Apart from the original inhabitants of Western Australia, we are all imports and we all have unique stories of how we come to be here.
I was a child in the 1970’s when people were fleeing Vietnam and arriving by boat in Australia. It was terrifying to see television reports of rickety fishing boats filled to overflowing with desperate people arriving on our shores.
Despite the reservations of the Australian Government to accept large numbers of refugees at that time, those who did manage to receive asylum here have been a valuable addition to Australia. Just over 2,000 “Boat People” were given asylum in Australia.
It seems that not much has changed since the 1970’s – just the Country’s that people flee from and the atrocities they run from. The 24 hour news cycle replays the same stories with the undertone of fear and intolerance.
My Grandmother’s family came to Australia by boat too, but under very different circumstances.
This is their story.
Great Grandfather Joseph Cooper and Great Grandmother Annie (Goodall) Cooper lived in England. Joseph was the Manager of the United Dairy factories in Barkston, Longridge and Leigh in Lancashire.
By 1923 Joseph started hearing wonderful reports of farming opportunities in Australia. The Premier of Western Australia, Sir James Mitchell, was promoting land for dairy farming in the South West. He was establishing “The Group Settlement Scheme”. An offering to people willing to clear their own land and pay for it later. Joseph perceived it to be a very good offer, especially after seeing pictures of beautiful rolling pastures with fat grazing dairy cattle.
Great Grandmother Annie was willing to make this big move because she and her 7 children were Asthmatic and her Doctor advised that the fabulous Australian climate would be much better for them.
Although Joseph Cooper didn’t have any farming experience, he felt confident due to his background in the dairy industry. They left behind a comfortable home with hired help and had hope for a great future.
The children were aged 2 years to 16 years old and they travelled by train from Lancashire to London where they boarded a little steamship which took them out to the “Euripides” where she was anchored out in the Thames.
December 26, 1923 was the day the Euripides departed with cabins crammed with up to eight people. The men and women were separated and Annie spent the next 6 weeks suffering with seasickness so severe that the older children had to look after the little ones.
The Ship travelled through the Bay of Biscay and onto the Canary Islands where it was restocked with food. It travelled onward to Capetown where corn and coal were loaded aboard by a chanting chain gang.
The destination was Albany Western Australia.
Joseph and Annie had paid their landing fee in England so did not owe any money. They were approached by an immigration officer who offered them the chance to get an established farm. The price for this offer was a bribe. Although they had the funds to pay the bribe, it was against their principles so they refused.
The family travelled by train up to Fremantle where they were taught about the dangers of the Western Australian bush. Lightning strikes, bushfires, snakes, spiders and bull ants, how to clear the bush and how to construct their shacks.
They all stayed in Immigration House, which was accommodation that the Government repurposed from Army Barracks used in World War 1, and waited for other new settlers arriving from England who would form Group Settlement 108.
The families left Fremantle by train to travel through the bush to Pemberton. Along the way they spotted bushfires in the distance and were quite fearful of what their future would hold. Their arrival in Pemberton was late at night and in the moonlight they could see the massive trees and the thick scrub.
The next morning their luggage and boxes were loaded onto trucks for the 20 mile journey along the rough track to the Group 108 Settlement site at Northcliffe.
They arrived on March 6 1924. The men got to work immediately to build toilets out of wooden frames covered with hessian to ensure privacy. Meanwhile, the women pooled their pots and pans and kitchen utensils and amidst their tears managed to get everybody fed.
The group settlement farm blocks were allocated by lottery. Each of the twenty families drew a number from a hat to determine which location was theirs. They combined their efforts to build temporary shelters for each family to use until the group homes were built on the allotted farms. Some of the settlers waited for up to two years before their homes were built.
Life was very difficult and so harsh and many of the settlers gave up and either moved up to Perth or returned to England.
Joseph and Annie were the first to have their house completed because they had seven children, more than any of the other families. Joseph and the older boys set to making a shed on their property so that they could start farming as quickly as possible. They caught marron from the Gardner River, trapped rabbits and possum and even ate Kangaroo.
Annie gave birth to two more children in Northcliffe, making a family of nine children – Joseph, Alan, Gwendoline, Eva, Edith (Daisy), Arthur, Cecil, Edwin (Teddy) and Phyllis. A resilient bunch who all, apart from Phyllis and Arthur, lived well into old age. Arthur died at 17 of an illness. No autopsy was performed so they never discovered what killed Arthur.
I remember my Great Grandparents as jolly and loving people. My childhood was filled with stories of life in Northcliffe which my Nana (Daisy) shared with me. She spoke of the funny things that happened, the tragedy’s, the romances and her suspicions about scandalous behaviour.
Great Uncle Joseph (the oldest son of Joseph and Annie) wrote a self published autobiography titled “The Past is Always Present” which the Pioneer Museum of Northcliffe recommends for anyone who is interested in researching the Northcliffe Group Settlement project.
The Group Settlement Scheme put many families through incredible hardship and many abandoned their farms in desperate circumstances. Details of the programme can be found here
Despite the hardship, the pioneer families of the Group Settlement Scheme were instrumental in the development of the dairy industry in Western Australia.
Joseph and Annie moved away from Northcliffe after their son Arthur died at the age of 17. When I was a child they lived in a house in suburban Wilson and their property backed onto the Canning River. Great Grandad Joseph had a pair of binoculars positioned in the back room at the ready to see what was happening on the river. They celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary and Joseph continued to grow his own vegetables into his 80’s.
They left a legacy of kind heartedness and strong work ethic along with multiple generations of Coopers in Western Australia.
It’s my hope that the descendants of Joseph and Annie can share lots of wonderful stories about these special people so that their legacy can continue.