The Group Settlement Scheme was set up in the 1920s by the Western Australian Government to attract working migrants into the State to help clear land for farming in the State’s South West.
Brief History of the Group Settlement Scheme
In the 1920s the British economy had slowed dramatically following the end of World War I. As a result unemployment was sky high with ever increasing dole queues. Meanwhile in Western Australia the Premier Sir James Mitchell had problems of his own. Western Australia, had become increasingly concerned about the enormous amount being spent on the importing of food supplies from the Eastern States of Australia and was keen to develop the State’s primary industries in order to create a more self sufficient State. The Premier however needed a greater workforce to achieve this goal.
Mitchell ‘s plan, called the Group Settlement Scheme, was to attract working migrants from Europe and Britain into Western Australia. The migrants would be paid to settle in the sparsely populated area of the State’s South West and help to cleared the land .
Mitchell requested the help of the British Government.
Land of Milk and Honey
The British Government saw this idea as a positive solution to their country’s unemployment crisis. Thus began the advertising campaign for “families to start a new life in the paradise of Western Australia”. The British Government even paid for over 6,000 families to voyage to Western Australia. Little did the unskilled migrants know of the hardships they would endure upon arrival in the harsh wooded terrain.
Group Settlement Scheme officially started in 1921 and by the following year, over 1000 settlers (mainly British) had moved into the Margaret River district with the offer of free land. They first moved into the areas of Karridale, Kudardup, Nuralingup, Forest Grove, Cowaramup, Rosa Brook, Witchcliffe and later Margaret River. With a growing population a number of schools were established to support the Group Settlements, they were Forest Grove, Rosa Brook, Rosa Glen, Osmington, Kudarup, Glenarty, McLeod’s Creek School and Nillup.
Social and Economic Disaster
Many of the migrants, lured to Western Australian with the offer of free land, had never even worked a day on a farm, let alone chopped a tree. Imagine their surprise when they were expected to fell the tall timbers with nothing more than hand saws and axes?
The scheme required settlers to work co-cooperatively in clearing blocks for farm land. Working in groups of twenty men or more they were paid by the government to work 8 hour days for six days of the week, clearing 160 acre (64ha) blocks. In reward for their labour they were given a cleared block of land through a ballot system.
The Scheme, though a social and economic disaster for the State, helped open up agricultural land in the south-west and put Margaret River on the map.