Friday, 22 June 2007

Childhood in a suitcase

After running a few errands this morning and putting the final few touches to the grant application, I came home, rummaged around in the shed and emerged triumphantly with our largest suitcase. Laying it in the sun to air, I thought about how so many things that one does are remnants from childhood experiences. For me at boarding school, the sight of suitcases being dragged out to air on the hillside for several days was the sign that it was almost the end of term and time to go home. I still remember my suitcase, light grey vinyl with darker grey flecks and a big shiny metal buckle holding the strap together. I still remember the tingle of excitement that grew to permeate every aspect of those last few days. Just the sight of a suitcase awakens those childhood feelings of anticipation – the waiting for the big diesel two-toned Mercedes taxis to take us down to the plains; staying overnight in the capital city with big fans swishing above us; following the flight attendant through the airport: swishing through the “staff only” lines, onto the plane; waiting impatiently at the luggage carousels and craning my neck to see my parents through the sliding door of the customs area and then finally home.

Nadia Wheatley writes that you only have clear memories of childhood if your childhood was unhappy. She suggests that people with “perfectly happy” childhoods generally have no vivid memories of it. I don’t think that my childhood was perfectly happy. I remember moments of crystalline, shimmering happiness and I remember the swollen lump of homesickness that was impossible to swallow. In that regard, perhaps she is right. I do think though that all children deal with moments of sorrow and difficulty, no matter how “good” their childhood was. And they remember happiness as well as these moments of difficulty. I would argue that an unremembered childhood is more likely to be an unthinking, unchallenged childhood.

Due to my parent’s work, I travelled a lot when I was a child and I have many memories of that time. Times when I was in one place for a long time (for me a year was eternity to spend in one place), I don’t remember very clearly. Obviously I thrived on change. Now I have decided to plant myself in one place and see what may emerge.

I think that Emilie, Carl and Anna will have very clear memories of Germany, their voyage to Australia and arrival here – not because they are unhappy (although there will be some of that), but because it is a great adventure whatever the outcome.

Reading the history of the school, I was reminded that in the 1870s Marburg, Queensland was still called Frederick (as was the school). It wasn’t called Marburg until the late 1880s. I will have to remember to have the Jaeckels be bound for Frederick with the name change as a later reminder of home.

Airing out the suitcase served the cause of memory, but the suitcase will also serve the practical function of accompanying my family on holiday. So for a week you won’t hear from me. I hope to return full of energy and ideas from the backpack of books and papers I am lugging along.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Distractions and old history

I have spent most of a cold winter’s day hunched over my computer, alternately cursing people who make poor computer forms and people who create hoops for others to jump through so that they can decide not to give you money based on you not having answered section 7.3c subsection ii/ correctly. Yes, 'tis the season for writing grant applications for the school. Last year we decided that rather than depending entirely on the efforts of local fundraising, we would focus on getting grant money for big projects. As the argument went, one person spending 20 or so hours on a grant was a better use of time than ten people rushing around flipping burgers or selling chocolate for x number of hours. Given that I’m currently not on the Parents and Citizens executive committee and I have had much experience plowing through various bureaucracies, I volunteered to do the job. I can still appreciate the theory, but the reality is grinding me down a bit.

On the other hand, over the last six months we have received about $52,000 worth of grant money. Next week a fantastic new playground is scheduled to be installed and sometime when it rains, the school will be planting native plants along Black Snake Creek alongside a number of community organisations.

This latest project will cost close to $100,000 so I have ended up working on three different grant applications (two federal and one state) to cobble together the money. So far I have one application completed, one almost done and the third that I’m trying not to think about.

The one interesting factor is that I have ended up sorting through the school’s archives, talking to numerous establishment figures, emailing contacts and reading local histories in order to answer one simple question in the application – “please provide the date your organisation was established.”

