Thursday, 29 November 2007

Flighty conveyances

On one of my recent visits to the Rosewood Scrub Historical Society I picked up a little booklet “Tales of the Rosewood Scrub: Memories of a Barefoot Boyhood” by Digger Schumann. It is fascinating to read Digger’s memories of growing up in this area in the 1930s. Some of his memories are of stories told to him by his grandparents about the very earliest days of scrub settlement and are a great insight into what everyday life was like for farming families.

One story about his grandmother’s weekly Friday shopping trip to Rosewood struck a chord with me as I unpacked my own groceries today. Grandma Martha Mary would drive her horse, Jean hitched up to her sulky. One of the men in the family would take the flighty horse for several rounds of the front paddock first to settle her down before turning her over to Martha Mary. Her path would have followed fairly closely the path one would take today from Two Tree Hill, along the ridges of the Tallegalla hills and down into Rosewood.

Once in Rosewood, Jean would be hitched to the railing behind Sellar’s Store. Grandma would bring along some grain from home in an old sugar bag and empty it into one of the feed bins attached to the fence. Digger writes that:

“Parking achieved, Grandma would perch on one of several high cane-bottomed chairs that stood along the counter to dictate her order which would be packed and loaded onto the tray of the sulky while she attended to other matters; perhaps at the haberdashery counter of Ruhno’s General store around the corner as Sellars dealt only in groceries and hardware.”

In another of “those” conversations the other day someone was bemoaning how dreadfully behaved children were today in supermarkets. A wise older lady pointed out that the experience described above was what shopping with children was like for her. There was no trailing around a store filled with goodies, selecting products while simultaneously trying to entertain children and remove their prehensile grips from easily accessible merchandise. She would take her list to the store, wait at the counter and have everything selected, packed away and delivered for her. Her take on the whole process was that while freedom of choice can be a good thing, that parents of today have very different challenges.

I personally take the pro-active approach of shopping when the older children are at school and taking along a container of biscuits to distract the smallest as we wheel along aisles. We have also been known to make loud car noises and chuck the occasional wheelie – hey whatever it takes! And while my trusty steed Myrtle carries me reliably to and from shopping, she does prefer snacks of the more petroleum-based kind and rarely needs to be settled down before trips.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Suggestions please

Reading through the annual Summer Reading Guide that comes in The Weekend Australian around this time each year, I was thrilled to see that some of my favourite authors have new books out. Being thrifty and also hoarding cash for inevitable cost haemorrhaging on the house extension, I have made myself a list for the next six months of library visits. Pause for a plug for our local library: the Ipswich Global Information Centre. Very “1984” in its naming, but it has a huge range of books and carries many of the latest publications, sometimes even before they are reviewed in the national press. In addition to the large library in the Ipswich CBD, they also run the mobile library service that cycles around all the little country towns and areas. Marburg gets a visit every second Tuesday. Rosewood being larger (and possibly, as the home of the chairperson of the library committee), gets the library every Friday and every second Wednesday. Library visit day is one of the major social events in town and you are guaranteed to meet up with many neighbours (or at least the ones that count…, I mean read).

The other thing I noticed reading the guide, is that many of the featured books have fantastic titles. At the moment, I am still referring to my book as exactly that, “my book.” So I am calling for suggestions for a working title, that is, something I can call it for the moment. I can’t offer any guarantees as to whether suggestions will carry through to the final manuscript, but please feel free to offer ideas.

Nota bene: Between elections and other things, I realise that there has been little historical content here recently. I apologise, but I do also need to point out that I’m focusing on writing at the moment so don’t have quite so much time for digging up other stories. My original plan was to finish the first draft of the book by Christmas. This is still possible if a miracle occurs, so please bear with me.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Olde-timey cooking

I hear a lot of nostalgia for the past from people with whom I mix. There is a trope common to many Western societies that we have lost valuable ways of doing things from the past --ways that called on notions of respect, taking time about things, appreciating that making something of worth takes time. The whole Slow Food movement is an example of this kind of turning back to older ways of doing things. I have a lot of sympathy for this perspective, but it is very much a product of prosperous societies with the money and time for nostalgia. To paraphrase apologists for China’s human rights record “When you are trying to survive every day, you don’t have much time for human rights (or Slow Food for that matter.)”

