Tuesday, 31 July 2007

A dream of wagons

Icicles on tricycles, polar bears with wings,
Snowflakes on rollerskates and snowmen that sing.
These are things we dream about on cold winter nights
Icicles riding tricycles in the moonlight.

These are the dreams of Amy, Morgan, Lulu and the Bananas in Pyjamas. Singing along to this tune today I suddenly remembered my own dream of the night before. I was in my car, late for something as usual. My anxiety level was ratcheting up as we climbed the hill. I was stuck behind a wide German wagon, laden with hay, being driven slowly and determinedly along the road. I remember wondering if the wagon had right of way, or if I was entitled to overtake. This morning on the school run, I had a flash of déjà vu with two horses pulling racing sulkies (if I have my terminology correct) along the road. Knowing that animals have right of way, I followed being until very carefully pulling out and overtaking, shaking my head at just how different my life has become.

I’m pleased though that I am dreaming about German wagons. Even my sub-conscious must be on board for this project. Or I am just becoming obsessed.

A notice dropped into my mailbox a few days ago announcing that the power will be shut off all day on August 10. My first thought was that I wouldn’t be able to use the computer. Much later came the thought that being winter, it should be fine having the fridge and freezer off for the day. Much, much later came the thought that there will be no water that day either and that it will require some preparation. With tank water, you have to use a pump to get the water from the tanks into the house and to provide pressure. No electricity means no water and definitely no pressure. Being unable to write and blog on that day will be the very least of my problems.

Monday, 30 July 2007

The writer's life

The dogs next door are howling. Usually I have no idea what sets them off, but in this case I do. Sitting down to write this afternoon I glanced out my window to see one of our neighbour’s horses grazing cheerfully in the garden. I am somewhat intimidated by horses, having no idea how they will react or how to handle them.

My initial plan was to lure the horse down the hill. Sadly, all I did was manage to lure all the neighbour’s horses over to press against the fence, begging for food. My second plan was to go get my neighbour to fetch her own horse.

In another life, another world, I would quietly go and knock on my neighbour’s door. I would ask politely how they were and indicate what I was there for. With three dogs roaming the house yard and two chained outside, I abandoned all such city standards for the expedient of standing behind the barn yelling my neighbour’s name. This is what set the dogs off. I may be somewhat intimidated by horses, but I find the kind of dog that crouches low and bays deep in their chest totally terrifying so there was no way I was going any closer.

Unable to make human contact, I left the dogs barking and clambered home over several gates. A rope harness was lying on the ground so I borrowed it with the idea that I might be able to do something. I would have simply left the horse grazing except that two things strongly motivate me to action: threat to my children and threat to my garden. And my garden is looking particularly nice right now.

I have learnt several things today and was reminded of another. One is that horses, even quite young ones, don’t object too much to having a rope slipped over their head. Even if the “slipper” is internally trembling. Another is that if you are leading a horse and it takes off down a steep gravel driveway at speed “Let go of the rope!” I did so and survived to write this tale.

Having cleared the driveway, I shut our front gate and contemplated leaving the horse on the road. Charity and common-sense prevailed and I trotted along behind the horse: it with halter trailing, me chanting “I can do this, I can do this” and “Keep moving horsey.” Somehow I managed to persuade it into its own driveway and shut the gate behind it. I tried then to catch it to remove the halter but failed miserably there. So I left it. After all it didn’t seem to slow it down on the driveway or road.

I hope the neighbours notice the shut gate when they return.

Returning panting and triumphant home, I spend forty minutes convincing my son to go back to sleep. I had thought he was asleep but he hates to miss any action and had spent twenty minutes howling for me. Having got me, he wasn’t going to let go easily.

And my reminder? The phone rings “Hello Blithe the Horse Musterer …” It’s another neighbour. Nothing is secret in the country.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

"And so on..."

One of the few mentions in “The Long Farewell” of German migration is a comment on the difference between the gender segregated British ships and the German mixed-gender accommodation. An 1858 enquiry in Sydney as to conditions on board ship resulted in the testimony that mixed accommodation on board ship was extremely injurous to the “moral condition of the migrants.” According to Adolf Shadler, second mate on a German ship “I know for certain that every one [of the forty young girls on board] left the ship as a prostitute.” (p. 122)

Shadler further testified that the girls all belonged to families yet “all mingled on the ‘tween decks; there was no division…the girls used to dined with the sailors in the forecastle, and were constantly there, mending their clothes, and so on…”

The next question was whether the “effect was to demoralize them?”

