Bankstown Soldier Settlement Milperra

2010
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Bankstown Soldier Settlement, Milperra

The area between Bankstown Airport and the M5, in Milperra, contains street names like Bullecourt, Pozieres, Amiens and Fleurbaix. They commemorate battles and significant towns familiar to members of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in World War I. These street names are the only remaining evidence of one of the first soldier settlements established in the Sydney region.

The Aboriginal word 'milperra' has been defined as a company, a welcome, a place of recovery of men injured in tribal war or initiation, or a gathering of people (spelt 'milpera'). [1] Bankstown Soldier Settlement at Milperra was a community with many war-damaged men who became soldier settlers.

The Soldier Settlement Scheme after World War I

The Soldier Settlement Scheme was one of the rehabilitation projects undertaken by the Commonwealth and State governments, after World War I, to help repatriate servicemen who had served overseas. Its aim was to assist returned men to settle on the land by offering preferential terms and conditions for repayment. [2] Both during and immediately after the War, job opportunities for men discharged from the armed forces as medically unfit were limited, with extra pressure placed on the economy through ongoing industrial unrest and a prolonged drought. Governments were further concerned that disabled and loitering ex-servicemen who were conspicuous on city streets would affect enlistment numbers. [3] Nearly 38,000 men across Australia and at least 8,500 in New South Wales took up soldier-settler blocks. However, across Australia, soldier settlement was later deemed a failure with enormous economic losses. [4] The story of soldier settlement in New South Wales has remained largely forgotten, and the story of Bankstown Soldier Settlement represents only a fragment of that history.

Types of soldier settlement

Several different types of tenure were available under soldier settlement in New South Wales. These included Homestead Farm, Crown Lease, Returned Soldiers' Special Holding, Suburban Holdings, and Group Settlement Purchase. The terms and conditions for each type of land settlement were outlined in a government publication in 1918. [5] In April 1919 the Daily Telegraph reported that the New South Wales government had decided to implement a new idea in land development for ex-servicemen in order to avoid the failures of closer settlement schemes of the past. It believed group settlements had great potential for success because they offered help with practical training, and overcame problems of isolation. [6] Group settlements would be communities of ex-soldiers working cooperatively on small-scale farms with the guidance of a resident manager to help inexperienced or partially incapacitated men. [7] Bankstown Soldier Settlement was the first of these group settlements in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. In the County of Cumberland, there were six group purchase soldier settlements, mostly for poultry farming. These settlements were at Bankstown, Grantham (Seven Hills), Campbelltown, Chipping Norton, Hillview (now Lurnea) and Doonside. [8]

Establishing Bankstown Soldier Settlement.

Bankstown was established in April 1917, more than 18 months before the end of hostilities. [9] The property, Georges Hall Park Estate, was offered to the New South Wales government in September 1916 for £6,000. Property and estate agent JE Ducker described it as 'consisting of 582 acres, most of it is good land for orchards or poultry farms, but about eighty acres is low lying'. Purchase was completed seven months later for £5,506. [10]

Bankstown Soldier Settlement was divided into 48 poultry and eight vegetable farms. Farm sizes varied between four and a half acres and ten acres (1.8 to 4 hectares), with the majority between five and six acres (2 to 2.6 hectares). [11] One block was set aside for administration offices and the manager's house. The settlement had only five roads, Bullecourt, Amiens, Fleurbaix and Pozieres avenues, named after French towns and battles of the war, and Ashford Avenue, after the New South Wales Minister for Lands at the time. Ashford Avenue was the only entry point into the settlement, from Georges River Road. [12] In March 1919 Georges River Road was renamed Milperra Road (as it remains), following representations from the Progress Association at the Settlement. [13] The land in 1917 was largely scrub consisting of suckling timber and ti-trees, and was cleared by the first returned men on the settlement. [14] Later, two-bedroom weatherboard cottages with verandahs and galvanised iron roofing were built on each block. [15] In early 1919 pipes were laid so that residents had access to town water. However, with cast iron scarce after the war, wood was used for piping, with the result that water was often boiling in summer and frozen in winter. [16]

Life on the settlement.

Community services for the settlement, shown in the original plans, included land for a School of Arts and two acres (0.8 hectare) set aside for public recreation. [17] Sites for Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches were also included. The Roman Catholic Church advised they had no immediate intention to build a church on the settlement, but requested a site be reserved for their use. [18]

By March 1918, 30 families were living on the settlement. The need for a local primary school soon became evident, as 48 families were expected to be resident by the middle of that year. [19] A new school was gazetted in July 1918 with the proposed name 'Jindoola', an Aboriginal word for iguana, but the alternative 'Milperra' was suggested in September 1918 and subsequently adopted. [20] The two-room school on the corner of Bullecourt and Ashford avenues opened in March 1919 after delays caused by the influenza epidemic of 1918. [21] It remained on this site, now part of the Bankstown campus of the University of Western Sydney, until construction of a new school in Pozieres Avenue was completed in 1975.

