Category Archives: Soldier settlement

217. The significance of the reference in securing the Qualification Certificate, including a generational perspective

This post looks in more detail at the vetting process that underpinned the soldier settlement scheme post WW1. The analysis is based on correspondence and other files from the Archives of the Shire of Alberton and also the on-line records from the Public Record Office Victoria: Battle to Farm – WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria.

The point has been made in previous posts that returning soldiers were promised so much in terms of repatriation. Schemes, such as settling returned servicemen on the land, were presented as a fitting reward for those who had ‘answered the call’ and proved themselves in battle. However, the reality was that there were significant limits placed on all the fine sentiment [Post 216]. This was very evident with the ‘qualification certificate’ which served as the key eligibility criterion. Without such a certificate, the returned soldier was denied access to the scheme. Moreover, as we will see, the qualification certificate was not easily secured.

George William Black, Shire Secretary

The key individual in the soldier settlement scheme at the local level was George William Black, Shire Secretary. Black had been appointed Shire Secretary in 1911 and he held the position throughout the post-War period. In fact, he served as Shire Secretary for 30 years, from 1911- 1941. As noted many times before, Black had been a key figure in the War effort and had acted as secretary of the local recruiting committee. He was a high profile, avowed Imperial Loyalist.

Specifically in terms of the soldier settlement scheme, Black took on the role of the principal administrative officer [‘Executive Secretary’] across the Shire and coordinated the work of the several local [land] ‘valuation committees’. While these committees, as the name suggests, were principally involved in land selection and valuation as part of the settlement scheme, they also played a broader role in overseeing the efforts of the individual soldier settlers and the operation of the scheme generally. They were also referred to as local ‘repatriation’ committees. The membership of these relatively small local committees consisted or two or three local landholders and a local councillor. There were 3 local committees for each of the three ridings (North, South and Central) in the Shire. Black dealt directly with the Victorian bureaucrats responsible for the soldier settlement scheme under the (Victorian) Closer Settlement Act and he was remunerated for his work. All the members of the local committees contributed their time and efforts on a honorary basis; although they could claim ‘reasonable car hire’ costs when inspecting properties.

Significance of the Qualification Certificate

Instructions under the Closer settlement Act made it clear that the local valuation committee was not to consider any potential land acquisition unless the individual ex-soldier concerned held a qualification certificate. Nothing could happen without such a certificate. Written instructions sent to Black by the ‘Discharged Soldier Qualification Committee” in October 1918, highlighted the critical importance of the certificate:

In connection with placing Discharged soldiers on the land under the operation of the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act, the first essential in every case is that the intending settler should obtain a Qualification Certificate. To do this he has to lodge an application and appear in person before the Qualification Committee when called on to do so, supporting his application by references showing that he has had previous experience on the land. One reference should be furnished by the Local Repatriation Committee and owing to the position local councillors occupy as men experienced in business and agricultural pursuits with frequently a personal knowledge of the applicant, this reference carries great weight when the matter is under consideration. It is desired that the reference from the Local Committee should be written on official paper, if possible, and signed by the Secretary on behalf of he Committee, also that it specially refers to the class of experience the applicant has had and the period of such experience.

To obtain a qualification certificate, a discharged soldier had to complete a detailed form, provide the essential references and then appear, in Melbourne, before the Qualification Certificate Committee. The applicant had to indicate which ‘class of holding’ the qualification certificate was to cover: dairy farming, mixed farming, wheat growing, irrigation, fruit growing or pig raising. When they submitted their application, they had to … solemnly and sincerely declare that I am the person making the application on the form herewith and that the replies to the questions hereinafter contained are true and correct in every particular.

The information sought by the Qualification Certificate Committee was detailed. Unsurprisingly, it covered the ex-soldier’s service history, down to questions as specific as, ‘‘How long were you actually fighting?’. There were also questions covering any ‘physical disability’ as a result of service and a focus on the former soldier’s present health. There were questions covering their employment history prior to enlistment and their occupation post discharge. There was an obvious focus on farming experience, even to the extent of wanting to know if the wife had had ‘experience in farm life’. Financial details included the ‘amount of capital at your disposal, whether in stock, cash or other accounts’. The authorities also wanted to know … if married, has your wife any separate means? They also wanted to know if the applicant currently held land in their own right or had any interest in land. And, lastly, the Qualification Committee was keen to know, if the applicant was successful, whether or not they would be applying for an ‘advance’. The advance was given to cover the cost of stock, building or farming materials and any other expenses in establishing the successful soldier settler on their property. It even covered the cost of food and other basic consumables. The relevant papers in the Shire of Alberton archives cover many cases where such advances were approved. Essentially, many of the ex-soldiers were trying to establish themselves with very little capital and very significant debt levels, with interest rates around 5%. And, of course, they were trying to establish themselves in a market where prices and land costs had been inflated because of the government scheme ostensibly set up to help them.

If the applicant’s references were satisfactory, and both the information they provided in their written application and their appearance at the interview with the Qualification Committee in Melbourne were also deemed satisfactory, he was given his certificate which declared that … he possesses the necessary qualifications entitling him to apply for land.

