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.

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