About this blog

This blog is about the history of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and neighbouring areas, such as Pakenham, Cranbourne and Garfield, and any other historical subjects I feel like writing about. It's my own original research and writing and if you live in the area you may have read some of the stories before in the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society newsletter or the Koo-Wee-Rup township newsletter, The Blackfish, or the Garfield township newsletter, The Spectator.
Heather Arnold.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp - early drainage schemes

We will start this blog off with a brief overview of the drainage works on the Swamp. Small scale efforts to drain the  96,000 acre  (40,000 hectare) Swamp began in the 1850s and in 1875 landowners including Duncan MacGregor, who owned Dalmore,  formed the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Drainage Committee.  From 1876 this Committee employed over 100 men and created drains that would carry the water from the Cardinia and Toomuc Creeks to Western Port Bay at Moody’s Inlet.

It was obvious however that major works needed to be undertaken to sucessfully drain the Swamp thus the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, William Thwaites (1853-1907), surveyed the Swamp in 1887 and his report recommended the construction of the Bunyip Main Drain from where it entered the Swamp in the north to Western Port Bay and a number of smaller side drains.

A tender was advertised in 1889. In spite of strikes, floods and bad weather by March, 1893, the private contractors had constructed the 16 miles of the drain from the Bay to the south of Bunyip and the Public Works Department considered the Swamp was now dry enough for settlement. At one time over 500 men were employed and all the work was done by hand, using axes.

The picturesque Bunyip Main Drain, taken in the 1940s.
Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society photograph.

In spite of what seemed to be good progress - the Public Works Department had been unhappy with the rate of progress and took over its completion in 1893 and appointed the Engineer, Carlo Catani (1852-1918). The 1890s was a time of economic depression in Australia and various Government Schemes were implemented to provide employment and to stop the drift of the unemployed to the city. One of these schemes was the Village settlement Scheme. The aim was for the settlers to find employment outside the city and to boost their income from the sale of produce from their farms. It was in this context that Catani implemented the Village Settlement Scheme on the swamp.

Under this Scheme, all workers had to be married, accept a 20 acre block and spend a fortnight working on the drains for wages and a fortnight improving their block and maintaining adjoining drains. The villages were Koo-Wee-Rup, Five Mile, Cora Lynn, Vervale, Iona and Yallock.

Many of the settlers were unused to farming and hard physical labour, others were deterred by floods and ironically a drought that caused a bushfire, however many stayed and communities developed. By 1904, over 2,000 people including 1,400 children lived on the Swamp. By the 1920s, the area was producing one quarter of Victorian potatoes.

There was a second wave of settlers in the early 1900s where those selected had previous farm experience, such as my great grandfather, James Rouse who had been a market gardener in England. James, a widower,  arrived in 1903 with his eleven year old son, Joe. He had selected 56 acres on Murray Road at Cora Lynn and his arrival started the Rouse family's 110 year connection to the Swamp.

That's James Rouse, my great grandfather, above.  He was born July 26, 1862 at Stratford on Avon in England and died at Cora Lynn on August 29, 1939. He had married Annie Glover of Clydebank (Victoria) on February 2, 1892 and they had five children.  Sadly Annie, born July 7, 1865 died in February 7, 1899 aged 33. She was pre-deceased by their two daughters Ruth and Annie. Another daughter Emily died in tragic circumstances  - she was found drowned in the Yarra on August 24, 1919 aged 25. Lucy (born September 2, 1895) died October 27, 1981. We knew her very well and saw a lot of her. She was living at Garfield when she died. Finally, my grand father Joseph Albert Rouse was born at Clydebank on November 9, 1892 and died September 3, 1954.

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