Shire of Denmark

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1906 to 1938

Farming And Group Settlement

The years following the withdrawal of the Millar Brothers from Denmark were times of hardship. People were encouraged to settle in the district by the government which supplied financial incentives. Denmark Estate land was offered to immigrants quite cheaply, but the settlement was not done without difficulty. Their tools for land clearing and farming were simple. Clearing the land of large trees was a time consuming challenge. The result was small scale farming, vegetables such as potatoes, peas and tomatoes and dairy cattle. The farmers were encouraged to grow these products for the goldfields. The Western Australian Government continued to supply incentives by subsidising freight charges on goods sent to Kalgoorlie. New areas were opened up during this time including Bow Bridge and Nornalup.

Alf Randall, the man who once saved Denmark town, stayed in the district and developed a property known as Mambray Park. In 1912 he had a very successful farm with potatoes, a crop that he had pioneered in Denmark. A cheese factory was set up in 1912 to process dairy products. The farmers banded together in the early 1900s under the leadership of Mr Buckley to form the Denmark Settlers Association which aimed at solving problems and increasing communication between farmers.

By 1911 Denmark's population had grown back to 500. This followed the gazetting of the township in 1909 and the setting up of an independent Road Board in 1911. (Since 1907 it had been under the Albany Road Board's jurisdiction) Alf Randall and Harold Buckley were both early Roads Board members.

World War I, 1914-1918, interrupted the gradual progress of the Denmark district. Many of Denmark's male youths registered for war service. This led to a population imbalance in the district.

The post World War I period, however, brought great change to Denmark. The main reason for the change was the group settlement schemes. The scheme was a result of unemployment in Britain and an agreement by the Australian Government to help people settle in Australia. People were encouraged to adopt a rural way of life. In 1923/4 Denmark experienced the arrival of a number of people (1,500) to develop new agricultural land. Fifteen groups were established in the Denmark area. They were identified by numbers. Group 41, Carmarthen, was the first to arrive in 1922 while the last to arrive was Group 139, Hazenvale.

The group settlers were welcomed by the locals and then settled in temporary camps and makeshift dwellings throughout the district until farms with houses were ready for occupation. Problems arose for the farmers. A lack of local knowledge and a shortfall in expert advice led to poor returns from the land. Dairy cattle purchased were sometimes of such low quality that little milk was produced. As well as this, land was not cleared properly. This led to large stumps preventing good cultivation as well as branches from trees that were only ringbarked, dropping on crops.

Farmers throughout Denmark began to notice diseases in cattle and sheep. Soon it was recognised that this happened if ruminant stock grazed continuously on soil where karri trees had stood. Two diseases were isolated, Denmark Wasting Disease and Falling Sickness. The solution was some years away and many animals died or were destroyed. This placed great burdens on the farmers, particularly on the new group settlers. These problems were solved by finding that the soil lacked the trace elements cobalt and copper. The research from 1921 - 35 was aided by the Denmark Agricultural Research Station that had been set up many years previously in 1912.

Potatoes were grown successfully at first, but with the collapse of the markets in the late 1920s many farmers stopped potato planting. The Great Depression that started in 1929 was the last straw for some of the group settlers. Rising debts, insufficient produce and poor living conditions all contributed to many people walking off their properties. Of those who stayed, dairying became very successful for some. Their products were processed in the Cheese Factory and the new Butter Factory started in 1926.

Farmers not involved with the group settlement schemes also contributed to change in the rural sector in the 1920s. Fruit growing was established. Initially, as a response to the promise of a cannery and dehydrator in Kendenup, people began to plant orchards. However, the promise of the cannery fell through when the De Garis close settlement scheme failed. Nevertheless this period saw the introduction of viable fruit production. Tobacco was grown at Rudgyard by Mr Harrison and at Clanwilliam by Captain Price in the 1930s but little came of these experiments. However, a special tobacco drying barn still remains standing at Clanwilliam. The stock in the area included beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep and pigs. Pigs particularly, flourished in the pre World War II years.

Tourism was another asset that was realised in this period. An increasing number of people came to see the spectacular coastline (such as Peaceful Bay and Springdale Beach) and experience the fishing. Fishing was also performed on a commercial basis in Denmark, particularly at Parry's Beach. The Smith family ran this business, supplying their own retail shops as well as sending fish to Kalgoorlie and Boulder. The development of better transport during the 1920s and 1930s saw the opening up of new land becoming more viable as products could reach the markets quickly and with less spoiling. Though the roads were at times impassable in winter, some began to be bituminised. In 1929 the Denmark Railway Station was moved to its third position when the railway line between Nornalup and Denmark was opened. The railway was built to serve the farmers and fishermen between the two towns. The railway bridge built just before World War I, to take a previous rerouting, continued to be used.

The growing population in the Denmark district led to a blossoming community spirit and the organisation of schools and churches as well as social, sporting and business groups. One-teacher schools sprang up, particularly in the areas of group settlement. These schools, often held in community halls, were also used as meeting places for dances and church services at Scotsdale, Parryville, Hazelvale, Tingledale, Kentdale and Kent River. The Kent River Hall was commonly known as Parker Hall after Harry Parker. Parker lived nearby and was an active community member and well known character for many years. The 1920s saw the advent of picture shows twice a week, boat trips and organised picnics.

The movies were played at the town hall left over from the Millars' era. This was renamed Lonsborough, affectionately remembered as the 'flea pit'. Many associations were formed as people combined to provide better services and standards of living for the residents of Denmark. In 1923 the first Police Station was built. In 1929 the Mount Barker and Denmark Record was published for the first time, followed by the Denmark Sentinel in 1930 thus improving communication throughout the area. In 1931 the Dairy Farmers Union, a non political group, was formed. This period also saw the beginnings of the Cooperative Society.

Sporting competitions developed between the group settlers and the townspeople, emphasising an already slightly antagonistic attitude to one another. Sports played included boxing, football, cricket, hockey and with the influence of the immigrants, soccer.

Difficulties arose at times that appeared beyond the control of the people. Denmark's Road Board Office was destroyed by fire in 1928 and bush fires continued to threaten people's livelihood. This was particularly the case in 1937 when a large bushfire caused great loss of livestock, fences, barns and pasture. Luckily human lives were spared.