• Louise Grayson

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

In smaller communities there is often one character who has been there long enough to be considered a local and, therefore, has touched many lives around them. In Stanthorpe and the greater Granite Belt region, Jean Harslett falls into this category. Time and again people tell me I must speak to her; she will have all the answers to my questions. Jean was born in Stanthorpe and, in 1951, married Rob Harslett and moved to a farm at Amiens. This is the original resettlement farm Rob’s father received after the war.

This farm is on Harslett Road, Amiens.

Jean had an enormous interest in the history of the Stanthorpe District, which led to her co-authoring the book They Came to a Plateau and other history booklets of local schools and organisations.

Walking out in a sprightly manner for someone staring down 90 years old, she is dressed in trousers and a long-sleeved shirt tucked in with a practical belt. Flat lace-up shoes complete the ensemble that gives the impression she is ready to go roaming anywhere on the property at a moment’s notice, and often does. A wide smile welcomes me into her home.

Entering the house, Jean’s passions are clearly on display.

She eagerly reaches for glass containers of alarming-looking bugs and other creatures. I admit I have no knowledge of, nor particular fondness for, insects, but this does not deter her from a detailed explanation of various bugs stuck on pins. I hear from others that this is a usual welcome into her home – her lifelong passion for insects, butterflies and beetles since she was aged 12.

Her enthusiasm and natural charm are welcoming as I sit down for a ‘cuppa’ tea and a chat.

‘They came to this selected block after the war,’ Jean says. ‘The soldier-settlers took up all these settlement farms. From the family I hear we got the pick of the blocks because we had quite a choice of the land and we could grow apples and we could grow stone fruit, and we even had a few grapes and vegetables. I think they were proud of the farm.’

Jean says there is a great deal of interest from the community about the story of the soldier-settlers.

‘I have a large map of all the resettlement farms, and there are a lot people interested in seeing where all the farms are in Amiens and around,’ she says. ‘If they have family involved, they are all very interested.

‘I didn’t know Rob’s (my husband’s) mother or father. But I know he thought Mrs Harslett was a very remarkable lady. She came from England. I never met her, and I was always sorry I hadn’t because the family sort of worshipped her as a very special person.’

Sadly, Jean passed quite soon after our chat, aged 90.

She had involved herself in many organisations in the Stanthorpe district, including a strong dedication to the development of the Stanthorpe Museum that today houses the ‘Jean Harslett Research Room’.

Museum curator Lorene Long smiles fondly, eager to reminisce about her friend and mentor. She explains they had been invited to bring Jean’s research books, documents and other paraphernalia to the museum.

‘We have archived all this,’ she says, waving an arm at an impressive array of neatly arranged boxes of documents. ‘We still have all this to do.’ (The arm waves at another rather daunting pile.)

Jean was a very busy woman, I suggest. Lorene nods enthusiastically and says that Jean was a wonderful woman.

‘We had a commemorative event at Jean’s garden,’ Lorene says. ‘So many people in the community wanted to pay their respects. Oh, there must have been a few hundred came through during the day.’

Jean had certainly etched her name into the annals of the Stanthorpe district and its people through her passionate pursuits and voluntary work for her community.

I suspected there were others like Jean over in Europe doing their part to retain the history of this time.

I needed to dig them out.



  • Louise Grayson

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

The square suitcase sits proudly at the head of the table. Rusted hinges hold the hard lid up as items are carefully drawn from inside and laid out with precision.

David stands back and surveys his work with a satisfied nod: the diary, the map, the letters. They are priceless to a man who still lives on the resettlement farm purchased by his Granddad Joe, Joseph Sydney Evans, after World War I. They are artefacts that explain his family’s links to the land for a man facing the modern challenges of a rural livelihood in Australia.

Waving me to a chair, he sits down himself and says in a rather solemn voice that he ‘got cleaned up by a pretty bad hailstorm here’ a while back, but the memories of his father and grandfather before him kept him going.

‘Aw, the . . . the hard times he went through in France, to come here, and the hard times he went through here,’ David says. ‘Fair enough there was no one shooting at you here in the first few years of farming, but they may as well have been. It was a hard life. The ground was about 30 acres, but ironically, on Spring Creek Road, it had no water. They used to cart water up with a horse and slide.

‘His lungs were never any good, and he came here and took on the job clearing this place by hand, grubbing it out with mattock and axe. It’s a wonder he could work that sort of physical work at all, ’cause his lung capacity must have been way down after all the gas in France.’

David leans back in his chair and chuckles as he describes his grandfather.