Shadler affirmed this positively: “I know that four of those girls were common prostitutes in Adelaide.”

It is unclear if the demoralisation came from the moral depravity or the constant housework.

Charlwood quotes extensively from this enquiry but does not analyse these assertions, saying only that: “One cannot suppose that the results would have been any different on an unsegregated British ship. Incarcerate scores of men and women in a ship at sea for three or four months; subject them to fear of shipwreck; allow them no privacy and the outcome is easily predictable.” Charlwood adds that conditions and results were similar on the Atlantic run to the Australian. Apparently the Germans and Americans shared similar morals and disciplinary standards.

Thank goodness for the British.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007


“The Long Farewell” has been very disappointing – not even a trenchcoat, gangster or private detective in sight. More seriously, it has a couple of strikes against it. The focus of the book is on English migration. I knew this before starting it, but its relentless focus is a little disheartening considering the many migrants from around the world who came to Australia’s shores in the nineteenth century. The book is also subtitled “Settlers under sail” which is a little misleading. Perhaps this disappointment is less the fault of the author than of my own expectations. I had hoped that the material would be generalisable to German migration and I had seen breathless endorsements of this book on genealogy pages and elsewhere.

It is also very much a book aimed at the general reader with a focus on description rather than critical analysis. I am not as comfortable with descriptive history as I am with other forms of historical writing, having had critical analysis drilled into my very bones. Again, this is a problem with me, rather than the author.

Finally, I can’t even find the book, which is a clear sign of my disappointment. I have about three or four locations for books that are currently in use – each side of the computer, beside the bed and beside the sofa. Whatever I’m in the midst of reading gets shifted around the house with me until it gets finished. Good books pile up beside the computer where I can reach them as I write. Dizzying towers are built and I am thinking of building a shelf over the computer so I can line up everything currently in use within easy reach. The book is in none of these places so my disappointment has clearly manifested itself in displacement.

A rigourous search turned up the book hiding on top of a bookshelf where books go only when they are not in use and library books should never venture (don’t tell the kids that I violated the house rules!). I am determined to overcome my prejudices and give it a second chance. Then, I am going to hunt down a couple of books that focus on German migration and also plan my trip to the John Oxley Library.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Communication past and present

In an average week I have about an hour to an hour and a half in any given day to do what I call “thinking work” that is, anything that requires concentration and focused effort. Many days I find myself debating how to spend this precious resource. Do I blog, work on the novel, read the newspaper, do some work on the website development for the community group, write to family or friends, work on photographs and graphics (a side hobby of mine), or just sit back with a cup of coffee and a novel or the latest Sudoku? Hey I never said that I was totally dedicated to writing. Note that nowhere in this list is housework – thinking time is too precious to waste on that. Some days I don’t even get this time. It is a gift of the great friend of parents – the napping child. I figure that when my children are 18, then they can decide for themselves whether to nap. Until then I jealously guard my time and I have fairly happy, well-rested children.

Today I spent most of this time talking on the phone to a friend in Minnesota. It was lovely to catch up on all the news: babies, weddings, weather and family dramas. Modernity may have some things to answer for, but being able to pick up the telephone and share the life of the friend living a day behind you is one of its pleasures. When my parents first lived in Asia in the 1960s, international phone calls involved physically going to the exchange, booking the call and waiting, sometimes for several days, for a line to become available. Once, the operator couldn’t even find New Zealand on the map and accused my parents of making a mistake with the destination. Travelling involved ships and several leisurely weeks. Most communication was via mail. Today, do most of us even know what an aerogramme is?

