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The passing of the amateur

If I consult this little pencilled in book of a shopping bill from a Mr. D. Lambert & Son, general store and victuals supplier of Towitta, for the fortnight in February 1936, I see that a packet of Yo-Yo biscuits was a mere 7 pence, and while the entire shopping for that bill was a total of 1/14/7 (one pound fourteen shillings and seven pence) there was deducted for 4 dozen eggs and 6 pounds of butter as barter for a total of 9/6 pence taken off the bill … and then Mr. Lambert would continue on his way in his horse and sulky delivery wagon to the next family farm to repeat the procedure … a round trip he did once a fortnight to deliver the grocery list and pick up bartered exchanged produce. A congenial and fruitful arrangement of the times.

These casual trades between shop-keeper and households were common fare in the times … there is also record of an Indian dry-goods trader used to do the rounds, selling or trading cloth and haberdashery goods, staying at this or that farm for a day or so then moving on. Of course, many of us from the boomer generations remember the “milky” with his plodding horse drawn cart running from house to house with billy-can and scoop … the ice-man and baker … of course, who could forget Mr. Hahn, the green-grocer, parked up in the suburban side street with a clutch of housewives at the back of his truck while he proudly showed them his cluster of fine fresh chokos!

All this was done in the most amateurish manner, the local trader, the (mostly) women of the house, the common supply of goods and the casual chiaking between them all … I remember staying at my aunty’s in Sedan and her delivery of groceries from the local store included one single biscuit … ”Oh look … that silly man … just because I wrote; biscuits/one … instead of a packet he sends me one biscuit! … silly man!” … such were the frivolous back and forth of trading in those times.

The same could be said for the male side of the farm in the cropping and upkeep of animals and equipment. The farm blacksmith shop an integral component of farming practice, needed to repair or invent parts required for harness and wagon … sheds and homesteads … the entire structure, social and practical a continuity of the self-sufficient amateur application … local women as midwives … local apothecaries with their huge tomes of folk medicine and a head full of experience and old-wives tales and “cures” that must have cost as many lives as they saved … possibly an average equally contested by some modern medical practices and could compete with the traffic causalities of these times.

But what stands out most is the skilled amateurism of those times. The time-lapsed photographs for the post and beam “pioneer hut” to the cut-slab and thatch sheds of the first settlement to “The new house” bracketed the obvious faults of the DIY constructs of the first to prefer the hired trades to build the second … and it was the pause in between the original claiming of the property and the sweat and tears that built up the family fortune enough to bring in the tradesmen to make the growing family’s life more comfortable and life in general more liveable … for the burden of home life of the times fell solidly upon the shoulders of the women. Whilst on the farm, developments in agricultural machinery remained pretty static right up until the second world war … the cumbersome stump jump plough the major improvement while all else was structured for application to horse-drawn machinery and it’s risky use, for horses could be prone to fright and flight, taking chains, harness, equipment and handler on a wild unrestrained gallop across lumpy, ploughed paddocks and straight through fences toward the home stable … a most unsettling experience.

And it was about this time that with the advanced development of mechanical tractors that all this came to an abrupt end … and with that sudden killing off of a labour intensive era, was the decline of community connection, for the mechanic and his garage has become the “go-to” person for both fuel and expertise of machine maintenance. No more saddler, blacksmith/iron monger … no more farrier and horse doctor or even the exchange of local knowledge on animal husbandry and with the demise of intensive labour farming, went the families to the city or elsewhere and with them went the town choir, the town band, the town baker, bank, church and assorted community businesses, not to mention the local sporting teams … and in the end in some cases, the town itself … for the once “family farm” being bulldozed and the property held in the portfolio of an Agri-corp absentee owner.

But by far the most damaging wreckage from this demise was the loss of the ethical creed associated with labour and its work … the mantra of: “Responsibility – Work – Reward” … to be replaced by the capitalist cant of Debt, Chance, and Compound interest. For tooling-up for the demands of this new era of “Agri-corp” farming meant mortgaging the family farm and then the squeezing of the profit margins to compete within an open market of high-risk cropping … pre-sale of crops and borrowing to sow, to harvest even in some cases to just get their product to market … the final result; collapse of family fortune, community structure and the town fabric itself.

