They rolled across the flatlands of the Murray River plains like an unstoppable force of nature..for surely that would best describe their tenacious persistence to forge a new Silesia..a new Posen a new homeland in this strange and distant place…a new life they saw as gifted to them from God that with their twisted version of a Christian Faith allowed no deviation from the written word and little forgiveness for those who slacked off in their expected commitment to both community and pastor, and the churches were quickly and proficiently built on land that still held the scent of the free indigenous peoples that were driven at bullet point from their hunting grounds and living sites along river and stream.
The Germanic settlers had arrived…themselves forced from THEIR homelands by a brutal military government that despised both their cultural independence and their version of Protestantism, they arrived on the shores of the newly formed province of South Australia with all the determination of a desperate people with little or nothing to lose, and so the English governors of the day used them to push open that wild country to the northeast of the capital…pushed them into the wild hunting grounds of the indigenous peoples to force a confrontation and so “justify” a brutal retaliation by such renegade militia that the powers that be could muster together…a collection of criminals and prospectors for gain seeking any excuse to break agreement of the Letters Patent that guaranteed cultural and land rights to those indigenous people…a cruel betrayal of both the English governors own King and Parliament and the people who came under their physical power.
But the central government underestimated the determination and perseverance of these new settlers..These peoples, mostly Slavic in ancestry were compelled to Germanise their names, religion and culture as part of the new Republic of Germany or suffer the consequences..hence the migration of entire villages replete with Pastor to Australia in the 1840’s onwards to the end of the century. These eastern Europeans were known mostly to themselves as Wends or Sorbs. And unlike the other two waves of Germanic migration; The persecuted Middle-class from the German cities who settled and brought culture to Adelaide and the proletariat industrial workers from the cities, who brought trade and industrial skills to the state, they held their culture and themselves to themselves and their Pastors. Hence the close-knit settlements around the Barossa Valley and Kapunda / St Kitts / Steinfeld areas of Sth Aust…and right up to the late 1950’s, English in their homes was a second language.
I have noted the many unrecorded efforts of many of those families while they battled with George Fife Angas’s use of their hard labour and their dedicated to family attempts to hold onto their impossible to farm successfully; hopelessly small plots of land and were in many cases left destitute and broken by what must be a deliberate plan to use them to clear-fell those sections of the mallee most suitable for cropping. The same as happened to many “Soldier Settlers” on the Murray Plains around Pinnaroo after the 2ndWW. When they were sent into the bush with little more than axes, picks and shovels and the remnants of their khaki uniforms to carve their fortunes and fates out of the hardy mallee..and in the end only broke their backs succeeding in clear-felling their selections for the local Bush aristocrats to pick them up when they went broke or shot themselves in despair..for as with any families who have lost everything and then been granted by fortune or fate a second grab at life, they took no prisoners in either social or pragmatic concerns..They ghettoed and they clustered together for their own protection…small hamlets under one pastor..a collection of families working together to form a community…land leased from a tyrannical landlord ; The South Australian Company, a fascist corporation that formed a corporate government even before the word “Fascist” was properly defined in its meaning..their sole objective being running a state on speculation and entrepreneurship using cheap labour of the new Germanic migrants to farm the cleared land stolen from the first peoples..; The Kaurna, the Ngarrindjeri, further northern tribes and clans driven from and massacred by the advanced arms imported without restraint from America…carbines replaced the old black-powder muskets that needed close-quarter contact with the indigenous warriors who then had distance enough to use their accurate spear throwing skills to at least fight back…and from then on it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Once these new hamlets grew with more children and then to become towns and then the farmlands started producing profits, The German peoples started organising local civil governance..town councils organised in conjunction with their church and pastor would liaison with the central governance of the state…but then also at arm’s length…for these settlers were still suspicious of the ultimate intent of the English landlords…after all, they too felt the hard hand of a ruling class that had little use for alternative ethnic cultures and would cast adrift any group that lay hindering their path toward capital domination…so suspicion ruled operation and little was done via civil intrusion into the civic running or health of these strange Germanic clusters with their unpronounceable names and inflexible natures…they were by and large watched with suspicion but left to their own devices..so that when disease swept through the clans, the central administration did what they did to the indigenous peoples…they left them to rot.