Percival Thomas Quinn

It is worth looking at a local discharged soldier who negotiated his way through the process to obtain first the qualification certificate and then the land holding.

Percival T Quinn was born at Tarraville in 1894. He grew up in the area and attended Balloong State School. His father, Patrick Quinn, was a farmer at Woodside. The family farm was approximately 600 acres.

Percival first tried to enlist, very early, in September 1914. He was a minor at the time and it appears his parents would not provide permission. One year later – 26/8/15 – he enlisted in Melbourne. He joined 4 LHR but subsequently transferred to 8 Battalion.

Quinn embarked from Melbourne on 9/3/16 and by this point he had married – Edith Pedley – and there was a child born later in 1916.

Over the course of his service – 1,236 days abroad – Quinn was hospitalised with first bronchitis and then scabies. He was also gassed. He returned to Australia in July 1919 and was discharged (TPE) on 18/9/19. It appears that immediately after returning to Australia he lived with his wife and child in Melbourne. There was a welcome home for him at Woodside in November that year.

Quinn wasted no time in applying for this qualification certificate. He presented before the Qualification Committee in Melbourne in late October, only one month after his formal discharge. In fact, matters moved very quickly for him and after he gained his qualification certificate, he secured his land holding in early March 1920. Presumably his father was helping him with the process.

Quinn secured allotments 2 and 19 of Scott’s Estate. It was an area of 325 acres and its capital value was £2,498-8-0. Scott’s Estate was a property of just over 3,000 acres, two miles from Woodside. The property was sub-divided into 12 farms which were between 200 and 325 acres. The land was classified as suitable for ‘mixed farming’. Quinn’s farm was the closest to Woodside. It was also one of the largest ones. At the time he secured his land, Quinn indicated that he would seek an advance for implements and stock.

On his application form for the qualification certificate, Quinn indicated that prior to enlistment he had been a farm labourer for 8 years. He had worked on his father’s farm and also the farms of other locals. Some of these local farmers provided written references. On the form he also noted that post his discharge he was back working as a farm labourer. On his form, he specifically cited, as experience relevant to his application, 8 years of ‘mixed farming’. He also noted that his wife had lived on a farm all her life.

In terms of personal finances, he wrote that he was not receiving any pension, his wife had no ‘separate means’ and his capital was about £130.

The application form also stated that he was not suffering from any ‘physical disabilities’ … by reason of wounds or disease resulting from your Naval or Military service. Quinn described his ‘present condition of health’ as ‘good’.

Overall, Quinn’s experience is setting himself up as a soldier settler was relatively straightforward. However, the ease of the process belied the enormous challenge that Quinn, and all other soldier settlers, faced. He had very little capital and a significant debt – the term was 36.5 years – with a relatively high interest rate (5%). Moreover, the level of debt in the short-term would increase because he would have to seek advances to set himself up on his mixed farm. Then there were the strict requirements under the scheme. He had to effect levels of ‘improvements’ – farm house, farm buildings and sheds, fencing, land clearing – which were closely specified. He would need to rely on his – and his wife’s – labour. He could do nothing with the land other than the specified mixed farming; and, lastly, he had to reside on the land until it became freehold.

However, this is not the post to assess the worth of the soldier settlement scheme; although it is clear that such men were taking on very high levels of risk with limited resources. Rather, what I want to do is focus on the issue of references.

References as part of the Qualification Certificate

Overall, the references Quinn used in his application were positive. He supplied four such references: three were from local landholders and the fourth was from Black, as Shire Secretary.

The first was from A Missen, ‘Farmer & Grazier’ of Greenmount, Yarram:

I hereby certify that I have known Thomas Quinn ten years he has been amongst all kinds of Stock & Farming all his life He is honest sober and industrious. I consider him a capable man to undertake Farming pursuits He is of a highly respected family living in this district.

The second was from Thomas Gasson,’Grazier’ of Huberts Corner via Yarram:

This is to certify
That I have known Percival Thomas Quinn from infancy

That he worked on a farm up to his enlistment in the A. I. F.
That he thoroughly understands farming
and that he is capable of working land satisfactorily

The third reference was identical – verbatim – to Gasson’s and came from W A Hunter “Farmer”, also of Huberts Corner via Yarram

The fourth reference was the one provided by Black as Shire Secretary. It was on Shire note paper and was dated 29/10/19.

Mr Percival T. Quinn, discharged soldier, has been a resident of the district all his life, and has been connected with farming pursuits all his working years. I have no hesitation in recommending him for a Qualification Certificate.

There is no significant detail in any of the references and they really only represent broad claims, on the the part of those providing them, that the applicant possessed both the general farming background and personal character required to become a successful soldier settler. As we will see, the in-person appearance before the Qualification Committee provided the opportunity to test the issue of relevant farming experience. However, what was critically significant was that several local landholders and the Shire Secretary attested to the applicant’s suitability.

Securing this level of local endorsement was not as simple as this particular case involving Quinn suggests.

