52 Weeks of Personal history and genealogy: Week 8 Technology (Part 2)

Responding to Part 2 of Amy Coffin’s challenge for Week 8 on Technology:

Part II: What types of technology do you enjoy using today, and which do you avoid?

So what technology do I use now? Pretty much everything has a technological component and if we don’t try to adopt new advances as they come into play we risk being left marginalised from day-to-day society and its operation –perhaps one of the biggest risks for some of my generation, and certainly the one before us.

I love the fact that when I travel I can use my Next G modem and get on the internet anywhere (well maybe not everywhere in the NT). I can be in a cemetery in Queensland and book a hotel, check out some data or find another gravestone location without roaming from pillar to post.

I love that I pick up my laptop and have everything I need on it –photos, family history data, emails etc etc. My laptop is one of the things I’d pick up first if there was a natural disaster, and technology lets me keep a copy of my data on an external drive in a different city, ensuring that even if I lost my laptop, I wouldn’t lose absolutely everything.

I love than I can be in touch with people around the world easily, Skype family when they or we are away from home, attend remote work meetings via video conference, study online from another country, watch podcasts on particular topics from overseas archives, and see and hear conference sessions streamed online.

I love that I can have just about every CD I’ve ever bought on some form of technology at my fingertips. I love that I can download some books and carry a library with me and I hope to progressively build up my electronic genealogical reference library so it can travel with me. I’ll never get past my love of the real article – a proper book- the feel and heft of it in your hands, the ability to lend it to a friend. However, for travel purposes, and to reduce the ever-expanding bookshelves, there are some benefits to electronic books.

I confess that I really don’t love iTunes even though I use it, most reluctantly. Something that any child over five seems to understand instinctively constantly bemuses me. I’m generally an intuitive learner of technology but obviously my intuition and that of the Mac-driven products are on different wavelengths….sad, but true.

And when I get into advanced age, I’m going to rely on my wonderful grandchildren, who already intuitively know how all sorts of things work, to help poor old Nanna with the latest technological advances…

52 weeks of personal history & genealogy: Week 8 Technology (Part 1)

The challenge issued by Amy Coffin and Geneabloggers for Week 8 of 52 weeks of Personal History and Genealogy is:


Part I: What are some of the technological advances that happened during your childhood?

Part II: What types of technology do you enjoy using today, and which do you avoid?

As a baby boomer I can see so many changes that have happened in my lifetime, and even in my pre-adult life. Those who are a generation older must be amazed when they look back over their lives and see how much life in general has changed. I decided to approach this question as being the changes in technology before I became an adult just because it was simpler. Some of these changes occurred on the world stage, others had more impact on a day-to-day level.

The Space Race

The biggest and most amazing technological changes in my childhood involved the Space Race: the competition between the USA & USSR to get a foothold in space first. Both trialled the process by initially sending chimps into space and I remember photos of the first one to return…quite probably there were other unsuccessful attempts which never made the news just as the testing-animals also never returned. The poor creatures must have been terrified out of their wits, with no idea what was going on. You can read a story about this on National Geographic News at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/05/photogalleries/space-monkeys-fifty-years/

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova

The Russians pipped the Americans to the post in the race to get a person into space, with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, just a few weeks before American Alan Shepherd (There’s a great book about the early astronauts called The Right Stuff) The Russians also sent the first woman into space, Valentina Tereskova…I cheated and had to look up her name, but I do remember the images of her at the time. Then while I was at uni, the Apollo mission landed the first man on the moon – an amazing technological advance.

The Atom Bomb

Another dramatic technological backdrop to these years, was the world’s capacity to build and use an atom bomb. Baby boomers came into the world on the end of the terrible destruction of Hiroshima and Yagasaki and knew that it could happen again. When the US went head to head with Cuba in the Cuban Missile crisis we all watched nervously as we wondered whether this terrifying technological capacity would again be brought into action. The Cold War was the tapestry behind international affairs at the time and there were numerous books and stories about new and innovative ways of killing other people. It had a similar impact as the threat of Terrorism does today.

Television and war reporting and world news

The advent of television is something we generally see as a vehicle for entertainment and daily news, but it also played a pivotal role as a new medium in the 1950s and 1960s in regard to war reporting.  For the first time, everyone could see the vision directly from the war zone and realise just how brutal and horrendous war is for all concerned. Images do speak more clearly than words and the impact was dramatic. As a Vietnam-era person, this was something that was very sobering, and perhaps led to the shabby way we treated our returning soldiers –for the first time civilians had some genuine inkling of what it meant to fight a guerrilla war.

