A Settler’s Point of View – 1921

MARIA CREEK. written for For the “Post” and “Herald”

When on my way to the usual frolic at Cairns on Saturday nights (the cinema), I chanced the other week to meet one of my one-time Non-Com. mates in the A.I.F., and was as pleased as he at the meeting. Over a “here’s luck” we exchanged views regarding the weather, and my friend remarked, “I noticed a part lately in the morning sheet, stating the roads about Innisfail were disgraceful. I guess that was but mildly correct. But that correspondent was afraid to say what even an army parson would have shouted: ‘the roads and streets are damnable.’ “Why !” he said, warming up, “they are worse than our bush tracks out at Maria Creek Settlement, a district just being opened up. I have just come up from there, he explained, “I am on one of the blocks of 50 acres more or less.”

On hearing this I was greatly interested, as I had heard several disparaging statements from soldier settlers, and others who claimed to know the country, or had been down to look the ground over. So I eagerly questioned my companion, and this is the result: 

“They say that soldiers are born,” said the Corporal, “but take it from me, the settler isn’t manufactured of wood, cloth, and glue either. For by the powers, a genuine man has his work cut out to rise out of a rut, even on the repatriation farm scheme. This scheme, per repatriation ruling, is not at all bad. On paper it looks rosy.

In practice, it has darn big drawbacks, lots of red tape, and the same amount of actual work has to be done to get a return as the free selector had to do in former years. But it has its good points that strongly appeal to the man who wants to settle.

Look you ! 10 acres cleared and planted out of 50 or more; house erected, and a small amount of stock and tools ! £625 to work on !!

Seems good, doesn’t it ? But get down to tin tacks.

Each block has £625 allotted to it, not each owner. See the point?

Well, the first go off is, certain portions are thrown open, say at Maria Creek. The successful applicant is notified from Brisbane that he has drawn a block, and that he must fulfil the conditions within three months. This is in January, and the wet season is on, so he decided to wait till March before inspecting it.

He turns out in April and gets to Innisfail; gets a baptism of mud as he boards a juggernaut at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. This juggernaut carries him by 5.30 p.m. as far as South Johnstone, quite 8 miles, where a riot of “souped up navvies,” “chinks” and “steak a d’oyst” is taking place; only they call it getting a ticket; all one class on this line; so the settler rubs shoulders with the crowd, and they start off again about 6 p.m. in a beautiful drifting rain, which lasts till he gets to Silkwood at 9 p.m., a whole 22 miles from Innisfail per tram line!

Here he steps boldly off the train into 6 inches of slush, to be met by no one; and nobody can tell him of any accommodation. Then while he is putting his hand out to feel if he’s awake, off goes the juggernaut on a side line, leaving him to wander in nature’s aisles until he falls over a six by two hut, in which he coils himself up till morning, when he finds he has camped in the brand new railway station of Silkwood, and sees before him the main camp of the north coast railway construction.

Now he meets quite a decent lot of chaps and finds out many things, amongst them being the fact that other settlers came on the same train, but had taken the precaution to inquire from the supervisor by letter, as to who would likely meet them and see to their simple wants. These had a cold collation, followed by a mug of hot cocoa at the ranch, and were given a shake down by the “souped up” navvies’ friends. But anyhow after a 2/- breakfast at the ranch, he makes tracks for the Settlement head quarters, 4 miles along the construction. And such a road! Knee deep in slush, and swarming with leaches! On the way he notices a couple of clearings, with some fair plant cane showing, and as he stops to look at one block, the occupier gives the information: “fell it, logged up, holed it and planted it myself; made £5 a week over expenses on the job since September to last month; sold the log timber off the clearing for £40, got 20 of that, and the rest goes to the credit of the block. They start my house when the roads are fit to haul on. I reckon to get 40 tons of cane off this patch next year as stand over cane; and if they’ll let me, I’ll have 15 acres more next season; but you see they only guarantee to cut 10 acres off each block, and we have to get a mill permit to plant more than 10 acres.”

