100 years of Ubobo: remembering a soldier settlement

Original Soldier Settlement House, painted by Anne Huth

Nestled in the heart of the Boyne Valley, just an hour’s drive south from the Central Queensland city of Gladstone, sits the township of Ubobo.

Sustained by its farming, sawmilling and tourism industries, the area offers an insight into an interesting chapter of Australian history – the Soldier Settlement Scheme.

Initially established after the First World War, the scheme sought to resettle returning soldiers on pastoral land throughout Australia, with the dual aim of supporting the returning soldiers and settling previously uninhabited areas of Australia.

In Queensland the scheme was responsible for establishing several modern-day towns; Ubobo, named after the former pastoral holding, was settled in 1920. 

The old Ubobo Memorial Hall [image courtesty of the Boyne Valley Historical Society]

As part of centenary celebrations organised by the Boyne Valley Historical Society, Kathy McLachlan, the society’s secretary, has been at Queensland State Archives researching the original land files (officially called Dead Farm Files) from the Ubobo Soldier Settlement.

This research project has also given QSA the opportunity to trial a new service – self-scanning.

‘We were planning the 100-year anniversary of the soldier settlers for the weekend of Anzac Day,’ Kathy says.

The research Kathy has been doing is ‘a showpiece’, but she says it’s also relevant to the people who live there today on the properties that once were soldier settlement blocks.

The files tell of both the successes and failures endured by Ubobo’s soldier settlers.

‘One thing the Ubobo settlement had that a lot of the others didn’t was access to markets with the rail line.

‘If you read the history of the Beerburrum Soldier Settlement, which I think was the first in Queensland, they lacked access to markets, and it was a dismal failure. They couldn’t get their produce to market easily.

‘Most of the men grazed cattle when they first started in Ubobo. But they soon found out they couldn’t make a living from that, so just about all of them turned to dairy.’

The heritage-listed Solider Settler House, located on Gladstone-Monto Road. c. 2009 [image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons]

Although some of Ubobo’s soldier settlers did find success, the vast majority – like most of Australia’s first soldier settlers, short on actual farming experience – struggled to get their farms off the ground.

‘We find that a lot of them were very damaged men. A lot of them who did want to leave did so on medical grounds,’ says Kathy.

‘One… came back without an eye – he was one of the originals on Gallipoli. I think he had a leg amputated later-on.

‘If you look through some of the files, there are doctors’ certificates saying that ‘this man physically cannot do this work’.’

The Boyne Valley Queensland Country Women’s Association Hall, Ubobo, 2017 [image courtesty of the Boyne Valley Historical Society]

Even for those that were physically capable, the way Ubobo’s farm blocks were planned made it difficult for successful farmers to expand.  

‘They were all hemmed in – that seemed to be a big problem with them.

‘All the blocks were virtually next door to each other. You couldn’t buy the next-door block if you wanted more land, because there was already another soldier on that who wanted more land as well.’

Many of these stories from the Ubobo soldier settlement, if not for QSA’s trial of self-scanning, may never have been uncovered by Kathy.

With over 60 files needing to be scanned – most between 150–300 pages long – the costs involved with QSA’s traditional scanning service were far higher than a small historical group like the Boyne Valley Historical Society could afford.

‘QSA offered “if you’re prepared to come down and do it yourself, we’ll give you all the help we possibly can”,’ says Kathy.

‘I’m so pleased that I did.’

Kathy was set up with a desktop computer and a scanner in one of the private booths in QSA’s Reading Room. She was given special one-on-one training in how to operate the equipment and handle the documents.

As well as saving the Boyne Valley Historical Society a significant amount of money, by deciding to make the journey to QSA Kathy was able to identify an extra 30 land files containing information about the Ubobo soldier settlers.

‘I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t come down. We wouldn’t have known,’ Kathy says.

While still in the process of trialling self-scanning, QSA is hoping to roll it out as an on-request service to historical groups in the near future.

Those interested in the service can contact Senior Archivist Niles Elvery at: niles.elvery@archives.qld.gov.au.

As for Kathy and the Boyne Valley Historical Society, their celebration of the centenary of the Ubobo Soldier Settlement was slated for the 2020 Anzac Day weekend, but was unfortunately postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

You can stay updated on future announcements about the celebration on the Boyne Valley Community Discovery Centre’s website: https://boynevalley.org.au/featured-events/centenary-of-the-ubobo-soldier-settlement/.

About Queensland State Archives

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

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