HOW I BECAME AN AUSTRALIAN
In the following, I have to introduce you to a period, which had better not happened at all - I mean the Great Wars of the last, the twentieth century. However, to give you some understanding of the time leading up to it, I have to go back in history. Especially the younger generations will have difficulties understanding these times. Do not worry; I shall only try to explain the most important aspects. I shall not waste your time.
Born in 1925 in Germany, I was one of those who in the pre-war years had learned about the history of and the duty due to the Fatherland (or Mother Country) should the need arise. For centuries that had been the same in all our European countries. We need only go back to the beginning of the First World War, when many - too many - young men volunteered (many in Britain even by changing their date of birth to make them eligible) just to join the forces and fight - for their country. All together more than 8 Million dead and 21 Million wounded were the result of the First World War. Of course one cannot compare these figures with those for the Second World War, when, including civilian casualties, 70 Millions, or even more according to some historians, died and countless more were wounded.
The soldiers in all these wars were usually young men, who all should have had the right to expect and look forward to a reasonably normal and peaceful life in their respective countries. However, they went, when they were called for. Yes, we all know from history, about young men going to fight in wars as long as we can look back - but during the Second World War civilian losses outnumbered those of fighting soldiers. However, let me go back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
For almost half a century (since 1871 - 1914), politicians had somehow managed to keep the conflicting interests within Europe in balance, although something had changed at the end of the 19th century. Different players came on to the stage and new arrangements were being made.
In Germany the former "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck was not there to smoothen the course for Central Europe. The young Kaiser, who was a grandson of British Queen Victoria (some even say, as a child he had been the favourite of his grandmother), had highhandedly sent Bismarck into retirement some years earlier and in the meantime, the neighbouring countries had arranged a new network of treaties.
The spark to inflame the European situation came in 1914 with the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia. When the Austro-Hungarian Government declared war with Serbia, Germany, lead by blundering politicians and - compared to what was to follow during the second quarter of the century - a relatively harmless young Kaiser, blindly fulfilled what they considered a commitment and entered into the war too.
As we know, Austro-Hungary and Germany lost the war against the so called Entente Powers, led by France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and later Italy and the United States. The victorious nations arranged for and agreed among them to the Treaty of Versailles. The German representatives at Versailles had to listen to the results afterwards. However, they had to sign the Articles of the treaty and they had to take them home and present them to their people.
One of the most important and controversial provisions required Germany and its allies to accept full and sole responsibility for causing the war and for them to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay reparations in the form of large parts of the merchant fleet, of the iron and steel industry and of horrific amounts of money which could not possibly ever be paid. To secure fulfilment of these demands, the French had occupied part of the Rhineland.
In Germany, a new government had to accept the terms and the Kaiser abdicated and left the country. The German people were for the first time without a monarch to lead them or at least tell them the way. They fell into an unprecedented political and economical turmoil. There suddenly was none of the old order, there were no jobs and there was no functional political system.
Germany was now a Republic and it was not prepared for that. A large number of political parties tried to form governments in order to stabilize the situation, but they all failed - some after only weeks or even days in office. There was no one in sight to lead the way back to normality.
Hardest hit were the Millions of jobless, as there was no possibility for them to take care of their families. In 1923, inflation made the little money some still had worthless. Those in jobs received their pay daily (in Millions and later Billions of Marks). Their families came to collect the money, which they had to spend within the next hour - before it also lost its value. This seemingly hopeless situation went on all through the twenties. Everyone was hoping for some able politician to take control and bring order into this chaos. New governments came and went…
Among the many parties, trying to gain control or form a workable coalition appeared a small new party in the mid-twenties, the "National Social Labour Party". They were conservative, against the Communists and against the traditional Labour Party, promising the liberation of the Rhineland, the end of "Reparation-Payments" - and most of all, they promised jobs.
It had been only one of the smaller parties, of relative unimportance. As time passed and conditions went from bad to worse, their meetings began to attract attention. Was there perhaps really a hope? Thus, it happened that in the early thirties the formerly small group grew large enough to send more than one hundred representatives into parliament. One of their slogans was directed against the Jews and the international financial system, blaming them and claiming them responsible for the chaotic end of the First World War and the time that had followed.
These were ideas, which sunk in to the minds of those many Millions who had been waiting for more than ten years now - for someone to give them back some hope. Understandable as that might have been, from the view of the working or jobless part of the population, it was, however, now also the high finance and the military elite who became interested. Of course, they did not accept the so-called "Fuehrer" of the party, the unimportant little Herr Hitler, as one of their equals - lance-corporal, as he had been in the war - but he seemed to become quite useful now. Thus, it happened that in 1933 a coalition between the major conservative party and the Hitler-Party came to power - lead by Hitler. He became Reichskanzler (Prime Minister) - always with those who made him that, still being quite sure that they could topple him and his government at any time, as they had done so often with other week and incompetent governments in the past few years. How wrong they were.
