Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Fabulous flora

I’ve been thinking about how different and strange the plants in Australia must have seemed to German eyes. I’ve written about how odd the greenness and lushness of European and Midwestern American foliage appeared to my eyes. Similarly Australia’s native forests must have disconcerted many on arrival.

In the spareness of much native flora, there is an elusive beauty. There is the appreciation of the many shades of subtle green. There are the sometimes astonishing changes with season. There are the distinct beauties of texture (new bark versus old bark, fruiting nuts and dried cases, fluffy flowers), form (sinuous curves, twiggy outcrops, reaching for the sky) and there are the changing colours of leaf, bark and flower.

I have to interject here a family anecdote about my grandparents’ trip to America in the 1960s. They visited relatives on the East Coast and also spent some time in Texas. Taken touring there by a local, all the gum trees were pointed out to them with great pride as “you probably ain’t used to our eucalypts.” The Texan gentleman refused to believe my grandfather’s assertions that eucalypts are native to Australia and that he indeed was used to them.

Every year the lemon scented gum in our garden changes almost overnight. One day it is a stately brown clad matron. The next it seems to burst out of its skin, shrugging pinkish bark off in tatters to reveal pure ivory flesh which shades to green in the sunlight. Then slowly over months, it shrouds itself again.

These changes have become part of the fabric of our lives but the first cycle was astonishing. Imagine if you had never seen such changes. All trees changes with seasons but many trees here are not deciduous. If they lose leaves, it is often linked to available water, not temperature. Many trees that are deciduous elsewhere are not so here. And many native trees do look sparse as they struggle to conserve moisture in narrow waxy leaves or spines.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Marburg madness

The last few days have been a whirl of Marburg-related activity starting with African drumming and an art show on Friday night, progressing through a day of festivities and a street parade, jumping to a Monday opening ceremony for the new school playground. Politicians have been much in evidence. It’s not that long till November 24 and there are babies to be kissed, hands to be shaken and names to forget. Between the federal elections this year and local council elections coming in March, support is running high for local projects and we are grateful, though our votes are not for sale. I haven’t decided yet if it is more or less ethical to take money with no intention of voting for the donor.

Friday night and Saturday were the second annual Black Snake Creek Festival. Perhaps out of gratitude for our offering a festival in its name, or perhaps in response to the enthusiastic drumming, heavy overnight rain last night meant that the creek was running this morning. I have never seen water flowing in the creek so it was quite exciting (when I could take my eyes off the somewhat treacherous driving conditions long enough to admire it.)

Getting back to the festival. It was wonderful to see the community enjoying themselves, mingling under trees in the park and greeting friends. Too often people bemoan the decline of small towns and don’t take time to celebrate the good things – knowing people, having an occasion to celebrate, showcasing local organisations and talent. There was music all day on the bandstand, craft workshops for the kids, face painting, food, land care displays, art, stalls, a parade and food.

Can I mention the fabulous Marburger here? Lettuce, tomato, beetroot, meat patty, bacon, fried onions, egg and sauce on a bun. I think my hands finally are rid of the smell of onion after a mid-morning onion crisis led to on-site rapid onion peeling and slicing. The local school hamburger stall is the main food purveyor at the festival and it is our most successful fundraiser of the year. We sell burgers from 6pm till late on the Friday night and 10am till late on the Saturday. It is an amazing amount of work, but the camaraderie and rewards are great.

Sunday, all of Marburg drowsed in post-festival exhaustion and heavy humidity. The official forecast was for a slight chance of a storm. Old-timers predicted heavy rain and they were right. Nature put on a magnificent display.

Now as I write I am deafened by the frogs having their own celebration. Rain in the Scrub is always followed by the sound of frogs and the tang of smoke. Locals take the chance to burn off rubbish when there is less danger of fires escaping and the frogs are just happy and warming up for their own carnivale.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Pinging off

In a fine piece of academic work coached in language we can all understand, the University of Queensland’s Dr. Toni Johnson-Woods has drawn similarities between colonial exploitation of Australia and the potential excesses of space exploration.

Dr. Johnson-Woods argues that there is a belief that other planets are there to be exploited for the benefit of humankind.

“The focus is on exploitation of the minerals. Basically, it’s just Australia all over again…You go out like the British did to Australia, you take everything you bloody can out of a place, and then you ping off.”

I wonder if that is the attitude held by early migrants: that they were coming to Australia for what they could get. On the other hand, unlike British colonisers, most were here to stay so they did have a vested interest in caring for their environment.

