Monday, 31 March 2008

Nostalgic nationalism

I’ve been thinking about my neighbour’s comments about the “lack of German-ness” in this area and turned back to Johannes Voight’s overview of the process of assimilation for German migrants in Australia. Voight concludes that most German-Australians had only a kind of “nostalgic nationalism” and in general, strove to integrate rapidly with Australian society. People who migrated and settled in groups naturally retained their heritage longer than migrants settling independently in areas. Migrants with religious affiliations also retained their German identity longer. In particular, migrants who left Germany for religious reasons, such as some Lutheran groups, tended to use the German language in worship, Bible reading and in associated schools. Less religiously exclusive migrants might even go to non-Lutheran churches, send their children to local non-religious schools, and mix mainly with their Anglo-Saxon neighbours.

In 1913 a young German lieutenant who travelled to Australia on board the S.M. S. Planet reported after visiting German-Australian settlements in the Albury district:

Despite the German sentiments these people display, they want to be first and foremost Australians. ‘We feel at home here because we like our new country and owe our prosperity to it’. I heard them say. They are now so accustomed to freedom that they could hardly re-adjust to the somewhat narrower circumstances prevailing in Germany. I gained an impression of the wealth of these farmers when I saw eight first-class automobiles – all belonging to German farmers – standing outside the church after a divine service.

Johannes Voight offers the above excerpt from the Military Archives in Freiburg to illustrate his argument that German-Australian had only “nostalgic nationalism.” He writes that this “only offered inner support in the difficult and somewhat painful process of assimilation. This was of no political significance for German-Australians [and]…offered the German Reich no political link with Australia, as certain German quarters would have dearly liked.”

Marburg retained its German identity for some time. The school originally taught all lessons in German, there were several strong Lutheran congregations and the town was originally named after a German settler then after a German town. However, the infrastructure of Queensland was British in origin so there were limits as to how “German” a settlement could be. Such things as local government, the legal system, postal services etc. were established on the basis of British precedent with modifications for local conditions.

Many migrants had come to Queensland for economic reasons. Success was both the effect of assimilation and a driving force towards further assimilation. Both these economic migrants and the religious migrants relished the freedom of what was essentially a frontier state. Voight’s conclusion was that the “majority of German-Australians felt themselves part of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society in which they could nevertheless harbour nostalgic national sentiments and preserve emotional ties with their land of origin.” Of course this glosses over the undoubted existence of anti-migrant sentiment, the excesses of anti-German feeling during the world wars and the difficult realities of establishing oneself in a new country.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Feeling blue

I don’t know about other people but when I am feeling blue I make myself work. For me it’s usually the quickest way to feeling more cheerful. When I was a child burying myself in a book always helped when I was miserable. I think I read my way through several libraries’ worth of books whenever I went back to boarding school. Now, I still love to read, but I feel guilty when I let myself disappear into a book. Guilt compounded with misery with a dash of grumpiness is not a good combination.

Yesterday I ended up writing myself cheerful although I could hear the voice of one of my high school English teachers at the back of my head. “You write very well, but there’s something just a bit too slick about your work.” I squashed that voice back into the miasma of teenage angst where it belonged and managed to work out how the Jaeckels first hear about Queensland and start thinking about the idea of going there themselves. It wasn’t a long section of the book, but it was a significant one. More importantly to me I was moving forward on the book and that always cheers me up.

The other thing that brightened my week was that the stumpers finally finished up today. After arriving on Monday and promising to be done that day, they have been here for part of every day this week. When I left this morning to take the children to school and then get groceries, they were under the house welding the cross-struts to the steel stumps. When I returned, they had left with the work finished. Although the site is awash in mud and littered with bits of steel, cigarette butts, pieces of wood and wire, these are all things that can be taken care of. Monday and Tuesday next week the roofer is meant to be here finishing off the gutters and roof tiedowns then it’s up to us and the builder. And that as they say, is a story for another day.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The heat is on

As I’m writing this, there is a bobcat (of the mechanical, not wildlife kind) working outside my window. I could reach out and touch the head of the driver had I any desire to do so. It is loud and distracting, but very cheering. For the first time, the stumping crew has worked two consecutive days on the house and they are pretty much finished. The bobcat is being used to remove the steel I-beams and pyramids that were used to temporarily support the house. We have sacrificed one concrete path, several branches of frangipani and one struggling gardenia. Not too bad for a major building project. Oops, and a dent in the front steps. If someone is at their window, a good policy would be to not yell obscenities about hitting the steps.

