Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Languages and internet quirks

For some time now I have been receiving German language spam on the email account associated with Two Tree Hill. I’m trying to decide if this is a sign of success or just symptomatic of the world widespread of rubbish. I am offered “online bestellen,” “Original qualität,” “100% wirksam”… and the sad thing is that this kind of Germanglish has propagated. Fortunately the spam filter is extremely effective and I only see these when I occasionally check my spam folder for “real” messages that might have been shunted in that direction. Oddly enough Mr Blithe seems to get mainly Spanish spam on his account. I have yet to work out that one.

When I tell people that I am writing a book about German migrants to Queensland (and believe me, it’s not something I tend to tell a lot of people) they assume that I speak German. I think that it would be very useful but it’s not something that I have time to do now. I can just imagine putting off writing even longer just so that I can improve my original research.

Language need not be a barrier though. I’ve never forgotten the first history course I ever took at university. The lecturer handed out a heavy photocopied book in Dutch, the journal of a Dutch explorer for the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East India Company or VOC). At our looks of shock and protestations of not being able to read Dutch, let alone 17th century Dutch, he merely smiled and suggested that we get started. And it was amazing what we could work out from the material. His idea, I imagine, was to get us to overcome fear at tackling original documents. It seemed to work. I haven’t been afraid to at least try to look at historical materials since that point.

On the subject of writing though, I’ve got the Jaeckels as far as Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies, now Jakarta, capital of Indonesia. Most migrant ships did not stop on the way to the colonies, but there are records of occasional port calls into Java. I imagine that a ship full of paying passengers might easily want to stop to take on supplies and water. A savvy ship owner could also use the opportunity to profit by carrying mail and special orders from Hamburg to Batavia and Batavia to Queensland. The VOC had a lock on trade to Batavia until Java passed into British hands in 1811. After that point the port was open to trade. The photograph below shows the port in 1870 much as the Jaeckels would have seen it (had they not been fictitious). You can see the strong Dutch influence and get a sense of how someone crossing the ocean in a ship might have been relieved and comforted at such signs of civilisation so far from home.

No comments: