The end of harvest in the days of horse agriculture marked a moment for both rejoicing and contemplation…in his speech, Matheus the farmer gives thanks and gives notice of the end of an era.
Mattheus rapped the wooden serving-spoon from the plate of vegetables onto his plate…
“My usual position when at this point of the evening, at this “end of harvest night”, is to be standing here at the head of the table, cup of good cheer in hand, giving a thank-you speech and congratulating us all on a job well done…but tonight, I will remain seated..not out of a sense of indolence nor disrespect…for I doubt there is a person in this room does not know of my nature by now..But tonight I remain seated so as to talk to you on the same level…no longer as “Th’ Boss”…nor now as head of the work-team, for tonight I hand the reins…if only figuratively..over to my sons ; Peter and Christian..for it is they who will now take the family farm onto the next chapter of its evolution with the full blessing of myself and Magdalena..and it is that evolution that will change the entire work practices..as we have talked of these last several years..from the old one of horse and harness to the new of tractor and steel couplings…Myself, having reached both God’s and Nature’s allotted time of years allowed a man..; “Three-score and Ten”..I am like the proverbial old dog and new tricks…I cannot change and I have no right to stand in stand in its way.
But tonight, I want to talk about another thing and I hope give both my sons, their wives and children..our grandchildren..both warning of consequence and also to top up the cup of cheer with the measure of hope.…
Nature has lent its hand to us…she has given us soil…water…and sustenance…From time immemorial we have harnessed her beasts for the field..with the strength of these fellow toilers, these mute companions of our labours, we have turned the soil, harrowed the Earth and seeded our crops…from the time when my father and mother first set foot on this strange country and drew our section of land and marked the dimensions of their home on the soil, to now when their children sup at the table of their dreams and promise, it has all been done with eyes firm set on that measure of a man’s worth..the measure of a woman’s worth..on the measure of home and family..on a measure of hope..My parents, our forebears built an empire out here upon a new country..not an empire of imperial conquest, nor an empire of expansive proportions, but rather an empire of hope and dreams for their family..their backs bent to the chores of that ambition, without doubt, without fail and with high faith in their mission to succeed…indeed, succeed they must or perish in the trying.
The greatest treasures of a parent is their children..it is the children who will carry the future to further horizons that can be dreamed of by a parent and it is the safety of those children that exercises the most concern for the parent..What measure of gold is the equal to the harvest of seed that gives new life in every season to a garden? What reward of contentment can equal that of a full stomach, a clear mind and the love in one’s heart for what greets them on the start of a full day of productive and rewarding toil?…Why would a man get out of bed if not to fulfill the promise and reap the bounty of a life of hope…that measure of hope that is the right of every person born under Nature’s sky and God’s heaven?
When I gazed tonight upon the healthy meal that my loving wife, Magdalena, set before me, I saw the fair measure of meat…of potatoes..of pumpkin grown so prolifically over the old composting stable heaps..it’s tendrils seeking distant promise like an arm reaching for distant fruits..a wonderful meal..and all in good measure..and it is that measure that I now talk to each and every one of my children and their families to heed and be watchful that envy and greed do not cast a shadow over future ambitions.
A long life..a hard life taught our parents the creed of what is fair measure for one to aspire to..what is just reward for one’s labour..and there is no sense of satisfaction in the shirking of one’s fair share of labour..for there is a measure in nature in this world where each person is allotted a share of labour and where one person shirks their share, it falls to the shoulders of another to carry that extra load..and THAT..in anyone’s sense of justice is a failure of duty toward our brothers and sisters.
I hear talk of the new mechanics of farming having the means of “making life easier”..and I have to admit that after a bad day with horses, harness and machinery, such a phrase would even make my eyebrows lift in inquisitiveness and bring a smile of delightful possibility to my lips…”To make life easier”…now isn’t that a hope and dream to aspire to?…to make life easier…but then I have to ask..; “easier from what?”..certainly, if one was held in slavery..or imprisoned unfairly..or driven to extreme by brutal Master and Lord, one would wish for life to be easier..for those conditions are un-natural to both nature and humanity..and I would trust to all of us here in this room..let no man proclaim ownership over another’s life, lest he too be one day given like punishment.
But no..here and now, on these paddocks..on this farm..in this part of the world, what measure of life can be claimed to be better for the making of it easier? Will the vegetables grow faster, the sheep more wool?…Will the ache of work be less assuaged with a full stein of beer at day’s end?..and what of THIS day..this end of harvest celebration..will such a thing exist once the mechanics of it takes away the camaraderie of shared, shoulder to shoulder labour?…and what of the table of food like we see here in front of us..where waste from the stables goes to the heaps of compost and thence to the garden from whence comes the vegetables to our table…where will the waste from the tractor go? Will it give nourishment to the soil or will it make waste of the soil and thence make life less easier for those who must clean up such waste?..Will there be need for such a gathering of family to give thanks for the blood, sweat and tears of a year of toil when less folk are needed for the harvest?…Will the making of life easier also mean the lessening of the rewarded pleasures for the job’s end , for is there anyone among us who does not breathe a sigh of relief at hard work’s end..but then also be content and the soul fulfilled with satisfaction of a job well done?..Does not that also feel so good?..And I wonder on the lessening of the need for hired labour to attend the many chores for maintaining the draught horses…the harness repairer, the farrier, the smithy..and if they go, what of the town band..and the church choir..and then the bakery and grocer?…and our neighbours who cannot afford to tool-up to this new mechanics..are they to become a sacrifice to a new world order of an “easier life”..
No..I cannot stand in the way of progress, but I do give notice to you, my children, that you use caution with this new method of farming..not to let it take control of you..I know you will have to go to the bank to up-grade to the tractors and new machinery it uses..be warned about the banks..they have no friend but compound interest, no mercy save the court of bankruptcy and no soul save that traded with the devil.
No..I cannot stand in the way of progress, so I will leave the farm in the steady hands of our children and wish them well while myself and Magdalena seek retirement in Tanunda and I will perfect my arm at bowls and my ear at listening to the idle chatter of the town.
So let us raise our cups to give thanks for the measure of hope that has been promised and now fulfilled…”
The following morning, while the sun was yet low and the breezes mild in the Mallee trees, the trappings of the hut and camp were packed up, the women and children were driven back to the farmhouse in the car and Mattheus and his sons led the horses down the track in the direction toward home.
(From “Twelve Caesars” by Joe Carli.)