One of the teachers remembers that her father-in-law was treasurer when her husband was at school. A great anecdote but not concrete enough for a sub-sectioned document. The school archives are dusty but only go back to the 1970s. The school history book commemorating their 125th anniversary makes no mention of the P & C. One brief mention though is made of a lad riding to school on his horse, being followed by a car whose occupant, the school committee’s chairman, complained to the principal that the boy was riding dangerously fast. Dire warnings in front of the whole school ensued. Ironically, this lad’s (of sixty or so) wife commented the other day on my habitually precipitous descent down our hill. My descent has since been decorous with barely even a cloud of dust.

The question remains unanswered. Given that the school was established at the behest of parents, what I wrote on the form was “Marburg State School has had a parent’s committee since its founding in 1879.” My secret to surviving bureaucracy is to emphasise the facts of my choosing.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007


Lately I have been thinking a lot about the sense of belonging and how hard it is as a migrant to feel as if you really are part of a place. At our study group today we were talking about the seven deadly sins (a light topic on a chilly day). Pride and envy topped our “most difficult” list, though lust raised much hilarity. One of the ladies mentioned how someone she knew had been deeply upset when it was written in her husband’s obituary that “he was always proud of his German heritage.” To her mind that was absolutely untrue. He had no shame at being German, but he was always treated like dirt for it and tended to hide it.

This historic tension is one of the features of the Scrub today. None of the towns would be here without German settlers. The hillsides would not be dotted with houses and farms. The schools would not exist. And yet, these hills are the dregs of the land – the land unwanted by the English and Irish settlers, who much preferred the plains and along the rail line. While the German farmers transformed the hills, sent their children to school and built up businesses, they remained looked down on by non-Germans. Tensions rose to the surface during the world wars, but they were not new tensions. People today remember non-German girls refusing to dance with them at the local dance (or rather, the girls’ parents not allowing them.)

As part of writing up a grant application for the school, I’ve had to contact local politicians for letters of support for our project (building a multi-purpose sports court). I have been pleasantly surprised at the response, with immediate letters forthcoming from our local councillor and our state representative. Yet, I still find myself amazed that I can actually interact with politicians, that I have political representation.

After seven years in the United States on a legal visa, I had become accustomed to feeling alien. Having “non-resident alien” stamped on my passport helped. I was accustomed to knowing that I had no political, economic or social support. I was not allowed to vote. My taxes were accepted, but I was not allowed any rebates or exemptions. I had other restrictions on financial matters. For example, I was not allowed to borrow money from a bank or conduct certain financial transactions. Fortunately I had health insurance, but I was not allowed to accept public medical assistance. I had to get permission from the university to travel. It has taken a long time for me to adjust to the notion that the infrastructure of Australia is there to support me. That I can go to a doctor or a hospital, that I can vote, that I can contact a politician to express my opinion, that if I want to take a job I can, that as a property owner I have rights (and a vote that might be courted).

After five years this sense of being a citizen is beginning to take hold. How long would it take a migrant in a colony largely free of infrastructure? You would cling to your familiar neighbours and try to avoid conflict. You would not trust that colonial administrators would support you – most of them were English. You would work hard and keep your head down. And sometimes not even that would work.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Other people's writing

I’ve been dipping into The Best Australian Essays 2002. Why 2002 you ask? Well that’s what the library was selling – maybe 2002 wasn’t the finest vintage or that year, everyone read Nora Roberts instead. Anyway, I’ve found a couple of interesting essays that have provoked thought for me. It’s amazing how when you are working on a project everything becomes grist for your mill.

Nadia Wheatley wrote about the difference between hagiography (writing history) and fiction in the context of writing a biography of Charmian Clift. In her essay entitled “Lies and Silences” she writes about how omissions in biographies and histories indicate “areas of failure” on the part of the writer, that is, things they just don’t know, whereas for a novelist, such gaps are “rejection of extraneous material” in service of plot and characterisation.