The driveway on the other hand is a mess. The work crew seem to be of the opinion that if they just hit the hill fast enough, one day they will succeed in getting to the top. My cheery neighbour insists though, that we not get the driveway fixed as watching people tackle it provides so much entertainment for him. Skittering from bump to hillock to skid track on the gravel today I was dreaming of a nice sealed driveway, perhaps lined with trees and bowing servants.

I was returning home from a meeting about the website – yes that website, the one that we’ve been working on for over a year with nothing to show for it. I went into this meeting believing that it was going to be a post-mortem and funeral for the whole idea. The good news (I think) is that we will probably be going ahead with it. We came to a tentative agreement over projected costs and have a Saturday meeting scheduled with a web designer. It was a situation where the committee members worked out that we weren’t on the same page and managed somehow to meet. As all of them are dedicated readers of this blog I have to say here that the success of the meeting was only because of their intelligence and charm.

And this is where the heat got turned on. Website aside, I found out that there was general dissatisfaction over my lack of recent blogging. Even people’s fathers had been complaining. Moreover, the content came in for some critique with preferences expressed for local description and gossip over serious historical content. I’m tempted to retaliate by turning this into a purely historical literary blog, but I might lose my entire readership.

Then there was the discussion over the garbage collection on our road and blame laid at my door for the carbon footprint and general environmental vandalism of weekly garbage collection (and even worse, recycling collection). Apparently no-one had their garbage collected before we moved here and started the trend.

I’ve suggested that we start the Marburg Curmudgeon Club. After going home and Googling the word, at least one of us is now wearing the label with pride.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Migration musings

Having spent the Easter long weekend visiting relatives I found myself musing on some of the similarities and differences between two towns whose populations share a migrant past. Stanthorpe in the Granite Belt is an interesting contrast to Marburg. Marburg’s German migrants mostly arrived in the late 1800s. Stanthorpe’s Italian population were post-World War Two arrivals. What they have in common is that both populations have been in Australia long enough to have little to differentiate them from the general population other than their names. However, Stanthorpe still has the more overt markers of migration – a few Italian shops, the International Club, makers of bulk Italian wines and the Italian choir amongst others. Many families still have Italian-speaking elders. A few even have grandparents living with them who don’t speak any English.

I’ve been visiting Stanthorpe for about eighteen years now and have noticed a decline in its overtly Italian identity. When I first visited, my in-laws could walk down the main street in town pretty much only speaking Italian. Now, there are very few Italian speakers on the street. Many of the shopkeepers were Italian: the Mattiazzis, Girgentis and so on. Then the chaotic, overflowing and fascinating Mattiazzi’s Italian Deli became the upmarket Samuel’s Fine Foods, which then morphed into the trendy kitchenware and deli, Olga and Agnes. While change may occur, people are still very proud of their Italian heritage. And gelato, parmesan and espresso are part of mainstream Australian food culture now.

Part of this continuing heritage is that Italian culture is so closely tied to the Catholic church. Stanthorpe has a large and prosperous Catholic congregation. Festivals like those of the “Three Saints” are celebrated with parades and food and the church has Italian food stands at such local festivities as the Apple and Grape Festival. Some of the more successful orchardists and farmers are both Italian and prominent members of the Catholic church.

However, I can see Stanthorpe in a few decades retaining only vestiges of its Italian heritage. Right now, relative prosperity and religious affiliations are maintaining a cultural identity for the town in a way that Marburg’s subdued German Lutheranism does not. As someone asked me recently, “What German heritage does Marburg have other than German street names?”

