If History was taught in the form of Stories, it would never be forgotten
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
That is what I call it. I wasn’t born here. I was born in Hamburg/Germany in 1940 during the war. For people that do not know which war I am referring to.
It was World War II. But we won’t talk about that, as I am referring to it in “My Story”. I came to Australia in August 1957. Not as an Immigrant but Illegally.
I did what they call “Jump Ship”. I was at the time working on an Oil-Tanker in the Merchant Navy. I got sick of the life that I had on Board Ship. So a College and I decided to Jump-Ship in Geelong (Victoria). We quite freely advertised on the Ship to our Mates that we were leaving. But nobody believed us. We thought it would be fun to stay here for about 6 Month. Have a good look around and go back to the Ship. (This can be arranged by the Ships Company) Neither of us spoke any English, but we never had any problems before in other Countries where we didn’t speak the Language.
So First Day Geelong then Sydney in New South Wales. There we both got tattooed.
I got no Idea why. Maybe to celebrate our arrival. We had no Idea what Australia was like. So we were in for quite a surprise.
We found that despite the fact that we were “Germans” the People here were very friendly. Lot of People wanted to talk about the War, but with no animosity towards us. We were travelling by Train to Places where we could pronounce their Names. So next stop was Armidale, still in NSW. We had no Idea how big the Country was. But here in Armidale we found our first Job. We met a Greek who spoke some German and he gave us a Job on a construction site. Pick & Shovel digging trenches.
It nearly killed us, we had Blisters on top of Blister. But the most important thing we learned was about Australian Mateship. We lasted a whole week and the Greek was nice enough to pay us our wages.
One Bloke (Male Person) in our gang was extra helpful. After Work he found us a place to stay. The Local Pub. (Hotel) We learned a lot from him, like you don’t call him “Mr. Smith” it’s just Doug He said. We thought how could that be? We were thought to respect our Elders and anyone who is older than us is to be called “Mr.” Doug just laughed and said; let’s have a Beer.
I also noted that most Australian men would roll their own Cigarettes. In them days I still smoked and so I bought myself a block of Champion Tabaco. You put a little in your hand and rubbed till it looks like Tabaco. Put it in the Paper and “Bobs your Uncle” Australian Slang for #its done#. Well up in our room I thought to make things easier I will take the block of Tabaco and rub it onto a piece of newspaper and such saving myself some work. I wanted the Tabaco to dry out a bit so for Safe keeping I put it under the Bed. Well what do you know, next morning while we were out.
The Housemaid came and cleaned our room and swept all of my Tabaco out. You think that’s funny don’t you?
We were pretty naïve, well what do you expect. I was 17 years old in a foreign country learning the language fast. One of the things that we still had to learn that when we paid for our room at the Pub, that the Meals were included. But seeing that we didn’t know we went to the Chinese Restaurant. Two reasons; the owner had given us a lift in his shiny black Holden.
Nearly everyone drove a Holden, after all it was Australian made. (Who would have thought that years later I worked in the Holden Factory).
The second reason was that he had a very pretty Waitress.
Well we went into the Restaurant and while pondering over the menu, which we couldn’t read anyway. We being typical young man talked about nothing but the pretty waitress. I even had her undressed, wishful thinking on my part. When she finally came over to take our order.
She smiled and said in perfect German; and what would you gentleman like to eat? My mate bolted out of the door, while the Waitress couldn’t stop laughing. My Mate finally came back in and we ordered “Chow Mein” The Waitress was Dutch and came from Limburg (Holland) on the German Border and all of her Family spoke German. We interacted with the Family for about a week
Well we got invited and met the whole Family. Very nice People. If I remember rightly our “Sexy” waitress (ANN) got married to a Farmer. We interacted with the Family for about a week, while we got to know the town a bit better
My Mate and I we stayed another week hoping to find work but no Luck. We spend most of the time by the Park watching whatever was going on. One day we saw a few young man in white clothes playing a game we couldn’t understand. One of them would throw a ball to another Bloke that would hit it with a Paddle. They did a lot of shouting.