It’s  now impossible to imagine a world where we can’t see images and stories direct from a conflict or disaster zone. A sobering sideline to this is that 850 journalists have lost their lives on duty since 1992 (www.cpj.org/killed).


Well that was all more sobering than I intended it to be when I set out, so I’ll return to a more retro mode. I well remember when my mother’s aunt and uncle (the “rich” relations) returned from a business trip to the US in the early 1960s, bringing with them colour film for Mum’s camera –she must have asked for this favour. Until then all our photos had been black and white and so it was very advanced, and exotic, to actually have colour photos. When you had studio photos taken of special events, the pictures were, I think, hand tinted to add colour. Perhaps my love affair with colour photography started then as I still prefer it to black and white despite the artistic appeal of B&W. Even as I entered adulthood, photos were available in colour and black and white, but were still expensive and not the everyday occurrence they became later.


As a child I never imagined that I would be able to travel overseas: it was the prerogative of the well-off or occasionally the young Aussie doing a year overseas. Travel from Australia to England was by ship and the voyage (apparently) an adventure and a couple of my friends did this in their late teens or early twenties. My personal experience of international flights came with my relocation to Papua soon after our marriage.

Long-distance and national travel is now readily accessible to many, if not most, people – though the young Aussie remains ubiquitous overseas! Air travel did not become cheaper until I was a young adult and it made long-haul flights feasible but slow: a flight to Europe from Papua New Guinea involved landing at Manila, Bangkok, Karachi, Teheran and then Rome. Smoking on flights made it unpleasant for anyone who didn’t smoke, food was served in large quantities and at fixed times, and you were invariably just about to sleep when you had to get off at the next landing place. There was no in-flight entertainment of any sort. On the plus side, they offered you magazinesJ

Transport & Telecommunication

Where I grew up it was normal for people to use public transport as most households didn’t own a car –it was only as I moved into adulthood that car-ownership became more common. Those who did own one car-pooled and shared with those who didn’t –which when you think about it was very generous of them. My father rode a push-bike (un-geared) to work every day of his working life for probably over 25 years in all weathers: not for environmental reasons but because there was no other choice, public transport being restricted during his shift hours.

Traffic lights were also much less common then than now. Intersections were manned by policemen who took pride in ensuring the smooth and efficient flow of traffic. In Brisbane when I went to high school in the city, there was a policeman called “Dancing Dicky” Daniels because he had such a flamboyant and skilled way of keeping the traffic moving. You would groan when you saw a novice on traffic duty because you knew everything would take longer. Even the Gabba intersection with its five-ways roads was managed by a policeman. Many intersections had neither traffic lights nor policemen so you had to know your road rules to competently get through without an accident. It was good preparation for driving in Port Moresby J

Trolley buses & trams were a feature of Brisbane during my childhood. The trams with their slippery tracks were a hazard for learner-drivers. Our bus route had trolley buses and it could be quite tedious when the pole fell off the connector (no idea what it’s called) and the driver had to hop out and push it back in place –always a hassle if you were running late to an appointment or school. Both trolley buses and trams were phased out in Brisbane around the end of my “childhood”. I found a great picture of the trolley bus on my old route to school, shown in the Valley (Fortitude Valley). It’s a bit shocking to find how much the Valley has changed, and with a lot less character. The image is part of express000’s photostream on Flickr and permits the use of the image for non-commercial purposes: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25653307@N03/4261373355/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Tram conductors –yes, these are people, not technology, but as the technology came in to make it possible to buy tickets in advance or directly from the driver at the time, conductors like other “technology” became obsolete.

Telephones, like cars, weren’t a common household item and again neighbours would share their phone when a particular need arose, but for general chats, it was the red phone box down the road. Telegrams were used to communicate urgent or important news –wedding congratulations, exam results, births or deaths. By the end of my childhood, telegrams were still being used as a matter of course, but more and more homes had phones.