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Wildlife warfare

When I’ve read accounts of the early days of settlement, I have always been amazed at the reports of the warfare between the farmers and the wallabies. An article in The Queenslander dated March 25, 1882 reports that the life of the farmers "may be summed up thus:-Maize, paling fences, wallabies and brigalow scrub. Every patch of cultivation – and there is an unbroken succession for miles – is enclosed by a paling fence, and every paling fence encloses a field of maize which it protects from the wallabies that infest the scrub.”

My amazement comes from the fact that I have hardly seen any wallabies in this area until this year. Now with the rain and the thick growth of grass we’ve had one frequent visitor to our front paddock. Then today, pulling up in front of our house I frightened two wallabies out of the neighbour’s home yard. Down near the highway, herds of wallabies and kangaroos graze the paddocks opposite the produce merchant at sunset, but I’ve never seen more than one wallaby at a time up here. It’s always fascinating to watch them bound away and spring through the barbed wire fences. I haven’t seen any crops surrounded by paling fences recently, but I wonder if the wallabies will start to be a problem if there has been a rise in population. I suspect not, because there aren’t too many cropping farmers around here. I will, however, keep an eye out for paling fences.

When our old neighbours were here, we rarely saw any mammalian wildlife as they kept pigging dogs and liked them to feed “au natural.” In so many ways, I am happy that they have moved on. We do however have one niggling reminder of their tenure. When they left, they were in a bit of a hurry and didn’t take the time to round up all of their free-range dependents. I’m pretty sure they took the children, but we now have two huge ducks (almost the size of small geese) rummaging through our garden. Yesterday I looked up to see Mr. Blithe divert on his way from coming home to drive around the front paddock chasing these intruders. They don’t seem to be getting the message. I’m very disappointed that the plovers seem to have arranged a truce with them. Perhaps it is something about relative size. I’m wondering about the efficacy of paling fences for ducks.

* With thanks to a local correspondent for sending me the newspaper clipping.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Expressing preferences

On Saturday local government elections were held. Elections around here mean a family trip down to the local school, the kids playing on the swings and fort and pointing out their work in the classroom and catching up with friends and acquaintances.

Fortunately a local election also usually means a fairly straightforward task in the ballot box. Keeping the handful of how-to-vote guides that I had been loaded with on the way in was more of a chore than voting. There were three choices for mayor and three for local councillor. You didn’t even have to vote preferentially. If you just wanted to vote for one, or two that was fine. For the first time, I knew someone handing out information for each of the candidates. Either I’ve been here a while or I have friends across the political spectrum. In fact, the spectrum is not very wide for local elections. For the record, at the last update, the incumbent mayor swept back into office with 82% of the vote and the incumbent councillor (17 years and counting) is on 51%. People really don’t like change unless the alternatives just seem too attractive.

Accepting an information card from a neighbour, I was queried about whether we had found a builder yet (“We know about the plum jam, but what about the builder?”) And the couple running the booth wanted to know the details of the house. They have one of the most direct views of the “big house” we’ve moved here. As owners of the biggest barn in the neighbourhood, they know big, but I wasn’t too sympathetic to their recollections of how sweet the little house is. I too think our house charming, rather than sweet, but my plan is to enhance the charm with a little space.

Hence the issue of the builder. Perhaps I’m being just too particular about it, but I want to work with someone who while practical, can also share a vision of what we want and be excited about doing it. It’s probably a pretentious middle-class thing, but I don’t want someone who likes and builds brick kit houses whacking together some generic solution. We spent two hours a couple of weekends ago talking to someone who has done work for us in the past and have great hopes that he’ll work with us on this. He’s already come up with an ingenious solution to convert the second bedroom space into laundry/closet/ensuite and has suggested some great ideas for stairs, moving doorways and converting the kitchen to a bedroom. We’re waiting for him to get back from a trip and confirm details with us.

