Who was that young man in the picture, that handsome young soldier dressed in heavy khaki, and the little boy beside him, attired in his best blue and white sailor suit? Was the cherubic infant his brother or his son? Was the photo taken just before the young man left home for the Great War? He smiles at the camera, blue-eyed and smooth skinned, his strong chin handsomely cleft, a gentle gaze invoking innocence and expectation. Pride. Readiness to go and help the “Mother Country” in Gallipoli, France or in Flanders’ Fields.
I found the photograph of this man in an old wares shop in Quorn, South Australia, in the mid 1970s. It was sepia toned, taken in 1915, but I always saw the colours that weren’t there, the khaki, the bronzed badge, the bairn’s pink cheeks and blond curls. He used to gaze serenely from my wall, slouch hat shadowing his brow, and spoke to me in times of loneliness, restoring my balance with his ever-present calm.
Someone, perhaps his parents, paid dearly for that studio portrait and framing. Beautifully carded, simply framed in austere honeyed oak, worn shiny with time. Why was the portrait discarded? Did he die somewhere in that horrific war? Were his elders left, like so many country folk, to struggle against nature on those arid plains, sowing wheat and grazing sheep, without a son to assist them? Did his family line just disappear?
I think of that man often, I can still see his face. I am the keeper of his memory.
My post last Anzac Day, 2014. Commemorating Slaughter with a Biscuit. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/anzac-day-2014-commemorating-slaughter-with-a-biscuit/
The history of settlement of the outback, South Australia, particularly around the Flinders Ranges, is intriguing, especially if you have travelled north of Quorn or Hawker and noted the many abandoned stone cottages. Idealistic farmers, many with German background, hoping to make their fortune in wheat growing, took up large tracts of land in this semi desert area, believing that ‘the rain would follow the plough’.
The basic premise of this theory was that increased human settlement in the region and cultivation of soil would result in an increased rainfall over time, rendering the land more fertile and lush as the population increased. The theory was widely promoted in the 1870s as a justification for settlement in the Great Plains of America and was also used to justify the expansion of wheat growing on marginal land in South Australia during that period.¹ Despite the warnings of climatologist, George Goyder² in 1865, farmers continued to believe this fallacy and took up land north of Quorn, near the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.
Today we can witness hundreds of ruins and shattered dreams along the highways and small tracks in this area, as recurring droughts eventually drove these settlers away. Their abandoned hand-built stone houses are hauntingly beautiful, set amidst plains of grey-green saltbush, red sandy earth, with a backdrop of purple escarpments and ranges. Thanks Ed,of Sunday Stills, for this week’s prompt. ¹.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_follows_the_plow 2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goyder%27s_Line http://ashadocs.org/aha/03/03_04_Young.pdf