After the First World War, as a reward for their war service, a number of returned soldiers were settled in Upper Beaconsfield under the Discharged Soldiers' Settlement Act (1917). They were settled on land set aside for them exclusively by the Closer Settlement Board. Conditions included that no soldier should be given a property above the value of £2 500 (approximately $100 000 equivalent in today's money), and that the occupier had to spend at least eight months of the year on the allocated property. To the soldier the land came in the form of a lease. If they kept up on their 6-monthly lease payments for 36 years the land became theirs-freehold. In effect, it was a long term loan at generous rates, with no repayments for the first three years. A figure of an outstanding principal owing at any time over the lease was kept, and could be adjusted down in times of sustained hardship reducing the lease payments, or alternatively paid off early by the soldier-giving them the freehold.
Later amendments to the scheme included settlement by British migrants in the 1920s and as unemployment relief in the 1930s. The land was obtained from landowners with a suitable property, who offered it to the government at the time, and lengthy negotiations were common. Of course landowners wanted the best deal possible for themselves, and were often knocked back on the first offer.
The properties had to be valued by three different valuers, one by the local Shire Council, one by the Board of Lands, and one by an independent valuer. If they considered the property suitable for the purpose they made an offer. The properties on offer in Upper Beaconsfield were generally considered unsuitable, but after lengthy negotiations some were purchased nevertheless. Upper Beaconsfield was home to at least 18 settlers under one scheme or another, on some nine properties. Some only stayed for a short time, before abandoning their lease.
On paper, some soldier settlers managed to maintain their leases with the Closer Settlement Board, and gain freehold ownership of their blocks of land. However, in the above cases it seems that it was income from other sources that helped secure the freehold. With the poor soils that Upper Beaconsfield is situated on, only very thrifty farmers with back-up capital could make a viable go on blocks that size. The Great Depression, cutting through the middle of the term of the settler’s leases would not have helped either. It should not be forgotten that many soldiers returning from the horrors of World War I had to overcome injuries to mind and body from their hideous experiences, which would have only added yet another layer of difficulty to them and their families in succeeding under this scheme.
Select the links below to find more information about settlers who had leases under the Closer Settlement Acts.