- Charlie Farrugia on the third front: World War I and beyond
[On screen shows introductory slide of with logo of Public Record Office Victoria across the top. Below is black text on a white background: Tenth annual Family History Feast: State Library of Victoria, 5 August 2013. The Third Front: WWI and beyond in the PROV Collection. Charlie, Senior Collections Advisor, PROV]
Charlie Farrugia: Well, good morning everybody and I’d like to thank the organisers for extending an invitation for me to speak today. It’s my great pleasure to talk to you about the records that we hold in the Public Record Office of Victoria, the archives of the State Government of Victoria that we hold with respect to World War One. Now, with apologies to those people who served in the navy and anyone who has relatives, to soldiers who fought in the true eastern front.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: The Third Front; Gallipoli, The Western Front, Home]
Charlie: I call this paper The third front because first of all I had to give it a snappy title …
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: Home. Victoria’s Contribution to the War Effort; Commemoration; Soldier Settlement Scheme]
Charlie: … but I thought it encompassed the three areas about the war in which the great majority of Victorians would have been involved with anyway, and that is, Gallipoli and the Western Front but, of course, where we’re really strong about, in terms of records, records relating to the home front. The way I see it, from looking at our collection, we can probably mark it down to three points. One is Victoria’s contribution to the war effort. Secondly, the commemoration of the war dead and events that occurred during that war …
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: Contribution: Photographic Sources. Victoria Railways (partially digitised); Melbourne Harbour Trust; Education Department; YMCA album]
Charlie: … and because I’m talking about the third front, Victoria and beyond, the soldier settlement scheme which is the great focus of the talk. But first we’ll talk about those two other areas.
One of the things that people don’t realise about PROV is that we have a very strong selection of photographic records. These are records created by various Victoria government departments or statutory authorities and you’d be surprised at what you would find in them. If you are prepared to dig, and you have to realise that, in most instances, these photos have been taken by organisations for their own administrative purposes, what you can find sometimes is quite remarkable.
[On screen shows slide a sepia photograph with the title in black lettering on a white background Contribution: First Shot of the War: Image of the Pfalz in VPRS 835/P5, Photographic Collection (Melbourne Harbour Trust). The photograph is taken at sea. In the foreground is the warship Pfalz, dotted behind it are three other boats.]
Charlie: For example, not many people realise this but the very first shot of WWI was supposedly fired in Port Philip Bay, at Port Philip Heads, when the battery at Queenscliff fired a shot across the bows of a German ship, I don’t even know how to pronounce that, P-F-A-L-Z, and this is a relatively rare photograph of that particular vessel after it had been brought back to Hobsons Bay. It was subsequently converted into an Australian vessel where it served out the rest of the war. But, that is in a photographic collection from the Melbourne Harbour Trust.
[On screen shows slide with a black and white photograph and a title in black text on a white background. Copy-Wheat Stacks at Brooklyn Victoria. During the Great War vast quantities of wheat was stored. View shows 7,000,000 bags of wheat in storage. The photograph is of very wide, very long and very high stacks of wheat bags. Through the middle run three sets of railways tracks with large open railway freight cars sitting on them. Some are full of wheat bags, some are empty. A few men can be seen standing or walking on top of the stacks or in between the rows.]
Charlie: This comes from the records of the Victorian Railways and it shows giant wheat stacks at Brooklyn where wheat, bound for overseas, was just accumulating and accumulating and accumulating in ways that it hadn’t done during the war. This is in Brooklyn, but I do know from my own studies, that if you took a train trip from Flinders Street station to Williamstown at around the same time, once you left Spotswood station, the only thing that you would see, if you looked out your window, on either side, were in fact these wheat stacks with corrugated iron on top and railway sleepers on top of that. The only thing that would have been different would have been the railway stations themselves before you got to the Williamstown Pier station.
[On screen shows a slide of a photograph of an ink sketching with the title in black text on a white background. VPRS 10478 Y.M.C.A. Photographic Albums of World War I Artwork & Images. The artwork depicts a sketch of an open-air kitchen. On the left is a long bench and stove top with a large pot and kettle and other implements. There appears to be a fire lit below this bench and a chimney sits behind it. This area is sheltered by a waist-high wall. On the right is a large oven-like construction with a chimney, round ‘porthole’ and open rectangular shaped oven ‘mouth’. Bushes are in the background of the sketch.]
Charlie: We also have this amazing set of two albums, which is attributed to the YMCA, although we suspect it’s come about because the YMCA donated these through a Victorian government body, which are photographic albums of WWI artwork and images. The YMCA provided a great deal of support to the soldiers on the front lines, or to be more specific, behind the front lines. What these are are sketchings of some of the work that they did. So this, for example, shows you a kitchen set up permanently behind the lines.
