HISTORY
AROUND THE TOWN

 museum title

THe El Arish Diggers Museum is housed in the old Railway Station on Chauvel Street, El Arish. It contains a collection of the town's documented history and operates under the auspices of the El Arish Community Sports & Recreational Association Inc.

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Our Diggers Museum

Frequently Asked Questions

When and why was the town of El Arish established?

The town was built as a Soldier Settlement to give the returning World War 1 soldiers an opportunity to farm sugar cane.  The Federal and State  governments had passed the Returned Soldier Settlement Act - of 1916 in Queensland - and created many farming opportunities throughout Australia.  Francis Paxton Martin returned from the war to become the Supervisor of the Maria Creek Soldier Settlement in 1918.  He was in charge of 100 odd blocks of land over roughly 4000 acres and all the logistics of getting the soldiers settled, after the first blocks were balloted in 1921. The naming of the town to El Arish came about at a vote at a town meeting, presumably because of the strategic importance of El Arish, in Palestine then, to the progress of the Australian forces.  Cane was initially sent to the Giru Sugar Mill south of Townsville and in 1923 to South Johnstone Mill.  When the Tully Sugar Mill opened in December 1925 there were 72 settlers on their blocks in El Arish signed up to supply cane.

Who was eligible to be a Soldier Settler?

Any citizen soldier who fought for the British Commonwealth was eligible for a block of land.  Two of our settlers had migrated to Australia from Russia just before war broke out, and several from Ireland, Scotland and England.  One of our soldiers, Bill Gibson, had migrated from Ireland to New Zealand where he had enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

How did the Museum come about?

A small committee was formed in El Arish in the late 1980s for the purpose of retaining our Railway Station building following its closure and the Queensland Railway Department’s decision to remove it.  The committee mooted the idea of moving the station a few hundred metres to the north and opposite the primary school, for use as a Museum.  To enable the plan to be realised Queensland Rail then donated the block of land for the relocation.  The station building was moved to its new on a semi-trailer in 1995 and the El Arish Diggers Museum was founded.

Were the Soldiers gifted their land, and how big were their blocks?

The soldiers had a loan from the administration of the Act in order to buy or lease their land and made regular payments on that loan, and their outstanding amounts for El Arish moved across to the Rural Bank in 1925.  Their blocks all had a 20-acre horse paddock and their farms were either 50 or 40 acres roughly, hence the phrases 40/20 or 50/20 used here when referring to their blocks. 

What is important to the Museum collection?

El Arish is and always has been a collection of pioneers and characters who have lived here and go about their daily business, each as a small part of the community.  The people who have been caught up in this ebb and flow are important to us and we try to remember their names and keep family information for visiting researchers.

The real essences of the Museum are the El Arish people, places and things, along with their anecdotal stories, so whether it be a Returned Soldier who lived in a wardrobe in “The Hole In The Wall” or may have carried a “Millaquin Suitcase” slung over his shoulder, we try to recognise each as equally integral to who and to where we are today as a small township.

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39 Chauvel Street
El Arish QLD 4855
elarish.historical@gmail.com

El Arish QLD

People, Places and Events of an
Historic Soldier Settlement Town
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