With a grunt at the news, the settler passes on to the office, and gives his particulars. He is, shown his block, and finds 10 acres down and being planted. “I say” he stutters, “I wouldn’t have felled that part of the block; that side line is more suitable.” He is promptly told, “you never notified this office of your intentions, and the specification calls for 10 acres, cleared and planted, there it is, on the handiest part, and in the cheapest way I could get it done. The falling cost £60, logging up and burning off £100, holing and planting £130, plants £43, owing to bad haulage, £18 for fencing, and £26 for chipping. There’s a credit of 18,000 feet of log timber, at 2/- per hundred as royalty, to come off that, leaving a debit of say £350 against your block. Had you signified your intentions, and that you would arrive by a certain date, a frontage advantageous to you could have been selected, and the work done by you at the rate specified.”

“Well, what about my allowance of £625 for improvements,” he asks — another jolt! “This debt on the block is part of your £625, which represents your working capital; and which, when you sign the mortgage, becomes available for improvements on your block.”

In a disgruntled humour, he again mooches off, looking for “eats,” and finds again there is no provision for accommodation at the settlement, and he gets a meal at the State farm employees’ mess, a sort of ranch, presided over by the wife of one of the permanent staff, and as supplies are limited, owing to bad haulage, he gets little variety, but a wholesome meal, served tidily.

Then while he ruminates and chews the situation over in his mind; debating as to whether he is had, sold, misled or misunderstanding, he goes back to his last night’s resting place, as the settlement H.Q. store has but little in the way of food supplies.

Still another shock awaits him as he must put up a cash guarantee for all orders, at the railway construction store, and also for meat and bread, and if he is short of the “ready,” the fact that it takes about 7 weeks to get the sustenance allowance through, is very comforting.

Right there his mind is made up. He wavers, and finally slings it up — without notifying the H.Q. and is later forced to surrender his claim to title; or, he proves he is a pioneer, and tackles the job, thus becoming the man on the land, the backbone of his country.

This then is the experience of lots of would-be settlers, who desire to available themselves of the repatriation scheme. Of course, the financial and wise headed one goes and looks at the blocks before he ballots, but Tom, Dick, and Harry haven’t the cash, so have to depend on maps and theories. Wise-head writes the supervisor for information regarding accommodation and transport, consequently has less roughing it. He also is there himself, to point out, and work on, the portion of his block most advantageous for clearing, etc, and so avoids raising a howl, when his own indifference to conditions — act of parliament, weather, or labor — cause him to be saddled with a badly planted area, half eaten out by wallabies or cattle, and a heavy debt that should have been half asset.

What’s that? The land poor, thin, and no standing power? I guess your informant must have been one of those whom the South Johnstone mill declined a permit for more acreage; so as to enable the mill to cope with the increase as mooted by the Maria Settlement. You see, even we are limited to 10 acres on account of the capacity of the mill, and lots of South Johnstone land is still being got ready and is nearer than we are.

Our land at Maria is not a whit different from any other good land in the north, and ranges from light red to deep brown soil, from sandy loam to black soil ridges, and is from 8 inches to two feet deep on the few blocks now being cultivated. The cane looks well, where it is tended well, in spite of a most tremendous wet season out here. What? They picked out good blocks and settled them first to boost the settlement. Aren’t you twisting a bit? See here friend, that’s simply ridiculous. Some blocks with cane on them have been thrown up by their owners simply because they lacked stamina necessary in a settler; who must always be a battler. The look of the place during the wet season, and the difficulty of getting supplies owing to transport troubles and silly strikes, broke the backs of several progressive men, and others; like the case I have illustrated, never tackled it. But once the transport difficulty is settled by the Queensland Railways, this place will most certainly eclipse the Mulgrave lands completely.

Well, friend, you are off to the pictures, and I have a deal in fowls pending, so I’ll say au revoir. I may be one of the slowcomes, but I’m settling at Maria Creek, and so we parted.

1921 ‘MARIA CREEK.’, Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 18 July, p. 2, viewed 27 November, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40132386