This is important for me, because having been trained as an academic historian, I sometimes struggle with wanting to explain every aspect of what I am writing and footnote every fact. This doesn’t make for very smooth or interesting storytelling.

I can remember in graduate school taking an American history seminar and being told by the lecturer to “get over” my obsession with method. Coming from a mass communication background, we were trained to constantly justify ourselves as social scientists rather than journalists – part of the tension that makes most communication departments dysfunctional. He wanted me to just tell the story. In my department, at the postgraduate level, you were barely able to admit that there was a story to tell – narrative and discourse were dirty words. For undergraduates, it was all about telling stories and news gathering.

In another essay Don Watson (speechwriter and wit extraordinaire) discussed Geoffrey Blainey’s thesis of the tyranny of distance being the determining factor in Australian history. Of interest to me was the idea that migrants huddled together in fear of the great open spaces. Of course, as Watson argues, this ignores psychological, social and emotional factors but it is always useful to have a grand theory.

And finally, Drusilla Modjeska suggests the idea that mothers work on their art with “an intensity that knows what it is to be interrupted” and that this intensity is somehow incorporated into their work. Writing this with my restlessly sleeping son on my lap, I hope this is the case.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Wind snakes and aesthetics

One of the things we’ve been talking about at the historical society is producing some postcards of the local area. Someone suggested that we needed to wait for everything to green up before taking pictures. I’ve lived in this area for just over four years now and I have rarely seen the fields green. On a handful of occasions we have had enough rain for the grass to grow rapidly, but it is an aberration rather than a state of normalcy.

I can remember asking a friendly neighbour when we moved here how he kept his large property looking so tidy, “the mowing must take hours.” He told me that he hadn’t mowed for months, that the tidiness was lack of water, rather than personal effort.

This ideal of green equating to beauty is an interesting inheritance from our migrant background. I personally find the muted tones of the hills and grass beautiful. Every shade of yellow, brown, khaki, muted green and soft blue blends together. One of our former neighbours used to let her back paddock go ungrazed for the winter. Golden grass rippled in endless waves over the hillside, threatening to pour over you and drag you into the undertow.

Clouds shadows dart across the fields, constantly changing the landscape. The backs of leaves catch the wind and shimmer. This to me is as beautiful as the emerald fields of lore.

Even though I understand the necessity and feel greedy for thinking it, I hate to see the road verges mowed for animal feed. A small part of me begrudges the animals this small amount of nutrition. I watch the neighbours converging on the grass from both sides of our property and I want to rush out and stop them. My children call the sound of wind moving through the tall grass “wind snakes.” There aren’t many wind snakes this winter.

Postcards that show this area as green and verdant might meet some ideal aesthetic but they wouldn’t be accurate. Every day I see things that make me stop, look and appreciate. Would people disdain images of these as postcards?

Friday, 15 June 2007

The Jaeckels' bakery

Nowadays, there is a lot of mystique surrounding the making of bread. Perhaps it is because bread making has diverged in two directions. The first is the commercial mass production route where bread is made as quickly as possible and additives used to increase its shelf life and ease of transportation. The other direction in which bread making has gone has been that of the artisan fanatic. This fan might start by grinding their own flour, mixing it with a secret sourdough starter, taking the time required to make the perfect hand-made loaf. Having said there are two directions, of course there are other options within this range. Some people love the ease of the bread maker, which parallels commercial bread making – using a kit, aiming for speed, but making fresh bread at home. There are artisanal shops producing careful loaves, but this is the domain of the metropolis and the affluent. And there are speciality bakers, making semi-artisanal loaves in an adaptation of mass production.

Bread-making in the nineteenth century would not have been so complicated. It was Germany, so Michael and Anders would have made rye bread, as well as an everyday loaf. If you are making bread day in and day out, then it is hard to isolate the individual processes. It is more of a continuous cycle of changes to the flour and yeast.

