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TO CATCH A MIN MIN - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JACK HEUSSLER


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The story of Jack Heussler is similar to the story of many young men who went west to seek their fortunes in the growing wool industry after the First World War. The settlers’ dreams of great riches, encouraged by the successes of the early pastoralists, evaporated before the realities of the Great Depression. Like the elusive Min Min Lights that could never be reached, the promised wealth seemed unattainable. Only a few families with tenacity and courage, and a bit of luck, survived to see the Eldorado of the wool boom and the explosion of technology. 

This gripping tale not only follows the development of Jack’s ambition and its eventual fulfilment but also leaves the reader with a sense of the development of Western Queensland and the rise and fall of the great wool industry that kick-started the Australian economy. Over it all we are intrigued by Jack’s relationship with his contemporaries and his family, and the glimpse of his hopes and fears start us examining our own.

   

   

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ISBN: 978-1-922229-53-3    Format: Paperback
Number of pages:310
Genre: Fiction

Cover Design—Zeus Publications 2014

By the same author:

Footprints

 

Author: John H. S. Heussler
Publisher:
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2014
Language: English

About the author 

 

Mr John Heussler AM is well acquainted with the places and people described in this book. Besides the knowledge generated within his family, he gained a wide appreciation of the motivations and desires of rural people as he travelled through the western communities, representing the grazing industries at state and national level. 

His work for CSIRO and the Wool Corporation’s Research Committees led to an understanding of the lands, plants and animals, and his membership of the Australian Wool Policy committee led to a knowledge of the complex wool market. 

John began writing seriously on his retirement to the Sunshine Coast. A series of short stories was followed by his widely-read novel, Footprints, which detailed the fortunes of an imaginary family of German immigrants to Queensland last century. The current work is the culmination of a great deal of research into the industry and the life of his father in early Brisbane.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

The first person I wish to acknowledge is Jack Heussler who wrote numerous accounts of his experiences when asked by some institutions or persons, such as Jeanne Mims when she was compiling Morella Memories. They, and his meticulous account books, formed the basis of much of the early part of the book. I cannot name everyone else whom I consulted but it would be remiss of me not to mention the help I received from my sister, Diana Kimpton, and her husband James; Robert Heussler; Barbara Snelling and, of course, my wife Sanna. They have all read and reread and advised and corrected. Diana also made available diaries of her trip and contributed photographs.

Shirley Eckford befriended me at Julia Creek and took me out to see Garomna, where we were welcomed by the present owners. Ian Capel made some of the Evesham records available. The Graziers’ Association of Central and Northern Queensland opened their strong-room for me to inspect their archives. The Survey Museum in Brisbane told me about the surveyors in the prickly pear country while the Redlands Museum told me about the early German settlers.

More recently, Rose Allan has assessed the manuscript and edited the draft, a task made more difficult by my abandoned use of commas. Sue Murray had the task of making my maps look more professional.

To all these, and the many people I haven’t mentioned, I extend my sincere thanks.

John Heussler AM

PROLOGUE 

A man inherits his genes. He is born into a place and time peopled by his parents and their contemporaries. These things he cannot change; but what he makes of it all defines his worth. The life of my father, Jack Heussler, must be seen in the context of what went before and what happened around him, if we are to understand his achievements and his motivations.

He was born in 1900, into a family that was prominent in the early development of Queensland. He quickly saw the value of the wool industry, and steadfastly pursued his ambition to become part of it. He, and his compatriots in the bush, helped to lay the foundations for the Australia we enjoy today. They developed the country and produced much of the wealth that kick-started the Australian economy. They saw motor cars, aeroplanes and electronics become everyday tools. They sent their sons to war, or went themselves. They fought depressions and enjoyed booms. Jack saw it all happen; and died in the 21st century, aged 102, pushing buttons on the remote control of his television set. His story cannot be told without reference to the history and development of this extraordinary country, and the rise and fall of the great wool industry that made it happen.

History needs to come alive, so I have built the book round the lives of the people and the times in which they lived; their hopes and joys; their toils and frustrations; their loves and their fears. I have had to use a little imagination in order to recapture the past, but the significant facts on which this story is based are quoted from Jack’s writing in a paragraph at the beginning of each episode, and the accounts are as close to what happened as my research can identify or the story can support.