Looking at a photograph of early sugar cane farming in Marburg, I was reminded of Johnson-Woods’ comments. The hills are covered in heavy scrub, but the plains are totally cleared and planted with sugar cane. You can only imagine the labour required to do this, and the total refashioning of the ecosystem from dense forest to cleared farmland. Trees were felled, stumps were burnt and grubbed out. Such land-clearing practices as Sir Joh’s (former Queensland premier and advocate of nature serving man) favourite chain between pairs of bulldozers would have aroused envy.

It’s easy to look back and criticise, but I also have to remember that migrants were bound by law to clear a certain percentage of their land in order to retain their land grants. And that Queensland was built on exploitation of natural resources. For me it is about whether we see the natural world existing to serve humans or if we are merely a part of that world with certain duties of care.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Slices of life

Life has been a little hectic in the Blithe household between pupil-free days, childhood fevers, coughs and middle of the night disturbances, various meetings, paperwork for the extension and just the everyday rush of a household. You may have noticed the abbreviated late night postings. Not much writing has been done and to be honest, not a lot of thinking either.

One thing that has been on my mind has been an interview I read in the Weekend Australian of multiple Man Booker prize nominee Anita Desai and her daughter, Kiran, who won the prize last year. I was fascinated by Anita’s description of how she trained herself only to write when her children were not at home. As soon as they went to school she started writing and it was all put away by the time they got home in the afternoon. During school holidays her work was put away entirely. Her perspective was that “They hated seeing my manuscripts or published books. They would be upset if they saw my name in book reviews. They thought that if you are a mother, that is all you should be. They had to grow up before they could bear it.”

Kiran’s perspective is illuminating. She felt that “My mother’s books appeared as if by magic. She kept her writing very private – we barely knew she was doing it…I was completely unconscious as a child of how hard it was for her to produce her work.”

I appreciate these slices of other people’s lives. They show that the world over, you either write or you don’t. If it is important to you, then it is something you do, whatever it takes. If this book is really something that I want to do, then I will find a way to do it in spite of, or perhaps because of all the other things in my life. On that note, I’d better do something about dinner.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

First huts

Browsing around the archives of Picture Queensland, I came across this wonderful image dated 1880. I don’t know if it was a postcard designed to send home to those in Germany or if it was part of some official literature about what to expect in Queensland. It is tentatively labelled as being in Rosewood and has the printed caption “ Erste Wohnhutte eines Deutschen Ansiedlers” or “First hut of a German settler.”

The picture is clearly posed. All the family are out the front of the house in their best clothes. One horse has been led into the picture, the other looks like it has drifted off. See, just a slab hut but TWO horses. I also love the amateurishness of the building. The huts look as if they are holding each other up and were perhaps built by someone with little building experience. But it’s shelter and did I mention the two horses? It’s certainly enough to write home about.

I found another image of a German farming family taken in 1872. Here too the family are lined up in their best clothes. Here too, what I take to be the father is proudly displaying his horses, one for riding, the other for the wagon. The radical difference is the buildings – brick shed, tiled roof, semi-timbered walls. If it wasn’t for the towering gum trees behind the buildings, you could have been in any prosperous European farmyard. The farm is in Bethania, on the Logan River. Twenty-two families on the Susanne Godeffroy (which arrived in Brisbane on 17th January 1864 from Hamburg) founded a community based largely on their shared religious values of Old Lutheranism. They appear to have prospered.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Forty-one names

1849 is the first date on the board and 1888 the last. In between the 1860s, 70s and 80s predominate. The board hangs from the wall in the historical society, gold lettered and shiny varnished. On the left are names of settlers who arrived in those years. On the right are the names of direct descendants still living in the Rosewood Scrub in 1988, the year of Australia’s Bicentenary. These are names I recognise from daily life, people who can so clearly trace back their families to their arrival in Queensland. These are names of people who did not move on once they arrived in the Scrub. They picked a place and stayed there and their descendants have not moved far.

One hundred or so years isn’t much in the context of European history, or of Aboriginal stewardship of the land, but it is impressive in the context of the fluidity of Australian European settlement. Even today, people move for work, for personal reasons, for lifestyle. Ideas about the ownership of land, one’s place in the world and being part of a community don’t always figure into people’s decision-making processes. Perhaps they didn’t for these people either. Perhaps they just never had a good reason to move.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Pictures of indolence

I decided today that I will spend one day a week writing my novel instead of blogging and decided to make it Fridays. Having made that decision, I proceeded to distract myself entirely with the internet, exchanging emails with friends, talking with my family, reading other people’s writing and to general mental dissolution.