The Jaeckels bought flour from a miller on the outskirts of Marburg. They had a well-ventilated storeroom at the back of the shop acroos a small courtyard but only held about a week’s supply in there. The bakery was simply laid out. The back of the main room was filled by the brick oven in which a fire always burnt. Reliable daily baking required that the heat be maintained in the mass of the stove, with only a small intense firing to raise the temperature in the baking cavity immediately before the loaves were put in. And the loaves needed the steady warmth for rising.

Customers wanted their bread fresh first thing in the morning. After the morning rush of customers, Michael would mix their starter that they kept in the coolness of the well with fresh flour and yeast. Initial mixing was done in troughs under the shade of an awning in the courtyard because the dough needed to be kept cool until they were ready to make the bread. After making this first batch of dough, the men went to bed for a quick nap then were up to complete the rest of their day.

Michael and Anders were in bed by five o’clock after an early meal so that they could get up at one in the morning to start the bread. The cool first batch of dough would be mixed with fresh flour, yeast, salt and water. This time the mixing was done in the warm workroom in the shop. After working the bread in huge troughs with long wooden paddles, the dough was left to rest for an hour. The dough was briefly worked again, and rested for another hour then after turning, another half hour rest. The dough was then turned out onto a long bench, cut and weighed, shaped into balls and placed into baskets lined with floured linen. Almost two hours later, the loaves were tipped onto a wooden peel, slashed and baked in the oven until dark brown. Some of the uncooked dough was kept back to start the next batch of bread. Family bakeries had starters that had been continuously in use for years.

This was sturdy, chewy bread that was produced. For festivals and other occasions, the bread was formed into different shapes, perhaps braids or coronets, but the everyday loaf was circular, solid and dark brown.

Making bread was hard physical work in difficult conditions. Michael was a solid bulk of a man and Anders was quickly developing similar broad shoulders and chest. Seeing customers was their main social contact as they kept very different hours to most of the townspeople. They were friendly, but too busy to be involved in too many things. Their family was their mainstay and their primary social group.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Postscripts I-III

I. David Malouf’s new book of poetry, Typewriter Music (University of Queensland Press, 2007), is magnificent. I still can’t enjoy his fiction, but his poetry truly evokes place and emotion and is wonderfully Australian. And the book itself is beautiful. Simply holding it in your hands is a pleasure. Here he writes of water tanks:

Squat corrugated-iron
clouds lashed down
with ropes of Morning Glory, galvanised
angels filled with the sky’s

II. For your information, in the contest between gravity and laundry, as always, gravity triumphed and something had to be done.

III. And a reader pointed out to me that in marriage there is a third way. There is practicality, romance and the modern idea of marriage as consumption – a lifestyle choice, a luxury product to be flaunted as a symbol of achievement. As an illustration of marriage gone wrong, it leaves practicality as an attractive option. Thanks Kate.


To the northern mind, the southern hemisphere is confusing by its nature. North is still up and south down, but you turn your face north for warmth. Christmas is a season of heat, flies and light. The sun rises early on Christmas Day, beating even the children and the day ends late in steaming darkness. I have lain by the pool on New Year’s Eve, water evaporating off my skin as the darkness deepens. For us, Christmas carols go with candlelight and warm darkness not candlelight reflecting off icicles and songs puffed out on a visible breath. For migrants, even after forty years of this inversion, Christmas just seems wrong. For the native southerner, northern Christmases are beautiful, fanciful fairy tales abstracted from reality.

June and July are the seasons for short days and crisp nights. Thinking about weather, I had a jolt of recognition reading a poem by David Malouf. Nocturnal opens with the evocation of southern winter:

A June night. Frosty stars
whirr above paddocks, breathless
treadle machines
in the pale grass hemming
sheets for a ghost dance.

The Jaeckel family would have been as surprised by the weather in Queensland as many in the northern hemisphere. They would have stood outside in the middle of the year seeing the frosty stars whirring above paddocks and scrub whitened by frost and blazing in the moonlight. And it would have felt as wrong to them as cold Decembers feel to me. Can I catch this sense of dislocation in my writing?

