The Mirror News

Yanakie Settlement – reunion and reminiscences

THE development of modern Yanakie as an established dairy district occurred in 1954 when the natural swamps were cleared wholesale, first for a State Government soldier-settlement farm scheme and then shortly afterwards for a ‘closer settlement’ farm scheme.

Regardless of whether the farm being taken up was the soldier settlement or the closer settlement, would-be settlers applied for a farm and if successful, took out a low-interest government loan, which when paid back, gave private ownership of the property.

Although there were no internal paddocks fenced, the lessons of failure from the World War I soldier settlement schemes had been learned, and these larger-sized properties were set up with a new house, a couple of sheds, external boundary fencing and dirt roads and allocated to people with some farming experience.

The general store was built but initially there was no power, telephone, sealed road, hall or school at Yanakie.

With only two couples and some widows/widowers left out of those who took up the original settlement farms, the next generation thought it was time to hold a ‘back to’ Yanakie settlement reunion “before it’s too late”.

After discussing the topic at the June 2009 South Gippsland Secondary College 90-year reunion, settlers’ daughters Judi Venton (nee Perry) and Elaine Comben (nee McAinch) realised they would have to do something themselves if the concept was to become a reality.

While the original idea was for just for settlers and their descendents to reunite, the celebration has now expanded to include the wider community that comprises Yanakie from establishment to today, and encompasses the successive generations and other people connected to the area.

The reunion will be held on Saturday November 6 at Yanakie Hall starting at 11.00am and continuing throughout the day.

Admission of $15 for adults includes lunch and dinner (alternatively $10 for just one meal) plus musical entertainment in the evening by Len Tosch.

Children will be admitted at no charge.

Besides “catching up, reconnecting and reminiscing”, attendees are also requested to bring along photographs of their years at Yanakie, especially pictures of original settler couples.

The book Yanakie: Station to Settlement 1850-1983, compiled by local historian (the late) Rosemary Crawford, will be available to order for those who wish to purchase it as a reunion souvenir keepsake.

For catering purposes, those intending to participate are asked to RSVP to either Elaine on 56 871 334 or Judi on 9812 6476 or via [email protected].


Now living in Foster, Stan and Val Williams are the only surviving couple of the original soldier settlers at Yanakie.

They acquired a 300-acre farm in the soldier settlement on the east side of the Promontory Road in 1959 as a means of buying their own farm more quickly.

Stan had been in the Army’s Transport Division during the war, serving in both Australia and Singapore.

He had being applying for a settlement farm since before his marriage to Val, but couples were more successful at being allocated a farm than single applicants.

Previously sharefarmers on a dairy at Yinnar, the couple arrived at Yanakie with their 18-month-old daughter Kerry (now Kerry Giles of Leongatha) and purchased a 50-head herd of mainly Jersey cows plus some beef cattle.

The house hadn’t been completed so the young family lived in a shed for the interim.

During the peak of their operation, the Williams’ milked 120 cows, which in those days “was considered a good number”.

With the land having been cleared so recently, Val recalls there was a complete lack of small birds, and she was grateful when the first magpies finally moved into the area.

However there were big birds in plenty – emus – and the cows regularly came bolting and bellowing up towards the house in a panic with the emus chasing along behind them!

Val thinks the increasing density of settlement and numbers of stock gradually dispersed the emus.

For anyone who thinks Yanakie is a windy place, it is nothing compared to the early days when all of the vegetation had been cleared.

“I remember the first storm that came after the area was settled,” Val laughed.

“Our hay shed blew over, and anyone’s garage that didn’t have a concrete floor was blown away; one even landed up on the back of a house roof!

The farm soil was “mostly sand and just suited ti-tree” so the stock’s manure on the paddocks was supplemented with lots of superphosphate applications to build up the soil.

The government subsidised the internal fencing of the farms, and Val recollected that farmers could make a little bit of money from this because fencing contractors often worked at a lower rate than the amount that the government paid per length of fencing.

It was a year before electric power was supplied, so the dairy was run on a motor and washing was done by hand, with nappies boiled up in a big container on the stove.

However even when the power was connected, the supply “was always going off”.

At that stage, the road was only sealed as far as “the sand pits” (Corner Inlet Motorcycle Club) and on holiday weekends, Val said the dust from the cars “going all through the night down to the Prom” was quite a discomfort.

