The story of land settlement in rural Victoria is the dream of creating a life by tilling the soil - growing crops and running stock, clearing trees, building houses and fences. In the first half of this century, the State Government took exceptional interest in the settlement of Victoria. Through the closer settlement schemes prior to World War 1 and the soldier settlement schemes after World Wars 1 and 2, the government encouraged and regulated settlement, allocated land, and monitored land development. The aim of these schemes was to settle more people on the land and create a densely populated state of small family farms.
The government made huge amounts of land available for small settlers. Crown land was opened up and large pastoral properties were purchased. This land was then subdivided, in some cases it was cleared and water channels created. Property was then offered to individuals and families for purchase at low interest on the condition that settlers live on and work the land.
Closer settlement schemes concentrated on enticing British, European and American migrants to Victoria. World War 1 soldier settlement schemes were an attempt to reward and gainfully absorb returned soldiers. There was great enthusiasm for the scheme and more than 10 000 returned soldiers took up blocks. Most settled in the Mallee, South Gippsland, the Western District and the irrigation areas of the North West, Central Gippsland near Maffra and Sale and in the Goulburn Valley.
Behind the idea of these government settlement schemes was the belief in the virtue and wealth of tilling the soil. People turned to the land again and again believing that it could provide a simple, independent, wholesome and productive life. However, for some, the reality of life on a settler block was quite different. Many settlers found that the block was too small or too infertile to sustain a living and many did not have the capital to make improvements. They found themselves in a spiral of ever increasing debt. To compound the misery, many people could afford only rough houses, little more than humpies. By 1939, sixty percent of soldier settlers had walked off their land.
When the World War 2 soldier settlement scheme was established, authorities heeded past failures. Blocks were bigger, were more carefully selected and roads, housing and fences were supplied to prospective settlers.
The cost of the earlier settlement schemes was immense, both economically and in destroying the health and dreams of settlers. Despite this failure, the effects of these experiments has been enduring, influencing settlement pattern and changing the agricultural landscape of Victoria.
View the Settlement photo collection.