Welcome to the new world of “professional consultants” and political influencers … high debt, high risk, low return, no future for the generational family farm.

Goodbye to the passing of the amateur.

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  1. Joseph Carli

    The neo-liberals have claimed technology and are using it NOT for the advancement of humanity, but rather for economic oppression and market advantage…and their methodology will, like the advancements post WW2 will destroy the last vestiges of community..making us all “units of production”…it must be brought under some sort of regulation or control.

    “Suddenly the means for subsistence was mercilessly altered..The soil, the Earth, lay open for rapine and pillage..cropping moved from small acreages to broadacre 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.”


  2. Jack Cade

    One of the media outlets reported today that the Australian government shuns travelling anywhere in the world at the moment, but sends two ministers to the USA in the middle of an utterly out-of- control pandemic. It has also been commented upon by the US authorities in a ‘what the fuck?’ note by someone in the WH inner circle.

  3. Bruce Bilney

    Great insight Joe. I think you are a wonderful writer.

  4. Joseph Carli

    Thank you, Bruce…the shame is that the “amateur” in so many other aspects of society, particularly the arts, is both the backbone and in some cases MORE the expert in their own interest field that the “authorised” spokesperson….You must also be aware of the frustrations one meets when the populace demands “validation” from an approved institution or celebrity commentator before they get a hearing..I see it as a continuety of the old “cultural cringe” where instead of holding out the begging bowl of approval to international “stars”, we now rattle the collection plate for that small token of gratitude.

  5. Robin Alexander

    Can relate to article of past life at 83yrs look back on it with love of that time of pleasure small things! my happy childhood though parents had struggles but managed?my husband was 12yrs my senior his family had much wonderful history due to hard backbreaking work but his father had dream was advanced in years in his thinking & aims! Have photos cards going back to 1900letters beautiful? 1908 when he fortunately drew farm block! carved it by hand out scrub became outstanding iin his farm achievements every avenue! property was a showcase of district? Tell you much those struggles history I find fascinating A man beyond his times? But everyone accepted their struggles were happy is what I recall not wanting unachievable? refraining from debt much as possible! These days want it all damn debt? New cars every 3/4years! Amazed my country town always thriving main street now full closed shops?unknown until last 2 years no crops 3yrs! so difficult for employment yet main street full latest big shiny new vehicles? Times changed certainly! greatfull for good happy life even though hard work was ever present for both my husband & myself but love makes happiness! sadly his Fathers beautiful beautiful property went to older son! become a forlorn disgrace like rubbish tip! After backbreaking work 60 odd years making it showplace all for nothing! My husband refused drive past far to depressing to cope with! Story of struggle hard back breaking work in country are! Mine I look back on as being fortunate always been loved cared for! tearful thinking of all past memories of others struggles in my families! But here am now living on my own in old age in my comfortable home have 2 caring children is all we require truly in life?

  6. Joseph Carli

    Robin Alexander…a wonderful letter in response…so true and sincere..thank you.

    And of the hard work..sure, technology has brought relief from some of the more tedious and difficult work practices…but I say that hard yakka on its own hasn’t killed too many people but the rise of obesity from…in many cases..a lack of hard yakka IS!…we have to adjust what is the boundary between machine application for a job and wether more physical labour will be better..not just for the increased employment, but the satisfaction to the worker of self-sufficiency and perhaps increased physical fitness.

    I sympathise with you on your father in law’s property…I live in a area that has been in slow decline for many years and so many of those well-managed Germanic family farms have been abandoned and the children leaving to work in other districts and industries..and I have to ask…was it really necessary?

