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 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.
“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”.
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.