Problems with references

Take the case of Edgar Lawrence Lear. Lear was born in Port Albert in 1895. He grew up in the district and attended Tarraville State School. He enlisted as a 20 year-old in July 1915, in Yarram, and was given a farewell and presented with the Shire medallion. He was married. His older brother – Issac James Lear – also enlisted in July 1915. The older brother was killed at Fromelles in July 1916 [Post 74].

Edgar Lear was wounded – bomb wound in his right foot, ‘severe’ – in 1916 but continued to serve. He returned to Australia in June 1919 and was discharged in August the same year as ‘medically unfit’.

In the Shire archives there is a letter from Edgar L Lear to Black as the Shire Secretary, dated 4/3/20, from East Warburton:

As I am about to purchase (through the Repatriation Dept) a block of land for farming purposes, I would esteem it a very great favour if you would supply me (at your earliest convenience) with a reference to the effect that you have known me for some considerable time, also to have a fair knowledge of farming.

No doubt you will be wondering why I make this request, but the fact of the matter is, it is essential I should supply a satisfactory reference from the Shire Secretary from where I enlisted, otherwise I will have rather a rough time of it in reaching my goal. Trusting you will see your way clear to oblige me in this matter & thanking you in anticipation…

Clearly, Lear knew of the importance attached to the reference form the Shire Secretary. He would have been disappointed in the response he received from Black. It was dated 5/3/20:

In reply to your letter of the 4th inst., asking for a reference, I have to point out that I know nothing about your knowledge of farming, and could not, therefore, give the reference. If you have any references from residents of this district, and supply me with their names, I might be prepared to give a reference on the strength of their recommendation. I would be pleased to oblige you, but a reference given under the circumstances would be worthless.

Black’s reluctance is obvious and there is no record of Lear being granted land under the scheme.

There were other cases where Black did provide a reference, but the Qualification Committee found his reference wanting. Karl Klu had been born in the UK but when War broke out he was living and working, as a ‘labourer’, in the district. He enlisted from Yarram with the very first group of volunteers in September 1914. He returned to Australia under the ‘special leave’ provision – set up for the original Anzacs – on 23/12/18 and was discharged on 21/2/19.

On discharge, Klu was living in Melbourne but he obviously contacted Black and requested a reference. However, it appears that when he fronted the Qualification Committee, with his references, concerns were raised about his suitability. Immediately after the interview he wrote to Black advising him of the Committee’s concerns. The letter was dated 11/3/19.

Today I have been before the Soldiers Qualification Committee, for land in connection with which you gave me a reference; but this did not state my ability to manage a farm successfully or what sort of worker I was and the Committee are writing to you for more particulars. I was working for Miss Jack, Madalya. Mr J. J. Kee, Yarram will also give you any information as he has known me personally for some considerable time. Trusting this will explain matters.

The Committee itself wrote to Black on the same matter. Their letter was dated 12/3/19:

Mr. Karl Klu has applied for a Qualification Certificate to enable him to take up land under the provisions of the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Acts. He appeared before the Committee on the 11th. inst. The references he produced were rather vague and the Committee would be glad if you could see your way to supplement your reference by a statement, if within your knowledge, that Mr. Klu gave satisfaction to those who employed him in farm work and if, in your opinion, he would be likely to to be successful if placed on a dairy farm of this own.

Black replied immediately (14/3/19). It was clear that even though he had provided a reference for Klu, Black was now raising significant qualifications:

In reply to your letter of the 12th inst., re Mr Karl Klu, I have to state that I have not sufficient knowledge of Mr Klu to be able to express an opinion as to his prospects if placed on a dairy farm of his own. I understand Mt Klu gave every satisfaction to those who employed him, but a communication to Miss Jack, of Madalya, Jack River, or Mr J. J. Kee, of Yarram, both of whom, I understand, employed him would settle that question, as their testimony could be relied upon with every confidence.

For all the ambivalence, in the end, Karl Klu, in association with his brother, another ex-soldier, did receive land in the district under the scheme.

Leslie Henry Hole was another former soldier from the district who sought a reference from Black. He was also another young English immigrant. When he first tried to enlist he was only 19 years-old and his occupation was ‘farm labourer’. He was rejected by the local doctors in Yarram because of his eyesight. Then in January 1916 he was successful. On his service overseas he suffered from a heart condition and he was eventually discharged as medically unfit in July 1918. He was actually discharged in the UK and on discharge he became an Australian Munitions Worker in the UK. He subsequently returned to Australia and was living at Albert Park when he applied for his qualification certificate.

Hole wrote to Black on 1/11/19 advising him that he had been instructed to secure a reference from him, as Shire Secretary, to include with his application for the qualification certificate. In the letter, Hole claimed he had had experience in dairy farming and that he had worked for several local farmers: W Vardy of Carrajung, A Vardy (a brother) of Alberton, A H Stephenson of Alberton and H Ferris, late of Mr Lucas’s farm at Carrajung.

