War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

here – I forgot what the problem was at the time, but Parliament, no I can’t think, but it was something which I considered was wrong and Parliament agreed to it and I wrote to Charlie Adam and they made a law about it – I forget what it was now. Anyhow I wrote to Charlie Adam, our Federal Member and we were very friendly, knew each other well and he wrote back and told me that they had been in communications with the League headquarters and it had been agreed between the League and themselves, that what they were doing was quite okay. So which means that the League didn’t always do what the common man wanted them to do, what the common man thought was right. Course, they had their ambitions, I suppose you’d called it, the headquarters and personnel. They probably wanted their Knighthoods or something else. Its an awful thing when you come to realise what the average person will sell for the sake of their own ambitions, isn’t it.

The object of soldier settlements was good, that was to give preference to returned people who wanted to go on the land and to help them to become established, but like everything else it had its avenues for fraud and was abused in the first place a lot of people were ill-informed about what the life on the land really meant and only knew or thought they knew what the glamorous side of it was, with the result in one instance, I know of a 325 acre block of land which was full of timber and it was that thick with timber, third class land, that the dingoes would have to come out on the road to bark, figuratively speaking, and yet, one man selected it and told me with his own words, that he intended grazing on it which was absolutely madness.

In the first place, it had to be cleared, it would have to be grassed and then it wouldn’t be, the quality of the land of the stuff that came off it, wouldn’t have been good enough to run a beast to 20-30 acres whereas acceptable land is a beast to every 10 or 12 acres at the most. So that is the type of some of the people who applied and received grants of land. Well they didn’t receive them as a grant, all they got was a priority of ownership. By that I mean we had to purchase, I was a soldier settler, but I bought this homestead and I had to pay off all the improvements that were on the homestead to the previous owner and it cost me something in the vicinity of 12 or 15 hundred pounds, I think, it was a lot of money in those days, but I still had to pay so much a year for 15 years to the government for that land, so there was no such thing as grants or gifts, or anything of that description, it was simply priority was given to soldiers to go to a ballot for a piece of land. Well the administration was set up with all good intentions of course, but like everything else it was abused.

There was stock sold between the owner of the land or bought between the owner of the land and the supervisor or through the supervisor which were never bought but the money was divided between the soldier and the supervisor and things like that went on all the time and on top of that again the areas that were given to the people which they selected were not suitable for the type of country it was and, for instance, the highest, the larges area on Gordonbrook when I selected was 800-odd acres and that was supposed to give a good living. Well it finished up after a number of years had passed and a lot of fights between the people and the owners that they increased the areas to 2000, so there’s a big difference between 800 and 2000. 800 acres of certain quality of land, yes, or any amount.

In fact the best of this land in this district, if they had given, not the soldiers, but if they’d opened for selection in 300-acre blocks, it would have been quite nice, now in the best of this country around here, civilian occupation, the highest area they’d allow you to hold is 160 acres. This block that I selected here originally was 95 acres, but the maximum amount you could hold was 160 because of the quality of the land. But the country that I was on at Gordonbrook was grazing country. It wasn’t agricultural country by any means with the result that you wanted at least 2000 acres to make a living off. We started off with about, oh, probably 12 or 15 acres, finished up with 4, I think, and they were people who had special qualifications. I think they were the people that loved the land, loved the life and determined in spite of all obstacles to make a success of it and they went through a devil of a lot.

Turnbull: Did they all come from farming backgrounds, or was it just that they had developed a love for farming?

Ellwood: I didn’t come from a farming background, and there was another chap out there who was from England and he had no farming background at all and the other fellow that made a success of it, he probably came from the farming background, but generally speaking, no.

Turnbull: How did you teach yourself to become a farmer? It must have been trial and error, was it?

Ellwood: Yes, I learnt the hard way. I loved land life. When I was lad as you saw by that picture, I had a horse and always had a horse to ride and I always went to people on the land for my holidays if I could and I liked the land, I liked the life and I think it was that plus the mixing with the people in my regiment who were from the land, land-minded and brought up on the land and admiring their qualities and their behavioural pattern that more or less made me decide and it wasn’t until I was about….I joined up when I was 20 years of age and it wasn’t until I was about oh, 24 or I suppose 25, that I had any idea of what I’d do with my life when I came back, and many a time I’d lie in my tent, or wherever I was and wonder what I’d do with myself if I escaped and got back to civil life and it wasn’t until I was about 24 or 25 that I decided that I wouldn’t go into the city that I’d go into the land and I then began building up what sort of a land life I wanted and how I’d go about making a success of it. That was how I come to get on the land.

Turnbull: Did you get a lot of help from your neighbours out there?