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Many hats

Many years ago, my thesis advisor told me that to succeed, you need to do one thing and one thing only at a time. Doing one thing with 100% attention meant that you could finish that and move onto the next thing, which you in turn fixed with your full attention. This was extremely successful for her as a brilliant historian, writer and great teacher who managed a workload that the rest of us could only dream of.

My primary incarnation at the moment is as a parent. I lost the time and ability to focus on one thing and one thing only, a very long time ago. My modus operandi is “do what you can, when you can” usually while trying to do several things at once. Its sub-theme is to ignore the steadily mounting pile of laundry waiting to be folded – I see it as an experiment in physics and the law of gravity.

Right now, one of the many things needing my attention is writing grant applications for the local school. Marburg State School has a long, proud history and parents have always been involved deeply in the school. In fact, the school, originally named Frederich, was opened in 1879 at the behest and guarantee of local parents. Children (boys and girls) attended school from about age 5 to age 13. Now, everyone goes on to high school and you need to be 16 before you can leave school.

Marburg School currently only has about 40 students in two classes: prep to year three and year four to year seven. Like many schools today, a lot of extras need to be provided through external grants and by fund-raising. Last year we received a grant to build a new playground, which is due to be installed in the next few weeks. This year we are trying to get funds for a multi-purpose sports court. So for the next few days, my writing focus is on grants rather than fiction.

However, I mentioned earlier that Carl won’t be going to school after the Jaeckels get to Queensland. In fact, none of the children will formally attend school on arrival. Whatever lessons they learn will be practical and from whatever books Sophie and Michael can borrow from neighbours. All the settlers are in the same situation so they pool resources. The focus though is work and getting the family quickly established. Education has to be put aside for the time being.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Romance versus practicality

In 1857 a man, a woman and a baby set out for Queensland from Liverpool, England. In 1869, a selection of land was made in the Rosewood Scrub – eighty acres of promise. By now the family had grown to five children. In 1871, they lost their mother and new baby. By 1872, Dad had married again and by 1873 he was a widower and a grieving father once more. Undaunted, he remarried that same year and luck was with him. Eight children later, the family was going strong. In 2007, 500 descendents of that family met in Rosewood for a family reunion including four of the grandchildren of the original settler.

Reading this story in the local newspaper made me think about attitudes to marriage. Many people today think of marriage in ideal terms of love and companionship. Even if there are children, eyebrows may be raised if a grieving husband marries again “too quickly.” The idea of remarrying quickly so that you have someone to look after the children seems a bit mercenary.

The idea of a woman as something other than a wife and mother may be the cause of such modern scruples. Social and economic conditions have also changed. As a farmer or labourer, you didn’t have many options for child-care or housekeeping. And in a close-knit rural community 130 years ago, you didn’t have many options for relationships other than marriage. And women didn’t have many choices in the financial department.

Seen in purely practical terms, if your partner died, you needed to remarry quickly. If you were a man, you needed a wife to care for the house and children, and produce more children to work with you. If you were a woman, you needed a home and a way of supporting your children. Options were pretty limited. Romance was a bonus.

This being said, there were certainly separations and other dramas. One family history lists the children who stayed with their father and the others that moved with their mother. Another refers to a child being sent to live with an uncle after their parents separated.

The faces in the photographs that fill the family histories don’t give much away, but there is a rich history beneath the surface of emotion, choices, practicality, and romance amid the realities of rural migrant life.

Monday, 11 June 2007

A cold snap

Over the weekend the temperatures fell to a low level for this part of the world. Howling winds and unusually damp air meant that air temperatures fell to the single digits. High single digits (8-9 degrees centigrade) but a challenge for us thin-blooded tropical types.

