May storms

27 06 2018

I’ve been a bit lax writing new blog posts and putting up recent photos.

A month ago (around 25 May) we had a big storm front come through, finally heralding winter after a very long mild autumn. The black swans that normally float serenely on the very calm estuary were tossed around on the wind-driven waves, and I saw a bunch of them huddled on the shore on my drive home from town. The writhing black mass of them reminded me of tadpoles in a small puddle struggling to survive.

There was a high tide combined with the strong winds, too, so water inundated places where it doesn’t normally go.


A few days later, after it had all calmed down, the swans were back doing what they do. This group were bunched around a stormwater channel that spills into the estuary from the paddocks on the other side of the road. Obviously, they found something good to eat there, but they swam away quickly when they heard me get of the car to take their picture.

When naturalisation means nothing

4 06 2018

I’ve been researching various parts of my family tree on and off since the mid-1990s. Most of it has been inconsequential — no famous lives, no famous connections, no connections to Australian convicts, no scandals that I can find. Just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

Like every non-Aboriginal person in Australia, I come from a mixed, multicultural, immigrant background — South Africans on one side (going back to the Huguenots moving out of Europe in the 1500s and 1600s), English and German (Prussian really) on the other. Although I can find out quite a bit online about the English and the South Africans (those Lutherans certainly kept detailed family records!), finding out about my German ancestors has been much harder — I don’t speak or read German, and my ancestors lived in a place that has variously been under the control and jurisdiction of  Prussia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Russia, among others. Two world wars in the area also mean that many records have been lost forever, and even when you can find records, many are written in languages (such as Old German) that are almost extinct. Knowing the name of a town doesn’t help — town names have changed as various countries controlled the Prussian region, and often bear little resemblance to the current name (e.g. Posen [Prussia] became Bomst [Germany] and is now known as Babimost [Poland] — only the ‘o’ and the ‘s’ survived!; Marienburg [Germany) became Malbork [Poland], etc.). And the names of people have changed too — when my German branch came to Australia, they anglicised their name (or it was anglicised for them); e.g. a name like Wiegmann could easily have become Wigman or Wegman, or something else entirely. What this means is that this branch of my tree is hard to trace.

So kudos to my uncle for going to Germany and Poland a few years ago to find out more about his grandfather’s family (my great grandfather). My uncle was able to get the correct name (my great grandfather was named Johannes, but he was known in Australia as James), the name of the town he came from, and some other records — enough to continue to research James’ life once he came to Australia in the 1890s, at the age of 23.

By 1900, when he married my great grandmother, James was living on the Western Australian goldfields and working on the gold mines and the power stations as an engine driver (likely called an engineer these days). They went on to have 5 children. In 1903, he became a naturalised British subject (Australian citizens weren’t known as that then — they were known as British subjects), with all the ‘rights and capacities of a natural-born British subject’ (see first document below).

During the 1900s and early 1910s, James was an expert marksman, receiving certificates and awards from the military through the local rifle club. He was well-liked and newspaper articles of the day (as well as employment references my uncle found in the National Archives) show that he was reliable, sober, and a hard worker. He and his family continued to live in the Kalgoorlie area, and he continued to work as an engine driver for various gold mines, holding down jobs for several years at a time.

And then came the Great War.

Family folklore has it that the family was forced out of town because they were German, and that they came to Perth where they set up a vegetable market garden and poultry farm. No more engine work for James. By the outbreak of World War 1, his children ranged in age from 9 months to 13 years. Three of them were at school, and were no doubt ostracised there too. Remember, this was the family folklore. I didn’t have verification, or dates.

My uncle hunted the National Archives and found the document (below) that verified this tale, and in many ways it is worse than the family folklore led us to believe. James was ‘reported to be an enemy subject’, his ‘natural born British subject’ status is questioned (despite his Certificate of Naturalization 1903 stating that he has the ‘rights and capacities of a natural born British subject’, and it is stated that ‘advice has been received’ (advice from whom? gossip? allegations? someone who didn’t like him?) that he has ‘pronounced German sympathies’.

All this happened in September 1916, some two years after he’d lost his job at the Main Reef Gold Mine because he made ‘disloyal utterances’. He was 45 at this time, and had lived in Australia almost his entire adult life. His Certificate of Naturalization meant absolutely NOTHING.

I’m not sure what happened between 1916 and 1919, or where the family was living, but by mid 1919 he had purchased some land in Perth for a poultry and vegetable farm (by this time the children’s ages ranged from 6 to 18 years). More police investigations into his ‘allegiances’ followed as to whether he was a ‘proper’ person to own land, and he wasn’t granted Certificate of Title to that land until 2.5 years later.

I can’t imagine how harrowing this was for James, his wife, and the whole family. All their children (all born in Australia) were brought up in an environment where they could have seen their father taken to prison or a prisoner of war camp at any time — all because he publicly stated he wouldn’t fight against Germany because he still had family living there (his parents, 5 brothers and 3 sisters, and 2 step-brothers and 3 step-sisters).

What makes me particularly angry is that he was officially a British subject, and had been for some 11 years before World War 1 started. But that meant diddly. The parallels with what’s happening with immigrants in Britain and the US today are frightening.

Note: I had no idea what a ‘non-efficient member’ of a rifle club was, so I looked it up. There’s not much, but this letter to the editor from 1909 explains it quite well [Source: “RIFLE SHOOTING.” Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA : 1905 – 1952) 6 March 1909: 3.]: