Part 3 The Last Empire.
In the hour before the umbra,
In the hour before the gloaming,
In the hour before the sun is setting..
When the crow begins its nesting,
When the galahs settle in the mallee,
When the shadows grow longer in the mallee.
With the hardest work of the day done,
With the bulk of the fortnight work done.
This day marked the winding-up of the harvest,
This day saw the last bringing in of the grain.
End of a year’s work of harrowing,
Ploughing, seeding, praying for rain.
Watching crops grow in spring,
Watching till now, winding down,
Watching a year’s work and worry.
The crop is in, harvested, winnowed, bagged,
The carrier with his sons loaded the last bag,
To cart the bags to the railhead,
Bags to be shipped to the port.
A “paying year” for the cropping,
Not a bumper year as two years ago,
A good year for the end of an era,
A good year as far as the head of the family went.
A good harvest to finish up on.
Mattheus Kreuger tipped the last bucket,
Last bucket of hard-feed into the trough,
Mattheus cast his eye over the mix,
Ran his hand through to feel the texture of the mix,
Looked with the experienced eye of an old horse farmer.
Never one to over or under-feed,
His team of working draught-horses.
Knowing from bitter experience,
Knowing from days of want and scarcity,
Knowing the needs of how much,
And of what balance gave good condition,
The health of a working field horse.
“Mattheus!” the carrier called over the yard,
“Mattheus!…we’re on our way” the carrier called,
“Catch you with the receipt at home..”
“Right you are, John..Tomorrow then..”
And the truck gave a heaving, creaking groan,
And lumbered out of the farm gate,
In a cloud of dry, raised dust.
Home for the Kreuger family not these dry paddocks,
Home was in the hills above these dry paddocks,
Home, the main house and spread in the hills,
The wet hills above these dry lands.
Grazing of fat-lambs was more reliable,
Rainfall higher and the grass richer.
Big, blowsy blue and red gums grow,
Where the clouds go by like galleons,
Where the fog and mist lay thick among buildings.
Where home and family grow and prosper.
But as many Mallee farmers,
The Kreugers came to these drylands,
To lay crops of golden grain,
Rainfall high enough to grow rich crops,
Flatlands ideal for horses to pull the plough,
Turning the soil for the taking of seed,
Harrowing to turn the soil,
Harrowing to turn in the weeds.
Whole families with workers and horses,
All the equipment to stay several weeks,
Stay to work , plough and sow the crops.
Then when the crop is harvested,
Again stay several weeks to bring in the crop,
Winnow, clean and bag the crop.
A spacious stone hut built on the paddock,
A stone hut that housed women and children,
Where meals were cooked and served,
Cooked and served to workers there.
At night women and children sleep there,
Workmen bunked down in outbuildings,
Where the harness and feed-stores were kept.
Outbuildings of rugged post and beam,
Outbuildings of pug and pine infill walls,
Rustic outbuildings, but warm,
Rustic thatched roofs giving heavy rain,
Soft, almost silent drumming sound,
As it fell…
Such the routine for many years,
Such the method of farming many years,
But new technology had risen over the last few years,
A new method that his sons were keen to apply,
Mattheus was troubled about handing over to the sons,
Mattheus knew the day of the horses were done,
Horse-drawn methods were redundant,
The age of mechanics had arrived,
The diesel tractor had arrived.
There was talk of “making life easier,”
Mattheus was suspicious of “easier life”,
Time had worked its abrasive grit,
Into both patience of mind and,
Callous of hand.
But he too convinced his father of the benefits
The mechanical stripper over stooking,
Over the old stooking..threshing method of harvesting,
He was willing to give the sons an elder’s respect.
Today was the end of harvest,
Today the family and workers would sit at table,
Today marked the relief of the end of repetitious
Rounds of up at dawn..crack on till sunset,
The work cycle of harvest time.
Magdalena, Mattheus’s wife of forty years,
Would cook and serve the last family meal,
Would serve the last meal of the harvest.