The returned men selected for Bankstown were discharged as medically unfit, unfit for war or for pioneer farming. At least 120 ex-servicemen and their families lived at Bankstown Soldier Settlement. One third stayed less than two years. [22] Most had little chance of success because of their war-related injuries, and many were unable to return to their former occupations.

The men at Bankstown Soldier Settlement

But what of the men who lived at Bankstown Soldier Settlement? Who were they, what did they do before the war, what was their war like? The following are vignettes of some of the men, stories pieced together from National Archives, State Records, and Australian War Memorial sources. These stories allow us a tiny insight into the difficulties men faced to re-establish themselves in the community on their return from war. For many of the men at Bankstown Soldier Settlement, working on the land, even with a small poultry farm, proved impossible.

Hugh Jenner Henderson was about to celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday when he enlisted in Derby, Western Australia in May 1915. He was taken on strength with the 12th Battalion at Gallipoli in early August but evacuated later that month with dysentery. In December 1915 he was admitted to hospital in Heliopolis suffering paralysis of the legs, and in January 1916 invalided to Australia for discharge with 'concussion of the brain'. He was discharged in September 1916 after receiving further treatment in Sydney. [23] Before the war Hugh had been a station-hand on a sheep property, but his war injuries precluded a return to his former trade. He applied for soldier settlement and in April 1917 was offered a five-acre (2-hectare) poultry farm at Bankstown Soldier Settlement. In late 1917 Hugh married Edna Williams, but a new life on the land for this young couple proved illusory, with Hugh spending two of the next four years in hospital. With another operation scheduled and his wife's health also failing, the Hendersons left the settlement in September 1921. Hugh died aged 40 in 1931. [24]

Born in Argentina in 1887, Freeman Hunt listed the injury causing his discharge simply as 'left arm gone, enteric fever'. [25] Serving with the 2nd Battalion who took part in the second and third wave of landings at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, he received an explosive gun-shot wound at Lone Pine in August 1915, and had his arm amputated. Hospitalised for 11 months, Hunt had at least two more operations to remove painful nerve endings from his stump. [26] A farm labourer before enlisting, Hunt came to Bankstown in August 1917 but forfeited after just four months, finding he could not work his block. [27]

Charles Pepper enlisted in June 1915, aged 26. In August 1915, shortly after landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the 4th Battalion, he was hospitalised with shell-shock. [28] He stated on his soldier settlement application that he received spinal injuries in this campaign. Married with a wife and two young sons to support, Charles brought his family to Bankstown Settlement in September 1917 but vacated in March 1918. [29] Charles Pepper was both physically and mentally unsuited to farming, due to his war-related injuries.

Ernest Henry Willsher took over Pepper's block later that same month. An electrician from Newtown, he had enlisted in June 1915 and was discharged in September 1916. [30] Willsher advised authorities in December 1917 that he was unemployed and in straitened circumstances. With six children to support, he was desperate to receive an offer of a soldier-settlement block. Ernest was 44 when he came to Bankstown and suffering the after-effects of malaria contracted in Egypt, so making ends meet would have been a constant struggle for the Willsher family. Willsher abandoned the holding in October 1923, when he was unable to pay the instalment due on the property. [31]

In August 1914 Robert Walter Baker, aged 35, enlisted in the AIF. Baker was employed as a proofreader for the Sydney Daily Telegraph before the war. [32] The 1st Infantry Brigade's departure from Australia, which included Baker and other members of the 1st Field Ambulance, was delayed until October due to the presence of German warships in the Pacific Ocean. The 1st Field Ambulance landed at Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915. [33] Robert Baker remained with the Australian medical unit at Gallipoli until September when he became ill with typhoid. Evacuated to Mudros and then to Epsom Hospital in England, he was returned to Australia and discharged medically unfit in March 1917. [34] Four months later, he was offered a block at Bankstown Soldier Settlement. Baker spent the winter living under canvas on site, along with other discharged servicemen. Robert Baker and his family lived on the settlement for six years, but forfeited in August 1923 for non-payment of rents. [35]

The voices of those women and children who lived on soldier settlements remain largely lost. One snippet from August 1922 reveals that settler Samuel Murphy was concerned about the women's situation, stating they 'had played the game during the perilous days of the war' but now their health was being affected by the worries of an uncertain future. Samuel could not afford to take his wife for a day out to Sydney, even though she had not left the settlement for seven months. [36]