[On screen shows a slide of a black and white ink sketching. The scene depicts a dark night sky with stars. Moonlight appears to shine down onto the right of the sketch. A large three-post circus tent dominates the scene with the YMCA logo emblazoned upon the roof. Light shines from the tent opening as people crowd around it and strain to see what’s inside. The same light casts shadows of patrons’ heads and shoulders onto the tent walls. Two soldiers face away from the tent, smoking. A sign on a post says To Night; The Mudlarks in a Grand Review 6:30 Stretchers at 9.]
Charlie: They also provided entertainment. They would set up these gigantic circus tents.
[On screen shows slide with a photograph of a black and white ink sketching. The scene depicts orderly rows of different shaped tents and three buildings depicting a red cross on the roof. People walk between tents. Flanders June 1917.]
Charlie: And here is a setup of a casualty clearing station. You can see the name of the German location down the bottom there, Reninghelst, La Clytte Road, so I suspect this would be the Australian equivalent of a MASH unit. Then we’ll go back one …
[On screen shows slide with a black and white photograph and a title in black text on a white background. Railways Recruiting Train December 1914. The photograph shows a large steam locomotive, T4, stopped beside a platform, just under a pedestrian overpass. Six men lean on or out of the train as they pose for the photographer. Stenciled onto the front of the train are the words For King & Country.]
Charlie: And then, of course, there are always recruitment actions going on during the war. Where the railways really came to the party was in dressing up various trains as recruiting trains. This one is taken from December of 1914 at Echuca station so they clearly covered the length and breadth of the entire state.
[On screen shows slide with a black and white photograph and a title in black text on a white background. VPRS 14520/P1 Viller-Bretonneux Photograph Collection (Education History Unit). Eight school boys, aged between ten and 15 years old, sit in two rows, the front four cross-legged on the floor of a hall. Surrounding them are what appear to be stacks of foldaway wooden chairs. The footnote reads Red Cross Workers at Lake Bolac State School.]
Charlie: The education department was very heavily involved in the raising of funds to support the war effort. One of the more famous examples is the efforts that the children of Victoria did to raise funds to help in the reconstruction of Villers-Bretonneux. We have a collection of photographs that’s been brought to our collection that came from the former Education History Unit which contains a number of photographs, mostly of the Villers-Bretonneux site, but there were a handful of photos, this one shows you, at the Lake Bolac school.
[On screen shows slide with a black and white photograph. The photograph shows a large crowd gathered to witness the laying of the first stone of a new school. There is a large prop, a cut out façade, shaped like the front of the school with the sign Victoria/Villers-Btx]
Charlie: And they even included photographs of the opening ceremony where the school, I think it was, that was built as a result of the funds that had been raised. This is in 1923 with the first stone being laid.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: Contribution; other sources: Fund Raising and other activities; Court registers; Departmental files]
Charlie: Of course, we have lots of other records which we can also talk about. If you have a look at the records of just about every council which we have correspondence files or council committee minutes from that period of time, you will probably find that councils had set up patriotic committees or fundraising activities and what they did would have been documented in council files or in those committee minutes. There are a handful of registers from some of the local courts that show action taken with respect to manpower, particularly in country areas. There are also lots of departmental files, even talking about ways that departments responded to particular aspects of the war and other activities. I can remember looking in the correspondence files of the Premier’s department, for example, and found a file in that in which the government had sent a letter of condolence to the family of Mr Jacka who had received the VC after he’d been killed in battle.
Well, let’s talk about commemoration.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: Commemoration; Recognition of war dead during the wars; Establishment of war memorials and avenues of honour; Publication of volumes of officers lost; Plans and associated early records pertaining to the Shrine of Remembrance.]
Charlie: The way that I see it, we have records that allow you to see what steps government bodies took to recognise their war dead. If you also look at the council records you can see how after the war, lots of councils set up monument committees to oversee the construction of war memorials or whatever. Some departments even went so far as to publish volumes which at a stroke bring together all the soldiers who died on the front, and the one thing they had in common was that they worked for that particular department. I think the SEC – not the SEC. they didn’t exist at that point – I think the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works was one example and so was the Education Department. And of course there’s a big legacy that we have in that building at the end of St Kilda Road, the Shrine of Remembrance, where we have the Public Works Department plans relating to its design and we also have some of the earliest records of the trust itself which came to us from the Melbourne City Council.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: Selling plants also Great War memorial board. Black and white photograph of railway station with two buildings, and also a very large sign covered in writing.]