A few days later (4/11/19), Black wrote to one of the men mentioned – A H Stephenson – seeking information:

A returned soldier, Leslie H. J. Hole, has written to me for a reference in connection with his application for a qualification certificate to enable him to take up land under the soldier land settlement scheme. He mentions that he worked for you amongst others in the district. As I do not know him, I cannot give him a reference without making inquiries, and I would, therefore, be obliged if you would inform me if, in your opinion, he is the (sic) man who would be likely to make a success of a dairy farm. Anything you tell me will be treated as strictly confidential.

Stephenson replied to Black on 11/11/19:

Your letter of the 4th inst. to hand.
Leslie Hole was in my employ for some time and I found him in every way trustworthy and I think him quite capable of taking on a dairy farm on his own.

On the face of it, Stephenson’s reference was definitely positive; and it appears that Black forwarded this reference directly to Hole on 13/11/19. Presumably, Black would have also written to the other farmers mentioned by Hole, but there is no record of any other references received by Black.

Hole must have appeared before the Qualification Committee in Melbourne in early December (1919). Following the interview, the Committee wrote to Black as Shire Secretary on 17/12/19. The Committee was clearly unhappy with Hole’s performance at the interview and sought more information:

With reference to Mr. Leslie H. J. Hole, who has applied for a Qualification Certificate. I may state that this man produced several references, among them being one from Mr. W. Vardy, Musk Grove, Carrajung South and Mr. A. H. Stephenson of Yarram. His evidence before the Committee was very unsatisfactory and in his answers to questions showed very small knowledge of practical farming. He has probably been working on a farm as stated by him, but would seem to have very little idea of farm management.

Would it be possible for you to obtain some further information in regard to this man as it seems highly desirable in his own interests that he should have considerably more experience before he could be entrusted with a farm of his own.

Black followed up with a further letter to both Albert Herbert Stephenson (Stacey’s Bridge) and William Vardy (Carrajung). The Shire archives retains the letter sent to Stephenson. It was dated 20/12/19:

Re Leslie H. J. Hole, to whom you gave a reference some time ago, I have received a letter from the Discharged Soldiers Qualification Committee stating that his evidence before the Committee was very unsatisfactory, and his answers to questions showed very small knowledge of practical farming. The Committee ask (sic) me to obtain further information about Hole as they consider he should have more experience before he could be entrusted with a farm of his own. Could you refer me to anyone in the district besides Mr W. Vardy, who, like yourself gave Hole a reference. I would be obliged if you could put me in the way of getting any further information about this man.

In a handwritten note on his copy of this letter, Black wrote that neither Stephenson nor Vardy was able to to … give any further information regarding Hole. Stephenson’s reply was dated 24/12/19 and Vardy’s 9/1/20. It appears that neither Stephenson nor Vardy was prepared to challenge the assessment made by the Qualification Committee. Consequently, on 9/1/20 Black replied to the Committee:

In response to your letter of the 17th ult., re Mr Leslie H. J. Hole, I have made inquiries, and am unable to obtain any further information about him. He seems to have been a new arrival in the district when he entered Mr Vardy’s employment, and went from there to Mr Stephenson, and on leaving the latter went to Melbourne where he enlisted soon after.

There is no record of Hole obtaining land as a soldier settler.

Not all those applying for land as soldier settlers in the Shire of Alberton had been working in the district prior to the War. Edward Francis Grainger was from NSW. When he enlisted in Sydney in October 1916 he gave his occupation as clerk. He served in France and was finally discharged (TPE) on 25/3/20. At some point over the next couple of years he moved to Victoria and worked on farms in the Shire of Alberton. He then sought a qualification certificate with the intention of becoming a soldier settler in the district.

Black received a letter from the Qualification Committee in Melbourne in early April 1924:

An ex-Imperial soldier named Edward F. Grainger, who states he has been employed by Mr. D. Belcher of Yarram and Mr. S. W. Parsons of Woodside, has appeared before the Qualification Committee in furtherance of his application for a Qualification Certificate.

He is a married man and states he has been getting farming experience since he arrived in this State with a view to taking up land on his own account. he has not, however, been able to save any money to assist in establishing himself and, in these circumstances, a settler needs to be a thoroughly capable man to enable him to work his farm in such a manner he will provide himself with a living and meet his financial obligations to the Board.

My Committee will deem it a favour if you would make some inquiry in regard to him and favor me with your opinion in regard to his ability as a farmer. Your reply will be treated as confidential.

Black replied a few days later on 11/4/24:

In reply to your letter off the 9th inst. (19863).
I have referred your request re E. F. Grainger to Cr Barlow who is in touch with that portion of the district where Mr Grainger states he worked. Cr Barlow does not know of him, and considers it would be difficult to obtain an opinion as to his abilities excepting from those for whom he worked.

There is no record of Grainger obtaining his qualification certificate.

There was at least one case where Black, as Shire Secretary, and other local farmers did challenge assessments made by the Qualification Committee. The person involved was John McLeod. While the name ‘McLeod’ was very common in the district at the time, i have not been able to trace this particular John McLeod. It is possible that, like Grainger, he came into the district after the War; but the following suggests that he was very well known in the district and therefore more likely to have been a local before the War.