One of the first things Hitler did, was asking for and receiving full power to make or rescind any law or order, to bring back a working economy, thereby creating jobs and welfare for the hitherto hopeless masses. That was not less than full, complete, unlimited power placed on a tray for him to use, which he began to do forthwith. He cleaned up among his followers - always using quite feasible explanations. Indeed, he talked much and made long - very long speeches to "his" people. Therefore, for a time (perhaps the first number of years) most people thought they were on right way. That this was not strange can be seen, when we recall the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where many of the foreign visitors went home with very high opinions of the German achievements.
These achievements were however in one direction only, to make Germany economically healthy again so that it became strong enough to take its proper place among the other European nations. That meant of course that Hitler created his army - not with the old soldiers of the times of the Kaiser, but with new people who believed in him. Most important was the youth, the young generation, children now but soldiers - if he needed them - tomorrow.
My father was a conservative, a war veteran. Seriously wounded in France, he could only walk with a stick. He hated Hitler. How much, I only learned from friends afterwards. They apparently often had to warn him to mind his tongue. He hated everything radical. He was an executive of a shipping line and my parents had been to England on their honeymoon. They very often talked about England.
An English bomb killed them both during the first major British air raid on Hamburg.
I was already a young soldier at that time and had come the day before on my first leave from occupied France, where I was waiting for a place at a pilot school. I was together with my parents and several other people in a cellar and it was due to my position, in a corner of the room, that the collapsing ceiling only injured but not killed me.
My little brother was with his school in Hungary at that time - away and safe. However, in April 1945, they also called up schoolchildren as Flakhelfer (Luftwaffe support personnel) and he died there, east of Berlin, a schoolchild of only 16 years.
The whole nightmare (from 1933 until 1945) "only" lasted for just over 12 years, but this historically relatively short period was too long for too many people. We must assume that only by also losing this war, the German people obtained the ability to accept their new responsibility amongst the free nations.
However, had this whole situation ever arisen without the poison laid by the Treaty of Versailles?
It is easy to write books about these times now - sixty or even seventy years later. Many people talk or write of these times, people who were not even born then - and they are usually quite certain that they would have been on the "right" (the honourable) side. However, can they really place themselves in certain situations, when the consequence of a word or an action could have meant imprisonment, death or special penalty commands, usually equal to a death sentence?
Of all the terrible things that happened during the war in Concentration Camps, I only learned after the war had already ended, when I was a Prisoner in England. As I knew nothing about these things before, I naturally did not believe them at first. I can remember telling some fellow prisoners that the victors could and would blame us losers of any cruelty that happened anywhere.
I can honestly say, that I never witnessed any crime or cruelty - neither before, nor during the war - but I must at the same time also add, that I do not now know, if I could under certain circumstances also have become guilty - and if only as an inactive witness.
Lucky are those, who never have to decide between the loss of honour or of their life.
LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT
When I saw the English coast for the first time, it was on a cold and stormy morning, in April 1945. Together with many fellow-prisoners of war, I stood freezing on the deck of a transport vessel, of which a small number had crossed the English Channel during the night. Coming from Ostende in Belgium, they were on their way to Tilbury.
Something I head dreamt of many years ago, during the first months of the war, came to my mind.
Then, still a boy at home in Hamburg, I head dreamt that at the end of the war, which had then just begun, I was in England as a prisoner but not in a heavily guarded and barbed-wired camp, as one commonly imagines prison camps to look, but living relatively free to mix with the local people.
I can remember that I told my mother of my dream. However, she only laughed at me, her little boy. What I had then dreamt of was not completely impossible - but it was at least highly improbable and very unlikely ever to come true. I was then just fourteen and little boys of that age do not normally have to expect to become soldiers soon. Surely this war could not last that long. I can still see the tears in the eyes of both my parents when Hitler started the war, as they could remember the Great War, 1914 until 1918, when my father received his wounds in France. However, if this war should really last long enough for me to become a soldier at the end of it, why of all places should I then be in England and further, why then not in a heavily guarded camp? Better to forget all about such a dream.
It was only now, as we approached England, that I remembered all this. Nearly six years lay between my childhood dream and this stormy morning. Six years and how much had happened in those years. I did not in the first place think of the political consequences of this terrible war, but of what had happened to our family. A British bomb had killed both my parents. My only brother, little Harro, had been sent to help stop the Russian invasion in Eastern Germany. My little child-brother was one of many, being only sixteen then, who died trying to do, what he thought was his duty.
I myself had joined the Air Force at the beginning of 1943. I had been to a number of training camps and flying schools, where we spent much time on theory, just because there was not enough fuel to maintain proper training schedules. When we had not been flying for more than three month, late in 1944, while the fronts closed in on all sides of our country, I volunteered for and requested posting to a ground combat unit.
