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. There is an excellent overview of the rationale of the scheme and how it operated in a report in the Hebrew Standard of Australasia of August 31, 1928, read it here.

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

I came across this report of a joyous ceremony, which was followed by Mincha, an afternoon prayer service, at the Berwick Settlement - it is from The Hebrew Standard of Australasia of February 21, 1928.
A  unique function took place at the Jewish Settlement at Berwick, Victoria, on Wednesday of last week, when a presentation a Sepher Torah was made the settlers by Mr. Louis Morris, Hon.Treasurer Australian, Jewish Land Settlement Trust. There were about fifty settlers present, and together with the visitors who motored from Melbourne, some sixty people witnessed the ceremony. When the car containing the Sepher reached the Settlement, it was formally handed to Rev. Rabbi Brodie by Mr. Morris, and the guests thereupon formed in procession behind the Rabbi and the Torah was taken to the home of one of the settlers, where provision had been made for an Ark and reading desk.

Mincha service was conducted and Rev. Rabbi Brodie then suitably addressed the gathering. Amongst those present were Rev. Rabbi Brodie, Mesdames R. Hallenstein, A. Harris, Miss F. Barkman, M.A., Messrs. Louis Morris, Newman H. Rosenthal, B.A., B.Sc, A. Kozminsky, 
L. Kanevsky, I. J. Super, M. Taft, A. Rose, I. Sher, S. Wynn, and Dr. Schalit.

A shofar has been kindly lent the settlers by the St. Kilda Hebrew congregation and a number of Holy Day prayer books have been donated by the Directors of the Trust.

The sight of that procession wending its way along the road, flanked on either side by fields covered with vegetables of all kinds, will not be easily forgotten by those who witnessed it. Nor was the significance of the function lost on the many visitors from the city. 
(The Hebrew Standard of Australasia of February 21, 1928, see the original, here.)

My friend, Isaac, explained to me that A Sefer Torah is the Old Testament hand inscribed with special ink on a special parchment scroll. It has a specially embroidered velvet cover. There are usually a number of scrolls, the Sefer Torah (The Law) is the scroll containing the 5 Books of Moses. Other scrolls would contain the Prophets and Writings. They are kept in a special ark in a place of worship, in this case, one of the settler's homes. This is where the congregation/ community would come to pray and hold religious services. The presentation of a Sefer Torah is a very important occasion!  A Shofar is a ram's horn blown during our High Holy Days at religious services.

I have also found two references to a Hebrew Class at Berwick, which almost certainly would have been on the Hallam Valley Estate - in 1933 and 1934 the Barnet and Dinah Lazarus Trust gave £15 to the 'Hebrew Class at Berwick'

Another major community activity is schooling and the Hallam Valley State School was built for the settlers of this Estate. I looked at the Hallam Valley State School file at the Public Records Office of Victoria and came across this list of potential students for the Hallam Valley School which opened in 1929. The list (see below) was drawn up a Mr R. Taylor in March 1928. Of the Jewish Land Settlement families, the Eizenberg family and one child aged below 4 and  a half, one child 4 and a half to six years old and one child aged between six and fourteen. The Mishaloff had one child aged between four and a half to six. The Rovkin family had one one child aged below 4 and  a half, one child 4 and a half to six years old.

List of potential students for a proposed school at Hallam Valley
Public Records Office of Victoria  Hallam Valley Building file, 1928 - 1954.
Series number: VPRS 795 Consignment number:P0000 Unit number: 3049

The other interesting thing I found in the Hallam Valley School file was this memo dated February 23, 1929 - it reads
Hallam Valley Estate
New School to be erected
Management of Settlement called and asked if possible - Nathan Rothfield - who is now in the Teachers' College be appointed to the school when ready. The settlement is composed of mostly foreigners who desire to learn English and Civics. Nathan Rothfield knows several languages and would be of great assistance to the settlers if an evening school could be established.

Nathan was not appointed, but it would have been interesting to know, if he was, whether with that extra support, whether the Jewish Land  Settlement at Hallam Valley would have been more successful.


Memo regarding the appointment of Nathan Rothfield
Public Records Office of Victoria  Hallam Valley Building file, 1928 - 1954.
Series number: VPRS 795 Consignment number:P0000 Unit number: 3049

So successful was the Berwick Settlement initially that 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

The high hopes the settlers had of making a success of their venture did not last. 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   

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. All the articles referenced here are on the list.

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

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