Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ten pictures

The task of selecting ten photographs out of 265 to represent the house move was challenging. I wanted a nice chronological representation that wouldn’t be overwhelming, but that would show the whole process. Ten is of course an entirely arbitrary figure, but I am a goal-setting kind of person and what is life, but arbitrary? Ironically four of the final ten photographs were not taken by myself so I really only selected six out of 265. The others selected were taken by our self-styled “inquisitive neighbour.” I particularly like them because they provide the perspective of distance (images #2,4-6). I hope you enjoy your pictorial overview of the “Big Event.”

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Getting back to basics

For something that is meant to be about writing and history and even historical writing, this blog seems to have been very focused on houses recently. In the midst of stumping, reroofing and vital decisions such as roofing materials I’m trying to get my mind off the house and onto the book. My sister was quizzing me about the Jaeckels during her visit. “So they’re still in Germany are they?” “When will they make the decision to leave?” “Are you going to include a list of what they need to take on the boat – I thought that list was very interesting?” Instead of simply bopping her on the nose and screaming “Don’t ask about my book” (it is so easy to revert to childhood patterns of behaviour with one’s siblings) I thought that I should take what she said in the spirit of things and just get to work.

So I’m retyping what I’ve written so far to get my thoughts back on track. There’s a possibility that I might be going overseas on a short trip later in the year (if funding and stars and the gods align) and I am using that to motivate myself. It’s part of a new project on which I’m working and I do like to clean old projects out of the way first. I’ve actually spent the last few days squeezing in moments on the new project – the funding deadline approaches. It’s refreshing to be seeking funding for my own project, but like everything else it takes a lot of time and emotional energy. Fortunately there is only so much time you can spend on colour options for roofs and I’m done with family celebrations for several months.

Monday, 25 February 2008

New perspectives on Marburg

Since the house arrived a day early last Thursday I have not been able to get my head around anything. Between the excitement of the arrival, a night’s missed sleep, a houseful of extra people and excited children I have not had a moment’s quiet thought. I am finding more and more that the writing is very much an end product of a lot of thought and research. If the front end isn’t done then there is nothing, no fuel for the fire.

Instead in response to queries as to the silence from my end, I’ve decided to share a few photos with you of Marburg in ways I had never seen it before. It was indeed a dramatic and moonlit scene in the early hours last Thursday. These images step you through from 3am to 5.30am, from the highway at 3am to downtown Marburg to the sun rising over the d'Aguilar Range – normally my less-than-optimal functioning hours. I’ll bring you more images later of the house move itself. I think my still shots totalled around 260 in addition to several hours of regular video filming and the same of digital video. It will take me a while to sort through them.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Sixth time lucky?

After two days of silence from the house removalists, we have a new date scheduled. No florid guarantees this time, just what seems like grim determination on their part and ours. Friday the 22nd is the day – I have no confidence in this sixth rescheduling, but perhaps there may be a house here that morning.

We are now into a week crammed with a family birthday with associated festivities; full floors with sister and mother visiting from Taiwan and Sydney respectively and special activities at school. Perhaps in an ominous sign, Blithe Boy christened the sofas (and incidentally me) with the contents of his stomach today. I can only hope it is not the precursor of one of those waves of contagious illness that sweeps violently through the school and then one by one through the family.

On the positive side, this week is our fifth anniversary of living in the Rosewood Scrub. No celebrations are planned other than perhaps the house arriving. But what more do we need?

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Failed diversionary tactics

My Valentine’s gift this year was going to be a house. Perhaps only a coincidence, but it was a nice thought that it would arrive today. However, there’s a long complicated story involving the existence of only one truck, broken-down barges and bad timing. I’m not entirely sure what to believe. What I know is that the house isn’t here and there is as-yet no projected date of arrival.