On 5/1/23, Black as Shire Secretary wrote to the Qualification Committee in Melbourne:

Some time ago Mr John McLeod, discharged soldier, applied for a Qualification Certificate. He presented three excellent references from local farmers; he has had considerable experience on district farms, and has a very lengthy war service to his credit. He has informed those who gave the references that his application was refused. This has caused them much surprise, and they have requested me to inquire if you would kindly state the reasons for the Committee refusing the application.

The response came a few days later (9/1/23):

I am in receipt of your letter of the 5th instant relating to the above named man [re John McLeod] who appeared before the Qualification Committee on 2nd August last. He presented only two references, one from Mr. J. Sweeney and the other from Mr. C. Barlow both of Yarram

At the time of his appearance he was unemployed and he stated he had been doing casual work in the Railway Department and had been working for farmers around Yarram. He had not, however, worked for Mr Sweeney, had saved no money, and his case was deferred to enable him to produce further references in regard to his farming ability and some written confirmation of his statement that he would receive financial assistance in the event of his obtaining land. Nothing further has been heard from him since the date above mentioned. If he complies with the Committee’s requirements his case will receive further consideration.

Please treat this information as confidential.

Black must have then sought and received additional references from local farmers. He replied to the Committee on 6/4/23:

Referring to your letter of the 9th January last, I am forwarding herewith the references Mr McLeod has obtained. His address is c/o Mrs Hoban, Centennial Hotel, Kensington.

Black wrote on his copy of the letter a list of ‘references forwarded’: G Shaw, Charles Barlow, J J McKenzie, John Cotter jnr, Shire Secretary. Presumably, the 5 references forwarded, including one from him as Shire Secretary, were supportive of McLeod’s application. I have not been able to establish if McLeod was successful in his application.

Overall

The foregoing account has identified how fundamental references were in the process of obtaining the qualification certificate, where the qualification certificate was the essential documentation required for the soldier settlement scheme. Without adequate references – covering both character and farming experience/expertise – particularly from the Shire Secretary, there was effectively no chance of success. There was no automatic right to participate in the scheme, applicants had, effectively, to win a place. The analysis has also highlighted the extent of effort involved in securing such references, on the part of both the ex-soldier seeking the reference, and individual local landholders, and, most significantly, the Shire Secretary, in producing the references.

There is another key insight here. The use of the local reference underlined the extent to which the soldier settlement scheme was tied to the ‘politics’ of the local area. The thinking was that the scheme would only be effective if it had the full support and involvement of the local community. Consequently, the scheme was engineered to force the involvement of the local community in two critical areas: the purchase and then allocation of suitable land, and the selection of ex-soldiers who had the greatest chance of being successful. The key institution in this twin intention was the local (land’) valuation committee’ – also commonly referred to as the local ‘repatriation committee’ – and the key local official tying together the operation of the scheme at the local level was the Shire Secretary. It was true, as seen above, that at times the bureaucracy in Melbourne overruled the local officials and committees – we will also see this in relation to land valuations in future posts – but it was the efforts at the local level that largely defined the success or otherwise of the program.

Politically, the locals had always championed the ideal of repatriation and demanded that the State and Commonwealth Governments act decisively. They had also long supported the general idea of settling ex-soldiers on the land, in their specific district. Existing farmers and landowners saw significant benefits for themselves, the ex-soldiers and the wider community in the scheme. For its part, the State Government ensured that the scheme was ‘owned’ at the local level. It ensured that locals were involved in the significant decisions and it demanded an enormous amount of largely unpaid work from them. Locals could and would still complain about the excessive and overbearing direction of the state bureaucracy but the reality was that they too had to accept responsibility for its success or failure. Their motivation for supporting the scheme and the quality of their work were instrumental in determining overall success.

There is one last critical perspective worth mentioning. References inevitably involve one person’s assessment of another. The exercise is, by its very nature, a ‘personal’ one. However, it is worth broadening the focus and making the case that this particular exercise of reference-making had a ‘generational’ dimension to it. The basic reality was that the generation that had stayed at home was passing judgement on the generation that had fought in the War.

The generation of the Shire Secretary, civic elders and prominent townsmen, established landholders, graziers and farmers was the one that, by and large, had promoted the War effort and exhorted the youth to enlist. It was the one that had claimed the patriotic high ground. It had promoted conscription and demanded enlistments. It had praised the valour of those who joined the AIF, and the sacrifices made of both the dead and those who survived. It had lauded the military exploits of the ‘diggers’ and badged their efforts as proof of Imperial loyalty. It wanted not just to celebrate the greatness of the younger generation of soldiers but to live it vicariously. It had promised repatriation for every returning soldier.