Charlie: And here are some examples of creative activities. This is an ordinary photograph from the railways department and the function of the photographs was to show you what particular railway stations looked like at particular points in time. And this is a railway station at a place called Kotta and the thing about this which is quite interesting is that there, which is described as a Great War memorial board, of a type that I’ve never ever seen previously.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on a white background: ‘Casualty Book’ in VPRS 2500. Underneath is a copy of a typed letter.]
Charlie: In the correspondence of the Ballarat City Council there was this thing called a casualty book. Now it’s not actually a book, it is a number of pieces of paper that were produced once every week and which have been bound together and have been folio-numbered. And what it did was to set out every Sunday when the flag flew at half mast in respect to the war dead, to identify those members of the local area who in fact had died. And in fact on this page, which is one of the early pages in this particular record which is dated in May of 1915, is obviously the indications of the first war dead coming from Gallipoli, because you can see that the notification there is of Major General Bridges. But for the most part it is just ordinary everyday people who lived in that area.
[On screen shows slide with copy of typed piece of paper with the heading Died for the empire, followed by a list of names of army personnel.]
Charlie: And the Ballarat City Council correspondence is also useful because if you look in those correspondence you will also find the documentation relating to the origin of its Avenue of Honour, which of course became very influential throughout the state, and indeed all of Australia.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Public Works Department – Pre metric plans – Shrine. Underneath is a sketch plan for the Shrine of Remembrance on St Kilda Road, Melbourne.]
Charlie: And then there was the Shrine. This is one of a number, this is a cross section of one of a number of the drawings we have of the Shrine, but the thing that I love the most about this is this particular one …
[On screen shows slide with piece of paper with the words: National War Memorial plan and sections.]
Charlie: … which is all related to …
[On screen shows slide with piece of paper with the words: View from centre of Rock of Remembrance at critical instant. Shows diagram of how the sun will shine through the dome.]
Charlie: … the shaft of light that comes down on the 11th and so you can see there some of the calculations that went on, and which is …
[On screen shows slide with plan showing the different axis.]
Charlie: … also the angles and things that have been built in to the same plan; very impressive stuff.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement; PROV Lands Guide provides best explanation and establishes series held in the collection; Different scheme set up after WWII.]
Charlie: But really the thing that most people want to hear about is the area where we have, in which we are the most strongest in our collection, and that’s in relation to the soldier settlement scheme that followed the First World War.
Now I have been very ill over the last, excuse me, over the last month or so. Before that I had started to really delve into these records to truly understand them and it had started to yield up its secrets to me. I’m not yet in a position to start sharing what I began to understand, mainly because the illness has got in the way, so a lot of my comments now are going to come from a very detailed volume relating, which is called the Lands Guide, which is a detailed explanation and guide to the records we have of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey. And if you want to follow through on a lot of my comments today then you can have a look at that; it’s available in the reading room and you can also purchase it.
Soldier settlement represented the efforts of the government to deal with thousands of returned World War One soldiers in a manner that expressed the nation’s gratitude for their sacrifices while satisfying the aim of closer settlement. The Discharged Soldier Settlement Act of 1917 provided for settlement of returned soldiers under the same general conditions as classed as settlement, but with some more generous concessions that sought to ensure that is justified in the 1925 Report of the Royal Commission on Soldier Settlement, that the lack of capital was to be no bar to a soldier’s chance of getting land, should he prove himself otherwise suitable.
Now the Closer Soldier Settlement Board administered the scheme in the dry or non- irrigable areas and from 1933 onwards by the Closer Settlement Commission. The wet or irrigable areas were dealt with by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
By 1938 almost two and a half million acres of land had been taken up by soldier settlers compared with 1.4 million acres for Civilian Closer Settlement Schemes and almost one half, or almost one quarter of it, was Crown land.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: introduction. A means of expressing gratitude; Discharged Soldier Settlement Act 1917; Essentially closer settlement scheme with more generous concessions; Administered by: -Closer Settlement Board (to 1933) and Closer Settlement Commission (from 1933) for non-irrigable areas; - State Rivers and Water Supply Commission for irrigable areas.]
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement; a failure. Lack of capital; Lack of experienced farmers; Quality and size of land. Huge financial losses; By 1938 > half had left their holdings and provisions absorbed into the Closer Settlement Act 1928.]