I found out it was called “Cricket” and I still don’t understand it. After a week we hitchhiked to Tenterfield where we got a job on a Sheep Station. A Station is what the Americans call a Ranch. Only much bigger. Over the years I have seen Stations which were a Million Acres or more. Larger than some European Countries. We got a job “Ring-Barking”. Where you use an Axe and cut a ring around the Tree. Which in turn made it die. That was the way for the “Cocky” Station Owner recover Land for other uses like grazing Sheep.
One Day we saw a snake (found out it was a King-Brown and very deadly. But we caught it and brought it home and everyone thought we were Mad. (don’t blame them) I also bought my first car of the Boss for 12 Pound Sterling , sold it again for 10 after breaking the Diff. On the Station Was a German Family We went with them into Town where they introduced us to an Austrian Jeweler, about that time I went into Hospital to have my Appendices removed.
There I met a cute Nurse and we started going Steady. After about 6 month I left the Station and went to work on a Tobacco Farm which was owned by Italian Brothers. After this I went to Queensland and left my Mate behind. I worked all over Queensland doing all different Jobs. One of them being “Cane Cutting”.
All my life I have travelled there is nothing more exciting than seeing New Places and Meeting New People. Making Friends, sometimes only for a short time in exceptional Cases for a Life-time. I like to mention some of the Places I have been in this beautiful Country of mine.
In Queensland; there was Mackay. Here I worked as a Cane-Cutter, the most backbreaking Job there is, so I was told.
It started off by me hitchhiking with 2 other People Ben & Joe. Ben was the older more experience Person. He told us that First we had to get a Union Ticket, before we could get a job. Well we did that and soon all three of us were hired by the same Person. He told us to call him Bob. Bob lived on his Cane-Farm between Sarina and Mackay. He was a very nice fellow with several Cane Properties around a 100 kilometer radius. When asked, we told him that we had all done Cane Cutting before. I am sure that he didn’t believe us, but didn’t say anything.
As it was Weekend we settled into the workers-quarters and Ben tried to teach us all about Cane cutting. The Boss (Bob) brought over some Food which would come out of our Pay. After Dinner Ben showed us that first you take the Cane-Knife (Looks like a Machete) and put the Blade into the hot fire in the Stove. When it is Red-Hot you put your Foot (make sure you are wearing Boots) on the Blade and bend it at a approximately 45° Degree Angle. Ben says it makes it easier on your Back when you are cutting Cane.
Come Monday morning Bob told us that we were going to do some cutting and stripping to get some Cane that he could use for planting. Ben said to us to put on long sleeve shirts so that the Cane leaves didn’t touch our naked arms. Smart-Ass me wore short sleeve, after all it was a hot day. I soon found out why you wore long sleeve shirts. The Leaves from the Sugar-Cane have tiny barely visible hairs on them and when they come of onto your arms, they never stop itching.
Every Dope knew about it. Except me. When we had a break Ben showed me how to get them off your arm, and this was the only way. It was quite easy; you split a piece of Cane long ways and then rubbed the inside over your arm and it would pick up the hairs and “Bingo” no more itching arm. By knockoff time I was F*&*&ed. The next day Bob said we were to drive out to one of his places about 80 Klm away.
Ben was the only one with a Driving License and so after getting Directions from Bob we loaded up and drove to this place where I do not recall its Name. But it was only a Fettlers Camp and some Farms. When we got there Ben explained to us that he was put in charge and that we would settle in that day and started work the next day. I was glad as I was still pretty sore from my first taste of Cane Cutting. Next let me explain something.
You don’t work for wages, no you are a Contract Worker and before starting you will make a deal with the Boss how much you get paid for cutting 1 tons of cane, you get paid extra for cutting the green tops off each stalk and you get more pay again for loading and carting the cane to the Railway siding where you load the Cane into Railway wagons to be carted to the nearest Sugar-Mill which was in Sarina.
So first Ben explained that we had to cut 3 rows of Cane this Afternoon. He further explained that we had to burn off the leaves of the Cane and just leave the Stalks. This was to make it easier cutting for us, got rid of the Rubbish (being unwanted weight) also it got rid of Snakes, Cane toads and the Kangaroo Rat. Which is a small Marsupial about the size of a rabbit. We had lots of Snakes (Taipan) As soon as it got dark we lit-up. Hell, a fire like a cane fire is something special to look at. We had wet hessian bags to make sure the Fire didn’t jump our Firebreak.
