3. Pikedale resettlement farms, Australia
Updated: Feb 18, 2018
‘Amiens memorial park grounds’ reads the signpost.
A screaming crow breaks the heavy silence for a moment before descending back into stillness.
A ute speeds by, kicking up dust.
Then, more silence.
Memories of that dark day in Colin’s tour van five months earlier rush back as I stand and gape.
There are no soft voices floating across like a gentle cloud from clusters of people reading memorials and graves here.
The sign bravely stands, rather forlornly waiting for some attention.
I have driven from my home in Brisbane, a three-hour road trip to Stanthorpe here on the Granite Belt in Queensland.
That day in Colin’s tour bus had stayed niggling at the back of my mind, forcing me to poke about at the edges of those terrifying great tomes of war statistics written about the Australian Diggers on the Western Front. Just before my eyes glazed over and I set the books aside, one interesting fact leaped out.
All around Stanthorpe, names of towns and local areas reflect battles on the Western Front in World War I.
I jumped in my car to go see for myself.
The woman in the Stanthorpe Visitor Information Centre peers out over glasses and briskly requests my postal address. Having had that vital statistic gleaned from me, I ask her to point me in the direction of the links to World War I. She blinks at me. Her chin quivers a little above a colourful tunic shirt. A large sheet of maps is pulled forward and I am directed to the Returned Services League (RSL) on the other side of the town.
A blast of air conditioning is welcome as I step onto the RSL’s garishly printed carpet. It was later explained that bright patterns can hide a multitude of sins (and stains). I ask for directions to the signs, and links to the World War I areas. I am directed up the road to the Stanthorpe Heritage museum.
I detour after seeing a sign promising me a drive along ‘Armistice Way’.
Heart quickening, I encounter Memorial Lane, Bullecourt Lane, Passchendaele State Forest and Pozières School Road.
‘AMIENS ROAD’ screams across the top of a wooden post with arrows pointing in opposite directions: Amiens to the left; Stanthorpe to the right. It can barely be read through messy power lines with their black tentacles stretching in all directions.
Potholes attempt to slow my excited drive towards Amiens State state School.
An old Queenslander stands quietly high on stilts, keeping it above floods and hopefully capturing a breeze for the children working in the classrooms.
With its soaring altitude, the Granite Belt hosts wild hail storms that tear up the landscape during hot summer months before dropping to near zero in winter, making it the coldest place in Queensland and inciting the nickname ‘brass monkey season’.
A nearby sign explains ‘The Soldier Settlement Story’. A group of Australian Diggers returned to rebuild their lives in this Pikedale Soldier Settlement. The community they established was based on the Amiens Branch Railway, with all railway sidings named after the battlefields where men from Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt died and are buried today: Fleurbaix, Pozières, Bullecourt, Passchendaele, Bapaume and Messines.
A chunk of stone with a memorial to the families involved is held together with a piece of old wire and some rough wood – a far cry from the monuments of Europe. As though to point out the bleeding obvious, a nearby water tank on stilts balances near the bright-orange Australia Post and phone boxes.
Clearly, I am not in Amiens France any more, but the surprising similarities continue – as does my drive along this ‘settlement way’ tourist track.
Business and the hardships associated with regional Australia are never far from the eye, with signs declaring ‘No Work Here’.
Winds have ripped the netting from fruit trees, as though alluding to the harsh weather the returned Diggers faced on their resettlement farms as they battled hail storms and crazed winds.
A little further on, and Pozières State School boasts that it was established in 1921, a small monument dedicating the facility.
These country roads are so silent.
I find myself yearning for voices: someone to explain how this silence must have been deafening after the noise of warfare, the stillness painful after the constant action and exhaustion of the Western Front – as painful as the impact of this harsh heat upon many of the injuries, both physical and mental, that accompanied these men home. And then there was the impact upon their families: the wives who faced a stranger over the dinner table each night, and children shushed and told not to talk about ‘that’ and to never ask questions.
I cannot talk to the families who resettled post World War I in this community created for them – they are long gone.
TO BE CONTINUED