It was in January 1945, when after another training course I joined an all Air Force ground unit. For only a few weeks I met with the horrors of ground combat in trenches and holes. What war actions had happened in the years before, I had only read in newspapers or seen on newsreels - apart from having been on the receiving side of many air-raids - but what I experienced here was so, that even I could see, it would only be a question of a very short time, before all was over. During those weeks I saw only one German tank once and that was immobile for lack of fuel, while I could see countless vehicles of all kinds rolling along on the other side.
For me it all ended on March 27, 1945 near a small German town not far from the river Rhine. The advancing British troops made me a prisoner and I spent some weeks, together with thousands of other German prisoners in a very large camp in Belgium. Conditions were bad and food was poor. They had indeed not spoiled us with good food in the years before, but here even the quantity, or the lack of it, was appalling. Therefore, I considered myself very fortunate to join a transport of former flying personnel - they brought us over to England.
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On this background, together with an exceptionally stormy Channel-crossing, herded together in the belly of a transport vessel with hatches closed because of the rough seas, the picture which we now presented as the ship was slowly manoeuvring alongside the wharf, would have been pitiful, had we not been enemy soldiers. Half starved, seasick and shivering in the cold morning breeze, we looked forward to stepping ashore. We stumbled into the waiting train, which took us to Kempton Park, where on the race course a large number of tents had been put up for new arrivals from the continent.
I can still see the group of hungry young men crowding in front of a doorway behind which they served out warm food. A British corporal stood on the steps and tried to explain in German, that there was enough food for all. It seems needless to say, that we remained at least doubtful. Then I recall that we also went and had a shower, nice and hot, and from time to time fresh soap was handed out - soap that produced a luxurious lather, something we could only remember from before the war.
Little pleasures like these are difficult to understand for those who have never done without, and the description of these times can be really understood only by those who can remember the difficult years during and after the war.
While in England, I once met a lorry driver whose parents died during a German air raid, so I heard. What could we say to each other? His parents, who had most likely never seen a German, were dead and so were mine, who had been to London on their honeymoon and who had always had a high opinion of the English people. All killed in their own homes. Unfortunately only very few people could travel before the war and were thus able to get a first-hand understanding of their foreign neighbors. Now, decades later, times have fortunately changed and nowadays it would be difficult for any politician on either side to influence the majority of his people against its neighbors. Too many have in the meantime met their counterparts, thus having been able to form their own opinion.
However, none of these thoughts occurred to me then, at that time, when after a few days at Kempton Park they transferred a group of us to a camp in the hills of Gloucestershire, a rather wild country with strong winds and far above average rainfall. The last place on earth, I thought.
How wrong can one be, when young, inexperienced and a prisoner of war. Here I was in the Cotswolds, one of the loveliest regions I have come across in my later travels through many lands, but now I only saw the lonely windswept hills onto which the dark clouds shed their rain. Can the hill- and the village-folk of the Cotswolds forgive the young POW for his blindness? My wife and I have since been there on many occasions; in fact, every time we have come to England we revisit the Cotswolds. However, let me return to the young POW.
We came to Spring Hill Camp, situated between Moreton-in-Marsh and Broadway. I was there for close to two years, working on farms and construction sites. After that, I was for more than a year at the small Bromley Lane Hostel, near Stourbridge and Kingswinford in the outskirts of the "Black Country".
My school English gradually improved by constant practice, helped along by some lessons, so that in the end I was not afraid to talk to people. At first, I had avoided even simple questions for fear, that I would not understand the answer. However, as perfection is the result of constant practice, I could not expect improvement while surrounded by fellow compatriots.
A nice little episode comes to mind when I think of the two languages. Once, when I was working on my own at the far end of a large construction site, a young man approached from the nearby road. He called something that sounded like "wiggeds". At first, I did not realize that he meant me. However, when he, on coming closer, repeated "wiggeds", my mind quickly ran through my still very limited vocabulary. He soon stood in front of me, gave me a friendly smile and said this funny English word again, which I had never heard before. Then he also said something to the effect that he had been in Germany as a soldier and whether I was not a German. It flashed through my mind that this man had spoken to me in my own language. How stupid of me. Being English, he would say, "how are you", and there it was. "How are you" in German would be "wie geht's" (vee gaites). I felt like a fool to have disappointed this man, who only wanted to use some of the foreign words he had learned and at the same time to be friendly to a German POW. I can picture him saying to his wife: "These Germans we have here are that stupid, they cannot even understand their own language properly". As far as I was concerned, he was of course right.
However, another event, which is very dear to me, also comes to my mind. In December 1947, some members of the community had made it their business to get families interested, who then agreed to invite a German POW to their homes on Christmas. I was one of those who received an invitation. They sent me to a family at Brierley Hill for Christmas. At dinner on Christmas Day, when the whole family, my hosts with children and grandchildren, had assembled around the big dinner table, each member found a little folded note next to her or his plate. Near my plate, there was also such a note. On each of them stood - written in rhyme - a description of where to look for a present. In turn, everyone had to read out aloud, what message was contained in his note and then, watched by the whole family, he went about the room in search for the present. When my turn came, I unfolded my note and read "Gerhard, my boy, look near a cue, you will find something there that's intended for you". After some helpful members of the family had explained to me, that I had to look near a billiard-rod, I had no difficulties in finding my present. I cannot now remember what it was. However, does it matter? Far more important, I still carry the spirit with me, so that, after more than 60 years, I can still remember each word.