Charlie: Due to a number of factors including the lack of capital and inexperience on the part of many soldiers, and the quality and the size of the land allocated, soldier settlement was generally regarded as a failure with huge financial losses borne by the government and untold hardships borne by the settlers. By 1938 more than half of all soldier settlers had left their holdings. The provisions of the Discharged Soldier Settlement Act of 1917 were absorbed into the Closer Settlement Act of 1928. So in other words, from 1938 onwards any soldiers who were still on the land had their soldier settlement scheme converted to become a Closer Settlement Scheme, and the Soldier Settlement Scheme was regarded as having been completed.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: qualification certificates; Applicants needed to obtain certificate from Soldiers Qualification Committee; Must submit to an oral examination; Certificates placed on land file or advances file; Only record held lacks detail – VPRS 15726 Register, Discharged Soldier’s Qualification Commission (?1917 – 1935.]
Charlie: To be eligible to receive a block of land the applicant had to obtain what was called a qualification certificate from the Soldiers Qualification Committee established by the Minister for Lands. To obtain this, previous proof of previous farming experience had to be provided, together with a reference from the applicant’s local repatriation committee and others. And the applicant had to submit to an oral examination by the committee. The qualification certificate and papers relating to them are often attached to the advancer’s files and sometimes the Closer Settlement file itself, which we’ll talk about later. Unfortunately the only series in custody directly relating to this qualification committee has hardly any information in it; it is simply a listing of names and dates. And we’re not even quite sure what the dates mean. I suspect it’s when the old examination took place.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: acquisition of land by Closer Settlement Board. VPRS 14436 Register of Land Purchased, Discharged Soldiers Settlement Acts (1918-1929); VPRS 15573 Register of Purchases of Land for Soldier Settlement (1920-?1921); VPRS 14433 Inspector’s Report Books, Acquisition of Land, Closer Settlement Acts and Discharged Soldiers Settlement Acts (by 1918-?1924); VPRS 15706 Purchases of Land, Closer and Discharged Soldiers Settlement Acts (by 1912-?1918).]
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: application. Soldiers applied for conditional purchases as per closer settlement with concessions; No one to hold more than one conditional lease; List of conditions set out in legislation; Application for Crown Grand after 12 years provided all conditions met and full purchase price paid; Few records held re the application process but doesn’t pose a problem.]
Charlie: In some districts land was then acquired or opened specifically for soldier settlement. In others returned soldiers and civilians mingled on Closer Settlement estates. In some cases a returned soldier with a qualification certificate could obtain a farm in a district of his choice, which was then purchased on his behalf by the Closer Settlement Board. These more liberal provisions for this … sold to settlers relating to land purchase were designed to ensure that a soldier desirous of settling on the land be given the opportunity to establish his home among his relations and old associates, and not to have to seek a selection in perhaps some remote part of the state. This entailed the purchase of lands in all parts of the country where no Crown lands were available. And the records that are listed behind me are pretty spotty, but they do outline this process.
Soldier settlers applied for conditional leases; they had the same term as leases for closer settlement blocks but with a few concessions. Provisions in the Closer Settlement Act also applied to soldier settlers. In addition for these, specific terms and conditions relating to soldier settlers were contained in the Soldier Settlers Act. The difference between a lease held by a soldier settler and a lease held by a Closer Settler is shown in the file number through the inclusion of a suffix, as we will explain in a minute.
No person was to hold more than one conditional purchase lease. A lengthy list of conditions set out in Section 49 of the Closer Settlement Act of 1904, later Section 86 of the Closer Settlement Act of 1915, was part of the lease for farm allotments. These included compulsory residence requirements, fencing requirements, the destruction of vermin and noxious weeds, the making of substantial improvements to a specified value subject to inspection, and certification by the board and prohibited the transfer or mortgage of the land during the first six years of its alienation or purchase from the Crown. Installments of the purchase price were to be paid half-yearly with fines for late payments. The first installment accompanying the application was refundable if the application was unsuccessful. Interest was to be paid on the purchase price with payments in 63 equal installments or otherwise as negotiated with the board. After 12 years, if all the conditions have been met and the full purchase price paid, application could be made for a Crown grant. And the records of applicants and holders are limited and some of those are identified in the land’s guide, but these don’t prevent people from readily being able to identify land files, fortunately.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: finding files. Can be two files per settler – the ‘soldier settlement’ (ie the lease) file, and an – advances file. Almost all soldier settlement files are held in one series: - VPRS 5714 Closer and Soldier Settlement Files (?1989 - ?1960) – Advances files are held in a number of different series.]
Charlie: Settlers under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement scheme could have two files created. The first is a land file which documents the leasing process, and the second an advances file related to any advances which the settler received from the government.
