Austin Shepherd

Austin Robert Nugent Shepherd

Block 14 Belconnen District - Property Name: 'Belconnen'

Austin Robert Nugent Shepherd was born at Kingsdale near Goulburn in 1886. He studied at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College and was working as an "experimentalist" with the Department of Agriculture when he enlisted in August 1915. He arrived in France with the 5th Field Artillery Brigade in March 1916 but transferred to the Veterinary Corps later that year and served with them until the end of the war. By the time he had returned to Australia in 1919, Shepherd had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant and been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

Shepherd leased the Soldier Settlement Belconnen Block 14 (1162 acres - 470 hectares) for 25 years from the 1st September 1924 at an annual rental of £266/5/10. The block had the Murrumbidgee River on one side, the ACT/ NSW border on another and Parkwood to the north. It included the original Belconnen farm based on a land grant to explorer Charles Sturt in 1837 and later owned by the Campbell family.

Plan of Belconnen Block 14

Plan of Belconnen Block 14. Click on plan for larger view.

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When Shepherd accepted the offer of the lease to Belconnen Block 14, he was working on a farm near Leeton in the Riverina. Not only did he have to pay rent on Belconnen Block 14, he also had a liability of £812 to purchase improvements already on the property including a stone homestead that became his home in 1925. Shepherd was told in December 1924 that he was eligible for an advance under the Commonwealth's Repatriation Scheme of up to £625. He made a verbal application in February 1925 and was told that he would be advised as soon as money for the advance was available. However, the Commonwealth Treasury advised that the advances were a means of repatriation which no longer applied and funds would not be made available to new Soldier Settlers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), a decision reinforced in May 1926 by Federal Cabinet.

Shepherd argued that without financial assistance he would reluctantly have to sell his lease. Lands Inspector, James Brackenreg, thought that:

"In view of the position of Cabinet, I hesitate to make any recommendation, but as Mr. Shepherd is about the only case now involved where land was taken up with the distinct understanding that the advance was available I think it would be a fitting finale to a most successful undertaking (every soldier has made a 'do' of it in the Territory) if it could be arranged for the Treasurer to accommodate Shepherd. Apart from his War service, Shepherd is a man scientifically trained in agriculture, and really an acquisition to the Territory."

Shepherd even enlisted former Prime Minister Billy Hughes to help his cause and by Christmas 1926, he was told that an application for an advance would be favourably considered.

Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 14 boundary in red

Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 14 boundary in red.

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There were further challenges for Shepherd including the closure of his bank. The Government Savings Bank of NSW suspended access to accounts in April 1931 following a run on its funds. Shepherd could not make rental payments from his account and he requested that he not be penalised. On the 5th September 1931, the Bank's Branch Manager wrote to the Commonwealth that Shepherd had sufficient funds in his account to meet all arrears. Brackenreg waived penalties on his outstanding rent.

Shepherd also objected to the valuations made on the improvements to the property which he was paying for by installments. He gave as an example the 1924 valuation of £100 for stables built of slab with an iron roof in 1894 by two men who were paid £20 for labour and material.

Unlike some other lessees, Shepherd was able to meet his rental payments despite the financial pressures of the Depression. In 1936, the rent on the lease was reappraised to £249/6/11 per year (or 5% of the capital value). This was reduced to £225/2/9 based on 4½% of the capital value for a lease terminating in 1948.

Plan of Belconnen Block 14 c1940s showing detail of buildings and yards

Plan of Belconnen Block 14 c1940s showing detail of buildings and improvements. Click on plan for larger view.

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In September 1934, Shepherd came to an agreement with fellow Soldier Settler, Frederick Shoobert, to purchase Belconnen Block 16. The lease was transferred to Shepherd for £2200 which included improvements valued at £1650 and sheep worth £550.

In May 1950, a new Ken Oliphant designed home was built adjacent to the original house on Belconnen Block 14. With land resumptions looming for the development of Belconnen, Shepherd retired in 1962 and passed the block to his son Robert.

Austin Shepherd died on the 20th May 1972 aged 86 years and is buried in Woden Cemetery.


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