What brought these thoughts to mind was making chutney yesterday. I started peeling and chopping vegetables and fruit at 3.30pm and was bottling the chutney at 9pm. Perhaps it was my inexperience, perhaps the fact that I also helped with homework, read with the kids, made rafts of vegemite toast for afternoon tea, cooked dinner and juggled a few other things in between, but it seemed like a major investment of time for 6 ½ bottles of admittedly gorgeous smelling and looking chutney (I haven’t had a moment to taste it properly yet.) I know that I will feel a great sense of satisfaction when these jars are tucked next to other presents under the Christmas tree and even more when I am spooning it out onto my sausages in a few months time. But when I think of the time and physical resources that went into this, I have to wonder if it is worth it.

My brother and his family live in Central Asia. Preserving food is an essential part of life for them. If they don’t bottle fruit and vegetables frantically in their short summer, there is nothing but rice, cheese and fat sheep for the winter. They don’t have time or the resources for elaborate pickled or sweetened concoctions. It is a matter of getting the fruit and vegetables to last under the easiest possible methods of preservation. They don’t have much electricity. While it is cotton picking season they have a few hours of electricity in the evenings but when the itinerant workers leave, so does the power supply. Spending five hours boiling a chutney would be a waste of time and precious energy. Cooking it over the wood stove would be a profligate use of fuel unless they were cooking something else at the same time or heating the house.

I suspect that it was a lot like this for early migrants to Queensland. Preserving food would have been a skill taught to every German daughter by her mother. This kind of food would have been essential for surviving cold northern hemisphere winters. Migrants would have been ready to continue this tradition but it wasn’t really necessary once they arrived in Queensland. In this part of southeast Queensland, vegetables can be grown year round outside. The main problem is shade and water in summer, not cold temperatures, frost and snow. Down in the valleys, frost lies on the coldest winter days but many of the hillsides are above the frost-line. People can and do grow tropical fruit in their back gardens. And for fruit that requires chilling time to grow, there’s the Granite Belt over the other side of Cunningham’s Gap. It must have seemed like some kind of food paradise.

Preserving changed from being an essential part of everyday life, to being an optional extra. Later still came refrigeration, freezers and supermarkets. I wonder if this is why people retain traditional ways of jam and chutney-making, the value-added luxury end of preserving and the simpler preserving methods have died out.

Monday, 26 November 2007


Friday night the heavens opened. First, a dramatic storm from the west then a solid wall of water from the north. We were all awake at 4am with the deafening noise of continuous heavy rain. Lying in the dark listening to wave after wave of drumming, two things were on my mind: our driveway and whether this was an omen for the election. If it was an omen, was it a good or a bad portent? Omens are so tricky that way.

The driveway survived but required substantial work. We were scraping roadbase off our front paddock and filling chasms on Sunday afternoon while fantasising about heavy machinery and truckloads of fresh gravel. Whenever we get heavy rain, I remember that our quiet dead-end road was once the main road to Minden and points west. The road washed out in the late 1880s in a rare cyclone and has never been “fixed.” Having seen our driveway and the gully left by that 1880s cyclone, I can understand the delay.

For the first time in several years our tanks are close to full and the garden is lush and green. I don’t feel like quite such a fool for having planted that magnolia grandiflora down the front paddock.

And as for portends and omens, as always it is how you look at things. In one way, it might have been a parting gift from the previously omnipotent John Howard. In another light, it could be seen as signifying change and a fresh start. Or the winds of change…Its effect was making election day slow and wet (not to mention how long it actually takes to vote “below the line” in a booth with the ballot paper curling up both sides of the booth, children underfoot and trying to concurrently count up from one and down from 65 to make sure you had a number in every box.)

Three of my four hopes for this election came about which is pretty good in the game of politics. Ironically, I have spent much of today reassuring people that the end of the world probably isn’t quite nigh even with wall to wall Labor governments across Australia at state and federal levels. I’m not sure how that came to be my job to be a Labor apologist. Perhaps I am the only person left of right that some people know.

Tomorrow, away from champagne of politics and back to the bread and butter of writing, although I’ve never thought they couldn’t be mixed.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Me too!

