Success and failure

For some returning soldiers and their families the soldier settlement scheme was a brief, difficult experience before they moved on to other things.  For others, the scheme was the foundation of a new post-War life for them and their descendants still on the land.

Charles Fahey discusses below some of the difficulties every settler encountered when trying to make a living and a life.

Facing up to challenges

As well as the larger circumstances that governed every settler’s life, some faced additional challenges obtaining the support that every settler needed.  Below are two brief accounts of settlers who moved on.

William Ah Chow

Chinese-Australian Thomas “Bill” William Ah Chow was born in 1892 to Thomas and Agnes Ah Chow. He enlisted in June 1917, after being initially refused because of his non-European background. In the two years he served on the Western Front, he was shot twice and gassed. Again after some initial rejections, he was granted a settlement block in Bruthen in 1923.

Bill had spent much of his life on a farm, stating that he had ‘known the land he is buying his whole life’. He occupied the block until 1926, giving it up ‘because the land was no good. It would not grow any oats of maize…While on the block I still had pains and shortness of breath, found it very hard to breathe, had to sit down for a while’. Additionally, the Country Roads Board excavated gravel from Bill’s holding to construct the Princess Highway. Despite holding his farm for only a short period, Bill stayed on in the district and became well known locally as a Forestry Commission fire spotter. He lived until 74 years of age.

Bill Ah Chow is one of several Chinese Anzacs featuring in an exhibition by the Chinese Museum in Melbourne.  More information can be found on the Culture Victoria website.

Annie Maynard Smith

Annie Maynard Smith was born in Leigh Creek, Victoria in 1875 to Frederick and Fanny Rachel Westcott. She enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in October 1915, and served in Egypt. She later returned home and married Frederick Smith in early 1917. Her overseas service gave her the right to apply for a soldier settlement block.

Annie started a dairy farm in Thorpdale, near Moe from late 1920. Her relationship with Frederick had not survived long, so she worked the land herself with her sons. ‘Nurse Smith’ faced hardship from the beginning, as there was not enough water to produce milk sufficient to meet her lease repayments. Her debts mounted, swallowing her pension and a war gratuity of £98.

Despite being criticised by the Closer Settlement Board for having to acquire additional labour, which many settlers did, and not returning to her previous occupation, Annie received strong local support being ‘an exceptionally hard working women, and considering the great disadvantages she has had to contend with the capable way she has managed her farm up to date is absolutely most creditable’.

In November 1926, Annie notified the Board that she would soon be vacating her holding and planned to have a clearing sale. Annie returned to nursing and died at the Ballarat Base Hospital, at 76 years old.

Man in a silk robe and hat standing outside the doorway of a house with log walls.

Bill Ah Chow outside his house in the 1950s.

Annie Westcott was one of several nurses featured in an article in the Melbourne 'Punch' on 2 December 1915.

Annie Westcott was one of several nurses pictured in the Melbourne Punch, p. 20, 2 December 1915.