The main technological change that sticks in my mind was the mechanisation of washing. As a small child I remember my mother heating the gas-fired copper and washing the sheets before putting them through the wringer. Wash-day was hard work and potentially dangerous with the boiling water. Then in my teens came the twin-tub washing machine which certainly took a lot of the heavy work out of washing day…but still involved a lot of heavy lifting. Of course many who had grown used to the copper were not convinced the new machines made the sheets and towels as clean.   As I moved into adulthood more people had automatic washing machines which made such enormous time-savings, not to mention energy-saving.

A sub-set of the washing changes was the development of cold-water washing powder so that it was considered rather avant-garde, though not good housekeeping, to wash in cold water, not hot.


Music styles changed throughout my childhood as they do in every generation but it’s probably fair to say that the 1960s were a period of massive musical influence…many of the big performers are still going now, and their baby-boomer cohort often remain big fans, influencing their own children’s musical history with the songs of the 60s: my children remain addicted to Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, rather to my bemusement I must admit.

Music technology also changed dramatically in the 50s and 60s. From music on heavy records played on gramophones, to the new, more financially accessible, vinyl LPs and 45s. Portable record players could be taken to parties letting teenagers groove to the music. Transistor radios got smaller and replaced the heavy, cumbersome lounge-room radios of our early childhood, making music accessible away from parents and available 24/7. Cassettes were introduced in the late 60s and again diversified our music listening. Portable record player c1960s

52 weeks of personal history & genealogy: Week 7: toys. A tale of rabbits, dolls and guns

The challenge issued by Amy Coffin and Geneabloggers for Week 7 of 52 weeks of Personal History and Genealogy is:

What was your favourite childhood toy? Is it still being made in some form today?

The prophetic asset in my toy collection was a rubber rabbit which was apparently mass produced at the time. Given my age when I received it, I have no recollection of it at all. Why was it prophetic? Well the photo on the left is me, living in Queensland with my rabbit, while two states and about 1500kms away was a little boy who had the same rabbit. That little boy would later become my husband. So was kismet at work here? I’m sure this toy is not being made anymore.

Rabbit synchronicity

I guess my serious answer to this question would be generic. My favourite toy overall was probably a doll, accompanied by the various appurtenances of girly behaviour: the pram, doll’s cot and a lovely little sewing machine that actually sewed (I had that for years).

The first doll I remember being particularly attached to was a large, perhaps 18 inches high, bride doll which I called Mary. I assume my mother made the doll’s clothes as she did for my daughters’ bride dolls over twenty years later. As for Mary, I was a bad mother, and heaven knows what happened to her –she remained at the bottom of my old wardrobe when I left home and perhaps is hiding there yet, waiting to be rediscovered. Although I can’t find a photo of me with that doll I’ve included one a little earlier to set the scene.

Is this toy being made in some form today? Yes, I’d imagine that it is available in some form but it’s all Dora and Princesses for my grand-daughter so far, though I suppose there’s a fair bit in common between the glamour of a bride doll and that of Princesses (especially when royal weddings are involved).

Postscript December 2011: This year Mary made the journey from my old wardrobe in Brisbane to live in Darwin. She is now being mothered by my grand-daughter who thought Mary was gorgeous in her new purple dress made by my aunt.

Despite my general attachment to my dolls I was also a tomboy and included a toy gun in my arsenal so I could play “westerns”. Yo-yos were also a “new” thing in Australia when I was growing up, together with marbles and stonkers. I also had a toy wooden train which isn’t surprising given the fact my family has railway lines in their blood stream. When I pulled it out this week my grandson had a great time playing with it, proving that some toys can be timeless. A children's sewing machine like the one I had.

RootsTech -Bewildered and Bemused -but resolved

After listening to five of the seven online video-streams, I was thoroughly bewildered by all the choices: so many strategies, so many concepts to absorb. If I felt like this after such a small smattering of talks, I can’t begin to imagine the impact of listening to all the sessions live. Or the thrill of meeting delegates from so many places. It must have been incredibly stimulating.

So why am I bewildered and bemused?

Having started my research in advance of the digital era my records are a mix of hard-copy, written notes, digital files, hard-copy or digital photos, super 8 film, video film and so on.

Where to start with ensuring its all preserved, put online, kept up-to-date and accessible for future generations? How long will that take (how long is a piece of string)?

