District WWI Veterans

WWI Veterans History Book
ISBN: 0646238159
Currently out of print

Sister Rachel Pratt, Military Medal

Below is an excerpt of Michael Greenham’s book on WWI veterans from the local area:


Generally Australia was in an ‘age of optimism …[having] survived a period of crises’ (19) in the 1890’s which included ‘economic depression and terrible droughts’ (64). The country was united under the Empire and proudly federated. The economy was strong. Women had the vote and there was a new age of transport, industrial mechanisation and communication developing. The population was less than five million. One of the few causes for pessimism was the disastrous drought of 1914 that affected the rural industries upon which the national economy relied.

The population of Dartmoor in 1913 was 144 (including North Dartmoor) compared with 62 in 1906 (18). There was a post and telegraph office, a policeman, shops, a hotel and a stock auction every six weeks. Drik Drik had a population of 150 and was a self-contained district with ‘a lot of small farms’ (22). There were shops and various tradesmen including a stonemason and a bootmaker, and the post-office building which served for generations was soon to be built. Greenwald also had a post-office, and possibly a butcher (93).

The local district experienced the drought; the rainfall for Mount Gambier in 1914 was 18 inches, at least a third less than the average (61), and Portland had 19 inches (70). At the end of summer 1914 the country around Dartmoor was ‘baked hard’ despite recent rainfall of 20 points (80). Fires on the Greenwald range made matters worse (81). Winter rains did not fall; at Drik Drik it was the worst season in the 55 years that the local correspondent to the “Portland Guardian” had lived in the district (139). The abnormally dry season meant that the Glenelg River was little above summer level, and around Casterton the river was still fordable in August 1914 (81).

However the sustained dry period had less impact locally than in other agricultural regions. In comparison, the Dartmoor area fared well, as during spring stockowners from northern districts were looking locally for agistment (79). In November 1914 a rare motorist travelled from Mount Gambier to Portland via Ardno, Limestone Ridge, Dartmoor, Greenwald and Heywood (a six hour journey) and reported ‘the green fields and homes scattered about in plenty. One does not suggest that we had left a drought threatened country and passed into a paradise’ (82). Despite this testimony many farmers were forced to feed-off their maturing oat crops to stock, preserving little for hay and chaff, and ‘practically none for grain’ (83). By March 1915 the country had a withered appearance (45) and in May expectations of rain were given up. Ploughing for the new season ceased and farmers were skinning a lot of their stock despite the hides being near worthless (46). Constable McLean, the Dartmoor policeman, and probably his assistant George Waugh, had to dispose of a number of dying stock that had been turned adrift on the shire roads (58). A sadder loss for Constable McLean occurred shortly after when his police-mount, ‘the best horse in the district’, died from a lump of chaff in the throat (48). Being in short supply chaff was already expensive enough, without the added burden of dramas such as that. However, contrasted to the Heywood area where sheep and cattle were dying off in the hundreds (52), a visitor to the Dartmoor area in late June 1915 stated that it was still ‘one of the best corners this season, and did not know of any other district where losses of stock were so light’ (47). Naturally, fat stock were in keen demand and at least three agents held stock sales at the yards behind Cameron’s Dartmoor Hotel (near the current kindergarten site): Young Brothers (37), Dalgetys (53) and Victorian Producers’ Cooperative (51). Sales were also held at Kentbruck. Prices averaged 7 pounds for bullocks and 30 shillings for wethers (66).

Finally in June 1915 the outlook improved after 8 inches of rain fell (35) and the river was higher than it had been for two years (38). By late September the roadbridge over the Glenelg River was almost covered by floodwater (43) and wet conditions caused a cessation of work on the railway line construction near Marp (59). Mr Sam Malseed at “Melrose” (below Emerson’s hill), for whom Willy Malseed worked after the war, advertised that he had ‘good grass and plenty of water’ for clients wishing to use the services of his stud stallions: Clydesdale ‘Pride of Melrose’ and the pony ‘Red Gum’ (44). When shearing commenced in November 1915 the sheep brought in from the ‘scrub [had] done splendidly in spite of drought’ (176).

