GUARDIAN 11: Paula Boatfield
Smack in the middle of the Soldier Settlement community, I trundle along an unsealed road until it turns into Boatfield Road. This suggests I am on the right track to finding Paula Boatfield. Apparently, she is a ‘newcomer’ to these parts, as she moved here with her husband Brett only back in 2003 – although the signage suggests a link to the area longer than that.
A pack of yelping dogs rush my car as I gingerly edge off the road onto the driveway winding up to a farmhouse. With the entourage of canines barrelling about my wheels, I abruptly park the car a fair way from the house. I decide to risk teeth sinking into my leg rather than risk a wheel sinking into a dog. As I climb out, the dogs promptly lift legs to those wheels and the car is marked as their property. This seems to be their nod of approval, as they then happily escort me in a whirl of doggy enthusiasm, flouncing around my legs in happy circles to their owner waving me into the farmhouse.
Paula, with her husband Brett, has taken on farming six original Soldier Settlement properties and invites me in enthusiastically for a ‘cuppa’ tea.
‘This was Brett’s grandmother’s house,’ Paula says, ‘and we wanted the property to remain in the Boatfield family for a while longer yet. So, we decided to do the tree change. We arranged to move jobs, sold the house in Brisbane and moved up here full time.
‘Boatfield is a family name that is integral to this area. The kids went to the Amiens State School, which is the Soldier Settlement school. The family worshipped at the St Denys Church, which is the Soldier Settlement church.’
Paula explains that Brett’s great-grandfather helped set up the elements of the Soldier Settlement Scheme.
‘He cleared the land for the experimental farm, and he had a lot to do with the laying of the rail line,’ she says.
Remnants of those days of farming, like an odd horseshoe or an old piece of metal, kept popping up on their farmlands, causing Paula to start digging around to learn about the area’s history.
‘We all know the story of the soldiers that went to war,’ Paula says. ‘We know the stories of World War I, but this story is what happened to the soldiers when they came back home. They had just gone through the most horrific experience of their lives. One day it ended and they were supposed to just forget it all. They were supposed to pick up what we deem to be a normal life.’
Paula says former soldiers resettling at Pikedale found it particularly difficult.
‘Part of the properties associated with that scheme had large amounts of granite rock on them,’ she says. ‘You can imagine they must have found it very hard to make a living on properties where there was little water and little cultivated land. We find it hard to make a living on our 330 acres, let alone 55.
‘The government of the day recognised that if they provided the soldiers with all these plots of land, and trained them to grow different kinds of fruit and vegetables, then they had to provide them a market and get that product to market. So, the opening of the rail line from Amiens to Cottonvale was an integral part of that marketability of the produce the settlers were growing. It was the Cottonvale–Amiens line. The terminus was at Amiens, which was the administration centre for the Soldier Settlement Scheme.
‘The government of the day probably thought they were doing the right thing by naming these areas after those World War I battles, but the reality was that a lot of the soldiers probably did not want to be reminded of that horrific experience. It existed from 1920 to 1974, and then Queensland Rail came and pulled it all up and sold off all the rail buildings – the railway station and the railway sidings. But there are remnants of that era all along where the rail line used to be. One of the things I want to protect is the memory of that rail line, because it was such an integral part of the Soldier Settlement in its day.’
Paula decides to show me at first hand where the rail line used to run between the soldier-settler farms as a way of explaining why her quest to memorialise it all is so important.
A stone fireplace stubbornly stands defiant amongst Aussie bushland – a monument to the families who eventually moved on. Piles of granite pieces built up to create a wall, or a fence pole held upright with the same hard rock that did not allow the new farmers to dig deep enough to sink it in the ground, still resolutely stand upright. Brightly coloured wildflowers adorn these artefacts hidden through the forest that Paula takes me into.
She drives me the length of the original train line and shows where the Amiens Memorial Hall used to host an agricultural show, dances and events; and a couple of churches, the old sawmill and cannery that were all remnants of a past community that she wants to ensure is not forgotten.
‘The railway line winds its way through existing farmland,’ Paula says. ‘You can see sections of rail, railway sleepers and spikes all along. The remnants of the bridges are still there. It’s a feature that shaped the country that we see today. I’d hazard a guess that the general population of the Granite Belt wouldn’t know of the existence of the settlement area and the existence of our battlefield areas and the railway sidings.’
To rectify this, Paula has joined a group of other local enthusiasts to create the Amiens History Association.
‘Half of our members are direct descendants from soldiers and people that live in the area at the moment,’ Paula says. ‘The other half have a link through a grandparent who used to reside here but the family has since moved. We want to provide some closure to them as to what their grandfathers did when they were here.’
To do this, the Amiens History Association is creating a visitors’ hub based around a Legacy Centre that will act as memorial with displays, honour boards, and flagpoles representing Australia, France and Belgium – and much more.
‘We want to involve the families of the whole Soldier Settlement – Amiens, right out to Pozières and Bapaume and all the outer-lying areas. I want to create something tangible we can pass on to future generations who might ask the same questions that we have been asking, and before it is all lost.
‘I think it is really important to capture that history. It shaped the community of Amiens and the wider Soldier Settlement that should never be forgotten.’
The Amiens History Association members seem unperturbed by the Granite Belt’s native bush, which has a history of colluding with the granite boulders to deter human intervention – just as they did during the soldier-settler days.
The association’s members are determined to create Amiens, Queensland, as a destination for travellers weaving their way through the region. They have big plans for their new human-made structures, regardless of the formidable indigenous landscape that so greedily grasps at the remnants of the soldier-settler farms. They are forging ahead in and around the old monuments of fireplaces and rail lines to create their new tourist hub. Their strategy is to stop the erosion of the suburbs on the perimeter of Stanthorpe, where they have been limping along. The shops and training farm, and the train line linking them all, have slowly worn away over time and economic hardships. The church and schools remain a tentative basis for their line of attack. Government funding is the ammunition, and they are traipsing towards a different centenary – one that starts at the end of the war.