They had invited me to this intimate family celebration, for Christmas, and I was for the duration of these hours accepted as one of them, in feasting and in playing games with old and young. Forgotten were war and prison camp during Christmas 1947. The following year I too was on my way home - but did I still have a home?
It is occasions like during this Christmas that further international relations and goodwill. It is always up to the individual to create the basis for good understanding between peoples. I do not like all Germans and I certainly did not only meet likeable English people during the past 50 years, many of which I spent in Australia and a few in South Africa, but I can say that I always like to come over to England, where my wife and I have never been made to feel foreigners.
How long had we been walking now, was it five or even ten minutes? To concentrate on the ground before us, we had to walk slowly. We could certainly hear more than we could see. Our field of vision was restricted to the small area, lit by the torch we were carrying on our helmets. As we walked along, the light moved with each step and with every movement of our heads. Other men approaching were at first just spots of light in the distance, moving up and down with the rhythm of their steps. However, there were no other men now, we had left them far behind. The supervisor took Don and me to a distant part of the underground network of tunnels, where on the day before some rocks had come down burying the railway tracks. It was now up to Don and me to clear the fallen rocks away. We had our first working day underground, and were now on the ninth level and far away from the vertical shaft - the connection to the upper world.
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In January of 1954, I had migrated as an unskilled laborer to Australia trying to find a new life on the other side of the globe, down under. I had to start as a laborer as the skills learned at the Taxation Department in Hamburg were not asked for from migrants at that time. Here in Australia I wanted to start at the very bottom and find out how long it would take to get back to work to which I was more used to. As it happened, it took just over a year before I was back in an office. I could have tried earlier but I wanted to find out all about outback jobs - and there were plenty of jobs in those times.
I had arrived in Mount Isa only a few days ago from Darwin, where I had worked for some time on the development of the Rum Jungle Project, and had now gone on arrival at Mount Isa over to the Mine Office to apply for a job. Mount Isa only consisted of the Mine on the one side of a creek and the little township on the other side. The total population numbered less than 10,000 people, most of which worked at or were dependent on the fast developing mine that had started only twenty years before. Mount Isa was fast becoming an important centre of the world's Lead, Zinc and Copper Production. On that afternoon, I had been the last visitor to the Mine Office and was fortunate to still find people who were willing to receive my application. I even went through a medical test there and then. The final answer to my application would be available only on the next day, for which purpose they requested me to call at the Office between 10 and 11 am. They could now only tell me that I had a good chance to be accepted.
On my way back to the township, I met a group of men who had just finished their shift - some Italians, two Dutchmen and an Englishman by the name of Brian. Brian told me that he had been at Mount Isa for just over six months now. He worked underground and spoke quite enthusiastically of the job and the general working conditions at the mine. The pay always depended to some extent on the lead bonus, which was fixed each month in line with the international lead prices. Anyway, the miners earned more than did workers in other industries at that time. Brian also told me that many of the men lived at the Central Lodge and that he thought it would be a good idea if I came along and secured a place, so that I could move in tomorrow after I got the job.
I had on arrival at Mount Isa, booked into a hotel and now welcomed the suggestion to live together with many of the other men who worked at the mine. Therefore, I went along with Brian and the others to the Central Lodge, which consisted of several large wooden buildings. The largest of them housed a small office, a shop, the kitchen with a store and a large dining room. Smaller buildings with about a dozen rooms in each surrounded this one. The rooms were either for double or triple occupancy and looked quite inviting. My new friend Brian took me to meet the Manageress, a big, resolute but also friendly looking woman, who assured me that if I needed a bed tomorrow, I could have one. It was with some relief that I went back to my hotel where I retired early that night. Not only had I found employment, as it looked at one of the better work centres in the North, I had also already lined up lodgings with some of my future work-mates - a good feeling indeed.
At shortly after ten the next day I arrived at the Mine Office. After some shuffling of papers, they found my application, which the Personnel Manager had already signed. I received several small booklets, which contained information on safety aspects of underground work, on the minimising of health risks due to lead dust and on some other aspects of work at the mine. They then told me to be at the mine-gate at 8 a.m. the following day.
Before I left the hotel that morning, I had packed my belongings and left them at the hotel-office, so that now I only had to collect my bundle and walk around to the Central Lodge. There I saw the Manageress, who remembered me and went with me to show me my bed, which was in a double room. The other bed was still vacant. There was a small wardrobe to each bed so that I could start unpacking the few things, which I carried with me. On the way to the showers, I met some men who were on afternoon shift. I had already learned from Brian that the mine worked in three shifts and that each shift received breakfast, one warm meal and a cut lunch at the Lodge. The day shift and the night shift had a warm meal in the evening, whereas the afternoon shift had theirs at midday. My meals at the Lodge would begin with a warm meal in the evening. Someone at the kitchen had seen me arrive and had told me, that I could come over to collect some sandwiches if I wanted. As that was more than I could really expect I thanked him and said I would be over shortly.
