Sir John McEwen is perhaps Australia’s most well known Victorian soldier settler. From an undistinguished background he became the 18th Prime Minister of Australia. He enlisted in the Army immediately upon turning 18 but the First World War ended while he was still in training. He subsequently applied for a soldier settlement block and commenced dairy farming firstly at Tongala near Shepparton and then changed to sheep and cattle farming near Stanhope. He ignored the condition of residence that required soldiers to live on their farm, and raised capital in Melbourne as a stevedore. Many believed this contributed to his success.
John McEwen became a natural leader among the new farmers, helping to govern the first Stanhope Dairy Co-operative, which continued to prosper. Over the years, he acquired neighbouring blocks as other settlers drifted away from the land. By 1938, when the lease title transferred to him from a previous tenant, he had 1800 sheep, 5 horses, a motor truck, and £500. While advocating to improve conditions for soldier settlers, such as better water distribution and set up expenses, he kick-started his very long political career with the Country Party.
Bob Holschier, of the Stanhope Development Committee, highlights the history of Stanhope and Sir John McEwen’s influence.
Building Victorian Towns
The soldier settlement scheme offered economic stimulation to regions that previously had little if any town attached. Following the influx of soldier settlement families onto subdivided blocks, small businesses and community groups were created to service the farmers’ interests. Many Victorian towns including Red Cliffs and Numurkah were established from soldier settlement labour.