Growing up Lutheran in South Australia in the 1970’s and 80’s was an exercise in what author Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker’s Guide fame) would call “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things”.
Close relatives, extended family, Congregational members, school friends, teachers, colleagues, social contacts all intertwined with the Lutheran Church at the Centre.
Like the party game “Six degrees of Separation”, but you rarely needed six.
My mother had this down to a fine art. A genuine conversation might go: “Oh, Sarah Schmidt? Her brother’s next-door neighbour’s barber’s cousin’s mother was a Quast who married that Frank Henschke. And his sister is Lois’ Aunt, you know”. This also fits neatly into the peculiar concept of having a “Good Lutheran Name” – that is, something vaguely Germanic or Polish, possibly containing a “sch” or a “key” sound (Wiadrowski, Noske). (My Uncle, surname “Cox” tended to have a misspelled name-badge at conferences, as the organisers preferred him to be “Kochs”).
When we moved to Western Victoria around Christmas 2003, we attended a Service in the Lutheran Church in Stawell (home of the “Stawell Gift” race). After the service the various church members crowded around us new faces outside. Word had got out that this was a reconnoitre visit by their soon-to-be-new-Pastor.
One woman, who had an English sounding name like Debbie Jones, went on the attack to me. “Don’t you find it Offensive”; she demanded, “that people ask, “Who WERE you?” As in “What was your maiden name? As if whoever you are and what you do now isn’t important, its only who you WERE that counts?”
Well, I can’t say this had particularly worried me before, but I could see where she was coming from. An older lady, Eline, not 5 minutes later duly asked “So, Who WERE you, dear?” and then delighted to tell me that a chap named Bartsch [my maiden name] was the Best Man at her sister’s wedding, some 50 years earlier. Subsequently she had a copy made for me of a photograph of the Wedding party. The “Best Man” was indeed my father, Ken Bartsch and his sister, my Auntie Rena a bridesmaid. The groom was my Dad’s cousin Ray, who had featured in much family folklore, as he had boarded with Dad’s family in the Second World War period and the boys had got up to much teenage mischief together.
In another weird “serendipity” occurrence, after having lost contact for many years, Dad had come across cousin Ray when both were patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and had made a point to visit him whenever he came down from his country farm for treatment. It was at this point (early 1985) that I recall meeting Cousin Ray and his wife Rona. Then my Dad died unexpectedly, and Ray and Rona made a point of attending the funeral, where Ray made an unscheduled speech, partly dwelling on the fact that he had been the more seriously ill of the two, and he had anticipated that Ken would soon be attending his (Ray’s funeral). He felt that it having occurred the other way around was some type of grave injustice.
Ray gave me a cassette recording of the soothing music he played while doing circuits and bumps of his paddocks driving the combine harvester (which I still have).
When my son James was born in Ararat in 2005, Rona was visiting her sister Eline for the weekend and she came to see me in hospital. Here is an image of the elderly lady with newborn James:
So here the “degrees of Separation” come full circle.
Music, too, has a strange way of jogging the memory and stirring emotions. Being a young musician in the Adelaide-based Lutheran church meant that my sisters and I were well in the thick of it. A new Service Order, adapted from one used in Missouri, U.S.A, was introduced into the Australian church in 1987. One inclusion was a rousing anthem entitled “This is the Feast of Victory”. Whenever I play and sing it, I give an especial accent and stress on the “VICT” of victory. At one stage I paused to wonder “Why?” and then it came to me. That is the way the Choir Master had taught us for the Big-Splash LAUNCH of the new Hymnbook…
When Neil and I flew to Brisbane from England for my Sister’s wedding, we called in on some friends, the husband of the family having been a contemporary of Neil’s during his Exchange Student stint at Luther Seminary, Adelaide. John’s wife, Diane, was, quite unconsciously, trying to work out some connection to Neil. (As he is English, and a convert from the Anglican Church, the “game” does not work with Neil, which people tend to find incredibly frustrating). So Diane tried instead MY school and family connections, looking for a possible link. When asking the purpose of our visit, and me sharing it was for my sister’s wedding to Tim, Diane’s face cleared. Oh yes! She knew TIM! They had been to College together! And Tim was marrying Kylie’s sister! So Diane could join the dots from herself, to Tim, to Kylie and hence to Neil. CHING!
All was right with the world once again.
In addition to all these peculiar Lutheran concepts (which most everyone accepts as completely normal), it must also be admitted that Adelaide is basically a small town. Technically a capital City, yes, and a population of over a million now, there is still a small-town feeling to it, and if you narrow the circles to Music, or Lutherans, or a combination of the two, you are dangerously close to knowing just about everyone.
Throughout my life in Adelaide, if I attended any sort of Music Concert, I never worried about taking a friend. All you had to do was to spill out into the foyer at Interval time and you’d find dozens of familiar faces. Hence also the “Adelaide Whip” – a quick motion of the head first to the left, then to the right, to check if anyone is in earshot, especially if you are about to criticise something or some one. Because you may well be standing next to their cousin.
So now, is there just a LITTLE more understanding of my position – detailed in Instalments 1 and 2 – of not wanting to be seen out with a SEMINARY STUDENT unless I was completely sure the relationship was Rock Solid?
Because otherwise, Everyone would know.
Degrees of Separation: Six…Five…Four…Three and counting…