A letter to my oldest Brother
You were home by now; finished with boarding school, working on the farm, joining organisations like Junior Farmers and creating a social life for yourself in the area. Like all little brothers who idolised their big brothers, I was probably a pain in the arse; an almost ten-year-old, wanting to be part of your grown up world!
The old religious mores were being severely tested with tensions running high between adults and their children as the early baby boomers came of age.
Tensions between you and Dad seemed to fill our days, what you wore, how you worked and who your friends were, seemed to be the source of never ending criticism.
On the other hand, I think Mum was pleased to have you at home, another ally in the ongoing battle with our father
I have often wondered how all our lives would have turned out, if you had been allowed to leave the farm; I wonder if at that age, you ever resented the choices you did not get to make.
Did you ever dream of a career in music? Did you ever want to break free? Or did you just accept the way your life was pre planned for you?
The Beatles were yet to make an impact on our lives, but the advent of music as a medium of protest was beginning to take hold, with the music of Elvis and our home grown, Johnny O’Keefe becoming the mainstays of the local dances, often held in neighbouring farm’s woolsheds.
These icons were becoming the arbiters of style for youth, via the newfangled TV that some people already had. Scratchy black and white images flickering across the screen, I remember standing in front of the hardware store in our nearest big town with almost the whole population of 1,000 people being captivated by the pictures that appeared magically on those tantalising boxes.
A little known country to the North of Australia was beginning to make the news headlines as first America, and then Australia; committed troops to counter the so called, Communist insurgency happening in South Vietnam.
Voicing an opinion against our involvement in this war would have been treasonous in our world with Dad an integral part of the local RSL. Conscription for 20 year olds would not be introduced for another three years, by which time you would be over the age for the ballot.
At this time, Vietnam was just something that our country was involved in and the fledgling antiwar movement in the Cities was as removed from our world, as was indeed; Vietnam itself.
The fact that we lived in an area dominated by stolid Lutheran families perhaps shielded us even more from the growing rebelliousness in the outside world, but fractures were beginning to occur; even in our hermetically sealed environment.
Your friend; John was perhaps the most open in his disdain for the old limits, this was even more outrageous, because his family were not simply Lutheran, but an integral part of the High Lutheran Church which; while on its last legs as a separate identity; still held firmly to its prescriptive beliefs.
John drank openly, drove a loud, fast car and was often to be seen at the local dances, flaunting his contempt for his religion’s strictures.
I remember being at the silos with Dad, this was not the usual silo where we would take our grain, but because the line was shorter we had gone there on this day. It would have been about the last year we were delivering our wheat in bags, before the advent of bulk handling. The line when we got there was a mixture of trucks with bags and some of the early adopters with their shiny new bulk bins perched on a variety of farm trucks.
I walked with Dad up to near the front of the line, chatting to different farmers about the season and the weather. Because this was not our normal Silo, there were people there I had never seen before, I soon realised we were in the heartland of the High Lutheran area.
There was a flurry as John pulled into the line with his truck and dark mutterings against this boy who was something of a hero to me; Dad quickly took me back to our truck and I was ordered to stay inside while Dad mingled with the Presbyterians and Methodists, all waiting to see what was about to occur.
The High Lutherans had decided this was their opportunity to punish John and I saw him being gang marched up the line of trucks.
To this day, I am not sure what actually transpired because I was confined to the truck but Dad did not speak as we slowly edged to the front of the line and headed back to the farm for the next load.
There were mutterings between Dad and Mum when we went home that night and I think you were told to ring John. I think I heard something about a whipping and I know I did see stock whips in the hands of some of the farmers before John had arrived. Whatever form it took, John had been publicly beaten and humiliated. I know from the dark whispers between you and Mum and Dad, it had not been pleasant.
We did not see John for some time after this, and when I did see him next time; some of the cockiness seemed to have been drained from my hero.
If there was any good have come from this, it seemed for a while; that relations between you and Dad had moved towards a better balance, someone he had been suspicious of had been hurt and I think at this time he did reach out to you.
I have often wondered whether this was a turning point for the eventual end to the demarcation between the mainstream Lutheran Church and the High Church. I do know that by the late sixties the two branches had combined in our area and in somewhat ironic fashion, the last time I looked; the Old High Church buildings were now occupied by the Catholics.
We lived in changing times Brother and there are times when I wish we could have had a more honest dissection of our lives, our hopes and our dreams.
That chance was stolen by your death in 1990 and I am left with a dichotomy of memories; the brother I idolised at the time I write about now and the person you became.
Whatever was to happen later you were my hero then