A prevailing assumption throughout the talks was that everyone’s research is predicated on recording our family stories and I’m sure that is the intention of every family historian. But how successful are we at doing this? The very bower-bird habits that make us love the hunt for new clues, names and locations, tends to inhibit us from actually documenting our stories….we’re never really “finished” on this trail of ancestors, so we can’t write/record it, can we? This is possibly our greatest weakness as we collect our maze of information which may be indecipherable to even our closest kin if we don’t draw it together.

Lynn at The Armchair Genealogist http://www.thearmchairgenealogist.com/ has a great blog to help anyone kick-start their family history: to paraphrase Ancestry “you don’t need to know what you’re going to write, just start writing”. Again the strategies are important, but getting started is the first, most important, and somewhat scary step. Lynn has also challenged fellow family historians to commence their project this month, and even though we’re half way through February, there’s nothing to stop you beginning now, using her posts to help you along.

Each of the RootsTech speakers I heard challenged us in different ways:

1.      To include newbies in our enthusiasm for our obsession, sorry, hobby.

2.      To ensure we keep us with technology, and ensure our own archives remain accessible to the new technology

3.      That we need to have a web presence if we want to spread the word about genealogy generally but our own family research in particular

4.      To volunteer to digitise or index records for all to access

5.      To maintain the security and integrity of our records

6.      Get our stories “out there”

  To respond to Carole Riley’s twitter challenge (@CaroleRiley):

My own take-home messages from the video-streamed sessions were:

1.      The importance of actually recording our family and personal stories, for current and future generations: that’s what all the online resources are provided for. Blogs do provide a great way of sharing our information.

2.      The importance of keeping our digital archives in multiple locations, selecting the right format to use, and to review and update the format regularly. (A lot of work in this one).

3.      The potential influence of family historians on archives and libraries and in particular the digitisation of records.

RootsTech – Bedazzled

So RootsTech has come and gone for 2011. I wonder how many genies will schedule a trip next year and, for those who can’t get there, will the organisers make the video stream more widely available even on a user-pays basis. I’d certainly be willing to pay for the opportunity to see it from Australia despite the challenge of waking up at 1am to see some.

Although I was only able to attend online, I gained a lot from these sessions and these are some reflections.


Genealogy is a brain-stretching and challenging hobby which we all do for love or fun, or we’d have long since moved on to golf or tennis. On this point I agreed with Curt Witcher. However I disagree that people won’t do activities which don’t bring them immediate success or cause them too many challenges. I think the many genies out there who’ve been pursuing their research for anything between a few years and a few decades are living proof of our determination. We’re some amalgam of bloodhound (pursuing clues wherever they may be), bower bird (collecting any snippet of information that illuminates our family stories) and puzzlers extraordinaire who whoop for joy when two puzzle pieces lock together.

These attributes are no doubt part of why everyone had so much fun at RootsTech: it seemed like a giant genealogical lolly shop with new information, new strategies and innovative technology to help us expand our histories.

Barry Ewell gave a fascinating talk which could only scratch the breadth of preserving our family history by digitising documents, old Super 8 films and videos, as well as music on 33s, LPs and 45s or cassettes.

He also highlighted there were two branches of our research we should consider: our own personal history and the history of our ancestors. We need to be selective and preserve the “photo”/document etc that best represents the person and event.

The need to have multiple copies, stored in different locations is apt considering recent events in Queensland. A recurring theme was to ensure we kept our documents up to date with changing technology. Barry also offered to send a link to the full presentation but as yet my request hasn’t come through, so I’d be interested to hear from others if they’ve received their link.

Curt Witcher’s talk challenged us, in essence, to welcome new researchers to our hobby by letting them into the sandbox before sandbagging them with rules about white gloves, citations, and procedures. I still disagree with the Ancestry slogan of “you don’t need to know what you’re looking for” as I imagine people happily building trees filled with branches and twigs who have no actual relationship to them and claiming a BDM because it’s the only one online. I also disagree that citations aren’t important –how else to allow others to follow the same path, validate the data, investigate the same archival source, or acknowledge the research contributions of others. This should be an early lesson once we’re all in the genealogical sandpit together.

There were challenging concepts for genealogical societies, too, as Curt said that most new researchers are not society members: a warning call to ensure that they have a comprehensive online presence so those 21sters are tempted to visit and join their society. Curt told us that change is an opportunity not a difficulty –nothing new there –but have all societies taken that on board?

