Lutheran Migrations in southern Australia

One could be forgiven for thinking that Australia was settled exclusively by convicts and their task masters, as the bulk of literature on Australian history seems to concentrate on the efforts of those early convicts, and their lives after the sentences were finished.

But over the years I have become increasingly aware of other ethnic groups making a significant contribution to Australia’s history, particularly the positive effect of German immigrants. Since about 2001 the majority of towns where we have lived have been in what could be called part of a Lutheran settled region – a region which stretches from Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, in the west to Tumbarumba, News South Wales in the east, and from Hamilton, Victoria in the south, and Balranald, New South Wales. A quick look at the phone books of the region will show varying percentages of German / northern European names suggesting German or similar heritage of the towns and region in general.

At Walla Walla, not far from where we live, there is a large Lutheran church.


The ‘new’ church

The original church (the stone portion)

The original church (the stone portion)

The ‘new’ church seems considerably out of proportion compared with the size of the town. And near the church there is a memorial to those Lutheran pioneers who settled the area in the late 1860s, featuring one of the Trek Wagons which was used in the trek from South Australia to Walla Walla.

Zion_Lutheran_Church_wagon_display_4679_500Here is the story (‘S.A’ means South Australia, N.S.W means New South Wales), as written on an information board at the memorial…

“The trek party, using 14 wagons and 2 spring carts, left from Ebenezer S.A (near Nurioopta) on 13th October 1868, and arrived at Jindera N.S.W on 20th November 1868. Eight families came as a group of 56 people. The wagons are thought to have been built in S.A, but are of the original German design. The Murray and Edward rivers were followed for the best part of the journey. A few days after reaching Jindera, the men moved on to camp near Walla Walla, and selected land. Once registration was completed, the women and children left Jindera for their new homes – which were yet to be built. This typifies the faith and determination of our ancestors in overcoming hardship to start new lives at Walla Walla in 1869. Other wagons are preserved. All look alike”.


Pictorial map showing the route taken by the German migrants to reach Walla Walla from near Adelaide.

The reason why the original German settlers in the region came to Australia seems to have been to escape religious persecution, and later migrations for economic reasons.

But the land through which they travelled and the time of year these settlers decided to undertake their trek is worth considering. The trek party commenced their trek in October (mid-Spring), and arrived at Jindera (between Albury and Walla Walla) one month later. The region they trekked through, the Wimmera, Mallee and Riverina today, is known for it’s heat – it is often the hottest part of the Victoria. One year at Swan Hill, the year before we moved there in 2001, the temperate apparently reach 48 degrees Celsius (nearly 120 F) for 5 days in a row in mid-Summer (around mid January)! Even in October and November, when the trek was underway, it can reach into the 30’s Celsius (85 to 100 F). The distance they travelled was roughly 900km (560 miles), with only canvas covered wagons to shade them from the hot Australian sun, and the possibly torrential rain which also is known to fall in the region during Spring.

They didn’t have the use of motor cars, supermarkets, hardware stores. They travelled at the walking pace of their horses. If they ran out of food they would have had to catch or hunt for their next meal, a broken wagon would have meant on-the-spot repairs from whatever materials they could find, illness could be a major setback which could decimate a group, and there was always the threat of being attacked by the natives. If they made a mistake they couldn’t see a lawyer and try to pin the blame on someone else and claim damages from them! The determination and initiative of those early settlers is an example and reminder to us all of the type of people that settled the unpopulated areas of the world and caused those countries to be as prosperous as they are today.

Vacations are for…

Celebrating with family
Over the last week and a half we had a number of celebrations: we had Christmas lunch in the Aussie bush with my mum and dad and youngest brother Callum, and his girl-friend Sharon.

Sharon_and_Cal_4713_500A few hours drive away, we caught up with Rebecca’s brothers and their wife / partner / fiance (soon to be wife), depending on the brother. The highlight was when Rebecca’s youngest brother David and his fiance Mel got married. To each other, of course. Here is the happy couple cutting the cake.

DSCF4764_500The wedding ceremony was held next to the Latrobe River in a town called Noojee, in southern Victoria. A town that holds special interest for me as I once owned a block of land there and was planning to build a house and live there, but that was nearly 20 years ago. Plans change.

The next day we decided to travel into the Victorian high-country, into an area called the Dargo High Plains on our journey home. Not that they are really ‘plains’ as in ‘large areas of flat land’. Before we got to the bustling metropolis (??) of Dargo we did some exploring of the Den or Nargun, a portion of the Mitchell River National Park. Wondering what a Nargun is? It is a mythical creature that the Aborigines of the area described as half human half stone which supposedly captured children that visited the pool near Nargun’s den. Here is a photo of the den where the non-existent Nargun supposedly lived, complete with rock pool.