Having taken myself firmly to task, I will show you the view from my new office window, in case you wonder what might possibly distract me outside. The crested pigeons are nesting in the pittorsporum tree, which has swayed in the breeze all day. I tell you this to build up the picture, not to justify my sloth. The second picture is the view over my shoulder although I cheat somewhat and show you a picture after our small hailstorm of a week ago. Today I couldn’t blame my lack of progress on thunder, hail or rainbows.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Bastard scrub

I haven’t yet decided if it is a good thing or a bad thing that several of my neighbours read this. It does encourage me to keep some of my more pungent personal observations to myself. Yesterday I was hailed as I hauled our rubbish bins up the hill. I try to think of the task of pulling two wheelie bins 100 metres uphill as a form of exotic exercise, telling myself that other people would pay money for this workout. This mental exercise doesn’t always work. It has improved since my son has decided that he doesn’t need to be carried uphill at the same time.

The hailer was a neighbour, the subject rural water. Apparently what I thought of as rural water is merely low-pressure reticulated water. Rural water is a specific term for water provided by a local water board. These boards are formal associations with the right to levy charges for water supply. A local example is the Glamorgan Vale Water Board (founded in 1967) which pumps water from the Brisbane River and supplies it over an extended area (as close to Marburg as Postman’s Track). The water is untreated “raw” water intended for stock. Some people connect it to houses to use for non-potable purposes such as flushing toilets. Such water boards are under the authority of the Queensland government Department of Natural Resources and Water.

I also found out about the geology of the area, having confessed publicly to not understanding the geology underlying the Scrub. Apparently south of the Warrego Highway is “good Scrub” overlying the Walloon Coal Measure. North of the highway is “bastard Scrub” (laid over the Koukandowie Formation), prone to gully erosion and lacking the fertility of its southern neighbour. For a geological overview of the Clarence-Moreton Basin for those with a technical bent click here.

For the purposes of my task, I wonder if selecting good scrub or bastard scrub was merely a matter of luck or if there was any way that people would find out which was the better land before they got here (or even after). I suspect one clue may have been how quickly people wanted to sell selections of the bastard scrub compared with how tightly held good scrub was. The irony is that the bastard scrub is closer to the Brisbane River and would have seemed a better bet (and is currently within the area of the Glamorgan Vale Water Board) while the good scrub is further from the river and has no natural sources of water, not even an aquifer. So you could go for fertile and dry or poor soil and water. Life wasn’t meant to be easy for these early settlers.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Hamish the Horse

Yesterday my children came back from school bearing a handful of literature from Hamish. Who is Hamish and what has he to do with the education of my children? Hamish is apparently the friendly face of educating locals about Equine Influenza, which has swept across southeast Queensland. Hamish asks important questions like:

1. Equine influenza is a sickness that:
a) people can catch
b) horses catch, but not people,
c) dogs and cats catch.
2. If I see a horse on my way to or from school, should I pat it?
3. What should I do if I am looking after a horse that has equine influenza and my personal favourite, “While equine influenza is around it’s: a) a good idea to move horses any time, b) against the law to move horses, c) OK to move horses on Tuesdays.”

While we don’t have horses, we have seen the effects of this previously foreign disease sweep across the Scrub. One of the initial outbreaks was in Warwick quickly followed by Minden, Rosewood and Marburg. Marburg has been the site of some of the only deaths from EI in Queensland. The most noticeable thing for us has been the disappearance of horse movement. In the course of an average day people ride horses along our road, neighbours move horses in trailers, local trainers take their horses along the main road to the showground and the showground is busy with training runs and the Sunday race meeting. All this has ceased until further notice.

Hamish’s quiz was accompanied by various horse-related puzzles and a thick sheaf of instructions for measures to prevent spread of EI. I was amazed by the complexity of implementing these. Perhaps this explains the rapid spread of the disease. I suspect many horse owners just can’t see the point of trying to avoid the disease, much along the line of parents who deliberately expose their children to childhood diseases in order to “just get it over with.” The problem as far it is has been explained to me is that once this disease gets a foothold, it becomes a permanent problem that continues to flare at intervals causing distress to the horses and financial hardship to their owners. Already many horse related businesses are in financial difficulty as are horse breeders and racers.

Perhaps one of the more disturbing instructions was that people who have horses and children attending school should make sure that their children disinfect and shower before going to school and on their return, because the disease can be passed via clothing, skin and footwear person to person for up to three days. Realistically this can’t be happening.