Queenslanders (the houses) are built for coolness. Windows are located to facilitate cross ventilation. Outside walls are double-skinned with timber or weatherboard cladding and vertical joists (vjs) inside. Internal walls are often single-skinned vjs. Floorboards are laid directly on the house’s structural joists. Houses are raised off the ground from low-set ones that you can just crawl under to high-set, that you can enclose for a first storey or park your car under. Louvered windows are common. Breeziness is the key.

So when cold weather comes, our traditional houses are spectacularly unsuitable. In our case, the front veranda has been enclosed to form a sunroom. You can look through cracks between the boards of the (gorgeous) hardwood floor to the ground below. When cold winds blow, you can feel the breeze whistling around you. On Friday when I was working on the computer, I had to frequently stop to sit on my hands to warm them.

On the few cold days of the year, you have a couple of options. You can go modern with reverse cycle airconditioning. You can go traditional with a cast iron wood heater and shutting up the house. Or you can just put on more clothes. We have a modern wood burning stove that heats up the house nicely when we shut all the windows and close the veranda doors. I calculate that the pollution caused by burning wood is minimal given how rarely we use it. We also don’t have an airconditioner so perhaps we are entitled to a little leeway on the carbon front.

The chill in my extremities this weekend made me think about how it would have been for early settlers in their slab huts. Basically building a slab hut meant cutting down a tree, slicing it into boards, then putting these boards, often still with bark attached, onto a frame. High-end models had tin roofs, many just used bark. Many people had small cast iron wood stoves but others relied on open fires. House fires and burns were common.

When we were looking at properties in this area, we were shown a house on the Bluff overlooking Ashwell that had what the agent grandly called “a building of some historical significance” on its land. This building was a tiny settler hut. It wasn’t much larger than a few square metres, perhaps three metres by two. It was set off the ground on stumps with a few simple steps leading up to the door. Inside it was divided into two rooms with a miniscule cast iron stove. I couldn’t even imagine it as being large enough to use as guest quarters and yet it was a home. In many of the family history books, mention is made that as soon as people could, they replaced their slab hut with a more substantial dwelling. In weather like we have had, I can understand their hurry.

*The pictures are from the State Library of Queensland archives and are free of copyright.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Notes from the library

The inaugural dinner was delightful. Good food, good music, an interesting group of like-minded people, an amusing after-dinner speaker and a compact awards ceremony. The dinner was held in the new exhibition space at the library. Ceiling mounted projectors threw images onto all the walls from the library’s film archives. There were pictures of the 1970s flood, early images of the state show, political clips and home movies.

The new State Library building is gorgeous – a great illustration of how different materials can be combined and how a modern building can still display the Queensland architectural aesthetic. Lots of open space lets the views and air float into the very centre of the building. In fact, pragmatism ever dominating, I spent some time after the dinner trying to work out exactly how the building is locked down at night. At night you stand in the light, bright airiness and look over the dark silent movement of the river to the pulsing of city lights on the opposite bank.

I suspect I lowered the average age of attendees by several years. To my pleasure, the Library Foundation award for service to Queensland history went to the Queensland Family History Society. As a result, I heard the interesting factoid that although South Australia sees itself as the “German” state, about twice as many German migrants settled in Queensland in the 1800s as did there.

The library fellowship went to Dr. Martin Buzacott, chief arts critic of the Courier Mail and former CEO of the Queensland Writers’ Centre. He will be writing a book on the history of music in Queensland and will contribute his oral history interviews and original documents unearthed to the library.

And now away from such pleasant diversions and back to everyday life and of course, to writing.

Thursday, 7 June 2007


This week: rain, sick children, the discovery that my car roof leaks (not a problem in the preceding 466 days), groceries, bills – all the paraphernalia of a normal family life.

Today: rushing around, school run, groceries bought, a pause to write a paragraph or two, dinner cooked early for small children, a babysitter, shoes polished, an expedition to unearth the ironing board.

