THE PATH OF THE PIONEERS
Written by Sydney Schack.
This story is written as a tribute to two pioneers of the Mallee, by the last surviving son, Sydney, of Johann Nicholaus Wilhelm Schack and Sophie Catherine Passow.
I am not writing this with the idea that my mother and father have done more than others have done, but with the conviction that too little has been written about the pioneers who opened up a great land.
My father was born in Hohnstorf on. the Rhine (should this be Elbe?), Germany, on May 6th 1860. My mother was born in Varmstorf, (should this be Harmstorf?) Germany in 1864. She was of a quiet, reserved nature and, as she passed away when I was 13 , I did not hear much of her early life until she came as a young woman to Australia. Her brother, Fred Passow, and my father's sister Greta had previously come out to Wirrabera, South Australia, and had a fruit and vegetable garden there. My mother and her father came out later and lived with them.
Of my father's early life I heard much more. While a boy he was skating on the frozen river Rhine. His skates became unfastened and, while hot, he stopped to fix them and after contracted Scarlet Fever which left him practically deaf in one ear. This placed him in Reserves of Military training for national service and he was never called up. This did not worry him as he was not of a war-like nature. After leaving school he served his apprenticeship as a bricklayer. He worked in various parts of Germany. He was very fond of dancing and related that often he danced until early morning, getting home and climbing in the window so as not to disturb his parents. He would then change, have breakfast and walk five miles to start work on time. He had a keen sense of humour and I will relate some of the humorous incidents in his long life later. He had a spirit of adventure and enterprise so it was not surprising that one weekend he asked his father for his bank book, saying that he wanted to draw some money as he was going to see Port Hamburg. He did not want to tell his father that he intended to go further than Hamburg and on to Australia. He knew that it was intended that he would later carry on with the farm which his father owned. This was the custom in Germany and probably still is - that is, namely for the eldest son to take over when the old folk were too old to do the necessary work. So ... he sailed for London, the first stage of his journey. Landing there he had the usual battle with the confidence men who were ever ready to catch the unwary. Eventually he embarked on the long journey to Australia, leaving behind all his relations except his sister and brother-in-law who were already in Australia. He arrived in Adelaide with 19 shillings and tried to get work at his trade of bricklaying. The only job he could get immediately was a job of cleaning wheat with the first mechanical machine known to clean wheat, commonly known as the hand winnower. It had to be turned by hand and fed overhead with a wooden fork into a sort of hopper, then go down to riddles or sieves. At first father turned the handle but it soon became evident to him that his elder companion or mate to him, as he is termed here, was not keeping the flow of wheat up, so father made signs to him to take a turn on the handle. Then they soon earned a little cheque even it was only 6 pence a four-bushel bag. Father used to say the winnower used to have a rhythm when worked by weekly labour which seemed to say to a slow tune "By the week, by the week" but when worked by contract labour it would rattle out a quicker tune "Piece work, piece work". I suppose that would counteract the monotonous job of cleaning hour after hour in the hot sun.
This job completed, father got some building on farms, mostly with stone. But soon he had to have a more enterprising job and rented some land to plant some tobacco plants. When the plants were growing nicely he went out one morning after a heavy frost, to find his whole crop blackened by the frost. That was the first and only crop of tobacco he ever planted. By this time news had come through about the Mallee country away over the South Australian border. He put in for a block and got a selection on the main road between Beulah and Galaquil. The land he selected is now owned by the George Brothers on Henty Highway between Beulah and Galaquil. Previous to this he had visited his sister and brother-in-law at Wirrabera and it was there that he found the companion who was to share his trials, joys and sorrows in the pioneering days in the Mallee. They got together three horses and a dray and put all their worldly possessions on it to travel across country to the Mallee. They got on reasonably well until about sixty miles past Servicetown where they had to cross a railway line. Father did not think the railway embankment dangerous to cross so, instead of going back to the proper crossing, they attempted to cross and tipped the dray over, pinning mother's dress so that she could not get up, with her head right behind the shafter's heels. This mare, at other times, would have lashed if anything touched her heels but she never moved and looked around as much to say as father put it "Now there's a mess for you". Father was thrown clear and was able to get mother clear and she went along the line to get assistance from the railway workers while father was unloading things from the dray in preparation to pull it back on the two wheels. When he saw mother coming back with help, he collapsed, and it was then found that he had fractured his leg in five places below the knee. With the help of the two men he set the bones in place and they strapped it up with two boards. One man held his waist and the other man pulled his leg out to stop the sinews contracting. Then came the long trip back to Servicetown by hand-propelled trolley. After examining the leg the doctor said that he could not have set it better himself. They had to put the horses in a station paddock and father had to stay in hospital for six weeks. When he endeavoured to tell the doctor in broken English that he wouldn't be able to pay him he said "Never mind the money, it's the leg we want!" After leaving hospital on crutches they collected the horses. When yarded at the station the mare which mother had been lying behind, whinnied and trotted up to her. It was no use to try to tell father that horses had no intelligence. He said "that one he had proof of"!