In general, except for a very, very, very tiny number of files that were found in other series of PROV, all of the files relating to discharged soldiers settlement are held in VPRS 5714. The advances files, though, are held in a number of different series which are arranged according to a land division, and I’ll talk about that later.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: closer settlement file numbers. File numbers expressed as a fraction – top number = file number issued under – bottom number = section of act. The bottom numbers to look for are: - 86.6 (s 86 CS Act 1915) – 113.2006 (s 113 CS Act 1928), or – 12 (CS Act 1938).]
Charlie: Let’s talk about file numbers. File numbers are expressed like all land selection file numbers throughout this time as a fraction, where the top number equals a file number issued under the bottom number, which is the section for a particular act. These are, if you look at a parish plan, the magic bottom numbers that you need to look for to find a soldier settlement file. They would be 86.6, which means an application made under section 86 of the Closer Settlement Act 1915; 113.206 that’s under Section 113 of the Closer Settlement of 1928; or 12. Of course a lot of the ones under 12 will be, not just Soldier Settlement Acts, but they will also be Closer Settlement files as well. And this is what I mean by the file number being expressed like a fraction.
[On screen shows slide with example of a page with the 86.6 number]
Charlie: There’s your 86.6 number and there’s your top number, so the 3748 application under that section of the Act. And just for reference, this is the file cover of the land selection file for one of the more famous of the files that we do have, it’s the file for Percy Pepper, one of the very few, if not the only Aboriginal returned soldier to have actually received a soldier settlement block. And those people who want to read more about the Percy Pepper story can have a look at our online publication, Footprints.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: contents of soldier settlement files. Typically – application form; - reports from inspectors of land settlement; - documentation between settler and agency, and also; -qualification certificate and associated documents if placed there; Crown grand, if made.]
Charlie: In terms of the contents of a soldier settlement file, you can expect to find an application form, reports from the inspectors of land settlement, documentation between the settler and the agency, which would include letters written obviously by the discharged soldier, a Crown grant if it was made, and – if you are fortunate – the qualification certificate and associated documents.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: finding file numbers. Ideally, should know the name of the parish in which the land was located and even better, the allotment and section number. Online Parish Plans – VPRS 16171; From the advances file; Microfiche series VPRS 7311 & VPRS 7312 – data from these series being added to online data and names will eventually be added.]
Charlie: Now, to find a file number, ideally you should know the name of the parish in which the land is located and even better the allotment and section number. You can find these numbers in a variety of ways. First of all through our online parish plans: the series number is there; from the advances file, many of those in the online catalogue identified by surnames so they might be a bit easier to find; but more importantly and the easiest way to find it is through the microfiche series in our reading rooms VPRS 7311 and VPRS 7312 which identifies every single file within VPRS 7314.
The good news is that as time is going on, PROV has been adding names, has taken all of that data from the microfiche series, we’ve converted it into electronic form and we are now putting that into our online listings and we are getting the marvellous volunteers who do great work at PROV to supplement that by starting to add the names of the soldiers in that list details. Now we haven’t started that on the discharged soldiers yet, but at some point in the future we will get to that.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: Advances. In money or in kind; For buildings, fences, implements, stock, other purposes; Amounts/terms set out in the acts; Board could foreclose or set other penalties if advance not repaid; Most appear to have been closed by time remaining discharged soldier leases converted to closer settlement leases.]
Charlie: And we’ll talk about the advances files. The Discharged Soldier Settlement Acts and the Closer Settlement Acts are allowed for the granting of advances to settlers in money or in kind, to allow for the erection of buildings and fencing, the purchase of implements and stocks, and for other defined purposes. The amount that could be obtained and the terms of repayment were set out in the acts, with the board or commission able to take a loan or mortgage or other security to ensure repayment of the advance. Where repayment did not occur, the board could foreclose or take some action as a penalty, which is what happened according to a hell of a lot of people.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: identifying advances file number. Different number to closer settlement file number; Usually a single number prefaced by letters DSL (Discharged Soldier Lease); Created for each Land Division; Should be noted on the closer settlement file cover; Some of the advances series are individually listed online and include the name of the discharged soldier.]