 Read a sample chapter

 

The two Germans met on the ship; a little coastal steamer taking supplies from Sydney to the settlement on the Brisbane River in 1854. They kept to themselves, their tailored suits setting them apart from the motley crew who sat round the meal table in the ward-room. The slow voyage gave them plenty of time to sit out on the foredeck, getting to know each other and discussing the opportunities they might find in the new town.[1]

Frederic Altwicker who was journeying north to seek health and fortune considered himself fortunate indeed to have encountered an experienced business man on the voyage. Johan Christian Heussler, Jack’s grandfather, was not a large man but his wide forehead and his clear brown[2] eyes gave an intense expression to his face that was not lost on his companion. Both gentlemen realised their common interest, using the voyage to build confidence in each other, and to develop ideas for future business in the new colony.

A German emigrant to Victoria in 1850, Johan Christian Heussler was born in Bockenheim, near Frankfurt, Germany, on the 16th June, 1820, and spent some time in both Holland and London before sailing south. He arrived in Australia on the Marlborough and set up as a merchant in Melbourne, in partnership with two countrymen. One of the senior citizens of the mushrooming city, William Westgarth MLC, helped the new arrivals establish their businesses, and, once started on their new enterprise, they used their contacts in Europe to access supplies. Soon, in response to the gold rush, Johan established a branch of the firm at Bendigo, finding it more rewarding to sell food to the miners than to go looking for the elusive metal himself. He prospered mightily until ill health brought about a recommendation that he move north to Brisbane, as the new community on Moreton Bay was now called.

As they came into the Brisbane River, Johan and his newfound friend stood at the rail of the little ship, careful not to get rust or salt grime on their clothing. The vessel navigated the channel of deeper water on the incoming tide, as it rounded the spit of sand pushing out from Kangaroo Point, and slid under the great sandstone cliffs guarding the government stores, before it nestled into the wharf at South Brisbane.

The corrugated iron roofs and slab walls of the scattered buildings that made up the settlement sprawled on both sides of the river. The two halves were connected by a punt, which crossed the water on demand. While the wharves brought commerce to the south side, the centre of gravity of the small town was already moving to the north shore where Queen Street connected two reaches of the meandering river through a jumble of unpainted roofs, and the odd sandstone structure erected by the convicts. The mill dominating a hill to the west was reached by a winding track that they would come to know as Wickham Terrace.

“Not a great metropolis yet, Mr Altwicker, but there is room for growth,” observed J. C. Heussler, as he foresaw the many new migrants that would come and need good reliable merchants to dispose of their produce and supply their needs. “I have a mind to start up a business as soon as possible,” he added.

“Aye, and I hear there is good soil beneath the brush to the south and west of the river here,” said Mr Altwicker. “That should attract a lively farming community.”

“Yes, and they’ll need families to work the land. I believe Kirchner & Co are already arranging for immigrants through Godeffroy’s of Hamburg but it may be possible for us to enter that trade through my own contacts in Germany,” said Johan. He imagined good German farmers producing sugar and cotton, and there was talk of growing arrowroot. “I met Wilhelm Kirchner at the Great Exhibition in London and I know Bischoff & Co of Bremen have vessels plying the trade,” he added.

Johan and Frederic were already planning their future, but first suitable accommodation had to be found and Johan’s health improved. Fortunately, he recovered rapidly in response to the warm breezes coming up the river on the S E Trade Winds, so that the Moreton Bay Courier was able to report in May 1854, that J. F. Altwicker and J. C. Heussler had commenced a business, trading as Heussler & Co, Commission and General Merchants, at Stockton Store, South Brisbane.

And a grand-set up it was. Stockton store sat on a generous allotment, adjacent to Hocking’s wharf, with a cottage attached to it, which Johan used as his quarters. Frederic found accommodation in what is now William Street and commuted daily on the ferry. The whole thing ideally suited the German merchants, and they lost no time in developing the firm. In spite of their German background, they made many friends among the solidly British business community.

Later, Johan also made contact with some of the new settlers, as far away as the Darling Downs, who encouraged him to pursue his immigration activities. He made plans to return to Germany that year in search of migrants, but the trip had to be postponed as Mr Altwicker’s health deteriorated. Frederic died in late 1855, but not before they had both been naturalised in a ceremony before the new Governor.

The business needed more than one partner, if Johan was to spend time away from the premises seeking clients or looking for migrants overseas, so, in June 1856, he set up another firm, building on the reputation already established by Heussler & Co. Heussler, Harvey & Co., as it was now called, moved to the wharves on the north shore of the river, and then set up offices in Queen Street. As well as merchandise and commission activities, the new firm acted as immigration agents – a sort of overseas employment agency. Working through Dreutler, Kirchner & Co. in Sydney, Johan selected the immigrants and arranged for employers to fund their passage from Germany, recouping the cost from future wages.