Many made their way north to the lower Flinders Rangers..to places like Hammond, Craddock, Gordon, Farina and others even more lost in the sands of time..“Rain will follow the plough” they told the settlers who established themselves in those first good seasons, then the drought set in and it all went to hell…the land collapsed, the farms went dry as dust, the people walked off their properties and the towns collapsed back into rubble and then sunk back into the earth they so wearily rose from.
“Rain will follow the plough”, they said and so the ploughs went back south ..to Steinfeld, Sandelton and Sedan..hard mallee country..with a slender top-soil and below, a layer of “calcrete” so hard every vibrating crowbar strike would ring ; “Gibraltar!” and so they drained and farmed the swamps and the hilltops and the stoney flats..picking up the stones by hand and throwing them into piles from the back of the dray..they farmed them with wood and iron and steel ploughs till the tynes and shares were worn to a slither or blunt as a gibber…They farmed the wind-blown flats till their families died with the diphtheria or in harrowing births gone wrong, attended only by young girls too frightened by the ghastly complications of childbirth to do little but cry in shock of what could very soon be their own fate…or they died in fires and accidents too frequent to collate in a doctors surgery, too far from a doctors assistance and left buried in sad, lonely cemeteries, serenaded only through the fall of time by sighing sheoaks around the perimeter of the church yard.
But again, the central government underestimated the determination and perseverance of these new settlers..and while the cemeteries filled with their children and vulnerable, so that you can see at one settlement of “Peter’s Hill” pioneer cemetery, just under the lee of Marshall’s Hut where there is interred around sixty eight souls, forty two of them are children…and I cannot help but believe that the death of a child then was of just as much grief as now, so that when the count became so high, so intolerable, the settlers moved from what was considered an unholy site to disperse over the flat lands of the Murray River Plains and still you can read of those same families names spread like summer chaff place to place..Dutton to Steinfeld to Sandelton to Sedan…they were driven by a courage unstoppable and a faith inviolate.
And even there, after successive droughts and, yes, floods, some moved on even further to the Adelaide Hills, to Lobethal and Hahndorf to join an already flourishing German community…some travelled further east to Hamilton in Victoria to set up anew their Lutheran Faith and churches and settled on more rich and promising soil…but they were still the same tenacious pioneers who stepped off ship with all the stern determination of a surviving peoples.
But that all ended with the second world war, for once the soldiers had returned and the community got back to normal, the technological gains that the machine of war had developed into machines of sowing and harvest, the social glue of combined manual labour and community reliance on that labour intensive population that held a district together and could prosper from such, fell victim to the culture of the individual…families that once relied on more children to accomplish the labour intensive farming practices, could no longer carry so many inheritors of the one property, families broke up…districts that relied on populated towns now lost their labourers and the shops closed down, the surviving farms that shifted from draught horse to mechanical tractors needed to borrow from the banks to tool-up so they too became victim of capital/compound interest…the end of a whole era drew to a close.
Now we only have echoes of what once was..A ruined settlement, crumbling huts and houses, one or two surviving members of a once dominant local family, clinging to their marginal farmland in hope of a better time to come, Memories of lost opportunity and relatives, a cluster of plastic flowers falling from a broken vase on the lichen covered marble of a grave of a once familiar name. What was once THE dominant culture now peppered with a desperate overflow of aged or unemployed from the cities and regional towns seeking cheap rentals and having little interest in joining the local community.
It was into that once thriving community between the world wars that my Cornish/Irish ancestors stepped with faltering feet just as the great depression bit into the soul of the nation….and like those early German pioneers, they were on their own.