Australia has always been vulnerable to the invasion of previously unknown organisms. From earliest times quarantine has been a feature of migration and Australians are accustomed to stringent customs and quarantine requirements for travelling. The Jaeckels would have had to wait offshore for several weeks on arrival in Australia and landed at an offshore quarantine station if there were visible signs of disease among passengers and crew. Nonetheless there is a history of imported diseases and organisms sweeping across the country.

I was amazed the first time I went to the United States and we were permitted to bring in unpackaged foodstuffs, honey and fruit. Australians have been accused of using their customs and quarantine regulations to circumvent free trade requirements, but it is valid for us to argue that we have an unique environment, perched at this end of the globe, that is vulnerable and in need of protection. The failure of quarantine that led to this outbreak illustrates this vulnerability. And now small communities in Queensland are affected in concrete and material ways.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

"I say coal, you say resource"

I don’t understand the geology behind it, or underneath it as the case may be, but the hills of the Rosewood Scrub are coal-bearing. Other than the sugar cane that was grown for a short time in the Marburg valley, the main reason for a branch train line down the valley was coal. There is still a commercial mine on the Rosewood side of the Tallegalla Hills that sends its coal to power an electricity station at Swanbank.

Most of my family and friends here know my attitude to the commercial mining. Officially it is meant to be drawing to a close but I have heard the stories for some time and will wait to see what happens. When we were first looking at properties in the area, my partner spent forty-five minutes with the mining company’s PR person. In all that time, he never mentioned the word coal: it was always “the resource.” He basically said that mining would not continue in the near future unless the price of the resource rose significantly. In that scenario, mining could continue indefinitely. When we first bought our house you could not see the mine. Now it has carved away part of the hills on the skyline. I am not opposed to extractive industries per se. What I object to is the continuation of mining in what has been identified as a residential growth area and the concomitant dust, noise and light pollution alongside heavy vehicles running constantly through a small one-main-street town. As children play in the park in Rosewood, mining trucks constantly rumble past.

What fascinates me though is the fact that historically most mining in the area was small-scale family mines. Just as people had house cows, chickens and pigs for meat, so some had a mine on their property. As you drive around the area, you come upon evidence of these mines. Leaning crazily, often festooned with vines, the wooden supports for the mine head still dot gullies. They can be hard to spot and even harder to photograph but they are there, evidence of cottage-industry resource extraction – or coal mining as we like to call it.

[Don't forget that you can click on the images for a larger view.]

Monday, 15 October 2007

Domestic science versus domestic arts

Last night at approximately 6pm, my partner looked me in the eye and told me that he didn’t think he’d have our internet connection back up for at least a couple of days. I gulped and tried not to panic. After all, there are so many worse things in the world, aren’t there? I have to say that his abilities are greater than he had confidence in, because everything was working fine within a few hours. I hardly even had time to feel the pain of separation. Afterwards, I tasked him with the question of whether he had really thought we’d be offline for so long. His reply was along the lines of not wanting to raise hopes too high, keeping expectations low and considering all possibilities, in other words, keeping the broadband addict calm and away from her stash, leaving him to do his job in peace. And I’m not complaining, because it all worked out perfectly.

I hear you asking why things were disconnected in the first place? The answer isn’t simple. The plan was to move our office to our former living room when the new part of the house was added. The office would then become play space for the children. The office would have plenty of room and the living room would be in its new expanded location. About four months ago, we bought some new sofas, which awkwardly arrive this afternoon, several months before their new location is ready. The only spot to fit two sofas in our house is what is now the former office. An action plan for the weekend was called for and immediately implemented.

The end result: much furniture moved, a major archaeological dig undertaken behind the filing cabinets and the sofa, a small forest’s worth of forest by-products sent on their way, piles of dust removed, some verification of inanimate objects undertaken, a stunningly tidy office created and an empty playroom awaiting temporary filling with sofas.

I’ve already tried to check my email in the empty room several times and had to redirect my steps. My son is confused: he’s not allowed in the office but he’s not sure now where he is or isn’t allowed to go and you see him hovering in doorways. I can’t recognise a workspace that is clean, light -filled and airy and has all the computing requirements on the same workspace.

For the first time I actually have all my research bits and pieces in one spot so I can now tell you that the Marburg Boy’s Rural School burnt down in 1959, the same year that Marburg had a hail storm with stones the size of cricket balls. The school’s official history from the 125th Anniversary publication outlines the purpose of the rural school as “providing the senior pupils of Primary Schools in country districts special training in Farm Craft and in Domestic Science. They gave both boys and girls a basic knowledge of agricultural science and processes, together with in the case of boys a practical acquaintance with such manual arts as Woodwork, Metalwork and Leatherwork and in the case of girls a knowledge of Domestic Science and ability in Domestic Arts.” I wonder what is the difference between domestic science and domestic arts and if I knew, would behind my sofa have looked so bad?

