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?

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