Soldier settlers in focus
As artillery shells screamed through the air above the World War One trenches of France in 1917, the limestone plains must have seemed distant for the local men who had enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force.
Darcy Thompson was fighting for his life. In the midst of the Great War in a far flung country. A hell-hole. The stench of death in the air. He was 21. It was a far cry from his picturesque childhood home in the Yass area.
Darcy received near fatal shrapnel wounds on the Western Front. Courageously fighting on, he was eventually discharged in 1919. He had served his King and country.
The Commonwealth Government established a Soldier Settlement Scheme to repatriate returned soldiers. Designed to create rural opportunities for returned servicemen, the scheme opened up land for agricultural pursuits. The economic wealth of a fledging nation was riding on the sheep’s back.
The nation’s new capital was emerging on the banks of the Molonglo River. It was reported at the time that thousands of acres in this newly-formed Federal Capital Territory were unoccupied except for rogue rabbits; repatriated soldiers could plant their roots in fertile soil, taming a harsh environment.
Darcy Thompson grasped the opportunity. In 1920 he successfully secured a solider settlement lease over the alluvial plains of the Murrumbidgee River at a place called Pine Island.
Life was a challenge. Rabbits, weeds and high prices for stock and equipment were compounded by a lack of infrastructure in the new Territory. Adding to Darcy’s woes was the emotional trauma of battle; the horrific campaign of constant bombardment had left more than physical scars.
With a reputation as a hard worker, Darcy soon built a humble roof over his head. A robust yet simple Federation style bungalow complete with cool open verandahs. He called his little cottage Kashmir after the ship that had returned him safely to Australian shores. From his modest abode, Darcy had commanding views sweeping down to the Murrumbidgee and across to the Tuggeranong Valley.
Through the trials and tribulations of a pastoral existence Darcy and his family maintained ‘Pine Island’ for more than 45 years as a viable rural enterprise; it was one of the most successful solider settlements in the region.
You can see the personal stories of Darcy and other Tuggeranong Valley solider settlers in an inspiring photographic exhibition at Lanyon Homestead from 16 October until 11 November. The exhibition is a moving, fitting tribute to the soldiers, sailors and airmen we will remember this Remembrance Day, which commemorates the end of a horrific war.
Photo: Courtesy of Ian Thompson, shows Darcy Thompson with his binder and draft horses reaping hay in the 1920s. Ian Thompson and a friend gather the sheaves.
Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.
Article also appeared on 16 October 2018 in The Chronicle