Next morning we started Cane-cutting. In the Evening when we stopped, I just wanted to die. My hands were a mess, I had Blisters on top of Blisters and I had trouble straightening-up. Ben said the best thing for the Blisters was to Pee on them, and Pee I did. By the time it was time to eat, I was sound asleep on my Bunk.
Black as a Black fellow. Next morning I was going to quit the Job, but Ben talked me into staying. So I wrapped my Hands in Bandages that we found in an old First Aid Kit. That day I worked very slow, kept on peeing on my Hands. It took 2 weeks before my hands were healed and hardened. Nobody said anything about me having to catch up. Every 2 weeks Ben went into town to pick up our wages and did the shopping.
By now we had an Account at the Grocery store in town and we would pay them once a month. By now I had learned to drive the Truck and did most of the driving. By the way the Truck had no Brakes, but I learned that when I wanted to stop, to turn off the motor at the right time. After about 10 weeks on the job, Ben, as usual went into town, but didn’t come back. He had shot through with our wages. I asked the Boss to make out a new Cheque and pay us. He gave me a very firm No as an answer.
Joe said he was going to leave too and left on the next train. After a couple of days I decided to go into town to. I asked the train driver was there any shops before we got to Mackay as I had nothing to wear besides my tattered work clothes. He said yes, in a place called Kumala and he said he would stop a little longer to give me time to get something to wear.
All they had in my size was some Khaki Clothes which I changed into on the Train. This was still in the first 12 months of being in Australia. So I was still quite “Green”. So when I walked to the Cafe to get something to drink. I saw a good-looking Girl crossing the Street. So I let go with a “Wolf-Whistle” I got the shock of my life at her reaction. She just turned around and said; Get F*$#ked. I was lost for words for the first time.
While in town I was talking to some Fellows about what happened to me, about not getting paid. They in turn told me to go straight to the Union. When I told them all about it they said not to worry and that they would make Bob pay me plus waiting time. I felt great. A few days later Bob found me where I was staying and paid me. He said no hard feelings, and would I come back to work for him till the season finished.
He said he still had to do about 2 weeks work in the Home Paddock. But first of all I had to drive the truck back out to the Farm and pick-up everything. I drove up at Night and every time I saw a Vehicle approaching I moved right over to the side and stopped. Coming back next morning was easier. I went back to work for him, but didn’t last long. Bob’s Wife was trying to tell me how to load the Truck. So I told her to do it herself and quit. That was my First season at Cane-Cutting.
Backbreaking work. In 1959 I got married. Lasted 3 years, she was bad and I was stupid. We were too young. In 1962 I got naturalized in Brisbane and then went and did my “Thing” for Queen and Country.
I looked good in Uniform. After that I got a Job as Soil-Tester for Road Construction. I was given on the Job training. I also at that time got my Semi-Trailer License. Which I held till about 9 years ago. From here I made my way slowly, working everywhere, to Adelaide, South Australia. Here I entered into a relationship with one of my workmates Sister.
This relationship lasted for 24 years. We had 4 children. The first one, a Boy, died at Birth. At the time we were living in Norseman Western Australia (WA) where I was working underground in a Goldmine. We had 3 more Children, 2 Girls and a Boy. We did lots of shifting and lots of different Jobs. But generally speaking those were the worst 24 years of my life. My Partner was slightly mentally challenged, that’s what they call it now. In these years we went back to Adelaide, Melbourne, where I managed a Tire-Service. Back to Adelaide, then Perth where I managed a Caravan Park.
From there to a small Country Town where we bought a House and later a Caravan. From there to Kalgoorlie the west-Australian Gold-mining Centre. Here I managed a Museum and got very much involved with the History of the Eastern Goldfields. From here we went to Coolgardie to be the Curator of a small Museum.
This was also where our 24year Partnership ended.
But more of that in detail later.