Friday, 12 October 2007

In search of skills

Reading one of the Rosewood Historical Society’s publications on early life in the Scrub, I came across this description of life expectations for girls:

“Girls learnt early in life that their destiny was to marry a hard worker and a good provider. They learnt to cook, to make dresses, to knit and crochet.”

I’ve loaned my copy of the book to a friend so I can’t tell you the matching expectations for boys. I expect that they were to learn useful farming, construction and odd job skills and to find the right well-trained wife. Although these skills were essential for settlers, it is clear from the records that townships quickly sprang up with associated businesses to provide some of these skills. This was not quite the remote frontier of say, Laura Ingalls Wilder, where if you couldn’t grow or make something, you did without it. Although life was hard, the settlers were under 100 kilometres from the largest town in Queensland (Brisbane) and within a day’s travel from Ipswich which boasted many stores and tradespeople. Marburg had stores, a butter factory and other businesses, Rosewood was over the hills and the railway soon became a vital link for the area.

In the process of planning our renovation, I sometimes feel that we are as isolated as those early migrants. People are keen to work with us until we say where we live, then it becomes a case of “can’t possibly do it before x” or “well we could look but there’d be travel cost etc.” I’ve been reading a friend’s blog of their renovations in Portland, Oregon and wondered if it would be better to convince them to come stay for a while. They seem to have many of the useful skills that my parents and schools neglected to teach me in the pursuit of a more conventional education. I wonder if I should have gone to rural school? On the other hand, judging by the comment above, I may have been precluded by gender from learning the really useful things like carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.

I did manage by some chance of fate to manage the first part of the equation even if I fail on the other parts. I was encouraged though to read today in our local free newspaper that someone was selling a vacuum cleaner “2 years old, used 4 times.” Apparently my domestic shortcomings are not unique. And I can cook and crochet.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Old photographs

I’ve been looking at old photographs trying to get an idea of how people dressed and the effect this would have on their behaviour. I just finished reading one of Colleen McCullough’s migrant history novels “The Touch.” In this, a young Scots woman is sent out to Australia by her father to marry a distant cousin made good. This cousin wants a good, naive, malleable “home bride” now that he is thinking of family and the future. As with all of her books, it is a great yarn, but I found fascinating how she evoked the feelings and thoughts of this young bride as she arrives in Sydney in her Scots “good clothes” which of course are totally unsuitable. Her hot, uncomfortable formal attire mirrors her discomfort and misery. Her attitude towards the new land and life changes markedly when she dresses in a way more suitable to the climate and lifestyle.

Imagine arriving from Germany, in clothes that would have been suitable for a northern climate. Most fabrics were still made of wool. Women and girls wore woollen stockings and underwear. Men had their woollen trousers, long-sleeved shirts and jackets. Clothing, especially for working class people was dark. A good example is this photo of Wilhelm and Wilhelmine was probably taken soon after their arrival here, to send back home to Germany.

Here too is a photograph of Anna and a younger sister, probably taken at the same time. I am struck by her dark attire and serious demenour, but then portraiture was a serious business then and she was probably quite uncomfortable in her best clothes.

Most of the year here, daytime temperatures are mid-twenties (degrees centigrade) and upwards. The weather forecast for the coming Saturday and Sunday says “Dry and cool. Maximum temperatures 27C-28C.” This last week we have had daytime highs of 35C and it isn’t high summer yet. Our winters are mild and last for a couple of months. Even with cool overnights and frosts, daytime temperatures are in the mid-twenties. Clothing suitable for Germany would have been totally unsuitable here. I noticed in later photographs of Anna’s family, that people are more comfortably attired: the women in ¾ length skirts and blouses, the men in suits, girls in light dresses and socks rather than stockings and boys in shorts albeit worn with a suit jacket. Part of this would be changing fashions, part the demands of the climate. But it is clear that people quickly adapted to the new country.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Natural questions

Naturalisation is an odd term that roughly corresponds with the notion of citizenship. It was complicated in Australia by the fact that we were a British colony that wanted to maintain strong ties to Britain, and one in which many people felt themselves to be British rather than Australian. The whole idea of an Australian identity is a late twentieth century notion still rejected by some colonial stalwarts. According to the National Archives of Australia:

At Federation in 1901, ‘British subject’ was the sole civic status noted in the Australian Constitution. The Australasian Federal Convention of 1897–98 was unable to agree on a definition of the term ‘citizen’ and wanted to preserve British nationality in Australia. An administrative concept of citizenship arose from the need to distinguish between British subjects who were permanent residents and those who were merely visitors. This was necessary for the Commonwealth to exercise its powers over immigration and deportation. Motivated by the nationalism of Arthur Calwell, the Minister for Immigration 1945–49, this administrative concept was formalised in the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. In 1958 the Act was amended so that naturalisation could only be revoked if obtained by fraud. This prevented a naturalised person being stripped of citizenship and deported.