Meanwhile the stumping should be finished tomorrow. We spent the weekend gutting the old bathroom and ripping lino and mouldy carpet out of the house. The children have proved very good at removing tacks from the floor so we had a great time cleaning the place out. It was hugely satisfying and really felt like we were taking ownership of the house. It already seems like a different place. And it will be more different yet. I’m already thinking though that we will have to have a “wrap party” to satisfy everyone’s curiousity.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Interrogating photographs

The hero of Blithe Girl’s latest library book is Charlie Bone whose claim to fame is that he can talk to people in photographs. I think that this would be very useful. I’ve been scanning photos on the Picture Queensland website trying to get a sense of what life was like for early settlers. It’s always a challenge to find the right search term. I’ve found that a common useful label is “country life.” Using this tag has brought up many pictures of early farmers, farmhouses and rural communities.

I was distracted for a time yesterday by thinking about how fashions have changed in family photography. So many historical portraits picture unsmiling, even grim faces. I think it was partly the cost of such studio portraits and also the novelty. You didn’t want to waste time and money looking goofy. And it was such an unusual occurrence that people were rendered solemn. It also seemed to be the photographer’s preference, perhaps because getting everyone to look serious meant that you had to take fewer frames. I generally don’t like just economic rationales for things, but it could have been simple economy on the part of the photographer. I remember taking Santa photos in David Jones as a uni student. Parents expected children to all look happy in the photos (if not immediately before and after) and you can imagine how difficult it could be to make everyone look suitably festive at the same time. Many frames of film were wasted in the pursuit of jollity. At least with contemporary digital cameras wastage of everything except time is less of an issue.

Of especial interest to me are the wedding photos. In the archives that I scanned, it wasn’t until 1953 that the “happy couple” were actually portrayed as such. Earlier wedding portraits showed an array of solemnity enough to turn one off the institution of marriage. And yet I am sure that it was the result of portraiture and its expectations rather than a reflection on marriage.

Archived photographs from the 1920s show photography as becoming more informal and more a record of everyday life. There are photos of families having picnics at the beach: the men tieless and with trousers rolled up, the women heavily hatted with even a few hiked skirts and the children happily barefoot. Then in the ‘40s and ‘50s there start to be collections of happy family snaps: of children sailing with their parents, playing outside, adolescents dancing and images of people working. I just wish that I could talk to these photos. Maybe I’ll have to find out how Charlie does it.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Jam and cycles of life

In a triumph of optimism over reality, I bought an entire carton of plums at the market last week. Since our local greengrocer changed hands, I have been driven reluctantly to buy fruit and vegetables at Woolworths. However, last week I tried out another place that has recently changed hands, the elegantly named “Jumbo’s” on the highway. I hoped that the name was representative of the quality and discounts of its produce and not the end result for consumers. Other than the slightly chaotic presentation of its produce, one thing immediately stood out – the sales savvy of its owner. He isn’t pushy but he does wander around telling you about the produce, what’s good, what’s on special and of particular interest to me, where it came from. I found out last week that he is a new resident of Marburg, moving from New Zealand and buying the property on the highway advertised as being “ideal development land” as well as the fruit shop. He assures me that he doesn’t plan to develop – he has a few horses and thinks the small acreage is perfect and “it was so cheap!” Between his cheerful dissertation on fruit and my illness-induced weakness of mind, I emerged clutching the aforementioned carton of plums. Well, actually he clearly sensed my mental and physical state and sent his assistant out with the plums.

I love plums and the way that a fairly ordinary fruit somehow transforms into glorious sticky jam and smooth stewed fruit. All of a sudden though I had to rack my brain: did I have enough jars, what about sugar, how many kilos of plums in a carton…? Fortunately I was on the way to the supermarket so was able to pick up eight kilos of sugar. And what about all the other things I had to do last week?