Den_of_Nargun_4773_500One wonders whether there was some sort of fearsome creature embellished by legend and oral traditions over the years, similar to the dragon St George fought in Welsh legend. Or whether the tradition of the Nargun was merely an attempt to keep certain people (in this case children) away from the pool. I guess we will never know. Our youngest daughter was a little concerned that the Nargun might get here (she is 7), so we explained that our God was more powerful than a Nargun or any other monster and she was ok after that. The township of Dargo itself owes it’s existence to the discovery of Gold back in the 1800’s, but today is mainly frequented by tourists and local farmers. Being good tourists, we decided to have lunch at the Dargo Hotel.

Dargo_hotel_4781_500We don’t often eat at Hotels (also called Pubs in Australia), but we are glad we did eat at the hotel as the food was great, and well priced. There was also a lot of information about the town displayed on the walls, so while waiting for our lunch there we read up on the history of Dargo and surrounds, and looked at the artifacts on display. The hotel oozed character.

From there we headed north and up. And up. And up some more. I travelled the same road, the Dargo High Plains Road, around 20 years ago and I don’t remember it being so steep! And for so long. Funny how the mind chooses to remember some things and not others. On the way we stopped in at a place called Grant. Actually it’s not so much a place as the site of a no-longer-existant town – a ghost town.

Grant_4788_500This town, when it existed, owed it’s total existence to Gold. Unlike Dargo which had farm land around it, Grant had no farmland nearby (unless you include Treasures Homestead which is some distance further north and above the snow line). Water was constant problem, and when the gold ran out the town died. In 1865 it had 2000 people, 4 banks, churches, a stock exchange, stores and a newspaper called the Crooked River Chronicle. The decline had already started by 1870. With the closure of the Good Hope mine in 1916 the town was doomed. Along with the lack of water, the climate seems to have been somewhat severe too – I have a book which tells the story of there being a snow storm, a heatwave, and an earthquake in one day!

From Grant we continued north and up, to Mt Saint Bernard. At this location there was once a hospice which catered for travellers between Harriteville and Mount Hotham. This was in the days of travelling by open motor vehicles, or horse transport and the Hospice would have been a welcome relief to travellers making there way over the mountains. the Hospice was destroyed during the Black Friday bushfires of 1939. Today, all that remains to commemorate the existence of the Hospice is a cairn and a sign.

Mt_Saint_Bernard_Hospice_4804_500A little more ‘up’ and along a very exposed road…

Mt_Hotham_road_4805_500… and we arrived at Victoria’s highest alpine resort – Mount Hotham. A large sign at the entrance to the resort shows how proud they are of that fact!

Mt_Hotham_resort_4812_500The ‘main street’ of Mount Hotham resort looks more European than Australian. But then thats not unusual for an Australian alpine resort.

Mt_Hotham_resort_4814_500The views from the resort are simply breathtaking. The mountains poke above the treeline. And the valleys are so steep and deep. Pictures really can’t do the views justice, so I didn’t think I would even bother posting a photo of the views. The temperature was a very pleasant 27 degrees Celcius. Much more pleasant than the 38 degrees down on the plains!

From Mount Hotham we travelled down, down, down, to Harrietville, then across Tawonga Gap to Mt Beauty where we needed to buy some pain-killers for my wife who by that time had a migraine headache. Within 2 hours we were back home, and we all collapsed in tired heaps on our beds.

Well, maybe exersize isn’t really what most people think of while on holidays. But then I am not ‘most people’. Today I took to the Murray to Mountains Rail-trail with some friends. From Myrtleford to Bright we trundelled along on our bikes (most of the group powered along and quickly disappeared into the distance) and saw lots of interesting things, including old kilns and buildings…

Myrtleford_Eurobin_oldBuilding_4823_500… old machinery …

Myrtleford_Eurobin_OldMachinery_4827_500… some interesting animal life – a lot of bird life…


… and a lazy brown snake being some of the more interesting animals we encountered. On arrival at Bright, that jewel of the Ovens valley, that town of the beautiful autumn leaves, that provider of great hot foods, we had lunch.

By the time I got home I was feeling ready to finish my vacation and embark on a week of vocation.

Doritos at high altitude

Here is a one of the stranger sights I have seen in a while. While travelling in the Dargo High Plains in the Australian Alps near Mt Hotham we noticed that the two packets of Doritos we had in the car were getting bigger and bigger the higher we got in altitude.

Doritos_at_high_altitude_4798_550The reason why they got so big is perfectly logical – the air pressure is lower the higher in altitude one gets, so the air in the packet expands. But even still, we weren’t expecting it!