Charlie: To identify an advance number you have to understand that the file number is going to be different to that for the Closer Settlement leasing number. It will usually be a single number with a prefix DSL, standing for Discharged Soldier Lease, and these were created for each application, sorry, for each soldier, who had made application for a particular block. But they were created for each land division, and the really odd thing about this is the only time I’ve come across land divisions in a land environment has been in this area, and a land division seems to be nothing more than an accumulation of a number of land districts that have just been brought together for the purposes of convenience in this instance. You might be also able to get the advances file if you find the closer settlement leases file, and of course vice versa also applies.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: Advance series. Most series include mix of CS & DSL files. VPRS 10381* Soldier Settlement Advances Files (1917-1945); VPRS 745* Advances Files – Northern Division (1906-1940); VPRS 746** Advances Files – Geelong Division (1905?-1940); VPRS 747* Advances Files – Eastern Division (1905?-1940); VPRS 748** Advances Files – Western Division (1905-1975); VPRS 749** Advances Files – Mallee Division (1905-1975);VPRS 15763* Advances Files – Melbourne Division (by1910?-1938);*=each individual file identified by name, parish and cs file#; ** = first and surname or alpha range in each box listed only.]
Charlie: Some of the advances series that we hold have been, and there they are listed there, are on our website in detailed listings. The ones that I’ve got with one asterisk after the series number tells you that there is a detailed list including the soldier’s name online already. The other ones, there is an alphabetical range for each block, so you might be able to use that to zero in to what you want.
For many discharged soldiers, settlement involved a high level of indebtedness, with most having to take advantage of the legislative provisions for advances.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: Debt. Despite advances, settlement involved high levels of debt; Majority of discharged soldiers insolvent by 1932; Attempts at adjustments made; Rectified by s32 of the Closer Settlement Act 1932 which commenced in 1937; Deficiencies could be written off to the Commission.]
Charlie: A Royal Commission and other inquiries in the 1920s and ‘30s resulted in schemes for reducing terms, adjusting installments, reducing debts and revaluing holdings. However by 1932 the majority of settlers under soldier settlement and closer settlement were insolvent, due largely to the economic conditions at the time. Despite adjustments made to their liabilities, the position could not be rectified until Section 32 of the Closer Settlement Act of 1932 came in operation in 1937. This allowed the Closer Settlement Commission to value the land and improvements, except for those made at the settler’s own expense, and then to write off the deficiency between the valuation and the settler’s liabilities to the commission. The power to review the settler’s ability to repay advances for other than improvements and to write off any amount deemed appropriate was also given to the Commission. Nevertheless despite all of these concessions there were many settlers who had no prospects of paying their installments; in such cases leases could be cancelled and assets released. Land could then be assigned to another settler but it could also be made available for sale by auction, by tender or private negotiation.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: Debt records. Realisation of assets; VPRS 10016 Realisation Accounts, Mallee Division (by 1928 – 1939); VPRS 3678 Register of Realisation of Assets; Close & DS Settlement Acts (by 1923 - ?1936). Summary records of debt adjustments. VPRS 14485 Schedules of the Revaluation and Adjustment of Settlers’ Liabilities, Section 32 Closer Settlement Act (1937 – 1939).]
Charlie: And in terms of records in relation to that, you can see that there are some series identified, there for the realisation of assets; there were summary records relating to this debt adjustment process and there’s a small number of records that show settlers’ accounts in particular areas, and the last series there indicates lands being sold after the lease has been cancelled. By the way, if you look at the Victorian Government Gazette, whenever a soldier settlement lease was cancelled that was subject to a notice in the Victorian Government Gazette.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Soldier Settlement: A note re the transfer of leases. A Complicating factor. When leased land was transferred from one settler to another, the file number was changed and a new one allocated. You will need to know the parish section and allotment and section details.]
Charlie: There is one complicating factor in trying to find a soldier settlement file, and that is if the person you are looking for walked off the land and their lease got transferred to somebody else. Because what then happened was that the file retained its same number and the name becomes different, so it becomes very important that you know the parish section and allotment and section details.
For the rest of this talk is I'm going to show you examples of what you can find on the files, and how this particular problem comes about.
[On screen shows slide with black lettering on white background: Case study from the Lands Guide – Keith Conacher. Military file at NAA (served in both world wars). Significance of case. Both soldier settler and advances files involved land subsequently transferred; Doesn’t appear in online parish maps; Must know parish, allotment and section number (Allotment 21, Section 8, Parish of Undera).]
Charlie: And by doing this we’re going to tell the story, you can read the story in the Lands Guide, about a returned soldier by the name of Keith Conacher. His military file is at the NAA, he served at both world wars, so it’s, you know, your World War II sequence, despite the fact that he was also a World War I soldier. And it’s a good case to follow through because we have both the lease file and we have the advances file under his name, but more importantly, because the file was transferred, his name and his file number doesn’t appear on the parish maps, certainly not on the ones online. So in order to be able to track this file down you need to know that it is in the Parish of Undera, that it’s Allotment 21 and Section – well they shouldn’t be Section 8, that should be Section A, that’s a typo.
