Backward Glance: Beerburrum – the first settlement for returned WW1 soldiers
  • Wednesday 13 May 2015
The Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Bean Street, 1920

During the First World War, the Australian Government looked at ways to provide for the many returned soldiers, a large number of whom were disabled or suffering what would now be called Post Traumatic Stress.

In 1916, the Australian Government secured land near the township of Beerburrum to develop the Beerburrum Memorial Soldier Settlement. The settlement site was chosen as it had an established rail service and the surrounding area was deemed suitable for the cultivation of pineapples and citrus. In 1910, the area had been established as a military reserve by the Commonwealth Government.

The settlement was the first and one of the largest settlements in Australia. Under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act, it provided land to returned servicemen from the Australian and Imperial armed forces. The settlement was funded by the Australian Government and administered by the Queensland Government.

Consisting of more than 51,000 acres, the settlement was established around the town of Beerburrum to the southern town of Elimbah, east towards the Toorbul and Donnybrook districts and north towards Landsborough. Parcels of land comprised of 20 to 40 acres.

In September 1916, a training farm was established supplying 23,000 orange and mandarin trees as well as pineapples. The Beerburrum district developed into a town of more than 1000 residents with a school, a hospital for veterans and families and stores.

The Prince of Wales travelled by train to the area on August 2, 1920 and met with returned soldiers and their families in Station Square in Nambour. Two thousand people attended the event. The Australian Army Commander General Birdwood also visited that year while on his wary from Maryborough to Brisbane during his official post-war tour of Australia.  He renamed the road Anzac Avenue and planted the first tree, a camphor laurel, in the Memorial Avenue tree planting.

Battle weary and often disabled veterans were required to clear the heavily timbered area which comprised of poor soil in most areas. Nine invalid servicemen, some of whom had been in hospital for 12 months or more were the first to begin trying to make a living there. They were required to build their own home and establish crops in order to stay on the land which was not freehold but leasehold.

During this time many families struggled and it was only through an allocation of a small service invalid pension or they would have starved. Men who were city born tried their hand at farming but many were unsuited to agricultural pursuits. Their physical and mental ailments impacted on their wives and children and many worked the farms due to the disabilities of the veterans. The children were often needed to work on the farm which led to irregular attendance at school.

The growing of pineapples had some success and the fruit was transported by train to the pineapple cannery at Bulimba, Brisbane. By 1922, the settlement was in decline due to the over-capitalization of the pineapple cannery which was Queensland Government owned. Other factors included poor quality of soil and undersized fruit due to lack of fertilizer and new markets elsewhere.

In the same year, torrential rain ruined the crops and prevented farmers getting to the railway to transport what they could salvage.  By 1924, of the 485 holdings taken up, 280 had been abandoned. In 1929 during the Great Depression there was only 69 holdings still occupied. The settlement was finally abandoned but many descendants still live throughout the region.

The Beerburrum Hospital closed in 1932 due to a decline in population related to the failed Settlement Scheme. Sections of the hospital were sent by road to become additions to the Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital.

Learn more about the Coast’s unique history by reading our Backward Glance series. There’s a new story every Wednesday.