Josh Taylor’s talk on PDF documents opened up a world of challenges and opportunities in terms of preserving, sharing and maintaining the integrity of our family history documents. So many new tricks and skills to incorporate into our research strategies.

He talked about the role of Facebook and Twitter as 21st century diaries which can incorporate a lot of family and personal history. This will be lost if we don’t move quickly to extract the stories.

Brewster Kahle’s talk on Personal Archives was fascinating and received great audience support. His credo that “everything” should be available free online resonated with people. His company clearly demonstrates the “copies in multiple places” strategy with duplicate centres in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Alexandria, as well as its commitment to democratising information and making it available world-wide.

Some pivotal take-home messages from his talk were:

  1. Genies are the major users of public libraries
  2. We need to upload our memories ie ensure the life history in our minds is accessible to others, either family or the broader community
  3. Genies could be the pioneers of pushing the process of freely-available, digitised records
  4. That we have an obligation to make our histories available to our children on the internet as they are not going back to libraries (still not 100% convinced on that topic).
  5. Wayback is a great resource for finding archived websites: I’ve been using this for years without knowing it was attached to the Internet Archives.
  6. We can find old movie clips, radio shows etc on their site (I used Old Time Radio last week without knowing it was theirs)
  7. We need to be able to learn the stories of our ancestors and ensure they’re accessible to future generations
  8. We need to ensure we’re recording our own stories for our descendants.

So at the end of the conference I was bedazzled by the wonders that had been highlighted and felt like a very happy bower bird with a nest full of bright, shiny blue glass. However I was also bewildered and somewhat bemused, of which more anon.

Memories of days past and memory-jogging

Like many others I’ve been participating in the 52 weeks of personal history and genealogy created by Amy Coffin in collaboration with geneabloggers (http://www.geneabloggers.com/tag/52-weeks-of-personal-genealogy-history/) so retrieving memories has definitely been on my mind.  One of my “to do” tasks is to knock my study into some order so I’ve been cataloguing my books, slowly, and came across a book that was one of my earliest “family history”-related books.

It is called “Generations: grandmothers, mothers and daughters” by author Diane Bell and photographer Ponch Hawkes and was a Bicentennial publication  for women. It focuses on different topics relating to women’s lives and work, especially in the past, and how it was changing by 1988. The author interviewed a wide variety of women from a range of life-experiences with a focus on the three generations.

Generations:  Grandmothers, mothers and daughtersIt’s interesting to re-read it and be reminded about how much had changed in the way women lived their lives between settlement and the Bicentenary year. It’s equally interesting to reflect on how much has changed in the subsequent years.  Fashion in the photos being only one of the many things.

What I’ve found most enjoyable about it is to remember so many of the day-to-day household management strategies from blue-ing the white sheets to the old-style Singer sewing machine. I’m sure it’s jog to my  memory will assist me in future 52 weeks’ blogs. When someone else talks about the making-up of starch for the pillow cases etc, it immediately comes back to you how the starch was gloopy, and vaguely disgusting really, whereas if asked about laundry-day, would starch have leapt to mind? I suspect not.

This book is held by the National Library of Australia http://www.nla.gov.au and could be ordered into your local reference library through inter-library loans.


I’ve also just finished reading a book called “Convent Girls” which has brief chapters by women who were educated in convent schools. So many evocative memories in common despite the geographical differences.


Wordless Wednesday (not quite) -Brickwall photo

This photo definitely includes my grandfather, Denis Kunkel (second left, second back row) and was found as a backing board behind another picture. I have a theory it is be an extended family photo because of some of the poses and family resemblances-some look very like my father. Or it could be some local society -but less likely as it includes women. It was probably taken in the Toowoomba area circa 1917. If anyone thinks they recognise someone in this picture I would LOVE to hear from you. The most likely family names are Kunkel and Gavin (from Pechey). (Click on the photo to enlarge it).

Mystery photo includes Denis Kunkel: are the other people Gavin family members?

52 Weeks of Personal History & Genealogy: Week 6: TV & Radio

The topic for Week 6 is Radio & TV: What was your favorite radio or television show from your childhood? What was the program about and who was in it? http://www.geneabloggers.com/tag/52-weeks-of-personal-genealogy-history/

Well this week’s challenge certainly stretched my brain…probably because I didn’t read the question (you know, exam strategies 101)!