Throughout the 1960s, Australian citizens were still required to declare their nationality as British. The term ‘Australian nationality’ had no official recognition or meaning until the Act was amended in 1969 and renamed the Citizenship Act. This followed a growing sense of Australian nationalism and the declining importance for Australians of the British Empire. In 1973 the Act was renamed the Australian Citizenship Act. It was not until 1984 that Australian citizens ceased to be British subjects.

Wilhelm and his family would have been naturalised together under the umbrella of Wilhelm. Remember at this time, Wilhelmine would not have been allowed to vote or own property, so she was effectively an offshoot of Wilhelm. According to Ann-Mari Jordens, “Until 1969, children of married women could only attain their citizenship status through their fathers, and the definition of ‘responsible parent’ was amended only in 1984 to give equal rights to both parents. Before then, a father could take his child out of Australia without its mother's permission.” My partner who arrived in Australia in 1965, received his citizenship through his father qualifying for residency and then citizenship. I don’t know if he would have been required to leave the country if his parents separated before his citizenship came through.

In Wilhelm’s case, if he had died before he was naturalised, his widow would have had to remarry, not only for financial security, but also to obtain citizenship for her children.

The whole idea of naturalisation in the context of a German migrant arriving in Queensland in the 1880s is incredibly complex. Germany had only been recently unified under a Prussian government so the whole idea of being German was still new. Wilhelm probably would not have thought of himself as such. Federation of the colonies in Australia didn’t occur until 1901, so Queensland was a separate administration. Wilhelm would have become a British subject foremost and a resident of the colony of Queensland second.

On the other hand, I suspect that once migrants arrived and dispersed, provided they minded their own business, citizenship and such would not have been a big issue. The Beutels were landed at Rockhampton in 1880 as part of a government drive to settle migrants away from Brisbane and southeast Queensland. Yet by May, they were already as far south as Beenleigh and within a year, they were 50 kilometres from Brisbane. Somehow, in that year, they traversed 700 kilometres, probably by coastal steamer and on foot, to get to where the government would rather they weren’t. The determination of migrants to obtain a new home and a good life cannot be underestimated.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Wilhelm und Wilhelmine

Wilhelm Beutel was born in Schmolln, Prussia in 1840. In November 1865 he married Wilhelmine Friederike Louise Maas, a fellow Prussian, born at Frauenagen in 1843. The marriage was fruitful and produced seven children. On December 17, 1880, the family of seven (two of the children had died young) boarded the Earl Granville in Plymouth, England headed for Australia. Their children were 14, 12, 10, 8 and 2. Another child was born on the way. The Earl Granville sailed around the South coast of Australia, and up the east coast to Rockhampton, her first port of call in 109 days. After ten days of quarantine restrictions 276 passengers disembarked at Rockhampton.

By May 16, 1881 two of their children, Gustav and Anna were enrolled at Beenleigh State School. Records show their father was a farmer and their residence was in Beenleigh. By February 1882, the family had moved to Tallegalla and little Anna was enrolled at the Tallegalla State School. In May 1883, Wilhelm was naturalised at Millbong, in the Fassifern region. The family stayed at Millbong until the death of Wilhelmine in 1889 (aged only 46). Wilhelm married a widow with four children and died in 1892, leaving his wife widowed for a second time. Do you think she considered herself unlucky?

The Beutel’s story is interesting in both a general and a specific way. First, it shows how migrants moved around on arrival until they found a place to settle. Can you imagine how hard it would have been to arrive in a totally new country and to select land? Good land was heavily competed for. There are many tales of people applying for land grants and losing the ballot. Sometimes people arrived at their selection to find that it was impossible to farm. Other times, they simply heard of better options. As they become accustomed to the country and to farming, since not all of them were farmers in Germany, they were able to better choose land.

The Beutels illustrate the historical reasons for having large families. While Wilhelm and Wilhelmine did not live long after their arrival in Australia, their large family spread and prospered. Southeast Queensland is still home to many Beutels.