Along with food, end of harvest prayer,
Along with prayer, thanksgiving, and health,
Magdalena would lead the prayers.
From the foot of the long table,
Followed by a loud and solemn “Amen”.
From Mattheus at the head of the table.
This was ritual that finished the year,
This ritual finished the end of harvest,
That bound every member to home and hearth,
Bound every member to family consciousness.
Repeated by many sturdy pioneers,
Many of those gatherings,
Across length and breath of “Breakheart Country”,
The glue that formed tie to community,
Tie to church and from there to each other.
The familiarity of like habits and procedure,
This was the culture of a community.
What food there was,
Gathered from farm garden,
Produce that bore skilled hands of growers,
Skilled makers and preparers.
Recipes for cured meats and cheeses,
Handed down generations,
Sauces and spices made from smallest measure,
Small measure of condiments,
Extracting the richest flavours,
Cuts of meat from home-grown stock,
Into the large wood-fired vault oven.
Served in the hut that held them all,
Whole family, children, and workers,
At the one long table,
Groaning every night with sumptuous fare,
Groaning every night with sumptuous, frugal fare.
Not a banquet of a gluttonous merchant,
Necessary food for hard working people.
Such would give each person fair share,
Every person fair share of the products of their labour,
From both field and garden.
All was good.
All was well.
When an air of sighing satisfaction perceived,
Time for the head of the family to make a speech.
Mattheus rapped the wooden serving spoon from the plate of vegetables onto his plate.
“I make my speech to you this evening,
This end of harvest night,
Not standing at head of table,
As is the usual sight.
With cup of good cheer in hand,
Giving thanks for a job well done.
Tonight..I will remain seated,
Neither in disrespect nor indolence,
There cannot be a person in this room,
Would doubt my nature by now.
Tonight I remain seated to talk as brother,
Tonight I no longer can claim “boss” overseer.
Tonight…I hand the reins to my sons,
To Peter and Christian to take the reins,
With full blessings of myself and Magdalena.
To take the family farm to the next evolution.
That will change the entire work practice.
That will change work from horse to tractor,
That will end horse and harness era,
That begins the new of tractor and steel couplings.
Myself, now at God and nature’s allotted time,
Of three score and ten years,
I am the proverbial old dog and new tricks,
I cannot change, no right to stand in the way.
But tonight, I talk of other things,
And I trust give my sons, wives, and grandchildren,
Both warning of consequence,
And top up the cup of cheer with measure of hope.
Nature has granted her hand to us,
Given us soil, water, and sustenance.
From time immemorial we harnessed her beasts,
These fellow toilers,
These mute companions of our labour,
We have turned the soil,
We have harrowed the earth,
We have seeded our crops.
From the time when my father and mother,
First set foot in this strange country,
Drew our section of land,
Marked out the space for their home on the soil,
To now when their children sup at the table,
Of their dreams and promise,
It has been done with eyes firm set,
On that measure of a man’s worth,
On the measure of a woman’s worth.
On the measure of home and family,
On a measure of hope.
Our forebears built an empire here,
An empire upon a new country,
Not an empire of an imperial kingdom,
Nor an empire of expansive proportions,
Rather, an empire of hopes and dreams.
Their backs bent to the chores of that ambition,
Without doubt…without fail,
With high faith in their mission to succeed.
Indeed..succeed they must or perish trying!”
Mattheus paused to drink from his stein of beer.
“A parent’s greatest treasure is their children.
It is the children who carry the future,
Carry it to further horizons,
Further than can be dreamed by a parent,
The safety of children most exercises concern,
What measure of gold equals the harvest of seed,
Seed giving new life, every season to a garden?
What reward of contentment equals a full stomach,
Clear mind and love in one’s heart,
Greeting the start of a full day,
A day of productive and rewarding toil?
Why arise from bed if not to fulfill promise,
And bounty of a life of hope?
That measure of hope that is the right,
That is given to every person born,
Under Nature’s sky and God’s heaven?”