On the other hand, the generation of the soldiers, particularly at the start of the War, was considerably younger and also naive. It was the generation of farm labourers, many of them newly arrived English immigrants, and the sons working on family farms. Few of them held property in their own right. This was the generation that had experienced the War, horror and suffering on a scale that was effectively beyond people’s imagining. In many cases they carried the wounds scars and disabilities home with them. Even though they were still relatively young, the rest of their lives would be profoundly shaped by the years of war. They came back different people, even if they looked the same. It was also the generation that had bonded in the shared experience of the War and the AIF and their sense of ‘mateship’ was an exclusive one. Most importantly, it was the generation that was expected to return from the War and simply take up again where they had been before enlisting. The wheel, as it were, had turned full circle and things would be the same again. The conventional order, including the generational respect for and subservience to your elders, was to be restored.

Obviously there was bound to be tension. There was much that was irreconcilable. Indeed, we have seen evidence in earlier posts. There was the conflict over what constituted an appropriate memorial [Post 211] , where a community-focused amenity was rejected in favour the returned men’s insistence on an exclusive ‘diggers’ club’. There was the criticism by town elders over the apparent lack of patriotic fervour on the part of the returned men. They were not living up to the expectations of their elders. Also, as the soldier settlement scheme took effect, it was clear that all the risk lay with the generation of ex-soldiers, while the generation of established landholders stood to profit.

So there was what can be termed ‘generational tension’ and, clearly, the issue of references highlighted this significantly. In effect, the references were being written by the older generation on the younger and, clearly, the power resided in the pen of the older generation. It was hardly a match of equals. The young absolutely relied on the word of their elders.

References

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
Four of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 2: October 1918 – July 1919
Volume 3: July 1919 – Nov 1919
Volume 4: Nov 1919 – March 1920
Volume 8: 1922

Battle to farm: WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria
Public Record Office Victoria

216. Sentiment vs the market: Archie Morley’s failed bid to become a soldier settler

Archie Morley was born in Gormandale in 1889. He grew up in the town and attended the local state school.

Archie married Olive May Scarborough in 1914 and by the time he enlisted in 1916 there were two children: Rupert George Morley (1915) and Arthur Robert Morley (1916).

Archie Morley enlisted at Sale in early February 1916. He was 26 years old, and he was leaving behind a wife and two very young children. His religion was given as Presbyterian and his occupation as farmer. As we will see, he and a brother were farming on land leased from W E Cumming.

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (8/3/16) Archie was farewelled from Gormandale, with another 5 local men, at a social in early March 1916. Each of the men was presented with a fountain pen and an indelible pencil ‘for writing many messages home’.

Archie Morley joined 21 Battalion and embarked from Australia on 3/10/16. After training in England, he finally reached France in mid February 1917. His service on the Western Front was relatively short because he was wounded on 28/4/17. He was hit in the left shoulder by what was described as either (gsw) gun shot or shrapnel. It was a serious wound: ’shrapnel’ / ‘gsw left shoulder severe; fractured clavicle’ and it marked the end of his service. After hospitalisation, he was returned to Australia (21/11/17) and discharged as ‘medically unfit’ (26/12/17).

He received a welcome home at Gormandale – along with 3 other men – in early March 1918. Again, it was written up in the local paper. The account described the men being … welcomed home in a right royal way. Each man was presented with … a gold medal, bearing the inscription, with name, “Service abroad, A.I.F., 1914-17. For duty bravely done. Awarded by residents of Gormandale and district.”

Obviously, Archie Morley returned from the War with a serious disability. He was in his late twenties, married with two young children. A third child – Vera May Morley – was born in 1918. On discharge, his pension and the allocations to his wife and children came to £6/5/0 per fortnight. Back in his local community, not surprisingly – and not withstanding his significant disability – Archie was keen to take advantage of the government scheme to place returned men on the land. On the face of it, he was the perfect match for the scheme.

But there was more to Archie Morley’s background, specifically his family background, that, at least in the eyes of the locals, boosted his entitlement to become a soldier settler in the local area. Indeed, there was considerable support for him right across the Shire of Alberton, not just in the Gormandale district, because of the widespread conviction that the Morley family had well and truly ‘done its duty’.

Five of the Morley boys had enlisted and three had been killed. Of the two who survived, Archie Morley, as already noted, had been discharged on medical grounds, and the other brother – Charles Victor Morley – served until September 1918 when he was returned to Australia to be discharged on ‘special’ grounds. The official record covering his early discharge described the circumstances thus: for sake of family; widowed mother; three brothers killed in action. One disabled on active service. It also noted that ‘two sisters and one brother died’ in the time Charles Morley had been in the AIF.

The three brothers killed were: George Thomas Morley, August 1916 (see Post 79), Ernest Edward Morley, May 1917 (see Post 119) – strictly speaking, he was a nephew – and Robert Herbert Morley, October 1917 (see Post 141). The two sisters who died were Mary Elizabeth Morley (1916 aged 35 years) and Annie Morley/Esler (1917 aged 45 years); and the brother who died was Jesse Morley (1917 aged 35 years). He left behind a wife and three small children; and in fact this family had lost an infant son in 1916. By any standard, the years 1916 and 1917 had brought enormous grief to the Morley family; and their tragic story was well known throughout the Shire.