Less than 48 hours remain now before our federal election. I love politics for themselves but I am particularly grateful for their diversion at this time. The council has got a bee in its bonnet about our proposed extension and we are awaiting their verdict. I was worried about plumbing issues when I should have been worried about town planning (had I been aware even that this was an issue.) I spend a few Alice in Wonderland hours yesterday talking in circles with a town planner who was convinced that we were moving a house onto our block and joining it to ours for “dual occupancy” purposes. In one of those moments reminiscent of Cold War movies, the person insisted that dual occupancy was fine as long as we admitted that was what we were doing and went through the appropriate processes. I heard echoes of “Just confess and everything will be alright.” After all there is another kitchen and bathroom in the new part of the house. The fact that we indicated on the plans that the fixtures in these rooms would be removed to provide a rumpus room and a hallway proved nothing.

I have a difficult relationship with bureaucracy after boarding school, visa offices and embassies around the world, a certain American university’s international student office, and our very own Centrelink amongst others. A certain administrative “we know what’s best” tone sets me on edge. Regarding the council, my far more sensible partner points out that this is something that we just have to work our way through and be patient. So I divert my mind with politics.

After nearly twelve years in office for the Coalition (Liberal and National parties) most pundits are predicting a landslide for Labor. Perhaps it’s the catchy “Kevin ‘07” American-politics style logo or maybe people are just ready for a change. If this does happen we will go from John Howard to the man commonly portrayed by political cartoonists as Tintin. Rudd himself is downplaying the potential win while continuing his look of confident future-leader-material.

I have been using the web to help me make up my mind on whether to vote above or below the line on my Senate ballot paper (white). For my overseas readers, we have a preferential voting system. If you vote above the line you mark “1” in the box of the party of your choice. This means that you allow the order of your preferences to be decided by the party of your choice. For example, if you support the Australian Democrats, their preference distribution for Queensland is listed here. If you vote below the line, you have to number every box in order of your preference. On the (green) ballot paper for the House of Representatives, that is, the representative for your local electorate, you have to number each of the boxes in your order of preference.

I don’t think I have received as many letters addressed to Dr. Blithe in the past six years as I have in the last six weeks. Ironically, many trees have been sacrificed to court the vote of a household that mainly sources political information on the internet.

Our new government will be decided on Saturday. The ramifications of whatever happens will reverberate over the coming few weeks and months. When and what the council decides is unknown, but at least I’ll be diverted in the meantime.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Two school stories and a moral

Sixty years ago a young girl was walking home from school with an even younger boy. The girl was somewhere between ten and thirteen, already smart and hard-working. She loved school but wasn’t very keen on the four mile walk there and four miles back supervising and chivvying along her neighbour’s young son. They walked along the Bruce Highway, then just a gravel road. They were grateful for any lifts that were offered to them – mostly from people they knew but occasionally a stranger would help them out.

On this day, the young boy was excited to see all the army trucks with their brisking snapping Stars and Stripes pennants adorning every bonnet. Even more exciting were the outriders on their big motorcycles escorting the convoys of soldiers. Right now there was only one motorcyclist in sight and he pulled up beside them. “Have you seen a convoy of trucks? I seem to have lost them.” The girl was surprised – there weren’t that many places around Gympie that a convoy of trucks could go.

“Hey girl, why don’t you lose your kid brother and meet me over in that lane? I’ll give you a ride, but I don’t want the little fella hanging around.” Like I said, this girl was pretty smart even though she had never travelled far from her family farm. She grabbed her neighbour’s son and ran as fast as she could, diving through every fence that loomed in front of her until she was safely home. Sixty years later she remembers the look on the man’s face and her fear. But she still walked four miles to school and four miles back every day.

Around the same time, another young girl moved onto a farm in Tallegalla just outside Rosewood. Now the farm is owned by the mine, then it was a successful dairy farm. She had been going to the Ashwell school and continued to do so. She and her brothers didn’t walk, they rode their horses and pastured them in the school paddock during the day. It was a long ride down the hill to Urry Road then several miles along the plain to the school. She wasn’t too keen on the ride as she wasn’t big and the horses were. One day, a boy riding with them asked her if she knew what horses did if you whipped them. She had a pretty clear idea but said nothing. He whacked his horse firmly and found himself on the ground near the hooves of a rearing horse. He broke his arm. She admits to remembering a small smug feeling of “Serves him right” all these years later. She also remembers being tired all the time from the milking, the cleaning, the ride, school, another ride then the milking and cleaning again.

