James Bell fought for the AIF in the 5th division ammunition column during the first world war. He had previous farming experience from England and was one of many returned soldiers who applied to lease blocks of land around Stanhope. He and his wife were dairy farmers and were fortunate to secure the milk-round as a form of consistent income while the town of Stanhope took shape, driven by the influx of soldier settlers. His children became dairy farmers and in 2015 his son David Bell continues to live on the original soldier settlement block. David remembers the impact of the Great Depression.
Small Blocks Small Profits
Bruce Davidson, an economic and agricultural historian, contends that to succeed in Victorian farming, a block size of at least 320 acres was needed. The average size of the soldier-settler blocks was 245 acres in 1920. This size was viable for dairy farming, which, coupled with a reliable second income, may explain why the Bell family were able to survive the Great Depression on the land. By the late 1920s, when the Depression hit, many soldier settlers, burdened with rising debts because they started with little to no capital, walked off their land or transferred their lease at a loss.