A list of the main land records in our collection that relate to returned soldier settlement after World War I. The passage of the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act 1916, (Act No 21 1916) allowed the settlement of returned soldiers on Crown and Closer Settlement lands. When applying for land, an ex-serviceman was required to complete a Qualification Certificate which was a declaration of his or her status as an ex-service person and eligibility for land.
Over 300,000 soldiers returned to Australia from WWI. In all some 40,000 returned servicemen and women took up an offer of farming land, made possible by Soldier Settlement schemes in all the states of the Commonwealth; fewer than half remained on the land fifteen years later.*
The advantages of a rural life and the availability of land for returned soldiers was promoted and advertised extensively by the Department of Lands after World War I and World War II. The Returned Soldiers Settlement Act, 1916 allowed settlement of returned soldiers on Crown and Closer Settlement lands. From this date, the Commonwealth Government was responsible for finance, and the states were responsible for the provision of land, the classification of applicants and training.
Those eligible to apply for land were ex-service personnel including women from the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) with at least six months war service. Despite being legally able to take up land, there is evidence that women were not openly encouraged to do so.
Applicants were required to place a tender with the Department of Lands with successful applications being decided by ballot system. A returned man who tendered for land at Dyraaba, near Casino, tells of the excitement and anticipation before the ballot began:
In the early hours of the morning, the Casino Streets were the scene of hundreds of new faces, complete strangers to the town…clerks, shop and factory hands, miners etc. All were extremely excited and somewhat restless...
As many of the men came from distant towns, few had any idea of the type of land they were tendering for.
After WWI, application of the scheme was generally unsuccessful being hindered by poor soil, land acquisitions too small to be viable, drought, lack of experience in farming and poor prices for farm produce. Also, the sheer numbers of men applying for land far exceeded the numbers anticipated, hindering sound administration of the scheme. Importantly, having some capital to begin with was also seen as a way to achieve success. Although for many just returning from the war, this was not the case.
By 1929 almost one-quarter of soldier settlers in NSW had left their farms. In 1932, with the emergence of the Great Depression, the Farmers' Relief Act was passed, protecting the holdings of soldier settlers from seizure for debts owed.
In 1943 the Closer Settlement Amendment (Conversion) Act, was passed allowing properties to be converted to a Perpetual Lease at a lower rental.
These then became Settlement Purchase Leases or Group Purchase leases. After World War II Soldier Settlement was more successful aided by better policy decisions, more arable land and a booming economy that provided greater returns on rural production.
Finding records in the collection
A number of the files held here are arranged under the name of the Estate - for instance, McIntyre's Estate. This can make it difficult to locate information on a particular individual. Exceptions to this are the following record series relating to loan files. Loan numbers appear on the cards listed below arranged in alphabetical order under the name of the applicant. When you have this number, it is possible to search in the second series, where files are arranged according to loan number:
- Card index to correspondence relating to loans and sales of property, 1922-25, NRS 8462 [10/32096-98].
- Returned Soldiers Settlement loan nos.263-15125, NRS 8058 [12/6845-7503, 10/29934-42].
This historical overview was first published in the Now&Then Issue 14 June 2005.
* Now&Then Issue 43 April 2010
The Returned Soldiers Settlement Act
The Returned Soldiers Settlement Act, 1916 (Act No 21, 1916) allowed the distribution of financial assistance to soldier settlers in the form of an advance or loan. The Government Savings Bank (Rural Bank) Act, 1920 (Act No. 40, 1920) made provisions for this advance to be distributed in NSW, through the Rural Bank. The Commonwealth initially made available an amount of £500 which was to be distributed to each applicant to be spent on improvements including a house, sheds, fencing, livestock and implements. This amount was soon found to be inadequate due to the unexpectedly high cost of materials such as fencing.
Financial support continued to be an important factor for soldier settlers as few had any capital other than their severance pay. On 18 July 1918, the Minister of Lands Mr Ashford pushed for an increase in the amount settlers were receiving as he believed the amount of £500 was not enough to cover all the costs a farmer would incur . This amount was subsequently increased to £626 which again was to be in the form of a loan paid to the settlers by the Commonwealth. The individual soldier settler was to be responsible for the repayment of the loan, along with cumulative interest.
The Closer Settlement (Amendment) Act
The passage of the Closer Settlement (Amendment) Act 1907 (Act No 12 1907) necessitated the establishment of a specialist branch to deal with land transfrers by way of sale, gift, transfer to joint names, mortgage or discharge of mortgage. The Closer Settlement Branch of the Department of Lands established in 1908, worked in collaboration with Closer Settlement Advisory boards dealing with land value and use.
The Closer Settlement Promotion Act
The Closer Settlement Promotion Act, 1910 (Act No 17, 1910) allowed three to five discharged soldiers to purchase privately owned land under agreement with the vendor with the terms to be approved by the Minister of Lands. Under the 'promotion scheme' the land was subsequently occupied as a 'Settlement Purchase' . The provisions of the Closer Settlement Act 1910 under which many of these soldier settlers applied for land was extended by Section 4C of the Returned Soldiers' Settlement Act 1916 (Act No 21, 1916) .
List of main record series
[10/13227-13359, 10/37101-191, 10/25775-26010, 12/5929-5938]
Closer Settlement Promotion files
Closer Settlement and Returned Soldiers Transfer files
Returned Soldier Settlement miscellaneous files
Returned Soldiers Settlement loan files, nos. 263-15125
These files deal with the application for financial assistance by returned soldiers and include correspondence relating to the maintenance of properties and repayment of loans.
Registers of Settlement Purchases
Photographs of Soldier Settlements (see below)
This series shows the returned soldiers clearing the land (their families and cottages in which they lived) and being instructed in the many tasks involved in working the land.
Photographs of Soldier Settlements
This volume (samples above) is comprised of black and white photographs of the clearing of land, construction of houses, crops and faming activities on soldier settlements established following World War 1. The photographs also feature the families of the soldier settlers. The photographs are captioned but appear to be undated.
The primary arrangement of these photographs appears to be under the individual soldier settlement.
Further information on applicants for soldier settlement would require considerable research, as at this stage this is the only other consolidated index relating to Soldier Settlement. It should be noted that in certain cases only the name of an individual or very little other information may be located.
 Jack Cockerill, Dyraaba pioneers, the Dyraaba Soldiers Settlement, Albert Cockerill Pub, Ulverstone Tas, 2003 p 10
 NSWSA: Department of Lands, Ministerial Branch, Letters Received, 1867-1944, NRS 7953, [10/13970, 1918/7705]
 MarilynLake, The Limits of Hope – Soldier Settlement in Victoria, 1915-38, Oxford University Press, 1987, p 102
 Dorothy Balcomb, Richard Johnson & Mae Vanderschaar, The Lachlan Depot and Beyond, Canowindra Historical Society, 2002, p 54
 NSWSA: Returned Soldiers Settlement Miscellaneous files, NRS 8056, [19/7028], Mr. W. Ashford Minister for Lands, Minute Paper.
 Closer Settlement Promotion Act, 1910 s. 3
 Returned Soldiers' Settlement Act 1916 s. 4C