Footprints is a work of historical fiction crafted into an    inspiring and moving story. The dreams of the original   German migrants, who arrived in the 1870s, are dashed time and again before their eventual realisation. 

The narrative traces the life of Bill, the grandson of the migrants. He has no education and few resources so he struggles to survive the pressures exerted by two World Wars and the Great Depression. In desperation he humps his swag down the lonely roads. His promise to his dying father to pass on land to his children is unlikely to be achieved. 

Bill is supported by the women in his life but even they  create problems just as he seems to be achieving his goals. It is many years before he finds that his pledge has been fulfilled. 

Bill is left behind as the rural industries mechanize and   develop around him but his unique brand of earthy wisdom sustains him until the tale reaches an emotionally satisfying conclusion. 

In Store Price: $27.95 
Online Price:   $26.95

ISBN: 978-1-921731-23-5    
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 257
Genre: Fiction


Author: John Heussler
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English



About the Author  


John H. S. Heussler AM and his wife Sue, owned an extensive sheep and cattle grazing property North West of Longreach. In 1977, they moved to Brisbane where John acted as President of the United Graziers Association representing the sheep and cattle industries of the state. He later became Junior Vice President of the National Farmers Federation.

John travelled widely in Queensland and elsewhere and took a leading role in research funding and training in the industries. He sat on the board of Queensland Country Life Newspaper for a few years and wrote a small weekly article on behalf of the United Graziers Association. He published a history of rural training in the state titled ‘In Search of Reality’ and co-authored some publications on research needs.

His great grandfather was a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly and was German and Dutch Consul in Queensland. He was responsible for the immigration and transport of many German migrants to the Moreton Bay region.

In later years, John owned and operated a small macadamia orchard and sat on the board of a nut processing company. He and Sue are now retired and living on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland.

John developed a love of the land and a great respect for the old men who inhabited the boundary riders’ huts and the drovers’ camps. This fictional story is inspired by one who worked on their property.


After the Second World War, Western Queensland was home for an assortment of boundary riders, fencers, drovers and station hands. Survivors of the two world wars, the industrial disputes of the 1920’s and the Depression of the 1930’s, they lived out their lives in varying degrees of isolation, usually without the company of women. They watched the prosperity of the community slowly build around them but took little advantage of its riches.

The great wool and beef industries that kick-started the Queensland economy and which, together with sugar and later mining, formed the basis of the life we lead today could not have prospered without these lonely men of the bush. Their loyalty, hard work and their endurance under difficult working and living conditions deserve recognition in the history that led to our present condition.

This story is loosely based on a character I knew called Bill but the rest is imaginary. The people, the ship, the properties, the German village and the events related are all fictional. I trust, however, that the life and social pressures of the era occupied by the story are truly represented.

Some Australians can trace their ancestry back to the convict days but many others are descended from immigrants. The German migrants to Queensland made a great contribution to the young state and some fared better than others.

Every man is shaped by his genes and his environment, so the story must start back in Germany where Bill’s grandfather made the courageous decision to emigrate to a new untested land in search of an inheritance for his children.


Footprints in an Old Land


The German farmers drifted stealthily into the little log cabin in the woods. Young Godfrey Kramer looked back up the forest path as he slid through the door behind his father. They had walked from their village near Klemzig in southeastern Prussia along different routes to avoid detection by the King’s men. Inside the room, a letter lay on a rough table. Dated November 1837, it was signed by Pastor Kavel’s contact in Scotland and, being in English, made no sense to them.

This evening the Pastor moderated his sermon, forgetting for once to remind them of the devil stalking them around every corner. He stood beside the open window, radiating enthusiasm from his steely grey eyes. The tattered pages of his forbidden prayer book rustled in the gentle breeze which brought with it the scent of damp earth and the scurrying sounds of little creatures in the forest outside. The candles on the makeshift altar flickered, making the shadows dance among the rafters above the heads of the congregation.

“Who will join us in a great adventure,” he challenged. “Who will come with us to Australia where we may worship as we please? Who will help us set up a true church where now there is no religion except that of the savages who roam the plains? Who will produce sons for the new lands that they and their children’s children may inherit?”

Young Godfrey Kramer knew the value of land. Helmet Kramer, his father, continually reminded him and his two older brothers of their obligations to the family farm. “A man without land is of no account,” he would shout, drawing up his huge frame, his ginger beard shaking like that of an ancient Prussian king, “your first responsibility is to nurture the farm and keep it safe.” Godfrey also knew that, as the third son, he would miss out when it came to inheritance no matter how much he nurtured the fields, and his children would join the ranks of the landless. He was only fifteen but he had heard his brothers talking about their expectations so he listened avidly to the pastor, his pulse racing and his imagination ignited.