So really just randomly picking one program would have been okay…instead of which I brainstormed TV programs with my husband (even though he didn’t have TV at all in the country where he lived throughout his childhood). This did create some hilarity in the house as we both “sang” TV program theme songs we remembered from the Dark Ages. You know how it goes: “Dum did de dum did de dum did de dum…Bonanza” or “M I C K E Y M O U S E, Mickey Mouse”. Life’s little foolishnesses.

It’s fairly obvious that either Bonanza or the Disney Mouseketeers would have done for my option but no, on we went, thinking of yet more: The Rifleman, The Fugitive, 77 Sunset Strip, I love Lucy (ugh, can’t believe I said that!), The Addams Family, The Monkees, Mr Ed the talking horse, and so it goes. Were there more Westerns in those early days? They seem to be over-represented in this sample.

Annette Funicello as she appeared in the Mouseketeers, a Walt Disney show.As a children’s show I really enjoyed the Mouseketeers and even had the requisite plastic “ears”…early days of globalisation and branding I think. I have no idea why I liked this show but I guess it must have been fun or I wouldn’t have remembered it so quickly. I liked Annette Funicello best as a member of the cast and I see from their website that she was in the program for three seasons and was said to be a favourite of Walt Disney http://www.originalmmc.com/annette.html. In Bonanza Pernell Roberts was my favourite though like most of my peers I liked Michael Landon too.

Bonanza, another early TV show.When TV first arrived in Brisbane, it was common for stores to have TV sets in the windows with programs running and for people to go window-shopping to look at what was on TV…or that’s my memory of things.

I certainly remember standing in David Jones department store in Adelaide Street watching the broadcast transmission of the moon landing en route home from uni.

But I suppose this all kick-started more general thoughts of TV and radio and its role in my life. We didn’t get TV until I’d hit double digits but a neighbouring family with a large number of kids got it early so it was common for others to be there to watch the kids’ shows. However I think for a long time TV didn’t play the role in our family that it did in some families. For one thing, my father worked shift work so the noise in an adjoining room just wouldn’t have been possible when he was trying to get sleep before one of his shifts. I guess it was a habit we just didn’t get into entirely for a range of reasons. Luckily, as when I moved to Papua New Guinea, there was still no TV then either, so my kids grew up without it for some years too. Now I’m much more partial to an interesting TV program 🙂

My memory went into white-noise when I tried to retrieve anything at all about radio programs. I know that we did listen to them sometimes as I have a memory of us sitting in the lounge listening but plainly it just didn’t “grab” me. The radio sets, or wirelesses as they were called, were still large and cumbersome in those days but over the years they morphed into smaller and smaller transistors and gradually cassette players were incorporated. It’s strange to look back over the years and see just how much mass communication has changed, as well as Twitter and Facebook–and no doubt played a major role in globalised popularity etc. It’s equally disconcerting to realise how little I’ve held in memory of the design etc of our old TV and wireless….I have no trouble at all remembering my grandmother’s gramophone. Memory is certainly a weird thing.

I did some googling on radio programs and found ones for Bex, Peters ice cream, Vegemite etc. What was conspicuous was how British the announcers sounded…it was still unacceptable to have an Australian accent in radio. Also conspicuous was just how gender-driven the advertisements really were. If you want a trip into the past you can hear some here: http://www.australianotr.com.au/theadverts.asp#

This topic was certainly an interesting excursion into the past, though this particular “memory lane” was a bit too dark & cloudy for my liking.

Writing family history -roadblock in Dorfprozelten

The biggest roadblock in writing my Kunkel-O’Brien family history in 2003 was trying to give my readers a flavour of the ancestral home village in Bavaria. I struggled with this stumbling block for weeks, but during a day’s creative writing class at the NT Writers’ Centre a lateral approach came to me. Instead of being absolutely factual, I invented a story about George Kunkel’s final day at home in Dorfprozelten before emigrating, within an imaginary emotional context. I didn’t pretend the story of that day was anything but total creative licence, but it provided me with the vehicle to give my family an evocative impression of the village, and its social structure based on the information I had about the village. The accompanying photographs illustrated the specific places mentioned.  I was delighted when the village’s local historian complimented me on this part of my history.