While these stories about Bankstown Soldier Settlement are largely of failure, some settlers stayed for more than 10 years. Thomas Buckley and his family came to Bankstown in July 1922 and left in April 1935. [37] Enlisting in August 1914 at the beginning of hostilities, and surviving a gun-shot wound that caused a compound fracture to his right leg at Gallipoli in May 1915, Thomas was discharged in March 1916. [38] His health had been poor for some time prior to forfeiting, requiring him to employ State lads to assist on the farm. His wife wrote to the Department of Lands in February 1933 seeking relief from the constant reminders of overdue payments and reassuring officialdom that they were hard-working battlers. Her letter ended

People as a rule don't default mearly (sic) for the fun of it. We would be only too pleased to pay up if we had it, but the trouble is gentlemen we haven't got it. [39]

In November 1923 it was reported that only 18 of the 56 farms were occupied. The vacated blocks were later offered to civilians. [40]

The neat suburban houses in Pozieres or Bullecourt avenues today bear no traces of the men, women and children who formed the community at Bankstown Soldier Settlement, and struggled to become poultry farmers early in the twentieth century.

 

Notes

[1] L Beckett, Milperra Memories, unpublished paper, 1984, 1986, p 145

[2] C Lloyd and J Rees, The Last Shilling: A History of Repatriation in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994, pp 46–48

[3] M Lake, The Limits of Hope: Soldier Settlement in Victoria 1915–38, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987, p 25

[4] New South Wales Parliamentary Papers, Vol 1, Report of the Director of Soldiers' Settlements, 1922, p 23; Justice Pike, 'Report on Losses due to Soldier Settlement,' Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, (2) 1929

[5] WG Ashford, Land for Soldiers, Special Terms offered by the Government of NS Wales, Govt Printer, February 1918

[6] Department of Lands, Returned Soldier Settlement Branch Miscellaneous Files, State Records New South Wales, NRS 8056 [19/7028]; Daily Telegraph, 22 April 1919

[7] Australian Land Settlement for Returned Soldiers and Sailors: The Australian State Governments' Proposals AIF Form No 547, Repatriation and Demobilisation Department, London 6 January 1919 p 1

[8] New South Wales Parliamentary Papers 1922, Vol 1, Progress Report from the Select Committee on the Soldier Settlements, Appendix B, B3, pp 356–57

[9] New South Wales Parliamentary Papers 1922, Vol 1, Progress Report from the Select Committee on the Soldier Settlements, Appendix B, B3, pp 306, 308, 310

[10] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[11] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[12] L Beckett, Bankstown Historical Society Journal, vol 21, no 3, July 1987, p 23

[13] Bankstown Soldier Settlement Progress Association suggested in January 1919 that as Milperra was the official name of the settlement and school, it would minimise confusion to rename the main road. L Beckett, Milperra Memories, unpublished paper, 1984, 1986, p 47

[14] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713], report from Surveyor Arnheim 27 November 1916; New South Wales Parliamentary Papers 1922, Vol 1, Progress Report from the Select Committee on the Soldier Settlements, Appendix B, B3, p 307

[15] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[16] L Beckett, Milperra Memories, unpublished paper, 1984, 1986, p 22

[17] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713], Correspondence No 18.65, 23 October 1918

[18] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713–10/13714]

[19] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713], Letter from Director of Returned Soldiers' Settlements, JGR Bryant, 16 March 1918

[20] L Beckett, Milperra Memories, unpublished paper, 1984, 1986, pp 177–179

[21] L Beckett, Milperra Memories, unpublished paper, 1984, 1986, p 119

[22] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713–10/715]

[23] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, Henderson, Hugh Jenner, SERN: 2201

[24] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13714]

[25] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[26] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920 Hunt, Freeman, SERN: 1367

[27] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[28] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, Pepper, Charles James, SERN: 2271

[29] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[30] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, Willsher (Willshire), Ernest Henry, SERN: 2689

[31] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13714]

[32] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, Baker, Robert Walker/Walter, SERN: 97

[33] AG Butler, Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services 1914–1918, vol 1, Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2nd edition, 1938, pp 23, 33

[34] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920

[35] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13713]

[36] New South Wales Parliamentary Papers 1922, Vol 1, Progress Report from the Select Committee on the Soldier Settlements, Appendix B, B3, pp 341–42

[37] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8052, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [10/13715]

[38] National Archives of Australia, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, Buckley, Thomas, SERN: 484

[39] Department of Lands, Closer Settlement Promotion Files, State Records New South Wales NRS 8058, Bankstown Soldier Settlement, [12/7352]

[40] New South Wales Parliamentary Debates, vol 93, 25 October to 28 November 1923, p 2371

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