The letter, which the Pastor translated and explained after the last hymn, created a buzz of excitement and called for momentous decisions. It was addressed to Pastor Kavel, the leader of the Old Lutherans, and it explained that Mr George Angas, a business man in Scotland and Chairman of the South Australian Company, had at last persuaded the Prussian Government to allow a group of Old Lutherans to emigrate and take up land under his offer in the colony of South Australia. A ship would be available at Hamburg to take them on the long voyage if Pastor Kavel could assemble enough emigrants.

“That was a better service than the one we attended this morning when they read out of that new Agende,” Godfrey told his father as they returned through the woods, “why can’t we do this every Sunday?”

“You mind what you say to anyone about this,” warned Helmet, “The King would put the Pastor in goal if he knew about the service for the Old Lutherans. King Fredrich Wilhelm III has banned anything but the new order of service so you keep your mouth shut like you promised before we went.”

In spite of the warning, Godfrey raised the question as the Kramers’ assembled round the kitchen table for breakfast next morning, his young eyes bright at the thought. “If we went to Australia with the Pastor, we would have all the fields we need. The farm is already too small,” he suggested. “I can see no way my two brothers and I can raise our families here when I marry and there will no room in the house for our children.”

Gerde, his mother, turned pale at the thought until her round face matched the colour of her starched white apron. She had never been away from their village and could not imagine such an enterprise. His two older brothers, who had missed the stimulation of the Pastor’s sermon, also heaped scorn on the idea.

Helmet glared down the scrubbed pine boards of the table. “This is the Kramer farm. It has been for generations and the Kramer farm it will stay. You will help us work it till you are old enough to take a wife. Then you may do as you please.”

“If we sold the farm here, we would all have enough money to start our new life in a new country where there is land in abundance,” pleaded Godfrey.

“We will not change the way we worship God for anyone be they King or preacher,” Helmet thundered, “but neither will we swap our fields for those in some far country from which we may never return. These are German lands and we have German sons to farm them. Let the others go. We shall worship in secret as we did last night.”

Godfrey said no more. Kramer children did as they were told and God and his father would no doubt look after him. He gazed out the window, thinking of his future.

The farmhouse stood on the perimeter of the village in its own meadow where they let their five cows and their draft horse graze in the summer. The barn where the cows spent the cold winter months was attached to the rear of the house; a sort of inefficient warming system for the human inhabitants through the thin walls. The attic where Godfrey’s elder brother slept with his family was scarcely large enough for comfort but it was bigger than the room where Godfrey would have to bring his bride when the time came.

Outside, a busy stream wandered down the valley from the mountains that trapped the first snows of winter. Tendrils of mist, rising through the morning sunlight, showed where the brook hurried over stony patches in its bed or leapt into the quiet pools that contained the fish. Their strips of farmland ran from the rivulet to the base of the hills on the eastern side the where the woods began and their narrow plots were distinguished from their neighbours only by the crops growing on them and the edges of the new cut hay. Godfrey loved the valley with its stream but he realized that the farm was not big enough to support a third son and his family.

There must be a valley to be had somewhere in that vast country the Pastor had told them about, he thought. Somewhere there must be rich soil, with big fields not crowded out by other farms, which a farmer could pass on to his sons. He imagined standing by their barn on their new land, discussing with his children what they should plant after they harvested their corn.

The honking of geese waddling up from the pond and the crow of the rooster from the hen house interrupted his dreams but did not extinguish them. They would have to remain as dreams for now.

The Kramers’ therefore lined the streets of Klemzig with their friends as the villager’s bade farewell to the emigrants at the start of their long journey. Initially they would travel on four barges which would be towed down the Oder and the Elbe Rivers and the canals that connected them until they reached the port of Hamburg. The number of brethren seeking new lands had swollen since the meeting in the woods so there would be plenty of people to join their ship for the voyage to South Australia. Eager to see their new home, they left happily, singing the praise of the Lord.

Godfrey held back a tear, as German boys should, but resolved that one day he would travel to Australia and start a family with fields to inherit.

The Kramers’ decision seemed a wise one as reports filtered back telling of the hardships encountered by the travellers on their long journey and the difficulties of setting up farms on soil that had never known a plough. Besides, King Fredrich Wilhelm III died in 1840 so the imprisoned Lutheran Pastors were liberated and much of the heat went out of the religious argument.

But circumstances began to change for the Kramers’. The late 1840’s brought the potato blight and a couple of years later, the grain crops failed. The second son had married, producing more mouths to feed, and the diseased potatoes rotted on the shelves before they could be eaten. Fortunately, unlike the Irish who had the same problems, they did not depend solely on potatoes. The disease hurt them none the less.

Each night, when the work was done and the snores of the household mingled with the restless noises of the cows behind the thin partition, Godfrey lay in his bed and allowed his dream to return. He filled in the details of his imaginary valley. He knew where to look for the fields of corn and the yellow expanse of rape. He knew where the house would sit, catching the reflection of the vineyard in the ponds where the wild ducks came to drink at sunset. He longed for a wife to share his thoughts but the accommodation was not attractive and there was little time for courtship.