If moving overseas was such a big step in the 1960s, can you imagine what it was like in the 1860s and 1870s? Any exchange of communication involved waiting four months each way for the message. In eight plus months, any information was old and many circumstances changed. Sometimes, the writer had died before the message reached its recipient. For many of the German families, the whole family migrated as a group including children, adult siblings and grandparents. There was no-one to write home to. It really was a major life decision to step onto that ship and travel to the other side of the world. In some ways, it might have been easier to have no contact. Once you were in Australia regret might stir, but it wouldn’t be prodded by contact with home. In other ways, it might have been the single most difficult experience of their lives.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Land, tree and house-scapes

Having written about the landscape last week, I was very aware as I drove around this weekend of the vistas around me. The weather was stunning, we bought that chainsaw and have been basking in the warmth of our fire, and we saw some lovely places. After running around all day on Saturday, we swung by Kholo Botanical Gardens – simply because it is close and we have never been there. It perches above the Brisbane River with trees and gardens belying the fact that it was only a Bicentennial Project (1988).

The first picture is a distant shot of the Brisbane River. If you can ignore the power pole, the forested hills and river look much as they would have to early settlers making their way upstream.

I don’t know how old this fig tree is, but it is an example of the large fig trees native to this area. Many farms in the Rosewood Scrub still have fig trees in their house yards, often towering over houses. I see them as almost the perfect Swiss Family Robinson tree.

The final two pictures are of a historic building in the gardens that is being restored by the council (and being put out to tender as a function centre). Although some of its features are clearly reproductions (and I’m not sure how authentic the carriage lamps are), you can get a feel of what a colonial house would look like. These are the types of houses built as soon as families had settled into the area and absorbed the local architectural vernacular. The wide verandas are a particular feature of Queensland colonial architecture.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Exotic landscapes

An overseas friend wrote that the landscape here is like nothing she has ever seen and wondered how it would appear to German migrants and what would entice them to make the momentous decision to migrate. For most migrants, the appeal of Queensland was the land and the inducements offered by the Queensland colonial agent. Many of the provinces in Germany had individual agents and the provincial governments were represented in Australia as well.

The colonial government decided at a very early stage to try to attract German migrants for their work ethic and family cohesion that arose out of their cultural and religious background. Agents were sent to Germany to publicise promises of free or subsidised passage and the land selection scheme on their arrival. Of course, there was something in it for the agents. The current official residence of Queensland’s governor, was built by Johann Heussler.

Heussler was a German migrant himself before becoming a successful businessman in Melbourne and late Brisbane. He was at various times through the 1860s to 1880s, the Hamburg agent for the colony of Queensland, Consul for the Netherlands and Consul for the Imperial German Empire.

As far as I can tell, he not only publicised the colony and the range of migration and land “packages” offered by the government but also arranged sponsored migration, that is, migration paid for by someone in Queensland looking for labourers for a set period of time. After the period of indenture was served, these migrants were free to take up other labour contracts or buy land. Obviously, a percentage was charged for such commissions and judging by the house built by Heussler, business was brisk.

According to a website on German-Australia migration, there was a wealth of information available to migrants from pamphlets(including Heussler’s own Kurze Beschreibung der Kolonie Queensland, to migration newspapers such as the Deutsche Auswanderer-Zeitung (1852-1875), to emigration associations such as Raphaels-werk. Raphaels-werk is a Catholic agency established in Hamburg in 1871 to assist migrants and ensure their wellbeing. After temporary closure by the Nazis, it continues its work today under the banner of Caritas. And of course, migrants wrote home describing life in Queensland.

Freidrich Müller, he of good advice about spouses, wrote to an editor: “During the second and third years I was able to save enough for cattle and good horses. Today I have ten horses and fifty cows, as well as pigs, hens, geese etc. Dear Editor, where in Germany could we acquire all that?”

Reading endorsements such as these, who would not be tempted to migrate?

Whether the weather?

Just in case there are those of you who doubt my assertion of the cold temperatures here and cast aspersions on my chill tolerance (the word “wuss” has been mentioned), may I draw your attention to the following
ABC news story
of yesterday? The weather bureau’s Greg Connors said “Not since 1941 have we had such a long cold spell…” and he continues “we think as Friday and Saturday approaches it’s going to get even colder.” Mentioned in the article as a particularly cold spot is Amberley, home to a large RAAF airbase, and about 20 kilometres from here towards Ipswich as the F-111 flies.

The current cold aside, I am curious as to what the spring and summer of 1941 were like. Then I could decide whether to even think about continuing work on the garden and tree planting. If they were hot and dry, then I’ll just concentrate on other things. My hope is for rain and lots of it. My plan for this weekend is chainsaw shopping.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

A good spouse?

