Monday, February 01, 2010

History hazards of the countryside

I’m reminded of the old Punch cartoon with two city gentlemen in a coach on the way to a country weekend. One fop is saying: “The countryside is truly rural hereabouts.” And so it is in my Mia Mia retreat, and there is something about country people I really connect with; not well mind you, but I enjoy it.

Part of the secret is not to be a city smartarse, don’t be telling the locals how they should do things or what they should think. Oh! and it helps to keep yourself to yourself and not be nosy. I generally fail miserably at all those things. Despite the failings I seem to have connected remarkably well in this community of 400 or so people.

I ask a lot of questions about the area and its history, just occasionally being asked why I want to know. That one I fouled up last week with the response: I just like to know the ins and outs of a duck’s bum! I suspect from the look I received word will be out this week that I am a government spy or worse. It was ever thus.

In fact these people have been living their myths for generations and resent being called to account for consistency of detail. Indeed, the issue I was addressing was the identification of remains of an old brick hut on our property. The city owners insist it was an exotic tale of land claim jumping by a Henry Munro, the locals say it was a bloke named Harrison or Thompson… the names go on, in the 1940s or 50s.

The city folk are less than delighted when I show Munro was not the occupant, the locals are cautious to stick with a broad suggestion and avoid actual detail. With all that, my nosy probing and other misdemeanors, it seems I am accepted. Having walked to the pub (above) on Saturday, a good uphill hike, I sat with my paper and was reading about the late JD Salinger. I will copy in part the comment I posted on Ragebot in response to Kvatch’s post:

“You read, did you read Salinger?” Well yes, but I thought it was pretty ordinary. Now Kerouak… “Who?” The thing about Salinger is that his name and the book are known – vaguely. One of the bar supports said, “of course he was involved in killing Kennedy – that bloke had his book!” In fact it was the bloke who killed John Lennon was carrying the book. Another corner of the bar offered that he, JDS, was only a Pom after all. It turned out he was confusing another ‘seminal’ text and author, Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence.

I forget that oral history is still alive and well, along with it’s social taboos like insisting on consistency and specifics. It is more about keeping the local myths alive and presumably they have their own point for the initiated. So now I’m nervous of asking questions about the photo of the rail. Well I should ask in Kyneton anyway, it is their railway station..

Kyneton is about 25 Km up the Campaspe River which flows, or puddles, near my abode. The town began before the gold rush and became a sort of staging post and supply depot, and rail was part of infrastructure expansion in the fledgling colony. What fascinated me was the well picked section of railway line carrying the mark – V.R. KRUPP 1889. The VR is clearly Victorian Railways, and the KRUPP that German steel maker famous for armaments through many conflicts up to WWII.

The Kyneton – Redesdale area were not big producers of gold as their neighbouring districts were, and have been largely ignored by researchers. I suspect that is changing on some fronts. Aspects like the railways, including the one which used to run to Redesdale, will be well recorded, but I wish them well on collecting the real local history.


D.K. Raed said...

I suspect the reason for any odd looks you may have received for this comment:

"I just like to know the ins and outs of a duck’s bum!"

is the implication that the particular area you are in is similar in some way to a duck's bum ... though I'm sure that uncomplimentary comparison was not what you intended.

The observations of your bar mates about JDS are hilarious! I'm sure many beers were required to come up with Lady Chatterley!

Happy hunting down facts behind the historical Krupp connection!

lindsaylobe said...

One of the joys of living with an oral history is only those myths and stories considered worth keeping survive so there is no political or historically bent baggage. Hence I gather your gaining a fascinating insight into what people think and some of reasons as to why they hold such views.
Best wishes