Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Notes from Germany Hills

Names are important markers of social history. Names of places, names of things and people’s names all can give clues to the past. I was fascinated by a recent email from someone whose family came from Prussian to Queensland in 1875 on the Lammershagen. His family were originally French Hugenots who had lived in Prussia for hundreds of years. Although by 1875 the family only spoke German, they still carried their French family name of Petitjean. By the time they got off the ship in Queensland, their name had metamorphosed into Kleinhans. It had the same meaning of “Littlejohn” but spoke of German rather than French heritage. On the other side of this person’s family, their name of Schäler was transformed by an Irish immigration official to Schealler using the Irish “O’Shea” spelling to translate the German umlaut sound.

In the 1800s the hills between Lowood and Marburg were known by some as Germany Hills. According to one source, the area between Marburg and Prenzlau was even referred to by people as “Der Uckermark” because of all the Prussians who had settled there. The photograph below is the Schaler family at Germany Hills (the family farm was at Tarampa). In front of the family are pineapple plants, behind them are banana trees amongst others. Imagine how exotic such a photograph would have seemed to those who stayed behind. There is little in the image to show the hardship of these early farmers, growing crops that they perhaps had never before encountered.

Brad Schealler, now living in Rockhampton, mentions some of the family stories of the early days. His grandfather as a boy used to carry buckets of wine to the people working in the fields using a wooden yoke over his shoulders. Can you imagine what Occupational Health and Safety would say about the wine, let alone a boy carrying it to the fields? His grandfather recalls family excursions to the local billabong where they formed lines to walk through the water to catch eels with their feet. And at Christmas after a whisky, grandfather would speak “german(ish) like Santa Klaus.” Brad also remembers his great grandfather “doing his own dentistry with a small pocket knife that he also used to slice his chewing tobacco and to threaten his pet galah.”

It’s stories like these and the old photos that really bring the past to life before me. I love the way the man on the right of the photo has his hat tilted over his face and seems to be trying to look debonair and somehow not part of the group. It reminds me that the people I read about really were people with their own concerns, loves, hates and thoughts. Time hides these from me, but I can try to imagine their experiences and lives and to write about these. Somehow too, being a relative newcomer to Queensland and to country life and having had a peripatetic early existence gives me a bit of insight into their fears and experiences.


Vivi said...

I note that two of the men have their trousers held up by tightened belts. Hard work and not a lot to eat had led to weight loss. Or maybe a kind of optimism (or optimistic fashion choices?) led them to buy too-big trousers to begin with?

Blithe said...

Maybe there weren't a wide range of trouser sizes and you just got what was available and belted it to fit. Or maybe they were hand-me-downs...Lots of options but it is a look often seen in old photos so I think it may be more than just hard work and weight loss.