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.

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