I have decided that I would be a failure as a settler. Several things have convinced me. First, with the cold wind and temperatures, I took to my bed to read in the middle of the day. I can’t imagine any good German wife sitting in bed in the middle of the day, reading of all things. It was so cold that I had to keep alternating the hand holding the book. On the plus side, I was reading about migration to Australia and not just a trashy novel.

Then, with overnight temperatures forecast to descend to -2C, I boldly went out and surveyed the woodpile. We are running pretty low on wood, so have been making do with adding layers of clothing. Yes, the stuffed sausage look is very in this year.

I am hopeless at chopping wood with an axe. I think it must be a matter of technique rather than muscle or height as my 4’9” mother-in-law competently chops her own wood. On the other hand she has being German in her favour. Lower back pain doesn’t help my technique so I took the shameful route of using the bow saw. My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter how I slice the wood as long as I get it approximately the right size.

The main task once land was selected by the new migrants was clearing the trees and vines. Competence with axes, saws and other paraphernalia was prized. Everyone worked from early in the morning until they ran out of light. I find it hard to imagine how hard everyday life was. My brother and his family live in a developing nation and find that the work required to accomplish daily tasks is of such magnitude that it is hard to find time for the agricultural development work they are trying to do. Getting water, making fires, acquiring food, cooking food and keeping clean take most of every day. Not for them, and not for 19th century migrants, the luxury of reading, writing, lighting a fire just for the sake of warmth or even finding out the weather forecast via the internet.

According to Friedrich Müller writing about pioneer life in the Rosewood Scrub, “Anybody without a capable spouse would be well advised to stay in the city.” I suspect in his eyes as well as my own, I would be a city gal. The next time my partner hopefully mentions the word “chainsaw” my response will be in the affirmative. I will however, decline to purchase it from the salesman whose main sales pitch was that “even a woman could handle their saws.” I am ascribing my incompetence to lack of experience rather than gender.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Beauty versus comfort

Today is the fortnightly visit of the mobile library to town so I should be able to pick up the book I requested “The Long Farewell” by Don Charlwood. I keep thinking of it as “The Long Goodbye” and have visions of German migrants in trenchcoats lurking in dark corners. It is one of the definitive texts on early migration to Australia so it should fill in a lot of background for me especially now that I have more of a grasp of the subject myself.

I am typing while kneeling on the floor in front of the computer – cold and hard on the knees with the wind whistling beneath but my creaky back seems temporarily happy. And the supplicatory position seems to appeal to the computer. My desk chair is aesthetically pleasing but ergonomically unsound. If I am to write every day, I will need something more suitable. I plan to look around for one while uttering apologies to my great-grandfather who so carefully crafted the chair and to the god of aesthetics for disdaining it. It just proves that history is not always kind, nor conducive to the computer age.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Photo Day

I have been trying to take my camera with me whenever I go out. Sometimes I forget or don't have time to stop. Below are some images of things I have mentioned in recent posts.

The beautiful and slightly eccentric Tallegalla cemetary. Note how the graves undulate with the terrain.

A crisp winter morning at the forestry plot at Marburg State School. Most of these trees were planted in 1928 in Queensland's first school-based forestry plot.

The new play equipment has now been installed at the school thanks to our federal government grant. It arouses strong feelings in some viewers but the kids love it.

I have a bit of a thing about fences. I love their demarcation of territory and the strong lines they add to the landscape, defining a view or leading the eye over the contours. Here, a fence divides the back of the school grounds and a neighbouring farm.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Representations in brief

The cold meeting (or rather the meeting in the cold, as the atmosphere itself was cordial) on Monday night was to discuss options for developing a website for Marburg. Amongst other things, we tried to come up with ideas for a logo for the Residents’ Association. As many governments and organizations have discovered, selecting a single image to represent a place, thing or group is never easy.

So far we have two suggestions: a stylised representation of the community hall (a historic former bank building on one of the prime/only business corners in town) and a stylised image of a scrub turkey. The second idea is drawn from the fact that tallegalla appears to be an aboriginal name for said turkey.

Thinking about things that might represent Marburg, there seem to be several categories.

1. Nature:
bush turkey, local vegetation (crow’s ash nut, hoop pine, other?)
2. Built Environment:
community hall, Queenslander house
3. Landscape:
hills, valley and Black Snake Creek
4. Historical:
German wagon, post and rail fencing, something to do with farming.