The mail contractor operating between Tidal River and Foster also delivered shopping orders once a week.

“We’d put a flag up on the mail box if we had a shopping list, and the contractor would deliver it on the way back,” Val said.

“This included the meat order, so you made sure that the meat for the meals at the end of the week was something that lasted, like corned beef.”

Stan and Val’s second daughter Sue (now Sue Heron of Mt Eliza) was born in 1962 and as only baby boys had been born at the settlement until then, she took out the honour of being the first girl born to the settlement families.

Although the Yanakie Branch of the Country Women’s Association had started up, Val was more passionate about sport, and took up evening badminton, for which she travelled to localities all over the district courtesy of rides with her fellow team members.

During this competition, she met Maudi Thomson and as a result, Val and Stan were invited to play their favourite game of tennis at the Thomson’s private court at Waratah Bay until the Shellcot family built a tennis court on crown land at Yanakie.

The Williams were keen tennis players, and both Stan and Val were made club Life Members for their contribution to coaching juniors, committee work and long-standing involvement.

“During our time we’ve been involved in lots of working bees, Stan helped out with the CFA and I’ve been on Mothers’ Clubs and other local committees,” Val remembered.

“When the school was built, it immediately became the centre of the community and the building was used for community purposes too until we had the hall.

“We farmed dairy and beef at Yanakie for about 25 years before moving into Foster and sharefarming the property before it was later sold.”

Val concluded, “They were good days, and because everyone was equal in what they had, there was no animosity and we all pulled together to help each other.

“About the only thing someone had more than anyone else was a petrol-fueled washing machine!”


Among the ‘closer settlers’ Ern and Daphne Perry are the sole surviving couple.

They now live in Port Franklin where Ern laughed that he “hadn’t officially retired yet” from his second trade as a builder.

Originally from Tasmanian farming backgrounds which included dairying, Ern and Daphne had sharefarmed a dairy property at Hiamdale (near Gormandale) for 10 years with Ern’s brother.

As the best option for being able to afford their own farm, the Perrys applied for a closer settlement farm and in 1961 were successful in obtaining 270 acres on the west side of the Promontory Road opposite Foleys Road.

The couple brought over their own herd of 50 cows (mostly Friesians), at a time “when 40 cows were considered a good starting herd” and at their peak milked 144.

Daphne believed that in the persistent cold winds at Yanakie, the Friesians performed better than the Jerseys as the bulk of the larger animals meant they kept warmer.

The first year was hard, as there was a plague of oncopera underground grass grubs, which ate all the edible feed for the cattle.

The parent moths had been attracted to the area by the lush, undergrazed grass that grew while the settlement was being subdivided.

Five years later, the 1967 drought hit hard and bores had to be drilled to obtain water.

Still keen on technology, Ern commented, “I had a windmill pump on our bore but last time I drove past, I noticed there’s a solar-powered pump there now.”

As with the Williams, the Perrys also found Yanakie was a very cooperative community though there seems to have been a feeling that the slightly earlier soldier settlers were the “real” settlers.

“If you had one bit of farm machinery and your neighbour didn’t, then there was an unspoken rule that you loaned it to your neighbours,” Ern recounted.

“We all came in on a level playing field and we were all newcomers; it was a marvelous life and it was tremendously good for our kids,” Daphne emphasised.

She also explained that when the telephone was connected, those who had a phone naturally took messages and provided phone service for neighbours who did not have one.

Farming was a bit different too in those days.

Like everyone else, the Perrys fed the herd solely on the pasture grass and their own hay, reproduction was with a bull, not artificial insemination, and like other farm wives, Daphne raised the calves.

Although Ern still misses the dairying and his working dogs, and regrets that the couple ever sold the farm, the work became difficult when he developed severe hayfever many years after living at Yanakie, and Daphne had to do all the feeding out.

Having more natural skill and inclination with building things than with handling animals, Ern had built many herringbone dairy sheds for neighbours as well as a dairy for his own property.

After selling the farm sometime around 1976 and moving to Port Franklin, it seemed the right move for Ern to qualify as a master builder.

He went on to build a number of houses around the district including some of the Linton Court units.

The Perrys are proud of their daughter Judi for organising the reunion, though Daphne wistfully reflected, “We should have had a reunion years ago.

“So many have died now, this will mainly be for the young ones.”


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