Whilst labouring work for men on the surrounding sheep farms may have been limited due to the drought, other occupations were available. Road-building was tendered out by the Shire, and many men obtained seasonal jobs with private gangs that won contracts (69). There was a strong trade in wattlebark for use at tanneries at a price of 7 pounds per ton (61). Demand was so keen in fact that the Shire threatened action against anyone stripping trees on council property (57). Bert O’Neil was however unaffected by that dictum; he was regularly employed to collect bark for the Kerrs on their property. At the end of 1915 when the bark season began, Donald McLennan at Mumbannar, who lost workers like Frank McDonnell to the war, advertised in the press for wattle-bark strippers (41); the wage was as high as 2 pounds per ton (56). Stripping was done with ‘an axe and a tomahawk’ (28). Rabbit trappers and carters were experiencing a brisk trade (45). Rabbits were in plague as there had been ‘no rain to drown the young ones’ (138) in their burrows as in previous years, and there was an expanding requirement for exports of canned rabbit meat. By March 1915 the freezing and preserving works in Portland was working day and night to meet demand enhanced by the war (54). The “Bright-Oh-Polish” limeworks was another provider of jobs. Established east of the railway siding at Greenwald, it was overseen by Billy Poole’s father. Unfortunately the butter and cheese factory at Drik Drik which could also have provided employment had already closed in 1909 due to insufficient supplies of milk. (In hindsight the local shareholders made a wise decision, as the supply of butter-fat would have dwindled further during the drought years.) There were several hardwood sawmills in operation in the area (the softwood industry was still over ten years away); some of them were Strachan, Mullane and Sullivan’s at Winnap, Bartlett’s near the Moleside (42) and Aitken’s at Greenwald. Bullock teams were required to haul logs and Alec Barr and Henry Cowland were two teamsters employed on the task.

The construction of the railway line between Heywood and Mount Gambier was undoubtedly a boon for the district. Between 200 and 400 men were directly, but not continuously, employed on the building of the line (35) and work reached Dartmoor by May 1914. While the major work was completed near the river the village was ‘transformed to a canvas town’ (84). Many gangers lived in the tent camps with their families (82), or like Frank Middleton boarded with locals. Some of the navvies created consternation amongst the locals; ‘the good stay at home people of the district are horrified to hear choruses being chanted whilst stray parties of men dance round fires lit on the roads at the small hours’ (75). One typical break in progress occurred in October 1914 when the adzing machine with all hands, transferred to Swan Hill along with the ballast engine and its crew. Work for the rest of the gangers was found at Portland where a breakwater was being built (83). Finally the bridge over the Glenelg was completed by June 1915 (47) and the service from Dartmoor to Heywood every Tuesday carried a large quantity of timber, bark and wool to Portland (65).

The railway construction also provided other businesses with trade. Sleepers were required by the thousands, both locally and for lines to Cavendish and others further north (78). A mobile mill operated by Fitzgerald Brothers followed the progress of the line and after being located at North Dartmoor left numerous stumps (still visible on properties like “Kyndalyn” and “Viva Gani”) as a legacy of their work. At least three general stores and merchants existed in Dartmoor in 1914: Darby Conole, Ingel Olsen, and Misses Lydia and Ethel Smith. Hermie Richter and Len Righetti were soon to commence operations and Adeline Kerr was about to set up shop at Winnap. Alexander McLellan and Archie McPhee had shops at Drik Drik. Archie would also do rounds of district farms selling all sorts of merchandise. This practice of hawking was common and Lucca and Kissin Singh were Sikh Indian hawkers who led solitary lives conducting their business. Lucca travelled widely in the Western District peddling his paraphernalia as far north as Apsley on his round accomplished at least once per year (87). Kissin had everything on his horse and buggy ‘from a needle to a haystack’ (28) which included material, clothes and kitchenware. He would make himself at home at regular points on his circuit, like Kerrs at Winnap. ‘There was no can I?’ (21); he would unhitch his horse into the paddock, prepare to camp the night and accept the offer of an evening meal even though it was not the practice of Sikhs to eat with non-Sikhs. In return for the hospitality he would buy chaff and butter prior to leaving. He supported the war effort too, contributing over 1 pound to the Drik Drik Patriotic Fund a month after the war began (79). Darby Conole was generous as well, especially with his humour. When Ormond Jones and his father came into town from Mumbannar with their buggy and purchased flour, Darby declared when it came time to load up, ‘you lift it up and l’ll grunt’ (69). Ingel Olsen who had a fodder and skin-store was probably least grateful amongst these traders for the coming of the railway. The embankments for the new road-bridge over the railway line in town had restricted entry to his premises “Neslo” (residence still standing at the corner of Lindsay Road and Greenham Streets, opposite the Dartmoor Hotel). Council investigated the problem in May 1915, agreed that the earthworks posed an inconvenience but decided that it had no power to act over the railway authority (58). (Ten months later Ingel must have felt the advent of the railway to be a nightmare. His only child Leslie was killed after falling from the ballast train on which he was riding to deliver groceries to workers at Marp.)