Tonight: music, listening to a successful and possibly interesting author, good food and the need to scrub up a bit. It’s the State Library of Queensland’s inaugural annual dinner. In addition to the festivities (it’s Queensland’s 148th birthday and everyone is practicing for the 150th), they will be announcing the Library Board of Queensland award, the John Oxley Library Fellowship and a few other awards. No chance of my getting the award as I didn’t even make the short-list of interviewees but I am interested to see who does.

Tomorrow: a report on the festivities. By the way, for yesterday, Happy Birthday Queensland!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The water gods

Yesterday about six o’clock in the evening, it started raining. For a while, it was more of a mist than a rain. Only the outside lights reflected in the dampness on the steps and concrete gave you a clue that anything was happening. Later, you could hear the rain on the tin roof and then the rain started properly.

In the past, I used to love to sleep with the soothing sound of water falling in the background. Last night I kept waking and wondering at the unusual noises. By morning, the ground was sodden, the leaves drooping, everything washed clean. The rain gauge contained 50mm. It has been 466 days since we had this much rain at one time.

Many of the old Queenslander houses around here have corrugated tin roofs. It makes it impossible to be disconnected from the weather and the environment. In hot weather, the roof creaks and crackles. As the evening cools you hear the whole structure adjusting and settling. A bird on the roof is a collection of scratching, scuffling and rattles. Rain is a distinct steady tapping. Hail sounds like the end of the world.

When you do not have a reticulated water supply, a good roof and good gutters are vital. A good roof is clean – painted or brushed free of rust. Gutters are kept clear of leaves. You need to make sure that you have enough downpipes to cope with sudden flows of water. Filters on tanks need to be kept clear. When it does finally rain, you want to catch every drop of water. I knew that I had adjusted to living without town water, the first time I rushed out in a storm to clear a blocked filter. I could see precious water overflowing the filter and streaming down the outside of the tank. Dragging a ladder to the tank, I was up there in the wind and rain scooping leaves and dead frogs out of the filter. Trailing water and leaves inside, all I felt was satisfaction at the flow of water into the tank.

Tonight as darkness falls early and the rain continues, I can already see patches of light green on the paddocks. Tomorrow, whole hillsides will be plowed and seeded. This isn’t yet drought-breaking rain. 50mm is the bare minimum before you get any kind of runoff. If the rain keeps up, then empty dams might start filling. Running creeks and rivers are too much to hope for. But today, across this region, people are offering thanks to their gods.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

All about land?

According to a heritage workbook published by the Rosewood Scrub Historical Society, migration was all about land. It argues that most Europeans had no chance of ever owning land in Europe and were attracted to the readily available land in the colonies. I wondered if this was universally the case so I read a bit further. It appears that there were different eras of migration from Germany in the nineteenth century.

In fact there were three main waves of migration in this time. The first wave was from 1845-1858 and peaked in 1854 with 250,000 migrants that year alone. The second wave was from 1864-1873 and totalled one million. The third wave of migration was 1880-1885, totalling 860,000 with a quarter of those leaving in 1881.

According to Blackbourn, the first wave of migration was religious and political – old Lutherans to new colonies, Swabian Pietists to Russia, various Catholic groups to the United States. Political migrants were socialist radicals and others who lost out in the failed 1848 revolution. Economic migrants in the first wave were small peasants and craftsmen from overpopulated rural areas in the southwest of Germany. These migrants usually migrated as family groups prepared to settle in the new land. These are the types of people who would have made their way to the Rosewood Scrub.

The second wave of migration was also due to rural overpopulation, but in this case mainly in the west. From the 1860s onwards, migration sources shifted to the east and northeast with most of the migrants being single agricultural labourers and factory workers.

