Morning Star Publishing
Prologue My Great Grandfather
Chapter 1 Facing the Call
Chapter 2 Of the Forest
Chapter 3 Way of Escape
Chapter 4 On the Run
Chapter 5 At the Harbour
Chapter 6 On Board Ship
Chapter 7 Around the Cape
Chapter 8 Into the Valley
Chapter 9 In Deep Water
Chapter 10 Facing the Deep
Chapter 11 To a New Home
Chapter 12 On the Gold Rush
Chapter 13 Beside the Lake
Chapter 14 In the Park
Chapter 15 True to the Trees
Postscript Letter to Wilhelm
Appendix 1 Brief History of Wilhelm Habel
Appendix 2 Habel Family Register
My Great Grandfather
Wilhelm Habel is my Great Grandfather. This is his story and my reading of his life. As I researched his journey, I began to wonder whether there was a hidden link between his spirit and mine or whether the strong connection is simply genetic. I became curious as to whether my Great Grandfather had an influence on my identity even before I knew his story.
In 1979 I wrote a family history entitled The Habels of Lake Linlithgow to celebrate the Centenary of Lake Linlithgow Public Park. During the 1970s I visited the children, grandchildren and friends of Wilhelm and collected numerous stories, memories and anecdotes about Wilhelm.
At first I planned to write a straight forward biography of a Prussian man who made a name for himself in Australia. At Lake Linlithgow, Victoria, an avenue of trees was planted in his honour. The more I researched and reflected on his story, the more his story came to life. I was fascinated by the numerous scenes that resonated with situations in my own life. Gradually his life became a vivid presence in mine.
After considerable research, reflection and analysis of the family stories, a radical change took place in my writing. I discovered a dimension of Wilhelm’s history that revealed something about my own identity. Throughout my life my parents and grandparents in Australia spoke of themselves as German Lutherans. I discovered that my Habel ancestors were not Germans at all, but Wends who lived in Silesia, a province under Prussian rule.
I found myself asking, ‘What does it mean to be a Wend? Who am I really?’ To answer my question, I realised I would need to return to the family stories about my ancestors and re-visit the research I had done years before.
This is not the place to give a history of the Wends who settled in parts of Prussia. Suffice it to say, their roots go back several thousand years to parts of Asia. The Wends, sometimes called Sorbs, were of Slavic origin. For centuries, groups of Wends were closely associated with the forests of Europe, where they made their living by selling whatever they could find—everything from honey and wax to furs and timber.
Many of the Wends became established members of farming communities or country villages. The forest connection, however, persisted in the Habel family tradition.
To highlight the spirit and strength of Wilhelm’s story I have chosen to write a work of historical fiction. It is not just an imaginative account of my great grandfather’s life, but grounded in history, culture and living memories. It is the life story of Wilhelm Habel as seen through my eyes and through those whose memories I have recorded.
As I recount the dramatic story of my Great Grandfather, especially his journey to Australia, I find myself in tune with Wendish ways of viewing the world and with the spiritual impulses that move them.
During the past few years, as I have connected with my great grandfather and his history, another surprising insight confronted me—the mystery of ecology. I thought, at first, that ecology was another science like physics or biology. I gradually became aware, however, that ecology is a totally new way of viewing the world, a cosmology, with which I resonate.
In the worldview of ecology, absolutely all things are interconnected and all life on Earth emanates from Earth. I now have an acute awareness that I am an ‘Earth being,’ that all living things in nature are kin who have evolved from Earth—everything from turtles to trees.
This book is my reading of Wilhelm’s story and how his forest wisdom guided his spirit. This is the story of a tree whisperer in tune with nature and the mysteries of creation. This is the story of my Wendish spiritual Father.
Wilhelm, with his sense of kinship with the forest and his deep connection with Earth, anticipated the ecological awareness emerging today and has become my mentor in the relationship between things spiritual and environmental.
For me, his story is a personal journey: I relate the life of my Great Grandfather and, in the process, involve myself in his many traumatic and spiritual experiences. His life has invaded my life.
I thank all those who have contributed to the pool of oral stories on which much of this narrative depends. I also appreciate the support of Lyall Kupke at the Lutheran Archives and of Kevin Zwar whose knowledge of the Wendish tradition in Australia has been invaluable.
I thank all those who have read my manuscript and suggested improvements. I especially thank my wife Jan Orrell who has helped me make the transition from being an academic writer to a novelist at the age of 80.
May the whisper of the forest
the song of the soil
and the pulse of the planet
surprise us with mystery
every morning of our lives.