Eventually, after many days and weeks, they arrived at their future home and had to make a one-room home for the time. It was half under the ground and half above. Their first child. Agnes, was born there without the aid of a doctor or a nurse. Then came the problem of getting some land cleared to sow a crop and a settler, Mr. H. O'Rourke, took it in hand to organise probably one of the first working bees in the Mallee. He got some settlers together and suggested clearing out a piece of70 or 80 acres so father could go on ploughing with 3 horses in a two-furrow plough. Mr. O’Rourke later went down to Lake Bolac in the Western District. The crop was a complete failure that year but that was no fault of the stout hearted workers at the working bee. About that time Father had to get milk for baby Agnes and, hearing of some cows for sale at Brim, he went down to see about buying one. When he told the owner that he had no money to pay for it, the farmer said "Well you are a funny customer coming to buy a cow and having no money to pay for it." So Father had to explain to him that they had a little baby. The farmer said "You take the cow and pay for it when you can." It was acts like this that made life worth living in the midst of hardships. He eventually was able to pay the doctor and the owner of the cow when he finally grew a little wheat which he had to cart to Warracknabeal by dray. Going down the twenty miles one day with wheat and coming home the next with food and clothing. Mother had to stay alone with a baby with dingoes howling around. She had great faith in God's comfort and care and said after the first night she was not afraid. Father occasionally had to go and see his 'uncle' (banker) at Warracknabeal and, in later years, he used to catch the early mixed train. It was always an event to be remembered. I often had to drive him down to the station in a buggy, to catch the train.
After some years on the farm Father decided to make bricks on the bank of the creek at Beulah. He could foresee a great demand for bricks for homes as settlement progressed. These were not mud bricks but clay bricks dried in a kiln. He had to get the assistance of Mr. C. Hofmaier. Father eventually sold out to him and selected another block of 640 acres about 2 miles from Beulah on the Kenmare Road. This he cleared but was once threatened that it would be taken back if he could not find an additional five pounds on a certain date. He built a four roomed house there with bricks that he had made. I think it is still standing. One very dry year he went over 500 acres with a 5 ft. stripper. He had, I think, the first 5 foot International Harvester in Beulah district about 1906. In the drought of 1902 he went with five horses in wagon to Hamilton for agistment. He paddocked the horses and went to the Mt. William gold rush but was not very successful. I remember. after returning home, he opened his purse to show us the gold he had got but he could not find any. Mother practically kept herself and family of four on proceeds from eggs often sold at five pence a dozen.
Father had an inventive mind and had a spring made to relieve the strain on the horses' shoulders when the plough struck a solid stump. This spring after a slight alteration, was later put on ploughs by a firm of implement makers in South Australia. Father also had a stump jump cultivator made by the local blacksmiths at Beulah. At one stage he got down to his last sixpence - he had a hole put in it and strung it on his watch chain for many years. After being on the farm at Beulah for some years Father got the idea of fallowing to conserve moisture in the ground for the next year's crop. He was probably the first farmer to fallow in the Beulah district. He made the mistake of fallowing land that was not free of Mallee shoots with the result that shoots grew prolifically and took all the moisture. The experiment was watched with interest by local farmers and so they did not go into the system of fallowing till shoots were killed a few years later. Father experimented with many new wheat and oats seeds which became available from time to time. He was one of the first members of the Beulah Agricultural Society and put in many exhibits of primary products. He was a firm believer in supporting local trades people, remarking at one time "We don't want to live here alone, and if we don't support the local trades people how can they get a living?"
The first hotel in Beulah (The Victoria), was built of bricks made at Father's kiln. Some bricks went as far as Hopetoun to the late Mr. T. Robins. The excavations made from getting the clay were later used for a swimming pool for some years.
In the following years I cannot recall one time that I heard our mother complain of the trials and difficulties which they had to go through. She would often go down to the
stable and mix feed for the teams so Father could unharness the horses and come in for tea. This meant mixing pollard and molasses with "cocky" chaff. My father could truly say that he knew the value of love and loyalty of one of Australia's brave pioneer women.
After being out here for twelve years Father learnt that his father was very ill in Germany. So, he let the farm for twelve months and went home to Germany, taking with him Mother and family of one daughter and three sons, I being the youngest. Soon after arriving home to Australia he received word that his father had passed away. His father had advised him to go back to Australia or "the blacks will have your land and goods." The two steamers on which he went over and back were The Kaiser Wilhemn and The Barbarosso.
A neighbour of Mothers for many years once told me that she never once had a cross word with our mother.
"Long nights and days she suffered in vain, And God alone, who thought it best
Did ease her pain
And gave her rest."
This is one of the lasting impressions I had of a wonderful mother. She passed away in October 1908 leaving eight children ( four sons and four daughters) to mourn the loss. She was buried in Beulah beside two other great pioneers, Mr and Mrs Phillip Barbary who also came from South Australia.
A year previous to this Father selected land at Gama, still with the pioneering spirit prevailing. But that is another chapter in which his sons Ernest, Alfred and Sydney took part. In 1910 Father sold out at Beulah and went to Lismore in the Western District. After about ten years at Lismore, of which I was there with him most of the time, he sold out and went to live in Geelong in retirement. This land was recently sold for sixty-eight pounds per acre. The present Council President of the Shire of Karkacooc is a grandson of Wilhelm and Sophie Schack. When asked where he would go to start life if he was young, Father would always tell his friends down south "I would go north to the Mallee." On his deathbed, at the age of 93, he said to his sons "Oh well, I can't complain, I've had a pretty long innings." In 1914 while at Lismore the first two headers that came to Australia from America, were worked on Father's farm. My brother Ern drove the McCormack and I drove the Deering. They took off all the harvest of over 2000 bags and were shipped back to America for alteration. We received a sovereign which was the last sovereign I have seen.
Father's motto was:
"Let us then be up and doing With a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labour and to wait."