The father of the Morley family (Jesse Morley) had died, aged 53, in 1897. The mother – Sally/Sarah Dove – died at Gormandale in 1939 aged 83 years. Over the War years, the mother was praised in the local press for offering solace and support for grieving families and also for her involvement with the local Red Cross. As an indication of her position in the local community, when the Gormandale memorial was unveiled by the long-serving federal politician G H Wise in December 1923, the Gippsland Times (24/12/23) reported that Wise readily assented to the suggestion that Mrs Morley – five members of whose family had served at the war, three of whom, alas! had fallen in battle – assist him in the unveiling.

With this background, it was hardly surprising that Archie Morley enjoyed considerable community support in his bid to become a soldier settler in the district. His extended family was well known and had lived in the local community of Gormandale for many years. Locals knew of the sacrifices the family had made in the War. They knew of the tragedy that had fallen on the family over the War years. They knew that Archie was returning home from France with a significant disability. They knew he had a young family to support. They knew he had had considerable experience in farming in the local area. They knew he was hard working and independent. They wanted to support him to take up his former life as a farmer.

But while Archie Morley was the perfect match for the soldier settlement program, his attempt proved unsuccessful. It is instructive to learn why his attempt failed. It certainly highlighted one of the inevitable checks on the grandiose program of repatriation at the end of WW1: market forces proved stronger than civic sentiment.

The account of Archie’s failed bid comes from newspaper reports from the time as well as papers from the archives of the Shire of Alberton.

Archive papers of the Shire of Alberton indicate that in early 1919 the various local repatriation committees set up across the shire, as part of the attempt by the Closer Settlement Board to promote soldier settlement, had become exasperated with what they saw as the faults of the state bureaucracy based in Melbourne. The local committee covering the Gormandale district was particularly critical. It formally raised a series of complaints with the Shire of Alberton Council and the Council in turn took up these concerns with the State body. The chief concern was that so few returned men were actually being placed on the land. In fact, the Gormandale committee claimed that despite all its work no soldier had been settled on the land in the district to that point. There was also ongoing criticism of the work of the (land) valuers appointed by the Government. The key issue here was that the local committees involved in the scheme considered that they had the critical local knowledge of both the suitability of land and local property values; but their advice and assessments were generally ignored and that of non-local, government-appointed valuers accepted.

Archie Morley’s case attracted a lot of attention and, by early 1919, it had even made it into the Melbourne papers. For example, an article in The Argus on 12/2/19, under the headline: ‘District Committees’ Powers’, specifically referred to it. The article covered the same general criticisms being made of the Closer Settlement Board across the Shire of Alberton.

One case in particular was cited, that of a soldier named Morley, who, on his return from the war, desired to take up a property which he had worked successfully for three years before enlisting. It was stated that he even went so far as to build a house on the property, and that one man had offered to buy it [the land] back from the Government in three years’ time at the present price. Morley has a qualification certificate, and is one of five brothers who enlisted, three of whom made the supreme sacrifice.

The ‘qualification certificate’ referred to was a formal certificate that established that the individual had the necessary farming background and character to succeed in the soldier settlement program.

There was another article, two months later, in the Morwell Advertiser (18/4/19) that gave more details on the case. Again, the general tenor was one of criticism of the Closer Settlement Board operating from Melbourne.

Before the war Mr Arch Morley and one of his brothers had a six years’ lease of a farm, compromising 105 acres, from Mr W. E. Cumming, Gormandale. Mr. A. Morley was one of the early volunteers, but returned invalided in November, 1917, and he decided to ask the Repatriation Board to purchase the farm for him. The six years’ lease expired the following February [1918], but in view of the negotiations with the Board, Mr. Cumming extended the tenancy for another 12 months, and the other brother went to Queensland. When the soldier returned from the front the owner of the property asked what he was prepared to pay for the land, and he told him £16 per acre all round. The owner agreed to accept the figure, the local valuers and the local repatriation committee said the price was a fair one. Negotiations have been in progress for 12 months, and the soldier is no nearer to getting possession. Four Government valuers have been over the property, and a certain member of the Closer Settlement Board. The latter came with an augur under his arm, for the purpose of testing the soil. The same gentleman, seeing a fine fruit tree on the farm, remarked, “What a pretty tree of quinces,” but it happened to be a pear tree. At first the Board offered £12 an acre for the property, and have since advanced the price to £13 10s and the owner has come down to £15, as he would like the soldier to get the farm, but has been offered £17 an acre by a resident of Gormandale. Mr. Morley was so confident of getting the farm that he has put an additional building on it. The extended lease has just expired and Mr. Morley wants to know what the Closer Settlement Board is going to do. It is cases like the above that have caused the public to lose confidence in the Repatriation and Closer Settlement Boards. It might be added that “The Courier” has communicated with the Minister for Lands (Mr. Clarke) for an explanation in connection with the above, and bringing under his notice the threatened resignation of the Gormandale repatriation committee, but up to the present no reply has come to hand.

