Percy Pepper is one of the very few Aboriginal serviceman we know to have been successful in applying for a soldier settlement block after the First World War.
Percy was granted a block at Koo-Wee-Rup near Melbourne from 1918. A swamp had been drained to create these allotments, and as it turned out, they were subject to regular flooding. Like many, Percy was forced to abandon the property as he could not make enough from it to pay the lease instalments. The Commissioner of Crown Land and Survey auctioned off the property in August 1924; the auction was conducted on boats, as the land was under water at the time.
In the video below, descendants of the Pepper family talk of Percy Pepper’s war experience and the settlement block. Videos retelling other parts of the Pepper family story can be seen on the education page of the Public Record Office Victoria website
The publication Footprints: The journey of Lucy and Percy Pepper is a more complete retelling of the lives of the Pepper family. It is available online.
Aboriginal stations and the settlement scheme
The Aborigines Protection Act 1869 required Aboriginal people to live on one of six reserves, where rules and regulations shaped their daily life. To earn their ‘upkeep’ men did manual labour, while women and older children performed domestic duties. They were often paid with rations rather than wages. Despite the hardships, and the erosion of traditional cultural practices, these stations became a source of community identity and connection for Aboriginal people. With the establishment of the soldier settlement scheme after World War I, Aboriginal reserves like Coranderrk and Lake Condah came under increasing pressure as large tracts of land were being sought by the Victorian Government. Although both Lake Condah and Coranderrk Aboriginal reserves were eventually acquired for soldier settlement after the Second World War, very few Aboriginal people in Victoria secured land under the scheme.