Again Mattheus paused to partake.
“When I gazed upon the healthy meal,
Magdalena, my loving wife set before me,
I saw the fair measure of meat,
Of potatoes, of the pumpkin grown prolifically,
Over old composting stable heaps,
Its tendrils seeking distant promise,
Like an arm reaching for distant fruits,
A wonderful meal.
All in good measure.
It is that measure I now speak to each,
To each and every one of my children,
To their families to heed, be watchful that envy,
Greed and envy do not cast shadow,
Over future ambitions.
Mattheus paused to breate deep..
A long life, a hard life taught our parents,
The creed of what is fair measure to aspire to.
Just reward for one’s labour,
There is no sense of satisfaction,
Shirking of one’s fair share of labour,
For where one shirks fair share,
It falls to another to pick up and carry that load.
And THAT in anyone’s sense of justice,
Is failure of duty toward brother and sister.
I hear talk of new mechanics of farming,
Having the means of “making life easier”..
And I have to admit after a bad day,
With horses, harness, and machinery,
Such a phrase would make my eyebrows lift,
Lift in inquisitiveness,
Bring a smile of delightful possibility to my lips.
“To make life easier”….
Isn’t that a hope and dream to aspire to?
To make life easier…but then I ask..;
“Easier from what?”
If one was held in slavery,
Driven to extreme by brutal master and lord,
One would indeed wish for easier life,
Such conditions are un-natural to nature and humanity,
I would trust to all of us here ;
Let no man proclaim ownership,
Over another’s life,
Lest he too be given like punishment.
But no..here, now, on these paddocks,
On this farm, in this part of the world,
What measure of life can be claimed the better,
For the making of it easier?
Will children grow less frolicsome, faster?
Will they learn their lessons more swiftly?
Will the food be more hearty?
Vegetables grow faster, sheep more wool?
Will the ache of work be more assuaged,
With a full stein of beer at day’s end?
And if injured in body…or love,
Will the hurt be less?
And what of this day…this end of harvest celebration,
Will such a thing exist once the mechanics,
Takes away the shared camaraderie,
Of shared, shoulder to shoulder labour?
And what of the table of food,
As we see here in front of us..
Where waste from stables goes to heaps of compost,
Thence to the garden whence comes,
Vegetables to our table..
Where will the waste from the tractor go?
Does diesel and oil give nourishment to soil,
Or will it make waste of the soil,
Thence make life less easier,
For those who must clean the waste?
Will there be need for gathering of family,
Giving thanks for the blood, sweat and tears,
For a year of toil,
When less folk are needed for the harvest?
Will the making of life easier mean,
A lessening of rewarded pleasure, for job’s end?
Is there anyone among us not to breathe,
Sigh of relief at hard work’s end.
But also be content, soul fulfilled, satisfied,
At a job well done?
Does that not also feel good?
And I wonder on the lessening need,
For hired labour to attend the many chores,
For the maintenance of the draught horses.
The Harness repairer, farrier, smithy,
And if they go..what of the town band,
The church choir, baker, grocer?
And what of our neighbours,
Who cannot afford to tool-up to the new mechanics,
Are they to become sacrifice..
To a new world order of “an easier life”?
Mattheus again took draught and breath.
No..I cannot stand in the way of progress,
But I do give notice to you, my children,
Use caution with this new method of farming,
Let it not take control of YOU.
I know you will have to go to the bank,
To up-grade to the tractors and machinery,
Be warned about the banks…
They have no friend save 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.
I shall perfect my arm at bowls,
And my ear at listening to the idle chatter of the town.
So let us fill our cups to give thanks,
For the measure of hope,
Promised and now fulfilled…..”
The next morning, while the sunrise was yet low,
And the morning breezes mild in the mallee trees,
The trappings of hut and camp were packed.
The women and children driven back,
To their farmhouse in the hills,
While Mattheus and his sons led the horses,
Down the whitened limestone track toward home.