Earth, dirt, soil and all that it contains for a healthy environment to live and plant, feed and prosper. There was a time when all peoples had a healthy respect for that piece of land that they lived upon. A sacred respect, a worshipped thing of unknown quantity with a reliable certainty that the Earth would provide.
Cut to the twentieth century, pre second world war … a time when self sufficiency on the land was still considered a religious endowment from God. This was especially relevant among the Germanic settlers who came from the deep soils of Silesia/Posen with the start of the settlement of South Australia. Their Lutheran teachings humbly drew their faith toward the debt to their God that the soil in this new land was holy grist for their mills and families and communities. Seasonal festivals for sowing and harvest were celebrated with gifts placed near or upon their church altars, their stern benevolence conditional on the continuity of hand to plough to faith to harvest and reward for work done.
And the arbiter of all this source and supply was the Earth itself … the soils of the settled lands … in reality if not in recognition; a Pagan celebration of Gaia … Mother Earth.
“She lives, she sees … her breath I breathe,
This island; Earth.”
This was how it stood in those years before hire-purchase, compound interest mortgages and bank-loans became commonplace … When small holdings of farmland could support a single family with crops, chooks, a cow or two and the veggie patch to sustain a well-balanced diet and the household could get by on barter-exchange for what they did not produce with other farming families. I remember being told of one son, who upon joining the army in the time of the 2nd WW, literally sat down and wept when he received his first pay-packet with his own name on it … never before had he ever had money of his own.
The ownership of land gave you status within the district … With the working of the soil, you were considered one of the “ins” of the farming community … as against those who laboured for their living outside of ownership of land … these were the “outs”. Seen as spurned by God and considered a lesser member of the community.
From a study done back in the seventies :
“As I see it, they (the pioneers) accepted their arrival here as Divine Providence – they were led here – and their land was taken up at the hands of Divine Providence for themselves.” (Mr. “B” 80+ yrs, Barossa Survey).
Mr. Colin Thiele (the author), who lived on family property in the Barossa Valley until he went away to school said:
“Yes, there was a spiritual bond with the soil, linked with their religion. Their land was a gift from God and it was from the soil that good gifts flow. This knowledge was deeply and unquestioningly instilled in them.” (Barossa Survey).
The strict discipline brought to the new land in regards to system, method and social order, sustained these hardy pioneers through the rigors of unfamiliar weather and shallow top-soils … their over-zealous regard to form and measure causing damage to those very soils they revered as God’s gift to them … their hopelessly small allotments in this dry land soon showed them reason to doubt their benevolence.
“The German farmer who ran his farm in an ordered and efficient manner thought of himself, through the teaching of his church, as a good steward of that which had been given him through Divine Providence. To own land and to farm it well gave him status in the sight of God and of his fellow men. Any person not exhibiting signs of good stewardship, that is, an inefficient farmer, in the terms of this ideology was ‘out’, and considered to be of lower status. Colin Thiele suggested that through their zeal and desire to be good stewards the German pioneers (ironically enough):
. . . overtilled the soil through ignorance of Australian conditions compared with those of Silesia where they came from.“ (Barossa Survey).
The years of the Great Depression and the foreclosing by the banks on many of those small family farms drove some off the land, and by losing their land, there was “inside consideration” that they had fallen from faith with God and so were sometimes forced to leave the district and community. This had grave consequences for many Fathers and head of the family … breakdowns and suicides were not infrequent at this time, and the cruelty of financial dominance by the banks sent many other farmers into labouring for extra income in what was now a capital rather than a barter-based community.
Even the wording of the teachings from the Lutheran pulpits changed with the times .. where once praise for hard work on land and stock was singular for the owners and tillers of the soil, after the War, an equal consideration was given to whatever means was employed to gain wages to support the family … God had yielded his preference toward a life on the soil to any means available to keep one’s head above water!
The bankers were now writing the gospel … The conservative politicians were empowering the banks.
“Now mute, this soil of ravaged earth,
Speaks a language I no more discern,
Where once I tilled with bare hand …
… and did understand.
Mute ; the soil that gave me birth,
Speak to me! … my mother silent,
This island; Earth.“
Suddenly the means for subsistence was mercilessly altered … The soil, the Earth, lay open for rapine and pillage … cropping moved from small acreages to broad-acre and machinery from horse-drawn to satellite controlled in the space of a couple of generations. The descendants of those old Germanic pioneers, those hardened tillers of God’s earth moved from being “dirt-farmers” to “chemical-farmers” … the barter system redundant now as there was in place corporate conglomerates to shift mega tonnage and if your farm was too small for consideration, you were left behind.
There was no place in this brave new world of hedge-funded mega agri-corps for either sympathy for the old handed-down generational family farm, nor banking finance for the same to restructure the size of their holdings … the family whose heart was from the soil was finished, percentage was the new arithmetic of farming.
The prayer of capital religion was one of cold, hard cash … and woe betide they who lacked capital or credit, for theirs will not be the kingdom of this new God.
“Mr. B. ( 80+):
“It is an economic position as a result of politics that young people can’t afford to stay on the land. By and large they can’t even build a ‘blinkin’ house for themselves anymore because the prices have just escalated.
Mr. B. apparently, has only, as many disillusioned elderly people will do, seen government pol icy working towards this disintegration, and has failed to recognise the steady encroachment of the capitalist ideology within his own community. This encroaching capitalist ideology has been recognised by most of the younger generation, as witnessed Mr. N. (35) who knows that to be competitive in the modern economy, farms must be mechanised and holdings must be increased in size to warrant capital expenditure on the necessary machinery. He is aware that the old ideology requiring a good steward of God’s gifts to supply his family needs from his own land through his own labour is beyond the financial capability of the non-capitalised, restricted acreages which were sufficient in the days of the pioneers.” (Barossa Survey).
“This Island Earth.
Lament, fair children, Lament fair child,
Lament for what you have to abide.
Born to us a gift supreme, sight sublime,
Beauty’s hand to hand in mine,
But now I turn mine eyes askine,
Now in shame and guilt decline
To walk hand with hand in thine.
Whilst fair Beauty and her entourage
Lay dying in irreversible damage.
And ponder I, why ‘tis always encouraged,
That we pluck the prettiest flowers,
But leave the weeds to flourish …
On this island Earth.”