There were two things, which I had to get before I was ready to become a miner tomorrow. They were a crib-case and a mug. I had seen that all men went to work carrying this small case, just large enough to hold the cut lunch and a mug. The mine supplied the tea. At the small store next to the office, I found that I could obtain the things required without leaving the Lodge.
In the evening, I met Brian and told him of my good fortune. As the day shift also started at 8 a.m., we agreed to walk over to the mine together. Now we went to his room, where some of his mates played cards. I stayed for a while, meeting a number of men all of whom worked in the day shift this week. The shifts rotated forward from week to week. The day shift went from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the afternoon shift from 4 p.m. to midnight and the night shift from midnight to 8 a.m. I did not yet belong to a shift. The first three or four days were to be occupied with introductory work on the surface before a regular underground shift could be joined, but as this was during the working hours of the day shift I could join Brian and his mates in the morning.
At 8 a.m. on the next morning, all regular shift workers had disappeared already somewhere, when an elderly miner collected us new-ones and took us over to a hut. Here we were to receive our initial instructions on risks and on safety measures to avoid these risks. Each of us had received the little booklets on safety. Here now we were to receive the theoretical instructions from an experienced miner who was also going to take us underground on an introductory tour in the afternoon.
We learned that the main risk, we had to be prepared for, had to do with unused shafts between levels, which could prove a dangerous trap in the semi-darkness and with the limited space on either side of the underground railway tracks. Although generally guarded by wooden railings, falls had occurred in the past, which made the constant awareness of these discontinued narrow shafts necessary. Much more real, however, was the chance of being caught by one of the underground trains. They told us that trains had hurt quite a few miners. The greatest risk is to the feet and it was for this reason that all miners who worked underground had to wear safety boots. Another risk we learned of was that inherent in the mining of minerals containing lead. Whenever a miner had to work at a place where dust was noticeable in the air, he was required to put on a mask.
After this, we went and each collected a helmet and the lamp and battery to go with it. The lamp, which we carried at the front of our helmets, connected with a cable to the battery, which hung from the belt. The mine supplied these items. Then we went and collected safety boots and had the opportunity to buy also work-shirts and trousers, which items we would pay for from our first wages. These, by the way, were the only things worn by the miners.
Everyone had a small locker, just large enough for shoes and any valuables such as a wallet or a watch. Inside the locker ended a rope, which ran over a pulley suspended from the ceiling, on which we hoisted the normal everyday wear or the working outfit out of reach. Thus, there was always one outfit hanging in the air and anyone could see whether the miner was still working or not.
I had worked for some weeks at the mine when I received a letter from the Victoria River Downs Station, a large cattle station in the Northern Territory to which I had sent an enquiry months ago from Adelaide. They offered me a job as a stockman, something that I had been trying to find since I left Adelaide. What to do, stay at Mt. Isa with favourable conditions and earning good money or go to the Northern Territory and become a cowboy. I decided to change.
THE FIRST RAIN
We allowed our horses to choose their own way. It did not really matter whether we rode 100 yards further to the right or 50 yards to the left. There was no track to be followed; we just had to keep the direction. There was a hill visible in the far distance and we knew that there was a dried up creek to our left somewhere, so we could not get lost.
For a moment I had forgotten, that I was thinking for myself only. At my side rode Tobacco Jack, a young aboriginal stockman, and he was at home in these parts. He would not have understood my careful contemplation. There would be no question for him that we should reach our Out Station exactly as planned.
We - that were Tobacco Jack, or Tobacco for short, and three other aboriginal stockmen, who together with me had driven a mob of some hundred head of cattle to a bore - where they could find water. Water, that is the all-important aspect here in the dry North of the Australian continent. The largest cattle station is of not much use, if there is no supply of water on it.
The Australian North, had gone through a number of dry years as it had often done before in its history. Normally the rivers and their tributaries keep enough water in water holes, as they call the deeper parts of the river beds, until the dry season ends and the rain lets creeks, and rivers flow again. This is however not so during prolonged droughts, which might last for several years. Those years are not entirely without rain, but the occasional rainfall is not sufficient to bridge the long hot dry season. In those times cattle die all over the country from lack of water. It is indeed a sad sight to see the carcasses strewn over the dried up landscape, which does not carry much vegetation either to feed the cattle. The result is that in these extremely dry years the cattle, which I saw, were skinny and weak. During the heat of the day, they try to find shade under trees, of which there were not many. However, the light foliage does not offer them much shade either. The majority of cattle survive these trying times through careful observation by the station people, followed up by actions such as our present one where necessary.
