Thursday, 21 December 2017

Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust at Berwick

There have been two religious based settlements in the Casey Cardinia region.  The best known settlement is Maryknoll which  was established in 1949 by Father Wilfred Pooley (1912-1969)  as a Catholic community based on the principals of faith, family life and co-operative enterprise.

Less well known was the Jewish Land Settlement Trust endeavour which was established at Berwick in 1927. A similar Jewish settlement had been established at Orrvale near Shepparton in 1913. Berwick was selected because it was close to Melbourne and the land could be used for market gardening or poultry which allowed a quick return for effort rather than having to wait for years for orchards to establish like the settlers did at Orrvale. The rationale behind the settlements was to give newly arrived Jewish immigrants an opportunity to become farmers and find employment outside the cities  but with ongoing support from the Land Settlement Trust.

The actual settlement was at the Closer Settlement Board Estate, Hallam Valley, Berwick.  This Estate was bordered by Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road on the west, Berwick-Clyde Road to the east, Golf Links Road to the north and  Greaves Road to the south.   The State Rivers and Water Supply Commission had purchased  land in the area in 1924 with 'a view of cutting up the land into blocks of 10 acres to 16 acres for market gardens and intense culture' as a report in The Age of November 8, 1924 said.  The report went on to say A portion of the area is at present subject to flooding by the tributaries of Eumemmerring creek, but steps are being taken to reclaim this portion by means of suitable drainage. The blocks are to be supplied with water pressure by means of a pipe system from the Berwick Dandenong main race. 

Work continued on the reclamation works and The Argus reported on August 18, 1927 that it was now practicable to establish permanent settlement on the land, a large proportion of which formerly carried a dense growth of tee tree scrub covering an undrained swamp. 


It would be interesting to see the slides of Berwick from this 1928 presentation.
Hebrew Standard of Australasia August 24 1928

We have a copy of a paper written by Jeffrey John Turnbull From ghettoes to Gardens*  and he lists the eight initial settlers at Berwick as H. Ash, D. Brown,  I. Eizenberg, A. Hayat Senior, Hayat Junior, M. Meshaloff, G. Rovkin, A. Sneid.

The Shire of Berwick Rate Books list a number of settlers in the 1928/29 year. The Rate books were not always accurate with the spelling of either given or family names, but here's the most likely matches from the Rate Books. You can find the exact location  of the blocks on the section of the Parish of Berwick plan, below.

Ash, Harry - 31 acres, Lots 30 & 31, Section 3 Hallam Valley
Brown, D - can't find him listed in the Rate Books - there is  a B. Braun, which is possibly him. He had 14 acres, Lot 19, Section 4.
Eizenberg, I - Mordeka  Eisenberg - 12.5acres, Lot 20, Section 4
Hayat, Abraham - 20 acres, Lot 32, Scction 4
Hatyat, Jacob - 13 acres , Lot 21, Section 4
Mishaloff, Nathan - 19.5 acres, Lot 10, Section 4
Rovkin, Gregory - 22 acres, Lot 14, Section 4
Sneid, Adolph - 25 acres, Lot 21, Section 3.

Jeffrey Turnbull  wrote that Jewish settlers were able to buy 11 blocks of the first 89 sold by the Closer Settlement Board, and this later increased to 17 blocks. It is hard to work out who the other settlers are as obviously  the religion of rate payers is not listed, so here are some other settlers who acquired land at the same time with non-Anglo, Eastern European sounding names, who may  have been part of this group of Jewish settlers -

Epstein, Boris - 15 acres, Lot 18, Section 3
Haber, Harry  - 20 acres, Lot 22, Section 3
Kapel, Judel - 20 acres Lot 15, Section 4
Rothfield, Jacob - 24 acres, Lot 12, Section 3
Silverstein, Abraham - 16 acres, Lot 3, Section 3
Sneider, Moses - 24.5 acres, Lot 17, Section 4
Sokolow, Abram  (also listed as Sholoff) - 12 acres, Lot 26, Section 3 and 12 acres, Lot 26, Section 3a.



The Hallam Valley Estate, from the  Berwick Parish Plan. You can click on the photo to enlarge it, but once enlarged it might be best to right click and save the image and you make it larger again. The Closer Settlement Board farms were on a lease and the land could eventually be purchased but because most of the Jewish settlers had to walk away from their farms due to economic circumstances (see below) they are not listed on the Parish Plan, it is the farmers who came after them that ended up buying the farms and it is their names that appear on the Plan.  Most of these farmers settled at Hallam Valley from 1934 and about half of these were returned soldiers, who had the land under the Soldier Settlement scheme. To give you some idea of the location of these properties, Lot 9, Section 4 C.M Hatton is the property where the Old Cheese Factory is located.

The settlement started off with high hopes as articles, such as those below, attest.


Newman H. Rosenthal, who was acting honorary Secretary of the Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust is quoted in the Hebrew Standard of Australasia  August 24, 1928



Mr L. Morris, a member of the Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust is quoted in the Hebrew Standard of Australasia  August 31, 1928


A meeting was held at the Maccabean Hall in Sydney in January 1929 to discuss the formation of a Land Settlement Trust along the lines  of the Victorian Trust. This meeting was reported in the Hebrew Standard of Australasia and there are two excerpts from the report, below, which talk about Berwick.



Hebrew Standard of Australasia  January 25, 1929



This is an excerpt of  a letter received by Mr Orwell Phillips from his nephew, Mr Archie Michaelis of Melbourne, describing the Berwick settlement. 
Hebrew Standard of Australasia  January 25, 1929

What went wrong? According to Jeffrey Turnbull's paper reports in the Australian Jewish Herald said that the settlement began to fail as early as 1929, due to the Great Depression and that only one settler remained in 1937, although according to the Rate Books most of them had left the area by 1934/1935. Adolph Sneid was listed in the Rate books until 1939/1940.  Clearly the Great Depression was a major factor and some settlers were inexperienced and many would not have had the buffer of finances, resources or family help that farmers who had been born in Australia or been in  Australia for many years would have had to help them through bad times. Another  reason for the failure of some of the Hallam Valley settlers was the incompetence of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission according to Cr MacGregor at a Shire of Berwick meeting in October 1929 - he believed that the land was sold to the settlers at an inflated price and 'the manner in which they were treated constituted a scandal of the gravest nature' (see report below)


Dandenong Journal  October 29, 1929

A sign of things to come was this report (see below) in June 1931 where it appears that thirty per cent of the settlers had not 'made good'.Mr Kanevsky  mentioned in the article was Nisson Leonard-Kanevsky, who was born in Kiev in 1888 and arrived in Melbourne in 1910. He had a successful business in the clothing trade. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Land Settlement Trust. Two other interesting facts -  in 1922, Kanevsky commissioned Walter Burley Griffin  to design a building at 44-46 Swanston Street and they continued their association -  this is one of the many resources on the Internet that talks about their ongoing association https://willoughbydhsociety.wordpress.com/willoughby-history-heritage/suburbs/castlecrag/   
The second interesting fact about Mr Kanevsky is that he and his wife Vera (nee Douglas) had a farm at Lardner, near Warragul (just outside the Casey Cardinia region!) 



Hebrew Standard of Australasia June 5, 1931

I have created a list of newspaper articles about the Jewish Land Settlement Trust at Hallam Valley on Trove, click here to access the list.

*presented at the Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in Brisbane in September 1994.

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