Clearly, the Morley case was being used to show how ineffective the soldier settlement scheme had become. The clear suggestion was that external valuers were the key problem; and that negotiations at the local level, where those involved had a better, more informed view of values and other relevant issues, would produce better outcomes. There was also a dig at the supposed expertise of the external officers, who could not tell the difference between a pear and a quince tree! The article also highlighted the degree of frustration weighing on the local (Gormandale) repatriation committee members who were then threatening to resign. These local committees were active in each of the three ridings of the shire. They were small and usually consisted of 2 or 3 successful landholders with a local councillor. They were unpaid positions and often involved a great deal of work – another reason why the members became so frustrated when their advice was apparently ignored.

Beyond the local newspaper reports, Council correspondence from the time provides some additional detail. There is letter dated 20/3/19 from T G Anderson on behalf of the local (Gormandale) ’Shire Repatriation Committee’. The letter noted that Morley had made application for the land 12 months earlier (early 1918). The land itself actually consisted of 2 parcels: one allotment of 74 acres and another of 31 acres. The local valuers determined an average price for the 105 acres of £15/16/9 per acre. The vendor had indicated that he would accept £15/5/0 per acre. The letter noted, re the vendor’s offer: … and this is considered by local land valuers as a reasonable price.

The letter also noted that Morley had rented the land for 3 years before enlisting and that … ever since he returned 16 months ago has been renting and working on this place. There was clearly an expectation on Morley’s part that he would be able to secure the land. The letter noted that, on the assumption that he would get the land through the ‘Government scheme for returned soldiers’, Morley had erected a house and outbuildings for a dairy farm.

Morley was described as married … with three children and a good wife to help him. He was also described as someone who had spent his whole in the district and was respected by all. He was an industrious young man and the committee was confident that he would be successful. The letter also included the reference to a ‘respected valuer’ (W Pentland) who was willing to act as some of guarantor, in that he was prepared to repurchase the land from the Government – at the current value of £15/5/0 per acre – at the end of 3 years if Morley’s venture did not succeed.

The letter also noted that Morley had also built a house for the widow – and her 3 children – of one of his brothers who had been killed in the war. This must have been the family of Ernest Edward Morley, killed 14/5/17. It was not clear where the house was; but possibly it too was built on the land in question.

On the basis of all this background information, the Gormandale Repatriation Committee requested in the letter that the Shire of Alberton take up the issue and urge the Closer Settlement Board in Melbourne to re-open and review the case. In fact, the Shire itself had already formally decided – on 13/3/19 via a successful council resolution – to request that the Closer Settlement Board re-open the case.

The Alberton Shire formally wrote to the Closer Settlement Board on 25/3/19. The Shire Secretary (G W Black) stated:

The Council has given this case careful consideration, and I am directed to ask if the Board will re-open it.

Black continued,

The Council is of opinion that if the proposition has been turned down, as has been alleged, it must have been due to some misapprehension, and it, therefore urges that the case be re-opened, and full consideration given to the representations as set forth in the accompanying letter. [Anderson’s letter of 20/3/19]

The response from the Closer Settlement Board was immediate – the reply was dated 26/3/19, the next day – and it was as definitive. As far as the Closer Settlement Board was concerned the matter was closed and the decision was not going to be reviewed in any way. The tone was as curt as the reply was prompt:

The vendor was offered a price by the Board which was declined, and no further action will be taken in the matter.

There are many unanswered questions here. For example, was Archie Morley encouraged – by the landowner or others in the community – to make the significant improvements to the property in the belief that this would increase the pressure on the Closer Settlement Board to agree to the sale? Similarly, was there an assumption held by Archie Morley, and the local community generally, that, in effect, the Closer Settlement Board was bound to support him and that the actual cost of the land was of secondary importance, particularly given that the local committee had effectively negotiated a ‘reasonable price’? From another perspective – was this a defining case for the Closer Settlement Board, which was determined to uphold its authority in view of all the criticism it was attracting? And, of course, there were the more technical questions: what was the price offered by the Board and how close was it to the price negotiated by the local committee at Gormandale?

Sitting behind all this is another key question. It is one I hope to pursue in coming posts: were the local repatriation committees, intended to work closely with the Closer Settlement Board in Melbourne to support the soldier settlement scheme, keen to drive up the price of land in the district? After all, the committees were made up of significant landholders in the community and they knew that the Government had become a key player in the local land market. The Government needed land for the soldier settlement scheme; and the market now offered considerable potential for profit. And there are some darker questions to do with who really profited from the scheme to put returned soldiers on the land.

But, beyond all the conjecture, there is little doubt that the case highlights the inevitable clash between sentiment – everyone agreed that Archie Morley deserved to become a soldier settler – and market forces. Archie Morley’s dream was denied because the Closer Settlement Board was not prepared to meet the price requested by the vendor. For his part the vendor was not prepared to accept the price offered by the Board because, presumably, he had had a better offer from some other local party. The vendor was not prepared, as it were, to incorporate a ‘discount for public sentiment’ in his selling price.

Archie and the wider Morley family might have done everything for the War effort – certainly they committed to it and sacrificed a lot more than most – but, in the end, market forces proved more powerful than sentiment.

References

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Morewell Advertiser

Gippsland Times

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
One of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 2: October 1918 – July 1919