Cattle need water every two or three days at least. That is, when they sometimes travel great distances to a known water hole. This always happens after sundown, as then the air becomes considerably cooler. When a water hole dries up the cattle will continue to go there. They stagger around in the remaining caked mud and end up dying there, unless driven away to other places where water is still available.
We belonged to the Victoria River Downs Station, the legendary V.R.D. or the "Big Run" as it was called, which was in those days still one of the largest cattle stations in Australia and perhaps also in the world. For more than half a century it had been the largest station, but some years before, large portions of the land had been sold allowing for new stations. Therefore, our station now "only" measured around 5000 or 6000 square miles. Cattle Stations up north were usually big. However, more than sheer size a station needed water on its property.
We were on our way back to the Moolooloo Out-Station, where I and two other white stockmen, together with a dozen aborigines, were stationed, some 30 or 40 miles from the main settlement or the central station.
I had been a stockman for about three months now. New horizons had opened for me since I arrived in Australia. Both my father and my grandfather had spent their working life behind office desks. This would have been my fate also, had not the war completely unsettled my life. Since in Australia, I had helped to build the big new power station at Port Augusta as fitter's assistant and I had taken part in the development of the Rum Jungle Uranium Mine, on the surface as a constructions labourer. I had also been a miner on the ninth level underground at one of the world's great mines in Mount Isa. Therefore, I had certainly been around, seeing and doing things, which in my old life I would not even have dreamt about - and all that had happened in the past twelve months.
However, there I was, riding along with Tobacco Jack and the other boys. Tobacco of course also had a proper name. Although he had told me his real name, I could not remember it. It was so strange to my ears. That was the reason why they all had their other names. The name was either chosen by the individual himself or it was given to him by the tribe or by some white fellows. There were some funny ones such as Smiler. That might have befitted the little boy he once was, but not so much the now skinny, middle-aged, bearded rider behind me. A popular name was Captain. We had two of them at Moolooloo, Big Captain and Little Captain.
These aborigines were different from those you could see hanging around in Alice Springs or the other towns. They were proud young men. The old men and the families also camped near our settlement and received their provisions from the station. Stockman was a job they liked and at which they were quite good. They could handle animals and worked in the wide open country where they were at home. Most of them used to work for eight or nine months of the year and during the remaining months, they went on "Walk-About". As almost all of the station activities took place in the dry season, their going away during the wet months did not result in any labour shortage. The stations even supplied them with provisions to relieve any possible initial difficulties on their changeover to tribal life.
Then they, who had been stockmen and as such had worked and been clothed as the white stockmen, with shirt, trousers, boots and of course the big hat for shade and also for watering the horses, left their "white-fellow clothes" behind and walked off over the low hills. They soon disappeared in the vast bush, which after the first rains of the season provided the experienced aborigines with all they needed. They went back to the life that their people had lived for many thousands of years, very much longer than we Europeans have been used to our present way of life.
For us it is difficult to understand that the aborigines had their own culture, with meaningful ceremonies at secret gatherings, holy places with connection to their dreamtime, as well as controls for mating and reproduction. Unfavourable conditions, which often prevailed in these parts, had forced them to take steps so that the future of the tribe was not at risk. We now know that some of their rock paintings are far more than 10,000 years old, but we do not know for instance what they were doing say 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, when many of our European and Mediterranean people went on their big Walk-Abouts. The already further advanced Mediterranean peoples feared the wild Northern-Europeans who sneered at by them. It took us a long time to become what we are today and that was only possible through constant contact and mixing with other peoples. These early Australians never had that chance. After, as we assume, coming across some then existing connection from Asia, they seem to have remained in isolation for many thousands of years, thereby only being able to rely on their own cultural development. It is not surprising that it takes longer than anticipated for them to understand us and for us to understand them fully. Much time was wasted and bad things had happened in the years since our two races first met.
Tobacco Jack had told me of the Rain Stone which his tribe had possessed, but which had been lost. This stone had enabled them to ask for rain. Now his people were looking everywhere for this Rain Stone, he could not tell me for how long.
I had many opportunities to listen to those old stories, which were particularly interesting when told by the old men of the tribe. Unfortunately one often does not pay enough attention to the stories of the past when one is still young, be it within the own family or when told by other old people.
When I was in Alice Springs once for several weeks, waiting for a job to come up, I stayed in one of the large bachelor rooms of the old Stuart Arms Hotel in Todd Street. As I shared the room with three or four interesting characters, I had the opportunity to listen to many stories. Even some of the stranger tales one could still believe to be true in those days, like the one of the gold mine, which the Major had quite accidentally stumbled across once, but was unable to find again. The Major, as he was called, might actually have been a Major once in his life, now he was one of those who shared a hotel room with me. They were all rich, rich in experience that is. None of them had accumulated any material wealth.