My specific interest in the Beutels is that they are listed as the original holders of our land. While we only have a few acres divided off from the original lot as a family subdivision in the 1950s, the original lot was the 40 acres provided to an adult migrant. I can imagine the nine year old Anna walking up Two Tree Hill and along the ridge to the Tallegalla School. It would have been quite a hike by our standards. I wonder if she ever rode or perhaps Wilhelm or one of her brothers would ride with her to school.

In the Beutel family history there is a photograph of Anna dressed in formal attire. I look at her in her heavy black clothing and compare her with my children. There is something similar in her wide-eyed serious gaze. I imagine though that life for Anna would have been much more serious than for my children. I look at her clothes and on a 35C day try to imagine dressing like that for any period of time. I try to imagine getting my children to dress like that and fail. It’s an invaluable visual aid in trying to picture the Jaeckels on arrival in Australia.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Defining rural

Thunder is muttering all around although the sunshine is bright. The humidity is thick and the frogs seem to think a storm is imminent. I can hardly hear above the sounds of their croaking and the rustling of every leaf and branch. I am dithering over turning the computer off but have been so negligent over the school holidays that I am determined to write.

I picked up a pile of booklets while taking my turn to “person” the historical society’s open afternoon to try to get myself back into the swing of things. I shook my head the other day and not a single idea fell out so I knew that I had to get back to work.

I have been thinking though about definitions and how easy it is to make mistakes when you are working from a different lexicon. When we moved to the country, several of the real estate advertisements mentioned that a property had “rural water.” I assumed that this was real-estate-speak for not having town water. I have since learnt that there are more sources of water than this girl dreamt of. There’s your plain vanilla reticulated water system, that is, you turn on the tap and water comes out that has been piped under pressure to your house from a central system. There’s tank water, which comes under the official category of a “private water supply.” That is you collect or “harvest” rainwater off your roof, store in tanks and use a pressure pump to send it into your house. Then there’s the aforementioned “rural water” which as far as I can tell is low pressure reticulated water. You have a tank that water from a town supply trickles into, you use a pump to get this up to full pressure and you supplement this with rainwater. There are other permutations like bores and springs. And there is an inventor who has designed a system to use a windmill to harvest water from the air. I’m waiting to see if this is ever commercially available.

I seem to have problems with the specific term “rural” either designating it as euphemistic or purely descriptive. My other mistake was to think that the phrase “rural school” simply meant a school in the country. Rural schools were vocational schools run in conjunction with the state school system. They taught girls home economics and some useful skills like typing. Boys learnt farming, blacksmithing, woodwork and other manly crafts. Rural school drew students from around the district for weekly classes. According to Frank Snars “Senior pupils at a rural school could choose to go on [to] the ordinary primary school course leading to Scholarship and secondary school, or spend part of their time doing manual training or domestic science subjects. Rural courses were free to pupils under 16 years…Evening classes were offered for a nominal fee for those who had left school.”

According to an eminent local resident, Marburg Rural School taught him all the useful things he uses in his life everyday and he regrets that these skills aren’t taught to the same degree today. The rural school at Marburg started in 1920 (the second in Queensland) with the goal of “providing educational links with a thriving agricultural community” until it burnt down as the result apparently of a careless cigarette in the sawdust pit.

The lessons I’ve learnt other than not throwing cigarettes into sawdust pits and that tertiary education is over-rated? Not to assume that I’m even on the same page as someone else, let alone using the same language. I should have learnt that one from my years in the States where I can assure you I did speak a foreign language.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Colonials and Queenslanders

What do you do when you have a small, elderly house, several children and not a lot of money? According to a (former) Sydney friend, you knock your house down and build yourself a proper one. Other people have other ideas, none of which seem sympathetic to an eighty-year old house. What do you do if you actually love your house? I must add here that there are people who like wooden houses and people who don’t and the two tend to speak different languages. It’s a bit like L.M. Montgomery’s notion of the “tribe of Jacob” and the rest.

The first thing you do is to find a builder who will build in wood and likes old houses. When you have talked to every builder in the phone book, you will find a few who seem interested. Then you get them to make a site visit, give you some ideas and give you a quote. After you have recovered from the shock and graciously declined their exorbitant prices, you fix up your current house to make it liveable while you mull over ideas for several years.

Then you start looking around for another house to buy. Not to move yourself to, but to move onto your property. It has to be the right house. It has to have high ceilings (at least 3000mm), vertical joists (called vj in the vernacular and a term I only learnt in the last five years) for walls, weatherboard exterior and some charm. It has to be of a similar era and small. After all we don’t want a mansion and it has to fit a particular space on our land. And it has to be physically sound and solid.