I was so stressed yesterday by the whole business that I even folded some laundry to distract myself. Those who know me, know that I must have been feeling bad to think laundry would have any therapeutic benefit. I often do things that I don’t like when I am feeling down on the principle that there’s no point in doing things I don’t enjoy when I’m feeling cheerful. The only destination there is down. When you’re feeling bad, you might as well just pack on the misery and get it over with.

In another attempt at distraction I’ve been browsing through a pile of coffee table books on Marburg, Germany that I picked up at the Historical Society. I’m gradually getting a feel for the buildings and streets. There’s a wonderful picture in one book of the main square and the town hall. In a scene I have Michael Jaeckel going into the town hall to talk with the mayor while Carl waits outside with the bread delivery cart. After seeing the hills and cobbles of old Marburg, I’m wondering if they really would have used a cart.

It’s good to see the pictures of the houses. A section of one of the books is dedicated to the restoration of historical building in the town that started in the 1970s. Many of the half-timbered facades of buildings built in the 1700s had been plastered or rendered over. In the restoration plaster was removed, timbers replaced, old windows fixed and shingles renewed. It is amazing to compare the before and after photographs. My only query is about when the facades were plastered. Was it in the twentieth century or earlier? Would the Jaeckels have seen the timber and plaster facades or the mortared fronts? From the photographs, admittedly in grainy black and white, the unrestored facades look to be cement mortar or render. In this case, I think I can assume that the Marburg houses of the Jaeckels time would have been of timber, plaster, stone and shingles.

I would say that architecture is a good diversion except that it takes me right back to where I started.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Every year, there is a different day that becomes my busy day, the day that I barely pause for breath until I crash into bed at night. Today I woke early and laid there worrying about all the things to be done. Taking myself to task, I leapt out of bed to get on with the day and I haven’t stopped till now. Tuesdays will be interesting from this point onwards. It doesn’t help that it has been raining, albeit lightly in a kind of Irish drizzle, for most of the last eighteen hours and the headlines on the ABC website are screaming “SE Queensland warned to brace for wild weather.” Fortunately I took the time to actually read the article and the forecasters are suggesting that the wild weather will be confined to the coast. There are some advantages to living 50 kilometres or so away from the ocean.

I wondered today if Peter Carey or Ian McEwen or Dorothy Dunnett had to pause in their writing with the thunder of small feet down the hallway and the cry “me go loo.” Do they do laundry and grocery shopping, chase down tradespeople, read books to children, make birthday cakes? Do you have to be a successful writer to get someone else to do these things? Of course you have to be successful at something to get someone else to attend to the messy necessities of life. And yet I like to hold onto the idea that the messiness and demands of everyday life are the ground out of which good writing grows; the fertilisation for imagination; the impetus for thinking of things outside the mundane.

Part of my current whirl is trying to clear old projects out of the way to make room for exciting new ventures. So it is a bit like housekeeping – chasing down those dust bunnies, spiders and pile of paper that loiter in corners (at least in the corners of my house) – to open up space for new things and new ideas. And if the house arrives this week, that would be a wonderful start.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Saw, axe and hoe

Chainsaw, circular saw, power drill, ride-on mower, petrol push mower, whipper-snipper, shovels, wheelbarrow, rakes, angle grinder … the list goes on of the tools we have used over the last few weeks. Yesterday as I shovelled crusher dust into the wheelbarrow I thought about my personal level of pain and how it must have been for those first settlers without most of these aids. I sawed one broken branch off a leopard tree and my arm was on fire. I moved those few loads of dust, shifted around some mulch and felt exhausted.

The crusher dust was for the base of the new tank pad. The tank isn’t on the pad yet but we are getting there. Even having polyethylene tanks for water makes life easier for us. We don’t have to walk miles for water or lug it from the dam. We have a tank and an automatic pump that sends the water to the house. Settlers who had water tanks had to have them on stands to provide pressure and had to make sure that taps were below the water level. If you didn’t have a tank stand, you didn’t have a tap in the house. You would take buckets out to the tank and carry them to the back door.