‘Oh, he was a character,’ he says. ‘He used to drink a fair bit of port. As kids we’d sit up on his knee and we’d have what he’d call a cordial. He’d put a tiny bit of port in the bottom of the glass and the rest was lemonade, and that was a cordial. You’d sit up there with Granddad and have a cordial.’

David says his grandfather spent the rest of his life on this farm and always commemorated his time at war.

‘In his later years, he always used to go into the Anzac Day service,’ David says. ‘Towards the end before he died, he couldn’t get to town so he used to get his old pinstripe suit on, put his medals on, sit out on the back steps, have a few ports. Then, when Anzac Day was over, he’d put all the gear away and just go on with the rest of the day. He did that every year up until when he died.’

David says he personally hasn’t missed a dawn service in 40-odd years.

‘As hard a lifestyle as it is today, I like living out in the bush,’ he says. ‘At times I don’t know. If we get cleaned up by a hailstorm, you wonder, what the hell are we doing here? But no, I like it out here. As you can see we’ve got a pretty spot out here, nice and quiet. We got cleaned up by a pretty bad hailstorm here, probably the worst I’ve ever seen here. I just sat back and thought now what would Dad have done? He wouldn’t just curl up in a ball in a corner and forget about it all. He’d get out and get back into it. And Granddad would have done the same thing. I just roll up my sleeves and get back into it sorta thing.’



  • Louise Grayson

At the end of the war, the earth in Northern France and Belgium was littered with remnants of the Western Front battles. Millions of bodies were buried in the local farmers’ fields. Children grew up with warnings about the shrapnel that remains underground.

Many Australian returned soldiers attempted to carve out a new life from a harsh Australian landscape in resettlement communities such as the Pikedale Soldier Settlement on the Granite Belt in southern Queensland.

I enjoy the freedom of the open road of dust and flies and quiet. Driving through the Granite Belt it is clear why it is so named: massive lumps of rock rise at regular intervals across paddocks. They are great hulks, throwing off far-stretching shadows in the afternoon light across a vast land dry from the lack of rain. Unfortunately, rain often makes its entry in the form of sharp hailstorms that cause catastrophe for local farmers.

This is where men who survived the trauma of war returned to start their readjustment in a country not geographically involved in the war. Their family members were forced to wait months, often years, for news of their loved ones fighting on the other side of the world. The men who returned were not always the same as when they left. Veterans, sometimes physically disabled, and quite probably damaged mentally, faced a new battle in places like the Pikedale Soldier Settlement to create a livelihood from farming.

They each paid £625 for a farming block and access to a newly established support community that included a teaching farm, school and community hall. It was the Amiens Branch Railway that linked all this to the nearby towns of Stanthorpe and Warwick. Primary records from this time reveal that considerable debate between various government departments, local committees and the community resulted in the decision to name the railway sidings along the branch line Fleurbaix, Pozières, Bullecourt, Passchendaele, Bapaume and Messines, with the terminus being Amiens. These place names were specifically chosen, as they were the scenes of some of the great battles fought by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Belgium and France. Diggers fought in every one of the railway-siding battles, and many are still buried in those European locations today.

Chatting with locals, they suggest the names of the rail sidings may have provoked memories of hardship, loss and despair for the returning servicemen. They would bring a daily reminder of the battles where many of their mates lost their lives, and caused the physical and mental scars they carried for the rest of their lives. Stories also emerge of how hulking boulders of granite blocked all efforts to farm the area, although the veterans bravely took to them with pick and axe. Their new battles often included isolation, drought and financial hardship, all experienced within a shroud of war memories.

However, a local council tourist website suggests ‘it was considered the perfect place for small farms capable of supporting one man and his family, and the high country was considered good for health problems. The veterans named their farms, and the roads linking them, after battles in which they had fought.’ Council, and the community, has created a drive along roads still named after the Western Front battles, known as Armistice Way.

I get to know the Armistice Way route well – up the road from Stanthorpe, along Amiens Road, passing signs reminiscing the old railway sidings of Fleurbaix, Pozières, Bullecourt, Passchendaele, Bapaume, Messines and Amiens – the same trip I took that first time many years ago.

As is usual with many country locations, the population of an area can be gauged by the standard of the road. My route into the heart of the Soldier Settlement community starts on the smooth, dark roads, clearly lined in the town of Stanthorpe before moving into narrower stretches of faded, potholed tarmac as it winds further into areas where the large granite boulders loom. Finally, there are the unsealed roads with teeth-rattling rocks snapping up at the car.

These are the roads that take me to David Evans. He lives on the same resettlement farm his grandfather was allocated after the war. Rattling up his driveway off Evans Road, I am directed around the back of the house where he has prepared for our meeting.



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© 2018 by Louise Grayson