One thing we did agree at the meeting, that we ourselves do not have the graphic design skills required develop the “essential aesthetic details.” Opinionated we may be, but not adequately artistically talented. It will be interesting to see and hear what images represent Marburg in the minds of other people. It could be a good exercise in community communication and self-understanding.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Selecting the scrub

As you approach Marburg from the east, driving from Ipswich or Brisbane, you pass through the river plains and by Blacksoil. The mountain ranges separating you from Brisbane march along to the right of your peripheral vision and flat land spreads out to either side. Almost unnoticeably the road begins to climb until a long steep slope sweeps you past Haigslea and into the hills. Making a sharp turn off the highway, you descend into the Marburg valley. Black Snake Creek and assorted swampy patches mark the town’s centre. At the main intersection (pub, community centre, corner shop, post office cum real estate cum antique store) you look west to see the road rising sharply from the valley floor, climbing back up to meet the highway partway up the hill.

Driving from the north, you wend your way through various tiny townships, following the course of Black Snake Creek until you enter the Marburg valley. To your west and east are the hills. Traversing the valley you start to climb again to the hills of Tallegalla. Over these hills, you drop sharply past the coalmines to the wide floodplain of the Bremer River and its associated towns, Rosewood, Grandchester, Amberley airbase and points further south.

From the west, you cross the fertile salad bowl of the Lockyer Valley. Travelling at 100 kph you speed through Plainlands and Hattonvale. Across your windscreen spreads a scrubby stain of hills slashed by the climbing highway. Over the first low range you descend again into the Minden valley before climbing steadily and finally dropping into the Marburg Valley. Smoothly accelerating past the labouring trucks, I always think of the early settlers, getting out of their wagons and later their cars, so that the climb over the hills could be made. Cutting across the highway, you open your window and undulate slowly down into the valley, passing hoop pines, old houses, frangipani and bouganvillea-festooned fences. It feels as if you have entered a different world simply by leaving the highway.

This Rosewood Scrub, bracketed by the more fertile Plainlands and Blacksoil was the least valuable land, at least in the eyes of Queensland land selectors. These hills were the leavings with the plains being the preferred choice. Yet the irony today is that the farms so painstakingly cleared from the scrub are prime real estate. The hills harbour judges, retired real estate moguls, medical specialists, retired academics, accountants, builders, architects, professionals of all kinds. Long-time residents co-exist with “tree-changers.” Many of these new residents are active in community organisations with new ideas and ways of doing things. Some write blogs. Generally, conflict is avoided or at least, no more than in any other small town. It is clear though that the Rosewood Scrub has changed greatly over time.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Sickness: sea and otherwise

Maybe it was the chilling effect of the cemetery, sitting in a cold hall for nearly 2 hours on Monday night or a reaction to frantic busyness, but colds and flu have engulfed my household. It seems to be the kind of illness that turns the brain to mush (unless that is the encroachment of age.) Writing and research have been low on my list with staying upright being the overwhelming priority.

One thing I have been doing is leafing through my borrowed collection of family histories looking at accounts of shipboard life. There is very little information about what life on board ship was actually like so one has to extrapolate from newspaper accounts. One family history does mention a broken mast and the ship drifting backwards for days before a new mast could be installed. Others mention shipboard illnesses.

According to the Brisbane Courier of January 22, 1873, the Lammershagen has in steerage “a clear width of 17 feet [5 metres] between the rows of bunks, and the between decks has a clear height of 7 feet 8 inches [2.2 metres]. This, we think equals the steerage passenger accommodation of the majority of immigrant vessels of this size trading to Queensland.”

This account makes the space allotted in steerage to be almost pleasant but a description of ships bound for South Australia published by the South Australian Maritime Museum suggests otherwise.

“The horror and or amazement of most to find that their world for at least the next three to four months was to comprise the area of the number of bunks allowed their family and a space at a rough trestle table along the centre of the quarters, is impossible to convey in print. The total area comprised the bunks and a few feet of space alongside one side of the bunks and the space under the lower berth - about as much as is allowed these days in economy class sleeping berths on long distance trains! Here the migrant family was to exist on a voyage expected to take at best about 100 days! The suggestion is completely beyond the comprehension of most present day travellers.”

