The Group Settlement scheme started in 1921 and ran until 1930. The idea originated from
Sir. James Mitchell (Premier)
and was supposed to open up the south west and develop much needed primary industry.
The state was spending huge sums of money importing food and needed to better supply its own needs and reduce the trade imbalance.
Britain, with a surplus of unskilled, mostly unemployed labour was keen to unload the unemployed and happily participated in the scheme advertising
the idea and even assisting with paid passages for migrants.
Group settlements started around the Manjimup area and spread to
Margaret River and
Groups of up to 20 men (working under a foreman) were sent into the bush to clear campsites and make rough dwellings for families that would later follow.
Up to 160 acres was provided free of charge (except for surveying fees) to settlers who then worked as part of the group clearing and fencing land for a fixed wage.
Much like the original advertising for the initial settlement on the Swan River, the group settlement scheme was promoted in England with somewhat less than
accurate descriptions. Thousands applied to join the scheme and were to come out and live in corrugated iron shacks that were freezing in winter and boiling in summer.
Many people could not stand the conditions and simply walked away. 3,399 had arrived by 1924 but 1,172 gave up and left. By the late 1920s over 8
million pounds had been sunk into the scheme but it had been badly managed from the start. Eventually it became too much of a drain on the state's
resources and was abandoned in 1930.
Following is a description of the scheme that comes from Manjimup.
"The Group Settlement Scheme was set up by the West Australian Government after World War I to resettle returned soldiers and immigrants. Part of
the idea was to give Western Australia's rural economy a boost by opening up more land for agriculture.
Twenty families of Group 10 settled near One Tree Bridge. They lived in rough temporary huts provided by the Government until 25 acres of each family's
ballot-allocated 100 acres was partially cleared. Then they could move to their respective blocks and get down to the serious business of farming.
Clearing took 6 months, the bush was thick and the trees enormous. Most of the group settlers had no experience of farming and very little bushcraft.
With only crosscut saws and axes they were faced with clearing some of the worlds biggest trees from their land.
Many group settlers left, unable to handle the conditions and meet the repayments on their land and equipment and the loans they had to take out to
buy stores. Those that stayed the longest scratched out a living from dairy produce as they struggled to clear enough of their land to farm.
The Great Depression of the 1930s heralded the end of most of the Groupies. The price of butterfat collapsed and the
main source of income disappeared."
When the Group Settlement Scheme was finally wound up, the state had lost close to 3 million pounds (one source quotes 6.5 million). Although seen as a failure it paved the way for
much of the abandoned land to be taken up again at the end of World War Two.
Following is a map of the group settlements in the Margaret River area. (courtesy Margaret River & Districts Historical Society)