I took the advice of organisational gurus and split up the tasks. Three kilos of fruit became jam on Friday then about four kilos were stewed today and the last three kilos for jam are cooking away now. Standing at my window preparing the fruit I was watching the enormous crows that move into our neighbourhood in March. The longer we live here, the more aware I become of the cycles of nature. January and February are the time for the huge webs of the golden orb spiders draped over every bush and twig. March brings fruit on the old guava tree down the paddock and means the crows will soon arrive. They are incredibly picky eaters and carefully remove only the ripest guavas from the tree. We don’t bother to net as the fruit isn’t the best. We enjoy the occasional grainy pink and yellow treat but keep the tree more as a testiment of its survival rather than for the fruit. They can clean out a crop pretty rapidly though and I am grateful that we don’t depend on any of our fruit. If Jumbo’s fails me, I can always go back to Woolies. Although some may lament our contemporary disconnection with the land, it does make for a more convenient life.

This year the crows are fighting for dominance with the magpies. We have plovers (technically masked lapwings) nesting near the house and they are almost psychotic over the invasion. They can’t decide whether they hate the other birds more or us. Every movement of person, bird or car on the road results in an explosion of harsh sound and wings. I think the crows and magpies enjoy teasing them. Or perhaps they heard about how much I enjoy quietness. Somehow though the birds, the weekend and the jam-making have been therapeutic and I feel a bit better able to face the week, albeit in a somewhat sticky state.

Friday, 7 March 2008

High hopes

I have been totally flattened by a combination of being unwell and having work crews here all week. I’ll wake up feeling terrible, get a spurt of energy and then collapse around 1pm. Unfortunately, that is my main writing/thinking time and I have spent most of it napping.

I’ve realised this week how much I value my privacy. It may sound weird for a blogger, but the energy to write and think about my life and research comes at least partly from the serenity and quietness of where I live. And serenity has been in short supply this week. Blithe Boy has been bothered by the chaos too and spends much of each day asking me what the various noises are. He is our Marburg baby and didn’t have the experiences of university co-op housing with fire engines screaming by at regular intervals or our later surburban bus route existence. We will occasionally hear the Rural Fire Service klaxon or sirens on the highway, but the wind and birds are the only constant background sounds of our lives.

This week has been a dissonance of jack hammer, dingo, drills, hammers, thumps, crashes, grunts and yells. There has been a plethora of decisions to be made on many issues, quotes to be chased up, and one day, a work crew to track down. I’ve had to work out where to park every time I come home and there have been some interesting driveway interactions. Our property is not really designed for more than single vehicle traffic flow. On the plus side, we have a new roof with only about half a day’s work left to complete gutters and final tying down. And after today, it looks as if the stumps will be installed and certified on Monday. After that it’s our responsibility to get the rest of the work done.

We believe there is still a builder for us on the horizon. Other options have either fallen through or not even emerged. Builder #6 is coming to inspect tomorrow. We have high hopes, but then we always do.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

“Deutsche Siedlungen in Queensland”

Johannes Voight continues to hide some fascinating facts in writing that is both dry and verbose, if such a combination is possible. He uses a lot of very boring words to say some interesting things about German migration to Australia. In a measure of the dryness of his prose, it managed to put me to sleep in spite of a jackhammer, two drills and a dingo in the background. A dingo is not the famous animal that “got my baby!” but a small digger that is operated by standing on a platform in front of controls. This one is outfitted with a post-hole auger that is being used to dig the holes for the stumps of our house. They are very noisy especially when they operate right outside your window.

I found out today that Voight was a research fellow in history at my alma mater the year I was born. Perhaps this explains a few things, but I have read many fascinating historians writing in different eras and it is not as if he is writing about boring material. In Voight’s defense, I am still unwell so I may be unusually tired and less able to concentrate.

One of the things that annoys me about the book is that while facts are rigourously footnoted, illustrations are merely attributed to their sources without further details. A map of German settlements in Queensland from the Institute for Foreign Relations in Stuttgart is undated. Hand-drawn, it lists 35 settlements, twelve of which are in the Rosewood Scrub. The only other such cluster of settlement was around the Wide Bay (Maryborough, Gympie, Bundaberg) area. If you add in settlements near but not in the Rosewood Scrub like Ipswich Kalbar and Fassifern, 13 out of 35 listed settlements (37%) were in this area.

