Oswald Henry Dixon
Block 21 Belconnen District - Property Name: 'Kama'
Oswald Henry Dixon was born in Gundagai, NSW on the 5th September 1884. He married Marguerite Wakefield in 1913 in Sydney. Dixon worked for the Bank of New South Wales as an accountant and bank teller at Gundagai, Temora and then at The Rock, near Wagga Wagga, to where the family moved in early 1917. A few months later Marguerite died of strychnine poisoning, believed to be the result of post natal depression after the birth of their daughter. However, suspicion initially fell upon Dixon who was tried twice for her murder before being found not guilty. After his wife's estate was settled in March 1918, Dixon enlisted in Sydney. He did not see service overseas because the war ended in November 1918.
In February 1923, Dixon applied to lease a block of land in the Federal Capital Territory as a Soldier Settler. His first preference was Belconnen Block 21, covering an area from the old Weetangerra Road down to the Molonglo River including the modern-day suburb of Hawker. He specified on his application that he had worked for Colonial Sugar Queensland Ltd in Fiji on sugar farms, worked with stock and had recently been employed locally with sheep to study local conditions. He was a widower with a seven year old daughter and had £1000 in assets.
According to his family, Dixon actually had no experience with sheep and had been told by General James Legge, a friend who leased Cranleigh, to say that he did so in order to improve his chances of securing a block. At the time he lived with his sister Ivy West and her family at the Anglican rectory in Queanbeyan where her husband was the clergyman.
His 25 year lease for Belconnen Block 21 began on the 14th June 1923 at an annual rental of £133/12 and was, as Dixon described it, purely a grazing proposition. Dixon worked hard to overcome his lack of grazing knowledge and in particular sought the advice of his neighbours the Camerons, a pioneering family who lived at Lands End. Their help was essential to his ultimate prosperity.
Plan of Belconnen Block 21.
Dixon's block had a residency condition and he complied, moving to the property by March 1924 and living in an old slab hut already on the site. The hut had a hessian ceiling, iron roof and newspaper lined walls with a Coolgardie safe hanging from a nearby kurrajong. Later that year the first reference to the property's name, Kama, appears in his correspondence. Dixon had a fascination with eastern writings and this is believed to be source of the name.
The following year Dixon wrote the first of regular letters appealing for more land as Kama had the lightest carrying capacity in the Belconnen district. As the Depression deepened, Dixon noted that his block could only carry 800-900 sheep on dry country. After selling his wool, he had only £86 to live on and to pay for school fees, the storekeeper and interest on his home built under the Housing Scheme (at £50 per annum). At the end of 1929, Dixon had applied for a loan of £495 over 20 years and built his new home near the hut.
Aerial view of the northern end of Belconnen Block 21 taken 15th May 1961 - Click on image for larger view.
An aerial view looking west over Belconnen Block 21 'Kama' (foreground) and Belconnen Block 20 'Lands End' (centre frame).
Photo courtesy of Nanette Betts (nee Dixon).
His regular requests drew a sympathetic response from the Lands Inspector, James Brackenreg, who thought unquestionably that Dixon did not have a living area. In noting his frequent requests for additional land, Brackenreg conceded that there were large numbers of lessees who "cannot win a living" from their leases and "that the Administration is entirely sympathetic and as sorry as the lessees themselves."
Eventually, in 1944, Dixon acquired the 253 acre (102 hectare) Belconnen Block 51, referred to as Flea Bog Flat, an area on the southern side of Gossan Hill in South Bruce near Canberra High School. He also went into partnership with the Shepherd family in the 1950s to farm Legge's Cranleigh property.
Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 21 boundary in red.
Like other rural lessees during the Depression, Dixon was given a concession on his rent, reducing his annual payment to £149/6/4 from £184/9 in 1936. By 1940, he was still struggling financially, writing to the Minister for the Interior that he had paid about £2550 in rent since the beginning of the lease. He referred to funded rent as an encumbrance and that "I have battled on for 15 years paying my way off a limited grazing block." The Commonwealth Surveyor General Arthur Percival replied that under no circumstances would the debt be written off. Dixon managed to survive the Depression years and was able to extend his lease until the 30th June 1958.
In 1936, Dixon married Freda Cameron from Lands End and they raised their family at Kama. He served in World War 2 with the 13th Garrison in northern Australia while Freda ran Kama. An unknown admirer wrote some doggerel about the Dixons in 1943:
There is a gentleman named Dixon,
With soldiers and sheep he was mixin';
but the soldiering they say,
took Oswald away
and left wifie no time in the kitchen.
Oswald Dixon in his WW2 uniform with daughter Nanette 'Nan' Dixon.
Photo courtesy Nanette Betts (nee Dixon).
Oswald Dixon returned to Belconnen in 1944 and worked Kama until he and Freda retired to their new home in Rosenthal Street, Campbell in 1963. He died there on the 5th February 1982 aged 97 years.
Nan and Oswald Dixon. Photo Courtesy of Nanette Betts (nee Dixon).
- ArchivesACT: Government Property & Tenancy Registers - Belconnen Block 21 ( PDF 924Kb)
- ArchivesACT: Rate Book : Territory for the Seat of Government - 1927 ( PDF 17.8Mb) - 1928 ( PDF 18.7Mb) - 1929 ( PDF 8.88Mb)
- ArchivesACT: TL2432 (Part 1) - Block 21 Belconnen - O.H. Dixon
- ArchivesACT: TL2432 (Part 2) - Block 21 Belconnen - O.H. Dixon
- Archives ACT: TL543 - Block 51 Belconnen - O.H. Dixon
- NAA: (B2455) First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920: http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/person/148632
- NAA: (B884) Citizen Military Forces Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947
- By My Reckoning: the Weetangerra Road by Barbara Dawson, Canberra Historical Journal (CDHS), May 2012
- Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra by Lyall Gillespie, 1992
- The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser, 19th October 1917, p.4: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page12729546
- Family Notices - The Canberra Times, 6 February 1982, p.25: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126876706
- Obituaries Australia - Dixon, Freda Annie (1908-2001): http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dixon-freda-annie-313
- Information provided by Nanette Betts (nee Dixon)