This is the file cover …
[On screen shows a photo of a tattered paper with handwritten details, including the name ‘Eric Arthur Baker’ and the word ‘Freehold’ in capitals and red ink. The slide also features black lettering on white background: Land file 5164/27 (VPRS 5714/PO, unit 2326) – file cover.]
Charlie: … to that file. And as you can see, Conacher’s name is nowhere to appear on that file cover. And that’s because after he walked off the land, the lease was transferred to another person, it was then transferred to somebody else – it then eventually ended up with a bloke by the name of Eric Baker, who by this stage was just an ordinary closer settlement selector who had no connection to army service whatsoever, and he was the one that met all the requirements and he was the one, as you can see at the bottom there, that obtained the freehold. So he’s the one that has actually gotten the grant.
But this file started …
[On screen shows a photo of the file’s contents, featuring the words: Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act 1917. Certificate of Qualification to apply for Land. Department of Lands and Survey. It is date stamped 14 Oct 1919 and includes the hand-typed name ‘Keith James Conacher’. There are four signatures on the document and further text detailing the entitlement. The bottom of the slide features the Public Records Office Victoria stamp.]
Charlie: … by being owned by somebody else, but that person had died and Conacher wanted to find a property in that area. And so the first thing of course he needed to have was this certificate of qualification that we spoke about earlier. Here’s some of the documentation relating to that process. On the file itself you’ll also find handwritten statements from him as well as – what do you call those? – references from lots of other people who have known him. Couldn’t see much in the way that proved that he was a bit of a farmer, by the way.
There’s his application for the qualification certificate.
[On screen shows a photo of a worn page featuring the words: Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Acts. Application for Qualification to Apply for an Advance. Crown Land. Keith James Conacher has handwritten his name, address and the Class of Holding type as ‘mixed farming’ and signed at the bottom.Dates appear as stamped and handwritten and the overall Decision is followed by the handwritten word ‘Irrigation’. The bottom of the slide bears the Public Records Office Victoria stamp]
[On screen shows another page of the document featuring the words: Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Acts. Acquisition of Land for the Purpose of Settlement of Discharged Soldiers. It features various handwritten entries pertaining to the land. The bottom of the slide bears the Public Records Office Victoria stamp]
Charlie: And here we start to get documentation relating to the process of the Commission, acquiring the land from the previous owner so that it can in turn be leased to Conacher.
[On screen shows a photo of inside the file – a page featuring the words: Application for Selection Purchase Lease. Conditional Purchase Lease. It has handwritten entries detailing the transfer from Stewart [?] to Keith James Conacher, 219 acres and the Parish Under. There are stamps, one of which reads ‘Advances file no.’ followed by the handwritten number 4891. There are other handwritten entries, dates and signatures. The bottom of the slide bears the Public Records Office Victoria stamp]
Charlie: Then on top of that, Conacher then applies for his conditional purchase lease.
[Slide shows a pile of printed pages bearing stamps and handwritten entries.]
Charlie: And there’s the – this is my rather arty-farty photo to try and show you the lease and the thing as you find it in the file, because there are very oddly shaped items on the file.
[Slide shows a page of a file. The top is printed State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and underneath is a handwritten report titled ‘K.J. Conacher’. The Public Records Office Victoria stamp appears at the bottom right of slide.]
Charlie: And this is what happened to this poor gentleman – as you can see, in his handwriting, and I’m going to try and read it:
I beg to report that in the above-mentioned lease, lessee has notified me of his intention to abandon his farm. Lessee recently has had his home destroyed by fire and this, with the fact that he previously experienced some hard luck, has disheartened him and he has therefore decided to give up farming. The amount of £450 has been recommended for construction of building but as the house is really too expensive for the farm I now suggest that we erect a cheaper one.
I recommend that lease be cancelled and that farm made available under conditions …
… and so on. Sorry, it wasn’t his letter but that’s the ultimate fate of that property. So he was only on that land for a period of about three or four years at best and in fact, as you can see …
[Slide shows a worn page of a file entitled List of closer settlement lessees vacating holdings. It contains details of cancellation and future plans for holding typed in purple ink. There are also handwritten entries, date stamps and two ‘Approved’ stamps down the right-hand side.]
Charlie: … even the documentation has been put out on the file to provide for the Government Gazette notice. And as you can see the reason given: ‘financial difficulties, cancel, make available under the Closer Settlement scheme’. So that file becomes a Closer Settlement file and it bears no relationship to Soldier Settlement.