Fred Kleidon writes in German Settlement in the Rosewood Scrub that the first pioneers walked out from Ipswich with a saw, axe and hoes. The land was cleared through backbreaking labour using two-man saws, a horse or bullock if you were lucky, hoes or mattocks and fire to burn out the stumps. Fences were made with palings split by axe or maul and wedges.

I have often read the accounts of land clearing. Kleidon writes that an area of about 25 hectares would be cleared and fenced before stock and crops would be introduced. Until the work of the last few weeks I haven’t had any idea what that might have felt like. I still don’t, but I can extrapolate from my own aches how people might have felt for days on end. On the other hand, it was labour that had a concrete outcome. You worked hard, but you could see what you were doing. You worked hard, but it was for yourself and not some entrenched landowner. The rewards were yours. If you worked hard and made good decisions, the rewards were great. If you didn’t make good decisions, they were still your decisions. Though exhausting and exhausted, the freedom must have been intoxicating. Or is that just my 21st century perspective straining back through time?

Thursday, 7 February 2008

It’s raining again, oh no…

It’s not actually raining right now but it was yesterday evening. Raining, pouring, streaming, gushing, rushing, teeming, flowing from the sky. And I was able to enjoy it, not because our house had arrived but because I already knew that it wasn’t coming. Apparently house moving is a bit like train timetables. One hitch and the whole schedule implodes and some convoluted realignment of the universe is required. The house ahead of us in line is currently stuck in mud on Russell Island. When it is extracted, it will be our turn. ETA is approximately next Thursday -- Valentine’s Day. Perhaps I need to sacrifice some chocolate to St. Valentine (purely in the service of efficiency of course).

I feel more confident about the house move because the gentleman who will actually be doing the job paid a visit yesterday. Other than his assurance that it will happen next week “come hell or high water” (mmm…not sure that he should be talking about high water), his appearance inspired confidence. He looked like a man who could and does personally corral and hogtie any errant house. I was particularly impressed by his ability to button his shirt while talking to me (perhaps it is more comfortable driving in deshabillĂ© or maybe the tatts needed airing.) He reckons that it won’t be difficult, took the contact details of our bulldozer driver and already has everything sorted with him.

The rain was marvellous. The ground is so saturated at the moment that any additional moisture runs off. According to reports, the famous gully was running. All the dams are overflowing. Our neighbour’s little dam, called the dimple dam by us, had a silver thread of water flowing over its edge. One of the dams behind our house had a stream winding out of it and down the valley. Black Snake Creek is deeper than I have ever seen it and has spread out below the bridge in town. Where we often walk down a green alleyway is now a shallow sheet of coffee-coloured water. The money spent on the detention basin seems to have been well spent with water flowing steadily down the creek instead of rushing into town.

Right now though I think I’ll just make a bit of a start on that chocolate…

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Laundry ironies

Perhaps you think that since all the hard work of last week I have been lying around recovering and reading trashy novels. Those of you who have experience renovating or who have large gardens know that the task is never done. There is a hierarchy of need: the things that absolutely have to be done by a specific time followed by the things that would be nice to get done by that point; followed by all the rest including the things like mowing and laundry that are on the permanent job list.

Removing the current laundry was essential for the house arrival, as was moving the greywater tank and the water tank. The water tank is still stubbornly resisting moving. That is the task for tonight after Mr. Blithe gets home from work unless we are washed off our hill by the predicted rain. Yes, heavy rain and “gusty storms” are predicted. Our only hope is that like the storms of yesterday, these will largely pass us by. The bulldozer driver is coming by late this afternoon to make an expert assessment of whether he feels that he can tackle the hill in these conditions. We have heard nothing yet from the house movers so we assume they are waiting to see what happens this afternoon as well.