And the moral? You don’t always hear what you expect when someone bemoans the fact that few children today make their own way to and from school.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Brief observations of a family

In a day starting early with a council plumbing inspection my attention has been firmly on the future and it has been hard to turn my mind to thoughts of the past. Leafing through a booklet that I have to return tomorrow, several things caught my eye. The booklet is the family history of my friend whose grandparents were born in Marburg, Germany and migrated to Queensland in 1884. This friend told me excitedly a few months ago that she was going on a bus trip to the Gold Coast, a place where she had never been before in her eighty or so years. It struck me that in living the farming life in rural Queensland, her life mirrors what her grandparents would have expected for themselves if they hadn’t picked up their entire lives and moved to the other side of the world. She moved on her marriage from Gympie to Rosewood. They married in Germany and were in Queensland for their first anniversary.

Another thing I noticed was how few of the children born in Australia received much education. The first generation of boys got two or three years of school before they were expected to contribute fully to family income. Many started work at 12. The oldest son of Elizabeth and Johannes was born in Coorparoo in 1887. By the age of 11 he was working felling scrub and by 14, he had his own contract felling scrub at Tamborine Mountain. This wasn’t unusual for migrant families. I wonder if it was different from expectations for other families or if it was simply a function of socio-economic status? If you were poor whatever your ethnic background, your children worked early. Only if you were affluent could you afford to not use your children’s earning potential.

Most of Elizabeth and Johannes’ children married early and into non-German families. Only one generation after arrival alliances were cemented with the families Scott, Ferguson, Ansell, Thorogood, Nickols, Crump and Davies. Only two of the second generation married into German pioneer families, marrying the two sisters Kruger. Given that this family has more than 600 descendants in the area today, marriage into the wider community may have been a successful strategy.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Travelling tales

A weekend with my mother-in-law in Stanthorpe reminded me to investigate a bit further the colonial botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham who famously described the Rosewood Scrub as “impenetrable.” In 1828 he passed through the Rosewood Scrub on his way to explore the eastern side of what had become known as Cunningham’s Gap.

Today, the main route from Brisbane to Stanthorpe runs though this gap. It is a picturesque drive with a road looping upwards through deep rainforest. We always open the car windows to listen for the whipping tone of bellbirds. It is also sometimes a bit of a driving adventure with the huge B-doubles grinding slowly uphill, lapped by impatient motorists.

For many years explorers had sought some way through the Great Dividing Range to link up the lushly fertile Darling Downs and the penal colony at Moreton Bay. Cunningham is credited with the discovery of the downs and also the crossing. Ironically, according to official historical information the gap found and used by Cunningham was not easily accessible, nor useful for transport. Apparently transport companies objected to having their goods lowered over cliffs by rope. For a fairly contemporary idea of what the range crossing looked like,
Conrad Martens painted this picture in 1856. A much easier route was found through Spicer’s Gap – the route used by aborigines moving between the downs and the bay area. This route was used by bullock carts for many years until in 1927 when a road was constructed through Cunningham’s Gap.

This road is not the only route over the Dividing Range. We often choose instead to travel via Gatton and Ma Ma Creek, coming out of the hills onto the plains at the Toowoomba-Warwick Road. It’s a marvellous overview of how soil type and geology have influenced settlement and farming in a small area. Even the small valleys on the Downs side of the range are intensively planted with grain crops. The fields of the Lockyer Valley around Gatton are irrigated vegetable crops drawing water from creeks and bores whereas any farming still done in the Rosewood Scrub tends to the equine and bovine-type (yes I just like using those words).

I asked my family if they thought Allan Cunningham was surprised when he came over the gap and found all these prosperous grain farms on the Darling Downs. My facetiousness was received only with rolling of eyes. I guess I should be grateful that I wasn’t left to walk home.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Demanding stories

Reading two very disparate commentaries recently, I was struck by their common argument. One commentary was a 2005 article from The New Yorker on Philip Pullman. The other was a 2007 blog entry by an Australian publisher of children’s books, Andrew Kelly of Black Dog Books.

Kelly wrote: “I think we have too much of the “merely decorative word” in the scripts that come to us. Some of the editorial work we do is paring out the merely decorative which seems almost to be a modern addiction. The thought seems to be ‘If I put enough icing on this cake it will taste good.’ Nobody wants to expose the story on which the book has been built.”

Laura Miller’s fascinating article on Pullman spends some time exploring Pullman’s championing of the art of storytelling. Pullman provocatively stated “In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness…If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.” Miller suggests that to Pullman “stories are the elementary particles of meaning, without which we’d be less than fully human.” When Pullman won the Carnegie Medal he pointed out that “We need stories so much that we’re even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won’t supply them. We all need stories, but children are more frank about it.”