[Slide shows a page of a file with red ink text such and handwriting stating Gazette availability, as well as a file number written in pencil, a stamp and other handwritten notes. The Public Records Office Victoria stamp appears at the bottom right of slide]
Charlie: And that’s the last bit of documentation on the file relating to Conacher and then the rest of the file, which is about 60–65 per cent, 70 percent, relates to the subsequent history. And here’s the Advances file …
[Slide shows a page of a file with red ink text, titled ‘Advances File’. There are various handwritten notes and numbers, including a name and address, allotment number, ‘capital value’ and file numbers. Across the page is a blue ink stamp reading ‘Deficiency Case’.]
Charlie: … which also isn’t under his name, it’s under the name of the person who took it over as a Closer Settlement lease.
[Slide shows a page of the file containing handwriting in black ink. It begins ‘’To the Enquiry Branch’ and is date stamped. The Public Records Office Victoria stamp appears at the bottom right of slide.]
Charlie: And this, says me, is the one in his own hand where he’s asking for the funds from the government, an advance from the government, to be able to set himself up on that property.
[Slide shows a page of the file titled ‘Application for Advance’. The top of the page reads ‘Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act 1917’. Black handwriting reads ‘Keith James Conacher, ‘Undera’, ‘Farmer’ and the itemised details of ‘Proposed Expenditure’. Another person has dated ‘22/12/19’, signed their name, and ‘Recommended’ the proposal. The Public Records Office Victoria stamp appears at the bottom right of slide.]
Charlie: And here you go, this is what he got: four draught horses, eight cows, two bovine up to two sow pigs, anyway some ploughs, some barrows, et cetera et cetera. It wasn’t the only advance that he made. And that immediately put him into £220 worth of debt.
[Slide shows another page of the file titled ‘Application for Advance’. The top of the page reads ‘Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act 1917’. Black handwriting reads ‘Keith James Conacher’ of ‘Undera’ and the itemised details of ‘Proposed Expenditure’ which include materials, tools and labour costs for ‘plans and specifications attached’. Keith has also written ‘My father who has been a building contractor is going to erect it free of charge for me’. Smaller, faint writing appears below that. Costing figures appear next to each item. The Public Records Office Victoria stamp appears at the bottom right of slide.]
Charlie: And then, this is the really good part, he asks for an advance so that he could build a house on the property. And you can see what it cost him – it was £360 worth. This is the house that got destroyed by fire. But for people who were trying to research this there was a great surprise on this because you could work out what he cost for – you could see all of the invoices that came in, so you could even tell how many nails he purchased to build and whatever, but what he attached to this request was this …
[Slide shows hand-drawn floor plans for house, including measurements of rooms.]
Charlie: … floor plan for the house, and as you can see they were pretty big rooms for a place on the farm in those days and, if you wanted to know what it was going to look like …
[Slide shows hand-drawn front and rear elevation plans for house including windows, a door and chimneys.]
Charlie: So it’s no real surprise that once it burned down, that that was really going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
[Slide shows another page of file with different sections such as ‘Cultivation’, ‘Dairy cattle’, ‘Other live stock’ and ‘Permanent improvements’. Under each heading are handwritten entries and numbers.]
Charlie: And yet, just before he decided to give it up, it had been inspected upon and as you can see at the bottom there: ‘Lessee’s prospects good’. [Laughs] And yet, that’s because on the basis of having all of this stock on hand, but all of it of course he had actually purchased through an advance.
[Slide shows a page of handwritten notes under the stamped heading ‘Advances file’. The notes begin ‘K.J. Conacher. Extract from quarterly report received from … Will make payment after harvest.’ Various dates from 1922 as well as an account number also appear. The Public Records Office Victoria stamp appears at the bottom right of slide.]
Charlie: And this is obviously pointing out the demise of the farm and so I think that brings an end to that. I think in some cases, I’m not sure how typical that particular case is of that, but it does give you a very clear indication of the wealth of information that can be found if you decide to delve into this particular area.
So thank you very much.
[Logos for the State Library of Victoria and State Government of Victoria appear in white on a black background]
'The way that I see it, we have records that allow you to see what steps government bodies took to recognise their war dead.'
- Charlie Farrugia
About this video
Charlie Farrugia presents on World War I records at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV), including those pertaining to the Victorian soldier settlement scheme.
Charlie flags that people don’t realise that PROV has a very strong selection of photographic records. These are records created by various Victoria government departments or statutory authorities. 'You’d be surprised at what you would find in them. If you are prepared to dig... what you can find sometimes is quite remarkable'.
This lecture was presented as part of the 2013 Family History Feast.
Charlie Farrugia is a senior collections advisor at the Public Records Office of Victoria.