Johan’s partnership with Harvey ended when the firm got into some financial problems, and it was broken up in 1858. He eventually set up a separate business known as Heussler and Francksen, later that year. In the meantime Johan was buying wool from settlers on the Darling Downs as early as 1856, and the manifests of some of the arriving ships included merino rams imported under his auspices. The business required travel to remote runs in the as yet undeveloped hinterland. The unmade tracks led to lonely farmhouses where the inhabitants were only too glad of company at their table.

As he dismounted from his horse at yet another homestead on the black soil plains, Johan stretched his aching legs and patted dogs that remembered his scent from last time he visited. His horse looked forward to the feed that he knew he would receive in the stables, while his master regaled his hosts at dinner with the news he had gleaned from his travels round the colony. These people commanded more resources than his clients on the coastal plain, and warmed to the lively conversation of the German merchant.

The original flood of sheep and cattle into the pastoral lands of Queensland had bypassed Moreton Bay. The ranges to the west had formed an effective barrier, and, indeed, pastoral activities around the settlement were restricted until 1842 when convict transportation to Moreton Bay ceased. Accordingly, the Leslie Brothers followed the explorer, Cunningham, on to the rich new pastures, droving their flocks and herds north from New England in the 1840s. Many came after them, spreading west and north into country not always suitable for sheep. They even tried unsuccessfully to run sheep in the Proston area where, years later, Johan’s grandson, Jack Heussler, would chase steers through the scrub.

By the 1850s the Brisbane community was providing more support for these settlers who had previously relied on bullock wagons to take their produce south and bring supplies back from the distant ports on the NSW coast. The Archers pushed as far north as the Fitzroy district with their families and stock, opening up Rockhampton in the process. Their descendants would marry into the same family as later generations of the Heusslers.

Johan didn’t venture further west than the Darling Downs, but between 1861 and 1863 his future son-in-law, John Cameron, and James Crombie drove sheep up from Inverell to settle on a property now known as Barcaldine Downs, on the Alice River.

Others had come up the Warrego River from western NSW into the headwaters of the Barcoo. Pastoral settlement was a risky business but it continued to spread as the various expeditions found more grazing lands in the western river catchments. Major Mitchell had reached that area in the previous decade naming the Victoria River; a name that was later changed to the Barcoo by his second-in-command, Kennedy, on a subsequent trip. Later, Gregory had reached the Thompson River on which Longreach now stands.

Out there, a different kind of settler sought the grassy plains of the Central West. People who had made money out of wool in Victoria, and had friends in the business community of Melbourne, sent men and stock to develop large tracts of land following closely on the heels of the explorers. Boardrooms in London financed enterprises that claimed many ‘runs’ of virgin country. These well resourced and organised pastoralists had more chance of surviving than the early squatters who tried to expand into less welcoming country to the East with limited success.

On the western plains, the indigenous Aboriginal tribes, sparsely scattered along the permanent streams, were rapidly depleted intentionally or unintentionally. Some graziers made valiant efforts to establish peaceful relationships with them, but others resorted to the gun, as Kennedy had on the banks of the Barcoo. William Westgarth, whom Johan had known in Melbourne, expressed the feeling of the times in a book published in 1864: 

‘What is the destiny of this unimprovable savage? The invading colonists will gradually overspread Australia, and we can as little doubt that the Aboriginal race will entirely disappear. This twofold process may occupy a much less time than a casual observer would suppose, who remarks the vast areas that are still a blank upon our maps of Australia. But these spaces are at this moment being occupied at a pace that has had little example in colonization. Pastoral occupation is the earliest mode of Australian settlement, and it may be described as colonization at the gallop. The area of an English county is taken up today, and tomorrow there are several more of such areas appropriated and occupied on the outskirts of the last. Nor can the savage find room in the vast country alongside of his civilized brother. He comes in the way only to be but too easily elbowed out of his ancient domain. He dies off before the white man from a combination of causes, not the least effective of which is that his accustomed mode of life is interfered with, a mode he cannot change from any other; so that the motives, objects, and daily stimulus of his very existence are gone’.

From The Colony of Victoria by William Westgarth



[1] The ship was the City of Melbourne, built on the Yarra and capable of about 7 knots.

[2] From Rotterdam City Archives. Ref – A Colonial Father, Robert Heussler.

 

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