I’ve listed the settlements below. From the names, I’m guessing that the map was from around the era of the First World War as it lists the Anglicised names of some of the Rosewood Scrub towns as “new names.” For example, Minden reverted to its old name and Marburg’s name changes aren’t even noted (Marburg to Townshend and back to Marburg).

1. German Station (Nundah – according to Voight from the German phrase “Wir sind nun da” “We are here now.”
2. Waterford (Betania Junction)
3. Ipswich
4. Toowoomba
5. Rosewood
6. Fassifern
7. Beenleigh
8. Lockyer
9. Plainland
10. Hessenburg (Ingoldsby)
11. Maryborough
12. Bundaberg
13. Mackay
14. Laidlay
15. Hatton Vale
16. Marburg
17. Minden (Frenchton)
18. Engelsburg (Kalbar)
19. Bergen (Murra Murra)
20. Bergenside (Neuve)
21. Bismarck (Maclagan)
22. Gehrkevale (Mount Mort)
23. Gramzow (Carbrook)
24. Hapsburg (Kowbi)
25. Kirchheim (Haigslea)
26. Roessler (Applethorpe)
27. Stegeht (Woongoolba)
28. Teutoburg (Witta)
29. Zahley (Kilbirnie)
30. Baffle Creek
31. Binjour Plateau
32. Tarampa
33. Steiglitz
34. Kleinton
35. Prenslau.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Management of Sheep

In 1988 Australia celebrated her bicentenary. I remember Australia Day that year very clearly. It was the day that I returned to Australia “for good” as a teenager. My family had all returned to Australia several months earlier. I had to stay at school a bit longer to finish off my then-seen-as-all-important “O Level” exams. The amusing thing is that after preparing for these exams for years, I don’t think anyone in Australia even looked at my results. I was simply slotted into a fifth form (grade eleven) class and put to work on preparing for my senior exams. Anyway, my plane landed in Sydney on 26 January 1988 and I amused myself with the thought that all the festivities: the harbour full of tall ships, the fireworks, the banners and parades were in honour of my return.

In honour of the bicentenary the German government sponsored the writing and publication of a booklet on “Two Hundred Years of Contacts, Relations and Connections.” Sadly it is as dry as this title suggests. However, tucked into its dry litany are some gems, particularly of insights on German perspectives on immigration to Australia. Most of the material I’ve looked at has been from the perspective of Australia or from the migrants themselves. This material draws on some of the official German archives and historical records.

I managed the first chapter with only a small snooze on the sofa. In my defense, I’m recovering from a vicious bout of flu and to the delight of my children have almost entirely lost my voice. Somehow admonitions whispered at them aren’t as daunting as my usual volume.

From the German perspective, Australia wanted German migrants to do the farming that English migrants couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Especially of value were experts in wine, tobacco growing and sheep breeding. According to the author, Johannes Voight, much hilarity was engendered in German circles by a letter from the British envoy to Berlin, sent to the Württemberg government in 1852 asking for “women conversant with the Management of Sheep.” The Württemberg minister for the interior wrote to the foreign minister saying “according to the enquiries he had made, there are no girls in Württemberg earning their living by looking after and shearing sheep” and pointed out the difficulty of ensuring that such women as might be found would be of good virtue and not simply in pursuit of “pastoral amour in Australia.”

Voight also spends some time discussing the land order system and the fact that some perceived it as exploitation and as a new form of slavery. Employers in Queensland received land orders (that is an order equivalent to 18 sterling pounds worth of land) from the government when they advanced money for an immigrant’s passage. Once the immigrant had worked for the employer in Australia for two years, that employer received a further 12 pounds sterling. In essence this was bonded labour. For the poorest immigrants, it meant free passage in return for a minimum of two years’ labour on arrival. Some considered it a fair deal. I suspect it depended a great deal on the employer. You had more freedom if you paid your own passage, but you then also had no guarantee of employment on arrival. As with today, your way in the world then depended on your financial assets and your toleration of risk.

I promise to dedicate myself to sifting out more gems. I’m hoping to discover some of that promised “pastoral amour.”