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Australian Jewish Land Settlement Movement in Danger of Collapse: Land Settlement Trust Fears Bankru

March 31, 1931
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust, which has for some years been engaged in promoting Jewish agricultural settlement in Australia, issued an urgent appeal to-day to the Australian Jewish Community, declaring that unless funds are immediately forthcoming, it must go bankrupt, because it is unable to meet its obligations.

The Berwick Jewish Agricultural Settlement, is in a critical condition, owing to the fall in prices of primary products, most of the settlers facing starvation. Many of them, it is feared, will have to leave their homes and go to Melbourne.

The Australian fruit-growing industry has for some months been experiencing an unparalleled crisis, in which the Jewish agricultural settlements at Berwick and Shepparton have been sharing to such an extent that the future of the Australian Jewish land settlement experiment was reported to be seriously endangered. The over-production in the Australian fruit industry, it was stated in November, was such that there was then already enough supply to meet the whole of the demand for 1931, and the prevailing prices in consideration of the cost of production made it unprofitable to pick the fruit, which was therefore left rotting on the trees. Most of the orchard owners, it was stated, stood to lose everything they possess.

There are only two Jewish agricultural settlements in Australia, both in the State of Victoria. The one at Shepparton, a small township in the heart of the rich Coulburn Valley, a hundred miles from Melbourne, which is the older of the two, is confined to orchardists. It came into being as a result of the activities of the Australian Jewish Land Settlement Fund.

In 1912, Dr. M. A. Schalit, Mr. A. Kozminsky and the late Mr. Isaac Jacobs of Melbourne, made an appeal to the Melbourne Jewish Community to assist in placing Jewish farmers on the land. As a result, something like £2,000 was collected. The fund was constituted in 1913 with the object of “settling Jewish persons desirous of carrying on the occupations of farmers, graziers, orchardists and other like occupations in lands in the Commonwealth of Australia, and for the purpose generally of educating and assisting Jewish farmers in carrying on their operations and for the purpose of educating children as farmers”. With the funds at its disposal, the Fund settled eight Jewish families on Government irrigation blocks at Shepparton, Victoria. Each settler secured a block of some forty or fifty acres and the Government built suitable dwellings and made other necessary improvements. The Agricultural Settlement Fund made advances for the purpose of carrying on the farm and for the living of the settlers. On advice from the Government, peaches, apricots, pears and other fruit trees were planted, the opinion being that orcharding offered the best chance of success.

For years the struggle was a bitter one. Nevertheless, the settlement endured. “An object lesson for others”, was how one of Australia’s leading agricultural administrators not long ago summed up Australian Jewry’s first attempt at Jewish land settlement. Until the present economic crisis, the Settlement was for some years very prosperous. From its original forty acres, the holdings increased to two hundred and fifty acres, the land being worth anything up to £100 per acre. Most of the settlers still speak Yiddish, although their children are English-speaking. At one farm a case-making factory has been established where fruit cases are made for the Settlement. Some of the farmers are represented on the Shepparton Canneries, one of the largest fruit canneries in Australia. A small synagogue is attached to the Settlement and there is a shochet and a Hebrew teacher.

The other Australian Jewish agricultural settlement is at Berwick, twenty-seven miles from Melbourne on the main Sydney-Melbourne railway, and also owes its existence to the activities of the Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust, being founded at the time of the sudden influx of Jewish immigration into Australia in 1927.

The success that has attended the efforts of the Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust was the subject of an address delivered by the Rev. Jacob Danglow in the St. Kilda Synagogue shortly before the crisis started. Explaining that when the Trust had first started he had been a vigorous opponent of the scheme because he had thought it impracticable, he said that he now thought it only fair that having seen the “astounding” progress, he should say from his pulpit that he had been wrong. “Together with the President of this congregation”, he said, “on Sunday last I visited the settlement at Berwick. I talked with the settlers, all of whom have already made good, and I can say that I was profoundly impressed by the fine type of men who have been settled”.

Jewish immigration to Australia has been practically stopped for about a year, since the enforcement in March 1930 of the new order under which no employment is to be given to any Europeans while Australians or British are unemployed. The immigration restriction lawsprohibit all immigration with the exception of the wives and children of people already in Australia. The Victorian Jewish Welcome Society, which looked after Jewish immigrants to Australia suspended its activities long before that, and as far back as December 1928 it had already discussed the advisability of its disbandment in the absence of a demand for its services.

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