I thought I might include this story here as quite a number of people are interested in Dorfprozelten. Some of the landmarks and features had been mentioned previously in the family history I was writing. As background you also need to know that George Kunkel became a pork butcher in Australia, his brother was a master butcher, and the family had owned one of the inns in the village for centuries:

©Pauleen Cass 2003 “Walk with him on his last day at home in Dorfprozelten.

The early light of dawn is filtering through the shutters to the rhythm of the church bells, which mark the hours and are part of the fabric of the village. The crisp white sheets and the comfort of the eiderdown make it tempting to stay in bed a little longer. So much lies ahead today, it’s best to get up and about, and not think too long. Other family members are slowly stirring, dress quickly –lederhosen, heavy boots, and the walking stick for the hills. Quietly shutting the heavy inn door, and walking down the worn stone steps – how many ancestors and visitors have come the same way. The smell of the bakery is permeating the morning air. “I’ll miss waking up to that when I’m at sea.”

His walk this morning will be a pilgrimage to all the places he wants to keep in his heart for the long decades ahead. The Nepomuk is gazing quietly over the village from his place on the bridge. ‘How many times have I stood here with Karl and looked out at the floods or thrown stones into the water. Remember when the tree wound up in the window there.’

Eva Kaüflein waves to me as I’m walking up the Hauptstrasse. She’s already airing the linen, getting all their belongings in order. She and her husband Vincent will leave soon for Australia and perhaps we’ll all meet up when they get there. Frau Krebs is feeding the chickens in the yard of the Krone, getting ahead of the day’s work, before her guests are up and about. “Funny how some people always visit their inn and others stick to ours, still we all do good business.”

A quick visit to the old Marian chapel to pay my respects and pray for safety on the voyage and that of my mother and family left at home. It’s hard on the old people, Frau Nebauer still frets for her son and daughter-in law. She’s only had a few letters and worries that they might be finding it too difficult in that strange country. So much sadness when the young ones opt for adventure or the chance for a better life.

Around the corner, the smithy is stoking up the fire for the day’s work. “That smithy’s been there for centuries, I suppose it will still be here when I’m long gone too, just like our inn. Thank goodness it’s still too quiet for the old men to gather and chat, I don’t want to have them watching me, judging me.”

The river comes into view again and it’s time to take the path to the forest. A quick prayer at the shrine and it’s up the steep hills to the cover of the trees. The boars are snuffling in the distance but they won’t bother me today. Finally I reach my favourite spot where I can see the whole village spread out before me. The river is clear and smooth now but later the barges will track invisible paths through it, and one of them will carry me on the long journey far away. Flags flap in the breeze outside the bargemen’s houses telling all their friends they’re home and good for a chat, a smoke and a stein.

The vineyard looms over the village like a priest lecturing his flock from the pulpit, and the labourers move up and down the vines, pruning. There’s a rhythmic calm to their movement. It’s strange how it’s this experience that’s given the men a chance to try a new life in Australia, after all the news that they want to start a wine industry there. Dry wine for a dry country.

Down the quick path to the church, a well trodden path to get to Mass quickly when you’ve left it a little late from a morning walk. The children are running and jostling on their way to school. “It’s not all that long since Herr Kraus lectured us in our numbers, his cane swishing to our chanting”. “That’s one smell I don’t miss, the smell of the horses and cattle mixing with the fire in the classroom. The old barn is pretty with its Fachwerk but it certainly smells!”

Walk by the cemetery, to place a few wildflowers from the hill on Father’s grave. Mother was here last night and the lamp is still burning and her flowers are fresh. I need to say goodbye to my departed family too.  I’ll miss being able to come and say a quiet hello. So many generations, and my little sisters, all lying here, faithfully tended by those still living.

Just enough time for a quiet walk along the river. I’ll see the length of this great river in the days ahead, but there’ll be no time for reflection then. It’s so peaceful along here in the shade of the trees. There’s some hustle and bustle on the barges now so I’d best hurry. Herr Brand is in the yard of the Goldener Stern, watching the action, and missing the lure of the sea.

Only time for a passing prayer at the crucifix shrine, hurrying to get home as the Angelus rings out. My brother Jacob is busy with the lunch guests and we only have time for a quick goodbye. He’s taught me everything he knows about meat and cooking, so I’ll have useful skills in my new life. Mother hands me a parcel of lebkuchen, rye bread, cheese and sausage for the voyage, hugs me quickly, and turns away with tears in her eyes.