There was also old Jack, the Architect. He did not live at the hotel, but used to take his meals there. He was English and the two of us had many long discussions in those days. Having been in Alice Springs for many years, he knew most of the people there and it was interesting to listen to him. Of course, Alice Springs was a quiet little town with less than 5,000 people then and Darwin prided itself of nearly 10,000. Much has changed since those days.
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Now Tobacco called me out of my daydreams and instead drew my attention to the sky. "You see dem dark clouds ober der, Gerald? May be sandstorm coming." I also looked at the dark clouds in the distant skies now. Yes, it sure looked like rain, I thought. When I asked Tobacco whether he thought that we also might get some rain from those dark clouds, he only said "maybe". He was very careful in his judgment. Rain would of course be most welcome to all, to the dry land as well as to the creatures on it, men and beasts.
Half an hour later, the two small huts and some fenced-in yards of Moolooloo came in sight. The distant clouds had in the meantime come much closer. Now it was a dark front that approached, as if trying to beat us on the last few hundred yards. A short while later we were at home. We unsaddled the horses and took them over to the yard.
I was just back inside our hut, which consisted of one central room with open verandas on all four sides, when the front reached us. For a few minutes, the afternoon light was subdued by dense clouds of flying sand that were upon us. The strong wind associated with the front had driven the loose sand along with it for many miles. Now the sandstorm engulfed everything in sight. All of a sudden, we heard drops falling on the corrugated iron roof. Rain? Then we saw rain drops outside on the ground and in the air, big drops. Moreover, as the air became clear again - the clouds of sand been driven on - it really began to rain. We raced outside to enjoy the sensation of rain on our clothes, on our skin. Soon we were soaking wet - a lovely feeling after the long dry months. This evening we all slept under the roof - the aborigines in their huts and we on the verandas of ours.
I knew how my fellow stockmen - black and white - hated to have a roof over their head. Nevertheless, tonight they all kept out of the rain. I did not mind the roof at all, but then I was not born and bred in the wide open country. That evening we all went to sleep with the pleasant sound of rain, which was still falling steadily.
The next morning the rain had stopped but the ground still showed large puddles of water. This had of course not been enough to break the drought, but it could be a first sign of the wet season. We all hoped that the next wet season would at last yield enough rain not only to cause a quick burst of vegetation, but to soak the ground to such an extent that the creeks and rivers would continue to hold water for many of the following dry months.
Two days later, we received basic provisions to last us for the next few months. This was necessary because no transport would be able to cross the creeks. Once the rain starts the dried up creeks and rivers soon have enough water to make a crossing difficult, if not impossible. This is at first not due to the depth of the water but to the inability for vehicles to negotiate the riverbanks. Once the first vehicles had splashed enough water onto the banks, they soon become too slippery to supply the necessary traction.
When on the following morning the supposedly last truck left Moolooloo for the station, I went along and signed off. I did not want a compulsory stay of perhaps four month of inactivity at Moolooloo.
A few days later I flew out to Alice Springs and there caught the weekly train to Port Augusta and further on to Adelaide.
During the next year, after having spent some time on a South Australian farm, I found my way back to work at an office.
As a newcomer, a New-Australian, I had seen more of Australia than most of the Australians I should meet in years to come.
While still working on a farm in the southeast of South Australia near Mt. Gambier I had come to Adelaide for a few days over Christmas 1955. I stayed at the Grosvenor Hotel in North Terrace and as I was all on my own, I had gone on Christmas Eve to St. Peters, the large Anglican Cathedral in North Adelaide. Together with many others, I attended the Midnight service and on the following day, Christmas day, I had joined the large crowd who had assembled on the lawns by the river Torrens, to sing Carols by Candlelight. We had all bought candles and it gave me a nice feeling to be there as one of so many on this warm summer evening. Next to me - also on his own - sat a young man with fair complexion, who was not very much older than I was.
When we then talked with each other, I noticed that he too was a newcomer. As it turned out he was also German and he worked at the Islington Railway Repair Shop. During the war, he had also been a member of the German Luftwaffe and had trained to become a fighter pilot. Thus, having several aspects in common, we were among the last to leave the gathering, walked, and talked together for some hours. Whereas I could only look back on sixty or seventy flights during my uncompleted flight training, this chap had some hundreds of them and he talked of the possibility to continue flying perhaps here in Australia. The great enthusiasm about flying can really only be understood by those who themselves once went through looping the loop and other aerobatic figures in the little planes of those days. When we parted, I had certainly become interested. I exchanged addresses with my new friend and told him that I would consider coming to Adelaide sometime in the next year.
So some months later, when I felt that I had enough of the "wild" country life, I went to Adelaide looking for office work or perhaps what was then called a semi clerical job. First, I went and saw the man at the Government Employment Bureau, for whom I had acted as interpreter at the Renmark vineyards more than a year ago. Although he tried to help me, my new ambitions were again outside of his scope. He took me to a different department where they just had one open job that they thought might be suitable. Eager to find something, I went to this firm in Pirie Street, who as it turned out had wanted a store man. They had however just filled that position. I was not too disappointed because that was not really, what I had had in mind. Then I took it into my own hands to find something more suitable. I booked into the Peoples Palace, as I had heard that they provided low-priced rooms, and on the following morning, I bought an Advertiser Newspaper.