An interesting source I found on the web contains diaries of migrants bound for New Zealand between 1842 and 1892. From the accounts I read, shipboard life seemed to consist mainly of sea-sickness, arguments between passengers, discussion of food and the occasional sighting of other ships or of interesting marine life. I plan to read more of these online accounts to help me build up a picture of everyday life on board ship.

Monday, 9 July 2007

“Hier ruhet in Gott”

Working through my list of things to do on a cold and busy weekend, I have decided where I want to be buried. It wasn’t originally on the “to do” list, but death, or at least the commemoration of it, inserted itself.

We had a weekend house guest – a graduate school friend of mine who is now in Hong Kong. I think he had a significant degree of culture shock coming to Marburg. He couldn’t believe the size of our house (which is rather small by local standards) or the open space around the house. He thinks that about 3000 people would live on a similar area in Hong Kong. And to live in a house surrounded by gardens requires trillionaire status there.

He wanted to know what my children do in their holidays: “Do they go to holiday camp? Or some classes perhaps?” My children read, play, run around, squabble, dig holes, play horses, make gardens, create sand sculptures, have friends over, play in the cubby house, laze in the hammock, come shopping with me, eat a lot, walk, watch television, colour in, make elaborate paper creations…the list goes on. Did I mention squabbling? It takes up a lot of time and energy.

Since we moved here I have planned to visit the Tallegalla cemetery but as always, it took having a visitor to make the effort. High on the hills between Marburg and Rosewood it is a spectacular site. Old tombstones mix with new plaques. Mown grass with newly installed gardens. The backdrop is the sweeping hills of the Little Liverpool range, the Marburg valley and the distant D’Aguilar Ranges.

The ten acres of land were donated by the Freemans for use as a cemetery in 1876. Several of the early tombstones are entirely in German. The names on the headstones are those of families I encounter in my everyday life, many of whom have streets named after them. Organisation seems to be by family rather than date. One corner is entirely dominated by generations of one family, other families cluster across the hillside. The saddest grave was that of two little boys. One died in 1891 at six months of age. The other died aged six, within a year of his brother.

Many of the tombstones were difficult to read. Weather has worn away inscriptions, lichen grows on some. On others, covered domes of wax flowers grow their own crop of exotic lichens. Some domes are broken and stones cracked. My daughter couldn’t work out why several graves were covered in bones. Closer examination revealed it to be a layer of white coral gruesomely resembling bones.

I think that I would like to be buried there. I know that I won’t be appreciating the view, the breezes, the sunshine and quiet, but I like to think that people visiting the grave would have this benediction.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Nomenclature and local sources

Yesterday there were the “dangers” of blogging. Today there are some of the joys: new connections; new information; new sources; inspiration. An avid local historian wrote to me about the issue of using the correct name for Marburg in the 1800s. He suggested that neither Frederick nor Marburg were commonly in use, even in the 1880s. This conclusion was based on the fact that in November 1882, William Dobson wrote in his diary that no-one was able to direct him to Marburg when he landed in Brisbane. When he finally mentioned the phrase “Rosewood Scrub” people immediately told him to take the train to Walloon or Rosewood.

My correspondent also said that the application for the school in 1876 was under the name of the Rosewood Scrub and the school was to be at Sally Owens’ Plain.

I was under the mistaken impression that the Rosewood Scrub was a fairly generic term and that its use by the historical society (based in Marburg) indicated tactful inclusiveness. In fact, it is probably the most historically accurate and widely used name for this area.

Arriving in the early 1870s, the Jaeckels will land at Moreton Bay, spend some time in Nundah at the German mission, then head for the Rosewood Scrub and specifically the area of Sally Owens’ Plain. They will be early arrivals to the area as the scrub was opened to German settlers in 1872. They will be able to contribute greatly to a new settlement.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Beware the blog

A friend wrote recently about the amount of time she spends blogging. This fortunately isn’t a danger for me, as my time is strictly limited. When exactly will the children leave home? I have found though that the temptation is to write my post rather than to sit down and research or write some of the novel.

