Beerburrum Soldier Settlement

Written by Paul Sutton, Researcher

The Beerburrum Soldier Settlement was an Australian Government funded, and Queensland Government administered effort, to provide land to repatriated servicemen who had served in the Australian and Imperial armed forces during World War One. The settlement was established in 1916 and ran until terminated during the late 1920s, though many settlers stayed on the land beyond that and some of their descendants are still living in the region.

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Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 2650, Pineapples for shipping, Beerburrum, January 1920

The settlement consisted over 56 000 acres of land centred on the North Coast line railway station of Beerburrum which ran from Elimbah in the south to near Landsborough in the north and from the Pumicestone Passage in the east to the D’Aguilar Range in the west. The settlers were required to clear the virgin bush, establish their landholdings, build their own residence and cultivate a crop of pineapples. The pineapples where then harvested and sold to the State Cannery for ultimate sale to consumers. While ultimately a failure, the settlement did turn the insignificant railway siding into a town of approaching 1000 residents complete with schools, a hospital and even a racecourse. It necessitated the building of an even larger station; had various stores; a butchery; a blacksmith; some churches; and even a guest house. It was the largest post war Land Settlement scheme in the country and attracted visits from such dignitaries as HRH the Prince of Wales and General Birdwood (one time commander of the Australian army divisions during the war).

 

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Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 2624, Soldier’s farm, Beerburrum, 1918

The settlers comprised of mainly Australian ex-soldiers but there were also many who had served in the British and Indian armed forces, as well as munitions workers, some civilians and even a war widow. Their numbers included various MC, DCM, DSO recipients, writers, school teachers, farm hands, train drivers, sailors and office workers. They were all lured to Beerburrum by the prospect of cheap land and the opportunity of a ‘fair go’ at establishing themselves on the land after their selfless sacrifice made during the war. These settlers had served in all branches of the armed forces and in every significant engagement of the war from the New Guinea expedition of August 1914 to the battles of the 100 Days in the autumn of 1918. Their collective experiences were a microcosm of Australia’s entire war time involvement.

Research experience at Queensland State Archives

The Adopt-a-Digger Project is seeking to identify the 600+ individuals who settled around Beerburrum during this time, to document their experiences and to trace their descendants to the present day. We aim to create a permanent historical record of these settlers in time for the centenary of the settlement’s establishment. The centenary is in 2016.

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Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 2606, An early settler, Beerburrum, December 1916

It soon became apparent that the main source of settler’s names would come from the various Land Department files held at Queensland State Archives. Initially we had located relevant parish maps in Queensland State Archives’ collection and from these we were able to ascertain many of the individual block numbers with its corresponding lease number. With these lease numbers we were able, through the online Archive catalogue, ArchivesSearch, to look up the Item ID from the archival collection before our trips to the reading room. Once we had received the original lease file we were able to easily and quickly obtain the necessary service number, or the unit in which they served, of the individual settler. We were then able to cross reference this with Australian or British service records (not held at Queensland State Archives) to get a positive identification.

Additionally, by using the catalogue we were able to identify other records held at Queensland State Archives by doing a simple ‘key word’ search using such terms as ‘Beerburrum’, ‘soldier settlement’ or ‘discharged soldier’ which led us to various other archival records ranging from Land Department correspondence and ledgers to various State Works undertaken such as schools, roads, railways, hospitals etc. All of which provided further names for our list.

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Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 2634, State School at Beerburrum, October 1918

Furthermore, by using the image search function, Image Queensland, we were easily able to find various photos relating to the settlement.

Through using these archival records we have positively identified many of the 600 soldiers through their lease and other records after only three or four trips. It would certainly have taken much longer had we not been able to access the catalogue online prior to visiting Queensland State Archives.

It is certainly an advantage to researchers if they become familiar with the online catalogue before starting their research as they will save a lot of time when at Queensland State Archives. Also, while the key word search is excellent, it only works on files that have been tagged with those keywords. In many cases we found relevant details in files that had not been tagged with our keywords. In this case it’s beneficial if the researcher is familiar with the structures of the various government departments and agencies which may have an involvement with their research subject and to look in those files as well.

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Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 4251, Departmental administrative buildings, Beerburrum 1933

Overall we found the research experience easy and simple and the environment conducive to productive work and the staff helpful.

Reproduced with permission of Paul Sutton

Related records

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

6 Responses

  1. Please checkout our Facebook page “Beerburrum100” for more details on the Settlement and our Centenary Exhibition on 6 November 2016 at the School of Arts in Beerburrum!

  2. Keith

    Why was it considered a failure? The area still grows pineapples and presumably the State Cannery became Golden Circle. Still it was a pretty harsh reward for war weary people.

  3. I am hoping to receive permission to copy this article by Paul Sutton to The Settlement News which is a newsletter I edit for the Amiens History Assn which is preserving all the history of the Pikedale Soldier Settlement on the Granite Belt in Queensland. What I would like to do is to have an article in each edition of the history of different soldier settlements in Queensland, then Australia. I hope you agree it is a genuine request.

  4. I would like permission to reproduce this story in the newsletter, “The Settlement News” which I edit for the Amiens History Assn which is preserving all the history of the Pikedale Soldier Settlement on the Granite Belt. My hope is to be able to tell the stories of all Qld soldier settlements in subsequent newsletters and then other states.

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