Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Three relative instances

Yesterday I got a letter (well okay, an overdue library notice) from the Ipswich Library, beautifully stamped on the front with the logo "Ipswich 150, 1860-2010." I dumped it on my kitchen counter unopened because I knew exactly what it contained and didn't feel up to dealing with it. I saw it this morning and I thought, "Oh that's nice, 150 years old, wow." (In my defense it was 6am when I noticed this and I hadn't had coffee yet so my brain processes weren't up for anything more sophisticated.) Then I thought, "Hmmh I'm supposed to be some kind of historian - what are some sort of anecdotal comparisons I can think of?"

When Mr. Blithe was a very young teenager, 30 or so years ago, his family went to visit his mother's relatives in Germany. On coming back to Australia Mr. Blithe was asked to do one of those "what I did in my holidays" school talks with which we are all familiar. He told the class that while he had been in Kuppingen (which is just south of Stuttgart), the town had celebrated its 1000th birthday. His teacher corrected him and insisted that the town could not possibly be 1000 years old. Of course it was. When we visited 15 years ago, we saw a wonderful exhibit on the Roman ruins and artifacts of the area and indeed, the prehistorical archeology. But his teacher couldn't imagine that a town could be that old and indeed, that it had that long history of awareness and layers of time.

When I started studying Chinese history at university one of my first lecturers told me that he had decided quite early on in his career to specialise. He didn't do any Chinese history after 1000BC. If he kept a lid on his interests he was able to read everything available on the subject and be an expert. If he ventured past 1000BC, then there was just too much to know and he wasn't able to have a comprehensive grasp of everything. As a first year uni student I was overwhelmed by the amount of pre-1000BC Chinese history. Even writing this now, I had the urge to write 1000AD instead of BC because BC just couldn't be right.

Of course we now know that Australian history far predates white colonisation and that Australia is one of the oldest continents with a history to match. In that history 150 years is a very small part. When you look at the vast sweep of Australian terrain and think that for 150 years, there has been a city clinging to the edge of it, tenuously at times, it is relatively amazing. And when you place the dot of Ipswich in relation to the rest of the world, you get a sense of how far people came to get here. Sometimes you wonder how they managed to survive and why they stayed here.

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