Much of my academic research focused on the function of storytelling in modern media. Creating narratives that explain who we are and how we got to a certain point is one of the jobs of a good journalist. And if that journalist can provide moral interpretations and a satisfying closure, you get a narrative that resonates with people.

My task now is to look at what I am writing to find out if the bones of a good story really are there and to make sure that I don’t cloak that story with narrative froufrou. As to why I was reading an archived New Yorker article on Philip Pullman? Well, that’s a story for another day.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Infernal distractions

I wish that I started every morning full of energy and enthusiasm but that is not the case. What I do is start with long lists of things to do which are rapidly subsumed beneath the demands that leap on top of me whenever my eyes are on something else. I’ve just spent an hour on the telephone to someone, briefing them on the proposed Marburg website. Maybe because they live and work in Byron Bay, they were exceptionally relaxed and chatty, so much so that I ran out of credit on my mobile phone and I had to call back by landline.

I found out that Byron Bay has a population of 8,000 but has about 1.5 million visitors annually. Perhaps it is the ocean, the whales, the Blues festival, Splendour in the Grass or just the friendliness of the inhabitants. We are not aspiring quite so high in Marburg – after all, where would everyone stay? They might even have to install traffic lights, or provide parking. And then the Residents’ Association would be less than popular.

This whole process of developing the website is taking much longer than I anticipated. Perhaps it is my inexperience in committee work and the very convoluted workings of Marburg life. The highlight though is the people I have met and with whom I have worked. Painful though it can be sometimes to get things done in the country (anywhere really), working with community groups is always rewarding in the less-tangible things – feeling part of a community, getting to know people, finding out whom is related to whom (really essential knowledge in a small town) and doing something for a community in which you live, amongst other things. It’s not good for time management though.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

How green the hills

112.5mm of rain in two weeks has transformed the Rosewood Scrub. Before I moved here, I had no idea of what rainfall meant. I had never measured rainfall nor knew what a particular measurement meant. Now I know that that much rain on our roof is 10,125 litres of rain in our tanks, centimetres of grass grown, trees revitalised and sending out shoots, dams slowly refilling. Today as I drove back from Ipswich, as soon as I got out of town I could smell the countryside growing. The hills breathed out moist fertile breaths. Beside the road, there were fields of green grass covered with swathes of purple and white flowers. Weeds perhaps, but beautiful. Even the skies are washed clean and decorated with impeccably fluffy white clouds. Nights are cool, days are breezy and pleasant. This I will try to remember when summer closes down on us, we suffocate in the breathless heat and the grass crunches again under my feet.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Making Germans

Austria was defeated by Prussia in 1866. German unification is generally taken as being in 1871. David Blackbourn points out that 1871 was not the end point, but really the beginning of Prussian efforts to create a nation of Germany. He refers to Massimo d’Azeglio, an Italian nationalist who said of Italy “We have made Italy, now we have to make the Italians.” What had been created was a location for the idea of Germany, in the form of what Blackbourn calls a “sovereign, territorially defined national state, with a constitution, a parliament and a German chancellor.”

Prussia was 60% of the territory and population of the new Germany. The German emperor was the former king of Prussia and the Prussian prime minister took up the role of chancellor. The Prussian army “effectively became the German army.”

Unity brought such things as the rule of law, legal accountability of ministers, commercial codes and unified currency. These are all institutions that are essential to efficient functioning of the modern state. Blackbourn points out though that there were problems such as the threat of authoritarianism from Bismarck as a political and military “strong man”, opportunities for corruption during the implementation of administrative rule, general political uncertainty and looming economic crises. However, everyone in the new Germany spoke the same language so that was a good starting point, even if opponents simply used the language to insult each other.

Blackbourn sees the 1870s as crucial in modern German history – a decade of consolidation, where relationships between German provinces were formalised, administrative functions such as national railways and other bureaucracies established and industries important for economic development set up. Other historians have painted a less positive picture, one which he describes as “marked by abiding Prusso-German authoritarianism and deep internal fissures accentuated by the deliberate playing up of ‘friend-foe’ distinctions.”

Trying to understand the process of German unification and the making of Germans is important to me as I write about the Jaeckels in Germany. I’m trying to get a sense of how a small business owning family, part of an emerging middle-class, would respond to a Prussian administration. For the purposes of my story I need to take the perspective of historians who saw conflict in this top-down unification. I particularly like the idea of this “deliberate playing up of ‘friend-foe’ distinctions.” I can see how that would play nicely alongside well-established town rivalries and interactions.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

In remembrance

I surprised myself today by buying a poppy badge for Remembrance Day (upcoming on the 11th). There was a man sitting outside the grocery store, not pushing his wares at all, simply there with his artificial poppies and badges. Normally I would just walk straight past. Those of you who know me personally, know that I am strongly anti-war and at times awkwardly anti-military. My pragmatic self admits to the necessity of arms and armies. My idealistic self believes them not to be necessary, an admission of failure on the part of humans to be civilised. And like most people, I don’t like failure particularly a failure that is so often repeated.

Recently though, I read Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers, a novel about German migrants in Canada. The focus of the novel is the creation of the massive Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Actually the focus of the novel is the amazing characters with which it is peopled, but the hook on which the story is hung, is that of the memorial. Reading about the experiences of Tilman, a probably autistic young man, in the trenches, reminded me that the First World War was fought by young men who did not have much say. The failure was not theirs but their governments’, yet they were the ones who fought in the trenches and died horribly. For them I will wear a poppy.

One passage in Urquhart’s book made me think of the Rosewood Scrub and wonder about its inhabitants’ response to World War One. She writes:

No one in Shoneval wanted to enlist. This reluctance would be later attributed to the German background of the village by a simplistic but effective propaganda machine designed to make people in Canada increasingly aware of racial and ethnic difference. The truth was that nobody wanted to enlist because they had spent the Sunday afternoons of their childhoods listening to grandparents count their blessings – the most important of which was freedom from armed conflict. Large proportions of the elder population had left behind war-torn Bavaria in their youth precisely for this reason. Even more had left behind the constant deadly squabbles over Alsace. They had not abandoned ancestral homelands, endured the misery of a pitching ship, battled armies of trees and insects, watched their spouses and children die wretchedly and far too soon only to see their grandchildren return to the battlegrounds from which they had fled.


In any given day I can either work on the Jaeckels’ story, blog or do something else. On the weekend I wrote and other tasks were ignored. Earlier in the week I managed to blog and yesterday was taken up with unexpected visitors and some paperwork. Part of it is a time issue – there are only so many quiet minutes in a given day. Part of it involves emotional energy. I often think of myself as lazy because sometimes I find myself totally unable to get my mind around writing. It takes an effort of will to wrench my mind away from the everyday and towards the past. Other times, the past seems more with me than others.

All this is to apologise dear readers, if I am not as consistent in my communications with you as I wish to be.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A loaf of bread

Today I pulled back slightly from the abyss of chaos and managed to wrap up the certification documentation for the school project and the website development document. Yet I didn’t manage to write any more of the book even though the Jaeckels were dancing around in my head clamouring with ideas and words. With my mind on the Jaeckels, the fact that I was hungry and it is chilly today after rain, I spent some time thinking about bread and baking.

I love bread and bread-making and like to read about it. Recently it was the 5 year anniversary of the death of the famous Parisian baker Lionel Poilâne. On this anniversary, much has been written about Poilâne and the bread his eponymous store still sells. Poilâne was famous for his rustic French loaves made only from wheat, leaven and salt. I paid attention to the descriptions of his bread because it is the kind of bread that the Jaeckels would have made in their bakery. Fascinatingly, Poilâne argued that the baguette that is to many people a symbol of French bread is a modern invention that has colonised popular imagination. He believed that the rustic rye and sourdough loaves that were his specialty are more representative of true French and European bread.

The Poilâne bakery sells sourdough, rye, current and raisin loaves, walnut bread, and butter cookies. Compared with modern Australian bakeries, this is a very small selection, but it is typical of a bakery producing labour-intensive hand-made breads. I’ve been looking at the breads for sale on the website and imagining the Jaeckels producing loaves such as these. I’ve also been dipping into notes I made earlier this year about wood-fired ovens and the process of using these. I’m trying to work out what kind of oven would have been available on board ship. If you remember, Michael Jaeckel works on board ship as a baker, receiving a salary and also fulfilling the requirement for all migrants to assist with on-board duties. And now, I’ve made myself hungry again …

Monday, 5 November 2007

Portrait of chaos

There are things that mothers are meant to know. Things like not wearing white shirts (tomato sauce, peanut butter, jam and chocolate are all difficult stains to remove), not letting your children read scary books too late at night, and most importantly, having a flexible schedule on any given day. I think this last one is a kind of code for disguising the fact that mothers, or at least this one, aren’t actually organised enough to have a proper schedule. When I was a paid employee I was almost painfully organised. It was my defense against a natural inclination to disorder. Scheduling, making lists, referring to my diary were all ways of keeping chaos at bay.

