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Federation to WW1

By 1904 plans were again before Parliament for the Blackbutt extension of the Brisbane Valley rail line through the Brisbane Valley with a view to providing timber for the Brisbane markets. Saw mills had been established all over the Brisbane River Valley: at Blackbutt by L. Andersen (1903) and Emmerson (1905); at Kingaroy by Qld. Pine Company (1909); at Barker’s Creek by Millar’s Karri & Jarrah Co. (1908); at Moore by Pattersons & Brown & Broad (1904); at Esk by Blank Bros. (1884); in the Bunya Mountains by W. Greenwood (1865); at Villeneuve by F. Nicholson (1877) that was lost in the 1893 flood; at Glamorganvale by Hancock Bros. (1883); at Mount Byron by Brown & Broad (1906) and at Lowood by Denning Bros, (1892) to name just a few. The railway proceeded under the Railway Guarantee scheme and with immigrant workers promised a contract wage that was less than the new concept of award wages espoused by a Labour Party formed in response to the Queensland government’s handling of the 1891 Shearer’s strike.

Lowood Sawmill - 1908

Yarraman sawmill - 1939

As well as this, the contractors who had built the rail line to Esk had taken the Queensland Government to court to recover lost income from penalties imposed for delays they claimed were due to government ineptitude. The court found in favour of the contractors, O’Rourke & McSharry, but in the meantime they had poached new immigrant workers to join their gangs building the western rail line. Initial progress on the Blackbutt extension was delayed, in government parlance, “for want of men” for which we can now read strikes of workers at Harlin and difficulty with recruiting and keeping a labour force. An explosion there that killed a recent arrival whose name could not even be recorded in the newspaper report could not have helped. Nevertheless the line crept forward towards the timber, just as the government was moving to lock most of the timber in timber reserves. Suddenly the sawmillers were the enemy whose money and contacts could and did subvert the conservation policies of the Queensland government, who were building the rail line. It reached Yarraman in 1913, perhaps against the odds by now, and WWI became the principal focus of the Brisbane River Valley.

It is hard to say now whether it was patriotism or lack of prosperity that encouraged such large numbers of young men to enlist. Forty three men from the small district of Colinton enlisted and all but four returned. In 1917 Colinton erected a simple sandstone monument to them, now heritage listed as the first such memorial outside a cemetery in Queensland. It was unveiled by Mr. H. P. Somerset(see People menu), MLA, a moderate liberal and member for the electorate of Stanley from 1904 to 1920. There are now war memorials in each of the major towns in the Brisbane Valley, although the town of Colinton has disappeared (see Memorial Trails) This touching memorial to its young men is now the only memorial to a lost community.

After the war the farming communities grieved and continued in the old traditions as best they could without the heirs for whom the properties had been developed. But the political mood of the country was changing. Bill Kidston led reformist Labour Governments in Queensland between 1906 and 1911 and gave Australian voters universal franchise. The “worker’s vote” kept Labor in power. But it was T.J. Ryan in 1915 who most effectively harnessed the organisation of government to deliver labour policy. Ryan was a barrister with two university degrees, a particularly able leader and an orator par excellence. He was opposed to conscription during the war, supported small farmer producers from profiteering by the larger organisations, especially in the sugar industry and sought to provide a constant meat supply to Britain in war time. Ryan also abolished the Railway Guarantee Scheme.

He had threatened to abolish the Legislative Council but could never appoint sufficient members sympathetic to his cause to vote themselves out of existence. He resigned as Queensland Premier in 1919 to enter Federal politics and was replaced by Edward (Red Ted) Theodore.

Ted Theodore was elected as Premier in 1919 and served until 1925. He experienced difficulty in raising loans for capital works in Britain when some prominent Queensland conservatives like Sir Robert Philp also travelled to Britain to speak against him. He was obliged to borrow money from the United States at less favourable rates, and his capital works program was necessarily curtailed. One of the casualties was a three-times surveyed rail line linking the terminus of the Brisbane Valley Rail Line at Yarraman with Nanango. The Great North Road that had served sheep, cattle, horse and bullock for so many years would never carry the Iron Horse to Nanango. Theodore’s response was swift and deadly. Governor Lennon allowed him to appoint his ‘suicide gang’ to the Legislative Council in 1920, who voted themselves out of existence the following year. Queensland is the only Australian state that does not have a bicameral system of state government.

Family of H P Somerset

In response to the Labor party’s organisational skills, the Country Party was formed in Queensland in July 1920, before the state elections of that year. All members representing country seats were invited to join. 

H.P. Somerset declined and the Country Party endorsed Frederick Nott for Stanley who won the seat. He served for seven years in opposition. Until the electoral boundaries of Stanley were redrawn and the electorate was renamed Somerset in 1950, it was held by Country Party members who served in opposition for all but three of those thirty years. 

 It might reasonably be supposed that Henry Somerset, MLA, descended from John of Gaunt and a Queensland politician for 14 consecutive years, might have been honoured with a seat on the Legislative Council if it had survived. Instead his name now denotes the district he lived in and served since 1890, and the Somerset Dam that he had promoted since 1906.

A more poignant and personal memento of Henry Somerset may be this family photo from 1905 including a reluctant house girl Lucy, who was acknowledged as an important part of the family unit and recorded as such.

By 1920 much of the timber had been cut out and small dairy farmers were providing milk and cream to the milk, cheese and butter factories that had been built at Rosewood, Lowood, Toogoolawah, Esk, Colinton and Nanango. Soldier settlements had been opened for WWI veterans at Coominya, Mt. Stanley and Taromeo that failed conspicuously except for Taromeo. In 1915 the Ryan government purchased four sawmills as a means of breaking the monopoly of the larger millers and one of them was the Taromeo Mill. By 1924 Yarraman Pine was unable to maintain the necessary timber supply and sold this mill at a fire-sale price to the Queensland government who could supply from the timber reserves. After protracted debate about the intrusion of government into private enterprise, all the mills returned to private ownership by 1933.