After about a year, you start to wonder if you will ever find this elusive dream. Your friendly house contractor suggests just buying a house and putting fake vj cladding over the walls. He suggests that you will get used to low ceilings after a while and not notice them. You notice that he is quite short and has probably never had the feeling of fan blades whirling near his ears. You spend weekends looking at decaying houses. You study old houses, big houses, decrepit houses, expensive houses on the internet. You learn about fascias and soffits and tail boards. You can tell the difference between colonial and Queenslander styles and identify an asymmetrical bungalow. You start to get the feeling that house moving contractors don’t really want to talk to you.

And then, you find it. It looks shabby and tired, dwarfed by a shopping centre and development all around. The agent can’t find the key so you measure the outside and it’s the right size. You try not to get too excited. Then the inside is just right. The configuration is right to join up to your house. The price is about right (well you’d always like to spend less money). You do the legals and practicals and pay the deposit and still don’t believe that it’s happening. Then you look on the internet and it has a SOLD sign on it and it officially belongs to you.

Never mind that it’s not on site yet or that there’s a lot of work to go. It has to travel sixty kilometres on the back of a truck, be hauled by bulldozer up a steep hill and over a horse paddock. It has to be restumped, a hallway built to join it to the original house and a new roof added. But it’s on its way and we are now participating in that most peculiar of Queensland phenomenon – the removal house.

In a way it’s buying history, but you can also think of it as conservation and preservation. It’s even environmentally sound to be recycling a house. I just hope that the whole process doesn’t suck up all available time in the next few months. I can just picture myself trying to write, keep the children out of the building site and track down materials and absent carpenters. Whatever happens, I’m sure that you will hear more about it.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The politics of aesthetics

Often the more controversial issues at local meetings are the least expected, at least to me, a relative newcomer to the area. Not only have I lived here less than five years, but I think sometimes that it doesn’t help that I am often the youngest at meetings and owing to a fresh face and collegiate dress sense (and admittedly slightly anarchist sense of humour), look younger than I am. Last night I ended up being temporary minute-taker at a meeting which tapped into my natural core of organization and meant a (hopefully) temporary lapse in my efforts to maintain a low profile.

On the agenda were those yet-to-be-produced postcards. The Rosewood Scrub has a wide range of natural and other attractions. I assumed that selecting some of these for postcards would be a simple matter of picking images that people would wish to send to others of their acquaintance – scenes of natural beauty or a selection of historical buildings. After all, it is the local historical society that is commissioning these cards. I also assumed that there wouldn’t be much discussion of which buildings would be attractive to outsiders. How wrong I was.

An extensive and spirited discussion took place that ranged across local politics and obligations. Around the table were many opinions as to what constituted a nice postcard. A secondary discussion raged as to appropriate images. If one building was featured, then what about their neighbour? Could someone be asked to sell postcards in their shop if it wasn’t included (ignoring its lack of aesthetic appeal)? Time ticked by and the only conclusion I reached was that I must tread on people’s toes quite frequently in my ignorance. I must work on that low profile a bit more. Maybe my motto should be “Write more, talk less.” It would be productive anyway.

And don’t even ask me about the progress of the website…

Monday, 1 October 2007

Pea soup

One of the descriptions I read in Life and Death in the Age of Sail really resonated with me. A passenger described a typical meal on board ship as “Pea soup flying in all directions” and that aptly described my last week. However, Sunday was a truly peaceful relaxed day. I love to drive but I also love weekends because that’s the only time I don’t drive and I get to look around at the passing view and play tourist. On the weekend the Blithe Girls had a sleepover at a friend’s house hence my peaceful, relaxed day. I knew the sleepover was a success at the groans of disappointment when we pulled up in front of the house.

As part of being a passenger instead of driver, I had my camera with me. One of the roads near here winds up the charmingly named Perry’s Nob, which is dotted with stands of remnant scrub. I took a photo to show the density of trees in the scrub. This piece has been grazed so there is less foliage than there would have been in the original scrub but you can see the close-set trees. Imagine having to clear this when it would have all been primary growth with many mature timber trees.

At the top, a delightful vista over Tallegalla opened out. Note the rural notes of rusted shed and old train carriage, plus of course Annabel, the house cow.

And finally, a view looking northwards over Woodlands to the distant d’Aguilar Ranges. You can see the township of Marburg lying in the valley and the tops of the trees that I photographed. The haze comes from recent heat and long-standing drought. The whole countryside seems to be baking slowly and inexorably.