People do respond differently when you tell them that you have a blog. I rarely talk to my brother, fond though I am of him, because he lives in Central Asia. Conversational exchanges are limited by the availability of phone lines, electricity and general vagaries of survival in a very much “less developed nation.” Recently we had a rare clear line and a rarer long conversation. Between discussions of bureaucracy, rats, cultural differences and our respective offspring, I mentioned that I had a blog, in reply to why I rarely email nowadays. His immediate response was concern about preventing people taking my ideas. I pointed out that the story itself isn’t on the blog, just some of the things I have found out and thoughts about the process itself. Even if the information is used, the same novel wouldn’t be produced. And I told him and remind you that all the material on this site is copyright. He still seemed very doubtful about the whole process. Given that he is moving to a place where he will require a satellite system or carrier pigeons to connect to the outside world, I don’t think he will be a devoted reader.

Other friends respond with vague horror: “I never thought you were the blogging type.” Or even worse, sympathy poured out towards my partner as the non-blogging half. Apparently a blogging partner is a contemporary form of trauma.

On the strength of my blogging I have also been asked to help out with the design and content of the Marburg Residents’ Association webpage. Another example of the dangers thereof.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Tipping points

I often wonder if I am insane trying to do research and writing around caring for young children. Self-doubt usually coincides with such things as school holidays so I am reassuring myself that my sanity is only teetering, not gone. Today, things are in full swing for my children hosting their first ever sleepover – five children in one bedroom. I’m wondering if the house will fall off its stumps.

I’m focusing my efforts now on trying to find material on the migrant experience. The internet abounds with material for people seeking factual data such as names of relatives, ship names and exact dates of migration. The hobby of genealogy has been good for getting information on the web. If you are looking for general material, description rather than passenger lists, information is more scarce. Much of the more detailed material such as diaries, shipboard accounts or ship masters’ records still lies in actual archives and requires more effort to acquire it. I have requested several books that give an overview of migrant and marine history through our local library service. These should arrive next time the mobile library comes to town. And I will have to spend some time in the John Oxley Library looking at some of the diaries and other records in the archives.

I’m at the point of wondering how much material I should look at before I write more of the narrative. As a researcher, one never feels as if one has enough material. As a writer, I am itching to get going. There is a particular point that you have to push on to, when you finally have the sense that you are teetering on the edge, much like the line between sanity and insanity. At this point, you just stop looking for more information and start writing. Until you reach that point, you don’t know where it is, but in everything I have ever written, I have come to that point. I don’t think I am quite there yet.

On the question of the school P & C’s history, my correspondent has come through with information supporting my statement that there has always been a school committee. J.L. Frederich was the first chairman starting in 1879, followed by George Dobson. Frederich then became secretary. In 1882, the education department required the school’s head teacher, Mr. Freeman to have another committee elected because of intense “disputation.” Freeman had enough of the politics and headed off to Nerang. I would have to read the school’s file at the State Archives to find out what happened to the dispute and the disputees. The committee didn’t become a P & C until the 1960s in an effort to involve citizens rather than just parents.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007


After a week of rain and cloud in Sydney, I feel dazzled today by the sunshine. I took some reading materials and many thoughts with me on holiday and return having done gloriously nothing. Walking, catching trains everywhere, window shopping in the “big smoke”, eating huge amounts of Asian food, catching up with friends and family – it was a great holiday. I think the children have sprung up in height in just a week with all the sleep, exercise and food.

In spite of all the eating that took place, I feel light having returned home. There’s something about shedding layers of clothing, remembering what your limbs look like and feeling air on your skin that is decadent. In Minnesota, I was amazed how people appeared with bare legs on the first day above freezing after winter. After a few years there, I realised why people did it although I personally set my exposure temperature around 20C. Simply feeling air moving on your skin is such a treat. Wearing sunglasses on one of the few sunny days in Sydney, a friend commented that my family are such Queenslanders now. Only then did I realise that no-one else outside the café was wearing sunglasses.

My father likes to tease me about having become a hayseed living in rural Queensland. One of the great things about this trip to Sydney was that I realised that I do truly feel at home here. I even took the luggage tag off the suitcase and wrote our home address on it. A small thing, but for the last thirty-plus years, I have always had an address in Sydney -- the permanent address of a relative through which I can be reached.

After five years here, I truly feel like it is home. I wonder if there is research on how long it takes to feel at home in a place. If so, the Jaeckels have a long way to go.