so we are seeking donations from many people to raise the money for these sculptures. We are also asking that every child in Queensland donate $2 to $5 and be told the story of the men who returned, and with their families developed this productive farming community. Please visit our page at www.soldiersettlersmonument.org.au.
More Soldier Settler’s Stories to come!