Pompoota Training Farm to be commemorated in new exhibition
On Sunday 22 January, 2017 Premier Jay Weatherill will open a new Anzac Centenary Exhibition in Pompoota Hall, Pompoota. Interested members of the South Australian community are invited to attend and details of the opening can be found here.
Titled “After the Trenches” , the exhibition has been curated by a team of committed Pompoota residents interested to bring this chapter of their community’s history to light during the Anzac Centenary.
One hundred years to the day, the community will re-enact the opening of the Pompoota Hall – part of the Pompoota Training Farm, which took place on 22nd January, 1917. It’s opening made South Australia the first state to put in place a formal repatriation plan for returning soldiers, who by this time were coming home from the Western Front battlefields of 1916, including Fromelles, Pozieres and Mouquet Farm.
A special re-enactment of the opening will see Premier Jay Weatherill (representing then Premier Crawford Vaughan) with the official party, make the short trip from Mypolonga to Pompoota aboard historical river boat, the Mayflower. From there Premier Weatherill will make his way up to Pompoota Hall to unveil a small plaque and officially launch the exhibition. The local Murray Bridge Band will play songs from the World War 1 era, and a small choir of local Pompoota children will form a guard of honour as well as perform.
The idea for the exhibition came in 2014 when a meeting of residents in Pompoota sought an event to appropriately highlight Pompoota’s role in the Great War.
“In general discussion, the thought emerged that without the training farm at Pompoota, we would not have this fantastic hall. And the idea for the exhibition sprang from there” said Pompoota resident Colleen Buchan, who with her husband Graeme, is one of the organisers of the event and exhibition.
The Pompoota Hall remains an integral part of Pompoota’s community life, being used originally as both a school for the children of the returned servicemen and as a venue for their families to socialise. This fostered a community support network which assisted in the reintegration of returned soldiers, enabling them to live peaceful lives after the horrors of war.
A more probing question subsequently presented itself for the organisers, regarding why Pompoota became the training farm site for the soldiers at all? That is, before they were given their blocks of land through South Australia’s Soldiers Settlement Scheme.
“This history, sitting with an already existing rich earlier settlers’ history, always evokes keen interest and discussion amongst Pompoota residents and became the catalyst for the exhibition” said Ms Buchan.
The Pompoota Training Farm was situated on the River Murray approximately 20 kilometres from Murray Bridge. It included reclaimed swampland alongside grazing land, and contained 4,231 acres.
South Australia led the nation in enacting legislation with the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act 1915, which considered compensation for returning servicemen, including the provision of Crown land through the Soldier Settlers Land Grant Scheme.
The implementation of a Soldier Settlers Land Grant Scheme for Australia’s repatriated World War 1 servicemen was designed as a mechanism to create employment opportunities for returning soldiers and to open up new land to agriculture in a bid to grow the economic wealth of Australia.
In March 1916 the Soldier Settlers Training Farm was established at Pompoota, on the lower Murray. Here soldiers, who had little or no experience in rural enterprise, could learn about a wide range of agricultural pursuits.
At the expiry of the test period the successful trainee was then able to apply to be allotted a block on irrigation and reclamation areas made available. These included lands at Wall, Moorook, Berri, Cobdogla, Neeta, Jervois, Swanport, and elsewhere. Successful trainees were recommended to the board by the manager and their applications for blocks approved by the Land Board.
To ensure sufficient land was made available for returned soldiers, the Vaughan Government reserved practically all the swamps along the Murray, as well as other areas of land along the river.
The land was surveyed in blocks of different sizes to ensure a comfortable living could be made if properly worked by the returned soldier settlers. In early accounts it is outlined that the actual area allotted was partly governed by the lay of the country, with each settler receiving from 10 to 20 acres thought capable of being irrigated, along with a piece of dry land adjacent, on which to run stock.
Effort was made to ensure that on every block a small house was erected, with the intention that most of the land would be cleared (this didn’t happen in all cases) and that 4 or 5 acres of lucerne would be established to supply a sufficient quantity of fodder for the milking cows, which were also to be supplied to the settlers.
Where there was no lucerne on the block, the Irrigation Department endeavoured to lease a few acres of lucerne on behalf of the settler, until his own crop grew. In this way the settler was supposed to be able to secure a return from his block immediately, once he went into occupation.
Through the Returned Soldiers’ Registration Bureau, those soldiers who expressed a desire to settle on the land, were assessed to determine if they had sufficient practical knowledge. Where necessary, training was recommended to equip them with this knowledge, along with skills and practical experience at the Pompoota Training Farm.
The people of Pompoota continue to commemorate the scheme, and there are descendants of the original settlers still farming there. One family still successfully dairy farming at Pompoota today, are direct descendants of Rupert Wren Ellis (Rue), who returned from overseas duty and was accepted as a trainee on the farm. Rupert fought in France. On discharge in 1919, and after attending the training farm to learn dairying, he was allotted a block at Pompoota through the Soldiers Settlers Scheme when it closed in the early twenties.
The exhibition ‘After the Trenches’, acknowledges the role Pompoota Training Farm played in the repatriation and reintegration into society of South Australia’s returned Servicemen following their service overseas in the Great War.
This exhibition is a recipient of an Anzac Day Commemoration Council Grant.
Caption: Pompoota Training Farm established in 1917 to train returned servicemen in agricultural land managment as part of South Australia's Soldiers Settlement Scheme