These migrants on arrival in Australia would most likely congregate in larger cities where labouring jobs were available rather than to settle in rural areas. I have read stories though of single male workers in the German work camps in Brisbane coming out to the towns of the Rosewood Scrub for social and church functions. It was a chance to speak German and perhaps meet a nice girl. Many of the family history books record marriages in Australia to fellow migrants or children of migrants. Many of the marriages were second or third marriages. Life wasn’t easy and having a partner was essential to survival in a new land.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Navigating change

Between 1850 and 1882, all of Germany was in a state of change. According to David Blackbourn, the process of “making Germans” was not the dramatic event preferred by historians, but a series of incremental, administrative changes that centralised power in Berlin. Banknotes, postage stamps, a flag and elections were the tools of change, rather than brute force. Better economic opportunities and more jobs were also the result of unification.

The changes were partly reflected in a redefinition of class. Blackbourn refers to the rise of the “mittelstand” or “middle estate” as a distinct lower middle class or what we would call today “small businesspeople.” These petty bourgeoisie were different from the bourgeoisie proper which were burghers (town citizens) and usually merchants rather than shopkeepers.

Blackbourn specifically identifies bakers as being on the boundary between petty and full bourgeoisie in that they were shopkeepers who saw their businesses in dynastic terms. These of the mittelstand had some capital and their own means of production yet still depended on family labour. It was a very fluid social class with some rising and some falling and the whole class acting as a “social buffer zone” between the middle and working classes.

I don’t think I will be writing about class in the book as young readers don’t, or shouldn’t, have an understanding of such things. Australian and American readers in particular don’t perceive themselves in terms of class, though of course such distinctions still exist. However, it is useful to read of these things in order to be able to place the Jaeckels in their context as small businesspeople navigating their way in a period of immense social, political and administrative change.

Friday, 1 June 2007

The plot so far

The Jaeckels live in Marburg, Germany. The year is 1866. Michael Jaeckel has been a baker in Marburg his whole life. Everything the family owns and does is bound up in their bakery on the main street of Marburg, in the shadow of the ancient church, Elizabethkirke.

Germany is in a time of change. Michael and his wife Sophie have continued to run the bakery while their oldest son, Anders, was away at war. It isn’t a war that they ever thought would directly affect them. The Prussians are fighting the Austrians and the Hessen state has thrown its lot with their southern neighbours, the Austrians. Otto von Bismarck is the Prussian prime minister and he is determined to bring about a Germany united under Prussian leadership. Between 1862 and 1871 there are three wars: the Prussian-Austrian alliance against Denmark, the Prussian war with Austria over the expulsion of Austria from a united Germany and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.

Anders is his father’s apprentice and is greatly missed at the bakery. When he returns, the whole family thinks that things will go back to the busy, normal routine. However, the Prussian government has decided to make Marburg its regional seat. Nobody in Marburg thinks of themselves as German. If they think about such things, they would say that they are Hessen. This top-down imposition of German identity is difficult for everyone.

Anders doesn’t particularly support the Austrians. Most of his friends are locals. As an army cook though the Prussians have spent a lot of time attacking him, or at least his troop. So he doesn’t particularly like Prussians especially when they come to town to organise things. The Prussians aren’t very keen on southerners in general. They specifically dislike southerners with outside loyalties, like Catholics, labour activists and even southern Protestants.

The Jaeckel family have a distinctively local name, a son who fought on the Austrian side and a thriving business. To successfully continue the business, they need to publicly support the Prussian government and they are finding it hard to do this.

Everyone in the family is involved in the business. Sophie runs the shop with the help of teenaged Anna. Carl at ten still goes to school but delivers bread before and after school. Emilie at eight helps in the shop but is mainly still at school. Things become uncomfortable for them and business starts declining.

They start hearing stories about friends and family members who are migrating. Most are going to America, but they have heard that the colony of Queensland in Australia, is keen for skilled workers. The local colonial agent tells them about the benefits of migration – the subsidised passage and land available on their arrival. Michael, Sophie and Anders are confident that with their baking skills and knowledge, they could settle anywhere. So the decision is made. They will pack up their lives, sell their shop and head for the unknown southern colony.