Another drama caused by the railway was the deterioration in the Heywood-Dartmoor road, which had many deviations in it resultant from the siting of the railway track. The Shire inspected the alterations late in 1915, found them in a disgraceful condition and demanded that the railway authority repair the damage (67). A further drawback of having the line was that compensation was not available for landowners, for either loss of land that was compulsorily acquired by the railways or the inconvenience that it caused. Fences across the railway reserve around Greenwald were cut, but were not mended (76). In reply to these complaints, the rail authorities maintained that a consequent rise in the value of land adjacent to the line would compensate landholders for any territory lost, and the number of sidings provided gave excellent access to the line. (An interesting legacy of the sidings is that they provided previously untitled localities with official names, some of which were derived from local Boandik aboriginal words e.g. Winnap and Marp were terms for fire/firewood and sulphur-crested cockatoo respectively (62)).

The new age of mass transport and communication had arrived to stay. Apart from the train, cars superseded the relatively recent novelty of bicycles as mechanised forms of transport. At the end of 1914 there were still only 78 motor cars in Mount Gambier (62) and Doctor Sleeman who serviced this area from Portland had one of the few vehicles there (70). One occasion when the locals saw a car was when Bishop Green, Anglican Diocese of Ballarat, came to Greenwald in June 1915 for a confirmation service and afterwards motored into Dartmoor to give a talk on the war (68). Perhaps one of the first cars owned in the district and purchased about this time, was a T-Model Ford by Donald McLennan, but ‘every time he drove it he would tip the bloody thing over’ (69). William Shaw at “Rifle Downs” also had a motor vehicle. Telegraph services had been available at Dartmoor since 1911; the quaint post and telegraph office at Drik Drik (still standing near the former State School) was built sometime during the war years (94). Prior to this, the nearest phone was at Kentbruck, and even when it came to Dartmoor it did not get to outlying homes. Consequently it was still difficult and time-consuming to contact a doctor, so there was ‘no running to the doctor’ (28) for every ailment; the usual home-remedy was to ‘go to bed and keep warm’ (28). However, that treatment was inappropriate for a Norwegian axeman cutting timber at Drik Drik for the railway bridge. He accidentally gashed his neck and David McLellan (father of Alexander), the local “bush doctor”, sewed up the nasty wound to good effect (85). At least professional dentists were more accessible; Miller Brothers regularly visited Dartmoor to attend to cliensts, using the hotel as a venue for treatment (77).

Mass entertainment made its mark too. Dartmoor residents were treated to something ‘extraordinary and original in the moving picture line’ when the film ‘Detective Finn of Scotland Yard’ was shown just before Christmas 1914 (74). The residents of North Dartmoor did not get such sophistication, having to be content with a teacher occasionally showing still “lantern-slides” on Saturday night (28). Taking the family to such entertainment was a feat; families were generally large, often with 7 or 8 children (28).

Life at home was simple. Cuisine was basic and ingredients were generally self-provided from vegetable gardens, a house-cow, shooting/trapping of game and home-butchering of stock. Surplus butter from surrounding farms would be taken to Dartmoor shops for sale to townsfolk. Jarrads at Camp Corner and Kerrs at Winnap both made such trips regularly. Apart from the usual mutton and rabbit, some native animals were “fair” fare as there was a legal hunting season for many of them. Black swans were a treat, and were cooked in a similar way to geese; kangaroo and bacon minced together was another tasty dish, but only the ‘dogs were fed with emu’ (28).

Schooling was available at Dartmoor, Mumbannar, North Dartmoor, Greenwald and Drik Drik, though the standard of education was variable since teachers usually did not have formal training. But, as is the norm, students rarely appraise their teachers on such an issue. Instead, Eric Matthewson at Drik Drik was a handsome, athletic 19 year old and the idol of the adolescent females in his class (22). (In 1917 Eric married a “Melbourne girl”; when Leigh Lightbody in France was informed of this he jokingly wrote to his sister, that Eric was a ‘Lucky man to get away from Drik’.) Henry Fliegner at North Dartmoor was a stern disciplinarian (28), and Bill McIntosh at Mumbannar used to let the blackboard monitors eat his hotel-prepared cut-lunch while he went over the road to feast with friends Jack and Bella Pratt (69)! The Dartmoor School had an enrolment of over 40 students in 1915 (35) and they enjoyed the comforts of a new building opened on 18 July 1914 by the Premier, Alexander Peacock (grandfather of recent Federal Member of Parliament, Andrew Peacock). The building cost 448 pounds and part of the former schoolroom was later used to make the current “girls’ shelter-shed”. Greenwald School was also in the throes of changing location and obtained a new schoolroom costing 320 pounds in 1915. The former building had a shingle roof that leaked when it rained. Attendance averaged 16 students in 1913. Drik Drik had an average of 11 attendees on its roll in 1913 and Mumbannar, or the Dairy, had about 15 children in 1914 (94). By the end of 1915, a decrease in enrolments at Greenwald meant that the teacher was shared with North Dartmoor, and Drik Drik, which had been part-time with Greenwald, doubled its roll and enjoyed full-time status. Children provided their own text books and pencils/pens, and the schools provided the paper. Extreme care had to be taken care of the items as they usually had to be handed down to younger siblings. On one occasion, the Jarrad children were crossing the river on their way home after lessons at North Dartmoor School and the bundle of textbooks was accidentally dropped into the water. Despite a quick rescue, some damage was done to the items and their parents were not amused (28).