Godfrey was thirty-four before he found a bride whom he could take into the home already lacking in privacy or comfort for its inhabitants. The heavy work round the farm had developed his lanky frame but he would never have the robust strength of his father and his beard was pale compared to that of his parent. His blue eyes were pale too, with the far away look of the dreamer.

Frieda, his new wife, the daughter of the village blacksmith, was used to crowded quarters and had grown up in the rooms over the shop oblivious to the constant ring of steel on anvil as her burly father hammered out his living. She didn’t inherit her father’s physique, being of slight build with a shy nature and large eyes that always seemed surprised, if not offended, at what the world had to offer. Not that she had seen anything of the world outside the village to be surprised about. Godfrey was attracted by the long golden plaits which reached down to a bottom that seemed hardly large enough to support the rest of her.

“One day I shall take you to a land where there are wide horizons and people are not crammed together in little boxes for houses,” Godfrey promised, but she assured him she was quite happy with the current arrangements.

The birth of their children, Heinrick and later Liesel, further strained the family resources. They grew vegetables for themselves when the potatoes failed but their horse died and they were reduced to hoeing their small fields by hand. They squared their shoulders as they departed for their narrow plots on the cold bleak mornings but they would not surrender and the children worked beside them with smaller hoes.

Godfrey escaped the hoeing for a while as he shovelled the muck out of the cow’s barn at the back of the house. When the cesspit, full of water and last week’s manure, was bubbling nicely he would bucket it out onto the turnips or other crops that looked a bit yellow. It was marvellous how much dung five cows could produce.

One morning, the Kramers’ opened a letter from their friends in South Australia containing sketches of hillsides full of grape vines and crops growing in a valley. Next day Godfrey arrived home clutching a bottle of rich red wine from the vineyards in the colony; one of several dozen sent to the village as a gift from Pastor Kavel’s people to mark the end of Lent.

“We should have gone with the Pastor when we had the opportunity,” he remarked as they sampled the beverage over dinner that evening. “Farming holds no future here and I hear the recruiting gangs are moving round the countryside looking for men to fight on the plains of Jutland. I don’t want to go to war.”

“You’re German and you’re Lutheran. You’ll do what King and God dictate,” said Helmet, once again exercising his authority as head of the family, “you can’t expect to serve the Lord in comfort all your life.”

They heard about other Germans sailing to Australia seeking gold in Victoria and they knew that many of the Wends people from nearby were successfully growing grapes in a valley to the north east of Pastor Kavel’s group in South Australia. They heard rumours about a Frankfurt born man, one Johan Christian Heussler, who had succeeded in business in another Australian colony they called Queensland. He was travelling in Germany as a representative of the Queensland government actively seeking migrants and offering free passage to Moreton Bay to be paid off in work over two years. Land grants were available on easy terms when the deal was completed.

But it wasn’t until 1870 when the Agent General for Queensland, Wilhelm Kirchner, came to the village that Godfrey and his family seriously considered the possibility of immigrating to the now independent colony of Queensland

“What about your Prussian heritage? You can’t just leave it like that,” railed Helmut. “Besides, you don’t know anything apart from shovelling cow shit. There will be problems farming new land. Don’t think you can do as well as all those experienced farmers and we have no resources to spare to help you get started anyhow. You should stay to look after your father in his old age.”

“You have other sons to provide for you Father,” replied Godfrey. “I have Heinrick and Liesel to consider. There is no room for us here and the blight will return to our fields one day. In Australia we will have wide lands that Heinrick and his children can inherit.”

Helmet gazed at the son he had dominated all his life and realized that he would not change his mind this time. Godfrey had missed out on the beetling brow and prominent eyebrows that were a feature of the Kramer men, but he stood tall and resolute with a firm chin and high forehead, returning his father’s stare.

The fears of his wife were far more difficult to overcome.

“You can’t take me and little Liesel over all that water and expect us to live among hordes of Indians,” she wailed with her arm around her daughter, “we’ll all be eaten even if we don’t drown getting there.”

“Mother says there will be no ice on the ponds in winter,” said Liesel turning her bright smile on her father, “I’m going to be just the bestest skater in the village next year. I must be here for that.”

Liesel was a beautiful child and would be taller and more outgoing than her mother. She had inherited the long blonde hair and soft blue eyes that could usually wring concessions from her farther on any subject she chose.

Tearfully, she and her mother dredged up all sorts of dire possibilities until Godfrey was forced to make the decision in spite of them. Eventually, her brother gave his father grudging support and succumbed to the excitement of the idea.

“You will have different sights to enjoy and different activities to amuse you,” Godfrey promised them. “There will be so much land that you and Heinrick can farm one day. There will be brooks and fields for you and your children to play in and lakes to swim in.”

So Godfrey left Prussia with his family, ignoring the pleas of his father and the pleading of his wife who kept repeating the dire predictions of her own family. The die was cast. He knew they would face difficulties but the prize was the setting up of a Kramer inheritance in a new country and that was enough to harden his resolve and gain some support from his son.

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