There was on that day just one position which sounded suitable - Bookkeeper for the Singer Sewing Machine Company, who had their South Australian Office in Rundle Street. When I saw the responsible manager, he told me that they had a small number of applicants for the position. I would however meet the General Manager who was to come over from Melbourne tomorrow so that he himself could make the final decision.
The next day the General Manager told me that, if appointed I would be expected to take control of the running of a new Divisional Office. Within the next three month, the new office was to be established and should compile figures, combining those for the 15 South Australian shops, and send weekly reports to Melbourne. When I was then asked to see the General Manager again late in the afternoon he told me that I could start the following Monday if I wanted to. Of course, I wanted to. That was just the opening, which I had been looking for.
I soon learned however, that without a recognized Australian qualification my chances would always be limited. Therefore, I applied as a Correspondence Student, and after some tests, they accepted me. I studied Accountancy every evening after work (from coming home until midnight) from 1957 until 1960 and became after more than a dozen exams an A.A.S.A (later CPA). In 1961, after further exams and after becoming an Australian Citizen, I also became a Licensed Land Broker, appointed by the Governor of the State of South Australia. In the meantime, I had married a German girl and in 1962, we went on a European holiday. On the return journey, we stayed in Durban, South Africa, for two years where I worked for a firm of Chartered Accountants to gain some additional experience.
In 1969, we returned to our original native shores and lived in Germany for 17 years before coming back to Australia again. This time we only stayed for about three years. Too much had changed in Australia and we had of course changed too. We now felt as Germans again and therefore we finally went back to stay there.
You just cannot go back in your own history and expect to find what you once left. You might come to the same places, even meet the same people, but nothing is as it once had been. Everything changes constantly - including yourself.
Before finally going back, we bought a Camping Vehicle (Motor Home) in Adelaide and made three long trips to see what we had not seen before. Two trips took us through the Northern Territory, Western New South Wales and North-Western Queensland to the North-Eastern corner of Australia, where we reached the "Upper End of the Bitumen" north of Mossman. Of course, we also went out to the Coral Reef.
Only by diving and carefully swimming around under water, you can watch the movement of the corals, as they sway like thin twigs in the breeze, surrounded by hundreds of small fishes of the most beautiful colours.
On our way back we followed the East Coast until after Melbourne, we reached the Great Ocean Road and soon were in familiar surroundings again.
On our third trip, we went right around the West via Darwin, the Kimberley, the Bungle Bungles (which we saw from the windows of a very small aeroplane) and - for us one of the highlights - through the Hamersley Ranges. We stayed there for a week to tour the hills and spent many hours on long walks in the heat trying to see the end of some of those ancient gorges, where it was likely that no-one had been there for months, for years or perhaps ever. We then went to Carnarvon, Monkey Mia (of course), and the Murchison and, and.... I cannot possibly name them all; there are too many places which each would warrant a visit.
What a Country - what a Continent!
What a pleasure it is just to remember, sitting on the banks of the dried out bed of the Finke, admiring the beautiful River Gums. Tourists often race past places, not knowing what they are missing - only to join the other tourists at Ayers Rock or at the Gold Coast.
For the Non-Australian reader: The Finke is one of the ancient rivers in Central Australia - usually dry, lined by picturesque Eucalyptus trees.
Later, on our visits to countries on other continents, we also enjoyed many more outstanding sights in Africa, Southern Asia and North America. Each showed us their different vegetation and their scenery. We saw the Himalayas, climbed into the Grand Canyon, admired the freak shapes of Rocks, often the product of weather conditions over Millions of years etc. etc.
However, of course we also remember meeting many nice people at the various places where we came to stay - for just a few days or sometimes for a few years. Indeed, we often had to leave friends behind when it was time to move on.
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It all came about by my desire to be free to make my own decisions. This was a desire that I had deeply felt during the years as prisoner-of-war, a time, which had followed my youth in Germany, before and during the war. During these times I had the feeling that I did not actually live but (as I later used to call it) was lived. We were living according to plan, but not our own plan. When I then returned (was repatriated) in 1948 to Hamburg, where I did not have a home, it was only due to the assistance received from some friends that I managed to settled down again. However, my position at the local Taxation Department did not keep me for long.
It was just fortunate for me that the time between, say 1950 and 2000, made all this possible and offered the necessary opportunities. My life would not have been possible in the years before the war and only with much greater risks and difficulties now, in our present times.
Of course, this would not have worked without the patient companionship of my wife, Ingrid. When one grows old, part of the happiness is to look back over the years and lucky are those, who then have a partner at their side, who they have shared these times with - someone who has also seen and lived through the highs and the lows of the many years. Shared memories can recall the many common experiences, something no one else could possibly quite understand.