One recreation out of school for children was to go fishing. Often whole families went, such as the Joneses, Cooks and Pratts from Mumbannar on their regular Christmas Day picnic to the Glenelg River at McLennans Punt (69). Generally young people made their own fun, although the Kerr family did pester their father into making a bare-earth tennis court at “Glenaulin”, Winnap.

Other outings were made to church services at Dartmoor, Drik Drik, Mumbannar and Greenwald. These occasions were not always for worship. A novelty afternoon was held at the Greenwald Church in May 1915 to celebrate its anniversary. Amongst other activities 7 donated trophies were shot for during the afternoon: dressed sheep, bag of chaff, pipe, lady’s bag, scent, brushes and pocket book (46). Sunday School classes were also held; amongst those who attended at Dartmoor in 1914 were Vic Spencer and Tom Kerr.

Socially there were semi-organized sporting competitions conducted in tennis, shooting, cricket and football. Alec Barr and Miss Leo Cameron (future wife of Bill McIntosh) were the winners in the Dartmoor Tennis Tournament of 1915 (60). A 1914 tennis match between Dartmoor and Drik Drik involved sets of gents, ladies and mixed doubles. Paddy Conole and Sarah Conole (future wife of Tom Gleeson) were on opposing teams to Eric Matthewson who represented Drik Drik. Dartmoor won by 29 games (73). Later in 1915 at the Greenwald Red Cross Gala Day, Eric showed his shooting prowess by winning the rifle event and was presented with an elegant water jug and some glasses (56). A challenge shoot between Mumbannar and Strathdownie, held at Mumbannar in September 1914, resulted in a draw (79). In March 1914 Nelson comprehensively defeated Drik Drik in a one-day cricket match at Nelson. If it was not a lighthearted game, it was certainly “lightbodied”; there were four Lightbodys in the Drik Drik team including Leigh. Other members were Fred Wilson and Harry McKee. Later in the year at Nelson the home-side defeated Drik Drik again, this time in football: 10 goals, 15 behinds to 8 goals, 6 behinds. Football at Mumbannar was played near the reserve (12) (site of the current tip).

Other cultural highlights were card evenings, concerts, dances and agricultural shows. A euchre party was held at Dartmoor in September 1914; Mrs H. McKenzie won the ladies’ prize, a railway worker won the men’s and Peter Spencer provided the music for the dance afterwards (141). Such entertainment often lasted until dawn, not least because of the difficulty (and cold) of travelling home by horse and buggy at night (28). A concert, supper and dance held on 21 September 1914 in Henry Cowland’s barn at Greenwald ‘was kept going till daylight’ (172); similarly long-lasting was the concert and dance to celebrate the completion of the new wooden Dartmoor Hall, which cost 200 pounds including the piano (65). The Mumbannar Show was held at the reserve. Pigeon shoots as well as horse events were features on the programme (28). Alas the last Drik Drik Show was held in 1913 (140), possibly because the drought had depleted the quality and quantity of produce usually exhibited.

These social, religious and cultural gatherings were attended by all in an egalitarian spirit. The owners of the large grazing properties, Philips at “Ascot Heath”, Donalds at “Woodford”, Malseeds at “Melrose”, Shaws at “Rifle Downs” and McLennans at “Moola” were not aloof (28). They took active and leading roles in community affairs and employed many people, including young women as domestic help.

The drought had rocked the comfortable nature of the community; but the effects of the war would soon permanently alter that nature. Locals pointedly noted the timing of the two significant events…’Don’t it make one think the Kaiser is to blame for the drought as well as the war!’ (139). Eighty years later new metaphors are obvious; a failed season of crops would have been a willing trade for the fields of men mown down in Gallipoli and France.


4 thoughts on “District WWI Veterans

    • Thanks for your comment Shaaran. I don’t have photos of the McLellan family unfortunately. I do have a couple of Drik Drik activities like the Agricultural Show and football team. I would be keen to track down some family photos especially of WW1 veterans Lillian Mary, Claude Esler and their uncle Alexander Esler.

  1. I have in my possession two photographs I believe were taken by Greenham & Evans studio. One photo is of four men on horseback in military uniforms. The other is of one of those four men on horseback shot from a side view. The only other markings are Perth, W.A. Any thoughts on these photos?

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