I have to leave quickly or it will be too hard. Dashing down the path I cast a glance back. Mother is watching silently from the upstairs windows framed by flowerboxes.

Gute Fahrt aus Dorfprozelten, Georg.

Safe travelling from Dorfprozelten.

Good voyage, George.


Note: Photos of Dorfprozelten can be found on my Flickr page under the category “Dorfprozelten am Main” http://www.flickr.com/photos/cassmob/sets/72157600185994835/


52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History -Week 2 overdue -Winter

Despite missing the timeline for Week 2, I thought I’d update my blog to include my thoughts on “Winter” in Queensland. This isn’t all that simple, as other Australian bloggers have mentioned, because when you grow up in a sub-tropical climate, winter is a relative thing. In the tropics where I now live, a temperature of 20C is inclined to see a flurry of Ugg boots, warm coats, long sleeves, jumpers etc. What else can you expect when the daily temperature routinely hovers between 28C and 35C all year round?

So what do I remember about winter as a child growing up in Brisbane? Firstly it needs to be mentioned that houses in Brisbane are built for the heat and not the cold, so sometimes you can really feel the cold in an uninsulated, unheated house. In fact one of my stand-out memories of being cold is sleeping on mattresses in my grandmother’s house after she died and the wind coming up through the floorboards….colder than New Zealand and certainly colder than anywhere I’ve slept overseas in mid-winter.

Although Brisbane wasn’t really cold, by almost all standards, I would usually get a warm coat on a regular basis when I was growing up. Usually my mother made this overcoat (she was a proficient dressmaker) & it would be made from woollen fabric and quite warm. I don’t recall having masses of winter cardigans or jumpers –probably enough to match the climate. When I was at high school we had a winter uniform as well as a summer one and that involved a blazer and a jumper and sometimes both were needed at once such were the freezing conditions! Overseas winters require much more complex decisions than “how few clothes can I wear” and “where are my sandals”. This simple life makes it difficult to naturally grasp layering and the need to wear claustrophobic stockings and scarves just to keep warm –possible, practical, but not always enjoyable.

Brisbane’s winters are typically sunny blue skies so lovely and fresh. Nor do we have deciduous trees or autumn colours. In August the winds would blow from the West across the empty continent and it was always the coldest month as I remember it. As the winds would howl through the city canyons it could get quite chilly and brisk.

Sideshow Alley at the Ekka at night.

August is the end of winter in the sub-tropics and usually Brisbane’s coldest month, also the time of the annual Ekka (or Exhibition), a celebration of all things “bush” with displays of cooking, artwork, fashion and craft as well as the sideshows, woodchop competitions, trots, Police motor cycle displays and fireworks (barracking for one’s preference of blue, green or red to go highest). The influx of people from cattle stations and other properties, bringing with them their cattle and stock to be judged, meant the city was suddenly inhabited by their trademark Akubras, RM Williams’ boots and generally laconic style.  We lived quite close to the Exhibition grounds so I would see the progressive construction of the ferris wheel and all the rides in sideshow alley en route to and from high school each day.

Side Show Alley from the ferris wheel late 1980s

My Littlest one (some time ago) enjoying her strawberry and cream ice cream

Another treat always associated with the Ekka and Winter, was the delicious ice creams which were made from a layer of vanilla ice cream, a layer of real strawberry ice cream, fresh strawberries, and fresh cream. In those days strawberries were only obtainable in August, or perhaps I’m wrong and I really only noticed their presence in association with the Ekka. I’ve said in other contexts that the Ekka was a cultural experience and people have derided the concept….certainly it’s not culture in the sense of grand art, opera or classical music, but in the sense of being part of a city’s lifeblood I firmly believe it is part of our culture.

Snow was something we saw only on Christmas cards or in books and when my husband and I first saw it we whispered our question to each other: “is that snow?” Who in Europe would believe people could be so ignorant of such a basic phenomenon! Mind you, my father always swore that one very cold winter’s night there were snowflakes falling in the railway yard where he worked the night shift. Despite decades living in sub-tropical and tropical climates, and perhaps because of the novelty, winter and autumn remain my favourite seasons. I think that sentiment might stand the test of heavy snow, but perhaps not the everlasting grey skies and drizzle so much in contrast with winter as I’ve experienced it in Australia.

Livestock parade main arena  Ekka c1981