The back of our house is a bit of an archaeological dig at the moment with all the tasks in progress. One of the “wish list” tasks has been the removal of various concrete slabs and paths that we don’t want under the new house. We are trying to avoid creating termite superhighways. These extra few days have given us time to work on removing these. There is also still the remains of the original stand-alone laundry at the very back of the property. We have been slowly dismantling it over the last few years. It turns out to have a double concrete floor – concrete pavers laid on top of 15-20 centimetre thick concrete. Mr. Blithe broke up much of this with the jackhammer and I have discovered an unexpected talent with the pinch bar, disassembling these. If I need a job, perhaps I could go for a life in crime as one of those crowbar enforcers. We’ve been shifting this concrete to the front yard for our winter project of making a sinuously winding path through yet-to-be completed raised garden beds. The path will terminate in a paved terrace overlooking the valley. Dreams, especially garden dreams are very nice.

One of the interesting finds, other than the maze of concrete work that we never suspected existed (including the original patio and sill for the stairs under the concrete of the attached laundry) is that much of the concrete in the oldest laundry was reinforced by what seems to be old iron barrel hoops. The photo below is of some of them: if you have any suggestions as to what else they might be, please let me know.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Random historical things

Last night was the first meeting for the year of the historical society. We generally managed to contain our enthusiasm and not finish too late. One of the main topics of conversation was Marburg’s participation in the Tidy Towns competition. As one of the more active organizations in the town, everyone at this meeting had ideas for things that could be done in the contemporary setting. A little off the topic of things historical but very engrossing for all.

One of the more pressing issues was that of people contacting the organisation and asking for historical information. Usually the letters are handwritten pleas for assistance. Members are keen to help but time is limited and many of the requests are such that hours can be taken up in finding the necessary information – “I think my great-grandmother is buried somewhere in the Rosewood Scrub…” Marburg featured in an episode of “The Great Southeast” last year and that generated quite a lot of interest. Curiously the recent rerun of the segment generated even more letters than the first. The president does a wonderful job responding to these requests. I think that I am a bit more hardline – I would tell people what information is available and invite them to visit and examine the material themselves. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it is hard for people with jobs, or even people like myself to give a lot of time to these requests.

Perhaps better than some, I know how time-consuming historical research can be. Even with online resources and knowing exactly what is in a collection, the actual tracking down and reading of material can vacuum up vast swathes of time. That is the frustration and the pleasure of historical research. For myself, I picked up a handful of books on the German Marburg and Hesse in general to fill out some background. I am less interested in the text than in the photographs of places and people so that I can fill in some descriptions. I am determined to get back to writing, if only to take my mind off the continuing rain and associated building concerns.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Dampened enthusiasm

One of the glories of blogging is putting information out into what used to be referred in radio days as the ether and getting responses back. It’s like throwing out a fishing line and pulling in, not fish but nuggets of information. One day I write about eroding gullies and several days later back comes an email telling me exactly when the floods of the late 1800s were: January 1887, July 1889, March 1890 and February 1893. Apparently there were also landslides on the Minden side of the range during the 1974 flood.

Fascinating though this information is, right now it just fills me with trepidation. That and the headlines on ABC news along the lines of “More rain predicted for south east Queensland” and this morning’s ‘Severe weather warning issued for south east Queensland.” The dams are full, neighbours are suggesting gullies can be avenues for water sports, the skies are cloudy and we have a house scheduled to be delivered this week. This morning I was awake at 4am and lay in bed listening to the rain falling and worrying. It’s silly really because there’s nothing I can do about it but there is that huge gap between knowledge and reality. I was waiting for the phone call this morning telling me that the house arrival had been rescheduled. It has, but so far only pushed back one day to Thursday, 7 February. This of course is entirely dependent on the weather – I remain fixed to the Bureau of Meteorology’s radar which coincidently is located on the Bluff at Ashwell even though it is referred to as the Marburg radar.

I am curious about that July 1889 flood. Our peak rainfall months are October through February and occasionally into March. A July flood would be an unusual occurrence. But I’m not sure that I can bear to read about floods and mayhem just this moment. I’ll tuck that away in my future research file for now.