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.

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