Sunday, January 2, 2011

One Settler

Quilly's comment yesterday "Well, I'm very proud of ya'll. It's a hard thing to emigrate when you have a high paying job to go to, it's a whole nother thing when you're going to a new place to hard scrabble." brought me back to one of my oldest politically incorrect assertions: All humans are either settlers (emigrants) or the descendents of the same - or we'd be very crowded back in some little marshy valley back in Africa. That's what we as a species do (there are many other species who are the same -- many of whom are just as much of PITA as humans, if slightly less able to apply their minds to it). I'm not going to get into a whole philosophical debate about the rights and wrongs of it, because there are both, and I wrote a whole book on the subject already (Slow Train to Arcturus) -- just to say that having done this, I have a new-found understanding and respect for the settlers in strange lands, who moved from certainties to the unknown with - often - nothing more than a hatful of hope. Yep, they messed up at times. We humans do. We are unique in that we can recognise that we have done so, and none of us are untainted by it (while admitting this is not fashionable either, I hold it true).

The settlers also paid a high price at times, and it took all the courage and hard work they could muster just to survive too. And it surely wasn't all fun or exploiting anyone. It was just what you did, and it is strange to us now, because our world has changed. For a simple example of things still in living memory we can't imagine doing now... I read earlier today about a rural Australian life back in the 'good old days'- when bedsheets were still turned - cut in half when the middle got thin - and had seam down the middle to make them last a year or two longer, and soap was made with lye and sheep fat. Yes, they had enough to eat, and space to grow in. But not shoes... kids would run a rabbit trap-line for pocket money... Life has got easier as well as more complex.

"And some of them knew fortune, and some of them knew fame, but more of them knew hardship and died upon the plain." (Christie Moore - City of Chicago)

Yep, it's still hard scrabble for us, but it was easier than for my forefathers. There is communication and generally the earlier settlers here have been friendly :-).

If you'd like to criticise settlers or emigrants -- especially those who do it the hard way -- no benefits, no scrounging, no security, no family or friends to turn to, no well-paying secure job... why don't you try it? I think it's a fairly tough natural selection process.

I am deeply grateful to Australia for being a place that will let me in to scrabble, and to Australians for having us here, giving us what I felt South Africa wasn't and helping us along with settling in... Because I don't know if we'd have coped without that.

It's a fine country with some very fine people.
I liked it here from the start.
I am beginning to love it.


  1. And those settlers who have come to know you on Flinders aren't the only ones whose lives are richer for having shared your hard scrabble.

  2. And this Aussie is very happy you are in the same country and beginning to love it. :)

  3. Its attitude, Dave and Barbs.

    I have been most impressed with your determination to fit in, and your enjoyment as the fitting in came to fruition.

    Its also from whence you came. I would guess that if you'd done this 20 years ago, you'd have been spat on. Many Australians took apartheid very seriously.

    I'm from right wing Australia. Sue's Dad got three votes less than needed to have been the first Communist member of OZ parliament. The left wing of Australia will never forgive me for whom my father was; the right wing will never forgive Sue for who HER father was.

    Still, perhaps if we'd shown your dedication to making a new life work, we'd have made a better fist of our own situation.

    My congratulations to you.


  4. Migrating is always a very hard thing to do as you say - and so many things go into making that decision to move . Not just countries but even within a country . And whenever one moves there is a lot of doubt and  unanswered existential questions .But movement brings challenges and hence progress ! 

  5. You rang a few bells for me with this post, having been an immigrant a couple of times over. And going further back, I remember the sheets seamed down the middle and the home-made soap - it was a horrible colour, I remember. Sort of dirty dark brown.

  6. Webfaery - It's been rough at times, but we had each other, and gradually now we have friends too.

  7. Tan, and thank you for your support and advice!

  8. Ian -oddly enough my parents came from the bitterest of enemies - My mother was a Delarey - Niece I think to the the Lion of West - one ofthe last of the great Boer Generals who nearly fought the British Empire to a standstill with one thousandth of the resources. My father's own father was a ne'er do well, who got up to all sorts, but his father was Surgeon General for British Army in the Boer War. They established mutual respect and some liking I think... eventually. But they must have been a determined couple. I like to think I am a tolerant old fashioned liberal - the kind with a small l who are unlike the modern 'capital L' Liberal. I've been on the recieving end of racism, bigotry and intolerance from those :-/ with UK publishing and I suspect US publishing. Usually when I can talk to people they realise their irrational prejudice is just that, but some - particularly in the modern fashion of so called Liberalism are so entrenched with their bigotry that you can't get through to them. It's a little know fact that 64% of white South Africans voted to end Apartheid and that roughly 20% had opposed it throughout - when black opposition was barely existant, and fostered something that was against their personal best interest - often at great personal cost. Yet they are all assumed to be villians on the basis of country of birth and skin colour? That is as bad as using people's skin colour to prejudge their ability, intellect or morals, in my opinion.

  9. Biren, I think humanity is genetically prone to throwing up adventurers and xenophiles, as well as people who are willing to be sheep and xenophobes, just as the runt in a litter of pups, or the small chick in eagles, is there to enable the animals to survive bad times (when the little one needs less food). It's what we are. I believe that these 'trouble-makers'and restless souls are almost always the source of innovation, and a clever society would try to accomodate them and give them space at 'home' because they definitely _are_ a major source of innovation. Europe, and India, and China are poorer for those who left, much though the new countries and the old often deride them. But that's just my point of view. I think it vital to however, not bring the problems that drove migration or made the country unpleasant enough to wish to migrate with you. I know the issue with South Afica were racism, crime, and poor integration. The good things were a strong work ethic, a sense of humour, unusual food and some different ways of approaching problems. The trick is to bring the latter and leave the former. It's something I see successful migrants doing, and unhappy ones rebuilding the very problems - racism, religion, social stratification in little ghettos they make for themselves in their new countries. It's why I set out to make friends and learn from Australians, and migrants from elsewhere, rather than looking for other South Africans. Because I want to be Australian, not an ex-patriot. You can never really go back, so you may as well go forward.

  10. Glenda, much of this is shared background - common to SA, Australia and many other places, probably. I remember sleeping on those horrible turned sheets. People forget how far we've come. Hopefully we keep going. And I for one believe that cross-pollination is good for our cultures and species.