  7. wam

    The self taught, the motivated, the learn on the job, the passing on of skills, the work being immediate on site have all gone the same way.
    Primary teaching was prep for further education and taught by amateurs. Now if you can. DO. If you can’t, TEACH. If you can’t teach, TEACH teachers.
    The lying rodent’s edict to keep youth at school, for many nominally, till year 12 when the schools were geared to three exits workers grade 10 bank johnnies year 11 uni year 12. The hundreds of thousands of ‘schooled out’ students meant thousands of teachers in front of students marching on the spot. The demand let vicechancellors plunder the HECS system by lowering the entry provisions for teaching and simplifying the courses accordingly. I am guessing, but the large teacher numbers let money to be siphoned off to
    The starting an apprenticeship at 18 years beyond getting hands dirting, years beyond starting at the bottom, years beyond near enough is not good enough, year beyond the satisfaction of your ‘amateurism’

  8. DrakeN

    “Amateur” derived from Latin “Amator” = lover of.
    A word gradually degraded by the distortion of language beginning with an presumption of “professional” superiority.
    The ugly head of money making once again: If you love what you do you do not need to be paid for it – contrariwise, you must pay for the priviledge.

  9. king1394

    My mum used to receive a half pint of fresh cream as part payment for teaching violin to a dairy farmer’s daughter – in the 1960s

  10. Joseph Carli

    This post is not just about history nor a sentimental look of “how things were in the old days”…it is about the effect of capitalist policy inflicted without thought or consideration of consequences by a conservative govt’ that has no concern for its own citizenry…And the effect and destruction consequence from the rapid introduction of technology after the 2ndWW, was only one in a past and continuing line of destruction of quality work, community wealth and community spirit..

    ” In 1844, several thousand weavers smashed the newly-introduced machinery that had driven down their wages in Silesia. Thereafter, the Prussian government repressed them with great brutality.”….It was this revolt of the weavers of Silesia, seeing their craft being destroyed by mechanised looms that drove so many to immigrate to Sth Aust’ in the mid 19th century…

    I hear this morning of people revolting against the introduction of 5G technology…and though I do not agree with their conspiracy theories, I DO wonder on the sudden emergency of why we have to now have 5G when we were told not so long ago that the NBN FTTH was un-necessary as we did not need such speeds of down or up loads!!…I personally would be happy if I could get 4G!! or even a consistent 3G!! here in the regions…so I say shove the 5G where the sun don’t shine and get back to delivering fibre to the home so we can ALL have a similar quality service and STOP bullshitting us!

    And this is where the destruction comes from…the chaos of every man-jack privateer corp’ trying to jam technology ad hoc down the throat of a society that cannot even take time to get over a rampant virus but must needs..according to those in the private sector…get their f#cking economy up and running!…well jack you pal!

    We need a revolution desperately to rid us of this upper middle-class, private schooled pestilence who have no idea, no capacity and no plans for stable governance.

    Hands on governance by the hands on producers!

  11. AI

    JC, I agree with what you are pointing out. Capitalism is on a careless tear. What we call democracy is becoming a kind of communism overseen by the corporate sector who interface with the public through publicly elected plutocrats.
    COVID19 is the perfect excuse to sneak a few more restrictions in against liberty and I’m not talking about face masks. The days of public protest are basically gone as is the freedom to travel at will. There will be always now, forever and a day, a flu virus or whatever ‘we must fight’. Lockdowns are now a facet of everyday life, a way to keep the public in fear and under control.
    Society is becoming a full blown Idiocracy.
    The introduction of new technology should complement our existence, not dominate and remove personal autonomy.
    In regard to mobile phones how much better if we had fibre?
    In regard to 5G, the amount of emf radiation (from all the G’s including 5) is about a billion times a billion that of what previous generations lived in. EMF may not causing be causing a virus, but it is sure making a natural healthy life impossible.
    Now does everyone understand the protest?

  12. DrakeN

    One of the often overlooked bits of the “private is best” argument is the reliance on the concept that it introduces competition between players on the market and so reduces costs to consumers.
    A concept which only succeeds until the prevailing ‘winners’ launch takeovers of their less ‘successful’ competitors, introducing supposed ‘efficiencies of scale’ when in reality the huge conglomerates which result become beset by bureaucratic overburden and internal conflict.
    Likewise, they become, in effect, monopolies in themselves, with the financial and political resources to suppress and eliminate any potential competition, the consequences of which are a strict adherance to a status quo and the inability of new concepts and initiatives to ‘gain clear air’ in which to progress.

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