Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Salvation Army and the Lasseter connection

Army Road and Army Settlement Road in Pakenham are named after the Salvation Army Home which was located in the area. According to an article in the March 1914 Victory, the Salvation Army journal, the Salvation Army settlement at Pakenham began as a Labour Colony, during the 1890s depression. They had 300 acres (121 hectares) and 60 to 100 men were there at one time working on the farm, clearing the land, cutting wood for sale and making fruit boxes. When economic conditions improved, the need for this facility decreased and it was turned into a Boys Home or a Reformatory for boys who were taken over by us from the State, as the Victory wrote. The Boys Home operated from 1895 to 1897 when the Salvation Army opened its Bayswater Home.

The Salvation Army Home, taken in 1915. The photograph is from In the Wake of the Pack Tracks.

The next stage was a Reform Home for Girls and the Victory goes on to say that the seclusion of the locality was a desirable feature. The girls were moved to Riddell Creek when the Salvation Army opened their home there in 1900. The last stage of the life of the Home was as an Aged Men’s Retreat for men whose laboring days are over... The men had a pleasant retreat for the days of the lengthening shadows... There was no expectation of work... Quietness, wholesome air, spacious accommodation, enough company for each man to find some congenial chum could be found at Pakenham said the Victory. According to the Shire of Berwick Rate Books, the Salvation Army sub-divided their land and sold it off in 1918 and 1919. A report in the Pakenham Gazette of October 23, 1959 said that the building was pulled down and moved to Blackburn.

Audrey Dodson of the Berwick Pakenham Historical Society had heard that Harold Lasseter (1880-1931), the adventurer, had spent time at the Salvation Army Home when it was a Reformatory. Many people, including myself, have a fascination with Lasseter and his story of a discovering a gold reef in Central Australia, so I thought this would be a tale worth following up. In 1930, the Central Australian Gold Exploration Company was formed and financed an expedition to rediscover Lasseter’s Reef. When the main party turned back after no sign of the Reef was found, Lasseter and a companion continued on, they then quarreled. Lasseter then, apparently, lived for about 16 weeks with Aboriginals and died of starvation around the end of January of 1931.

Many books have been written about Lasseter, the earliest and the most famous was published in 1931, Lasseter’s Last Ride by Ion Idriess. Lasseter kept a diary around the time of the Expedition and this was found after his death and purchased by Idriess who included a transcript of it in his book, and also a few photographs of some of the pages (see right). The diary is now at the State Library of New South Wales, www.sl.nsw.gov.au who have digitised it. Other books on Lasseter include the 1934 publication by Errol Coote, the pilot of the aeroplane on the Expedition, who wrote Hell’s Airport : the key to Lasseter’s Gold Reef. In 1972 another Expedition member, the Leader, Fred Blakeley wrote Lasseter’s dream of millions.

Lasseter was apparently a man who often re-invented, glossed over or ‘modified’ his past. Murray Hubbard the author of The search for Harold Lasseter has undertaken some detailed research into Lasseter’s early life and can confirm that, in1896, Lasseter, aged around 17 committed some burglaries in Colac and was sentenced to a Reformatory. Hubbard further discovered that this was the Salvation Army Home at Pakenham. Lasseter arrived at the Salvation Home in October 1896 and absconded in October 1897. I have written before about how one of the most fascinating things about history is the unexpected connection between people, places and events and I was excited that we can confirm a connection between Casey Cardinia and the adventurer, Harold Lasseter, and that this is just one more interesting aspect of our history.

Sources : The Search for Harold Lasseter: the true story of the man behind the myths by Murray Hubbard. Published by Angus & Robertson, 1993. The article from The March 1914 Victory, is held at the Berwick Pakenham Historical Society.