Anzac Day 2018: Why is Armistice Way in Queensland’s Granite Belt full of Western Front names?
Lorene Long researched the stories of soldier settlers who lived near the seven rail sidings. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
The trenches of the Western Front were half a world away from the rocky fields of Queensland’s Granite Belt, but when returning soldiers settled in an area near Stanthorpe they named their towns and railway lines after the battles they fought in.
“Amiens, Pozieres, Fleurbaix, the list goes on,” local historian Lorene Long said.
“The men themselves helped name those locations. They saw it as a positive because they were remembering and honouring their friends who didn’t come back from the front.”
The area where WWI soldiers settled has become Queensland’s top wine and apple region. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
The area was home to the Pikedale Soldier Settlement scheme.
More than 700 men took up blocks on the rocky ground, aiming to establish apple and pear orchards.
“But an apple tree takes about seven years to pay for itself,” Ms Long explained, “So after they cleared and ploughed and planted, and waited seven years, they would finally have an income.
“In the meantime, men were expected to plant vegetables.”
The scheme was not a success. Only 25 soldiers remained two decades after the war ended.
“It was tough in the early days, and a lot of people don’t realise they had to pay for the land,” David Evans, who lives on the block his grandfather settled on, said.
“A lot of times when things went bad on the farm, I’d think ‘well, grandpa would have gone through a lot harder times’.”
David Evans stands at the front gate of his family farm, holding his grandfather’s war diary. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
“I was always taught that something good often comes from something bad,” Howard Poole said, a resident of Poole Lane, named after his grandfather, an original soldier settler.
“We’ve had two bad wars, but the good that has come out of it is that it attracted people to the district, in both instances.
“In WWII a lot of the Italian soldiers that were captured in Europe were held as POWs on our farms.
“We were fortunate that a lot of those people chose to return here after the war and moved back to where they were POWs and have contributed greatly to the success of this district.”
Howard Poole has expanded his family farm to incorporate ten of the original soldier settlement blocks. (ABC Southern Qld: Cassandra Hough )
Jeff McMahon’s grandfather joined the war when he was 17. He settled in Pozieres, which has turned into a productive apple growing area.
“Farming is all about adapting,” Mr McMahon said.
“We might not be doing exactly the same thing day to day as they did back then, but each generation has faced its unique challenges.
“It’s important for me to remember they survived in tough times, and because we’re associated with these people it gives me the confidence of getting through problems as well.
“This area now grows more fruit than Tasmania. It’s a very prosperous area.”
As road transport grew, the rail sidings were decommissioned and the train tracks were eventually removed in the 1970s.
But the wartime-inspired names stayed.
Classes at Amiens State School purposely reflect the wartime connection.
“We’re very aware of that here. We do a lot of history about that, a lot of geography about that, and even some maths,” school principal Dale Minchenton said.
But the connection to the French city is not just kept alive by reading history books.
Ms Minchenton says travellers from Amiens in France would sometimes visit.
“[They] see Amiens on the map and come knock on our door and say ‘I’m from Amiens in France’. So there’s that connection as well that the children really respond very well to,” she said.
Amiens State School has a memorial to the soldier settlers. (ABC Southern Qld: Nathan Morris)
Year five student Oscar Humprey-Smith said that being from Amiens changed the way he learned about The Great War.
“You just feel special because you’re in a place that not many people know about, but it’s named after so many horrible battlefields,” he said.
Two new memorials are currently being planned for the region — a restored rail carriage at one end of the original rail line and a large statue of a soldier settler standing alongside his wife in a park at the other end of the line.
“People will be able to sit in the park and think about all these things. Hopefully full of gratitude and thankfulness,” Ms Long said.
“Our freedom is so well known and that’s why people want to come and live here.”
A replica of the soldier settler statue planned to be unveiled in 2019. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)