Ellwood: The only two neighbours that I had, as I told you before they were instrumental in repairing my shattered values and had I not had them, probably I would have fallen by the wayside like all the rest of them. They simply couldn’t take the loneliness of it and the hardship attached to it and one thing and another.

Turnbull: And then after that it was a reasonable success, you think?

Ellwood: We simply grew into that stage, I suppose, you’d say. I don’t know whether its been a success or not. But it simply grew into a position where I was able to retire and I educated my family all up to matriculation standard out at Boarding Schools and I must have made a success of it or I wouldn’t have been able to it. But we both were thrifty and we went through a lot. Of course, there was nothing to spend your money on much in those days and what’s more there wasn’t much money to spend. What’s more, it was so valuable. Sixpence bought a devil of a lot in those days. I was always progressive, I had the first set of machinery for milking. I had the first mechanical methods of tilling the land. I operated and did a bit of farming and I also tested all of my cows for their production possibilities and potential and all that sort of business. I was always progressive enough not to just sit down and accept the common run of things, always wanted to improve some way or the other, and had enough confidence, I suppose, or adventurous spirit to reach out.

Turnbull: You had some involvement with Shire politics in the late twenties early thirties, didn’t you?

Ellwood: I was a Councillor for six years about 30-36 I think it was and that was right through the Depression years and then it was just after that that I was recalled into the Army and I think that was one of the reasons or probably the only reason that I retired from politics, local, but during that period I was a member of the Hospital Committee, and a member of the Shire Council and I had quite a few things that, you know, kept me occupied as well.

Turnbull: Is it possible for you to just state in a broad fashion what you political views were, say during the 1930s.

Ellwood: They were influenced by my surroundings and my life, that is, country. It was a farming and the selectors and the grazing point of view that I could only see. Not that I could only see, but that dominated my thinking, but my views always have been and always will be for advancement. As a matter of fact one of the points that I made when I was interested in State politics was that a member of Parliament, his duties were similar to those of a parent. He had a family and it was his duty and his objective, his ambition, to do the best that he could for all of them and not just have favourites and look after one or two like party politics do. I was never a party political man, never, and I’m not even now. I don’t know what politics I would favour now, certainly not party politics. I’m not selfish enough to think that my side of life is the only side I’ll fight for. I think that everybody should be catered for, just as I say, a parent does with his family. That’s my view.

Turnbull: What about rural workers? Say, workers that were involved in the old AWU when there was a larger work force of just workers within the countryside? I mean, what were your attitudes towards the unions at those stages? Did you feel that you could work with workers and the unions to a point or did not you think that their interests conflicted with yours?

Ellwood: No, I would say looking back, I would say that a lot of the things that … Well, I can remember the conditions under which workers lived. I can remember employing married couples and the standard of accommodation that I gave them and which they accepted and which was general was almost unbelievably low, Doctor, and of course, conditions, the standard of life in my early days wasn’t anywhere like it is at the moment. And, as I say, the married couples that I employed, that is in the dairying part of my business, it was unbelievably low type. You wouldn’t ask anybody to live under those conditions today. Consequently, I think that they needed altering and they had my sympathy. I’ve always had the feeling that, as a parent should have for all of his children. I’ve had married couples on my place with as many as 3,4 and 5 children and just ragged urchins the kids were and the conditions of the home that they were living in was nothing compared to what the homes are today and what the unionism has demanded and got and which I think was entitled to, but in those days it was quite a different matter.

Turnbull: So you think its rather different today, then?

Ellwood: Oh, the standard of living today, its almost unbelievably high. And I suppose, probably, it can go higher, but we went through things that I wouldn’t like to see my family go through. My wife started off with 3 galvanised iron tubs under the house to do her washing and an open fire and a copper to do her boiling, and she’d go downstairs and she’s rub away with a washing board with these three tubs, one full of blue water, one full of washing water and one to wash in and she’s scrub the clothes that way and as well, there was no such thing as floor coverings in those days. She’d have to scrub the pine boards on her hands and knees and then linoleum came in and there was some other business that came into, floor covering that was used but I wouldn’t like to see my family go through this, the standards of living, there’s no comparison, no comparison at all. For instance, if you want to get from our place to Kingaroy, 15 mile, you’d have a horse and sulky to do it and many many a time I’ve had to go in to a dentist with children lying on the bottom of the tray of the sulky and one on the seat and one on somebody’s lap and all that sort of business and drive along with a horse for two hours before you got to town and often when you got to town, not often, but occasionally, the only dentist you could make an appointment with and who was there, was an alcoholic who probably wouldn’t be able to attend to you. And you’d have to rest your horse in town for so many hours and then start on your way back home again. Well, the standard of living, it was unbelievable. I wouldn’t like to see it at all.