Now I have a wall calendar that loosely tracks my days. It is dependent however on two things: remembering to write things on it and remembering to look at it. Today, I realised that there is a third variable which is actually getting the right things written on it.

My loosely planned day today included working on getting the proposed multi-purpose court for the school certified, that is, the plans okayed for construction which by some strange quirk of funding agencies, we are required to do before our grant application for the remainder of the funding is actually even considered. Then I was going to work on writing something for the website development for the Residents’ Association on that I could take with me to the meeting of the Historical Society tonight to give to a colleague. I also needed to take a cheque from the P & C to another person at the meeting who is involved with a different organization. In between these things, I had a loose commitment to such household necessities as laundry, playing Connect 4 with Blithe Boy and perhaps a little blogging. Just to make sure all of this was going to work, I called this person to make sure they would be at the meeting.

My schedule had already started fraying with several people at the school who were needed to sign documents and issue cheques not available today. I practiced shrugging and saying “manana” while mentally calculating the number of days left till the grant deadline. Then the person on the other end of the phone line complimented me on my plan to hand over the cheque, but pointed out that the meeting had been yesterday. Descent into chaos complete. Now I had to ring the president of the Historical Society to apologise for the absence of her newly elected and clearly unreliable vice-president. I had to come up with another plan to hand over the cheque and I have to connect via email with the other website committee members.

On the other hand, I now have a free spot in my schedule tonight. And my writing is going well. The Prussian administration is ready to take over Marburg and the comfortable life of the Jaeckels is about to change. I have a good pen, a thick notebook filling with stories, a enlarging computer file and a sense of purpose and excitement. This weekend’s Australian Review has the headline “Frustration, Obscurity, Poverty: Why do writers bother?” Because it is such a thrill when it all starts to come together.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

And fauna too

When the Rosewood Scrub was first settled, one of the major challenges for farmers after the backbreaking labour of clearing the land and planting crops, was to protect these from wallabies. I imagine that some settlers would have been used to the idea of protecting crops from deer so it would not have been entirely new to them.

According to Frank Snars, in addition to sugar cane, a wide variety of other crops were grown in the area including oats, lucerne, maize, cotton, arrowroot, potatoes, panicum, sorghum, imphee, pumpkins, rape (canola), mangel-wurzels and a wide variety of fruits and domestic vegetables.

Admitting to wide agricultural ignorance, I had to look up some of the crops. According to Queensland’s Department of Primary Industry “Millets and panicums are small-seeded, quick-maturing summer crops ideal for double cropping and changeover cropping.” Imphee is African sugar cane (Holcus saccharatus), which resembles sorghum, or Chinese sugar cane.

I have always wanted to know what a mangel-wurzel was and now know that they are members of the beet family. This crop was developed in the 1700s in Germany specifically as a feed crop. Chard, beetroot and sugarbeet are all members of the same family. The mangel-wurzel was also called the “scarcity beet” and eaten when other foods could not be obtained. They could also be used to make a form of beer. Never underestimate the human capacity to find things with which to make alcohol.

Back to the subject of wildlife, Fred Kleidon wrote that “Fences 4 feet high made of palings split from the trunks of tree were erected around the crops of maize, potatoes, cotton and vegetables to stop the wallabies, bandicoots and cattle from eating them.”

Wallabies and bandicoots are much rarer today. Perhaps because I am not a morning person, nor required to be setting off for work in the early dawn, I rarely see much wildlife. We will occasionally see a wallaby hopping across the paddocks behind our house or bouncing through the fences. I have even seen echidnas wandering across the road. The last week however, we have had a visitor hanging around our house. On Sunday morning, a wallaby was sleeping in the shade of the trampoline. This morning as I sleepily washed my face, I practically came face to face with it outside the bathroom window. It is shy but not frightened. It will look at us though the window until some creak of the floorboards or noise sets it off. I am amazed by its beauty, but concerned by its predilection for proximity to houses. I wonder if it is eating the grass or if it is a gourmet, snacking lightly on rocket, basil, mint and parsley. We are lucky that we can enjoy its presence without worrying about its intrusion.