Thorvald Weitemeyer, 1850 – 1919, says that his autobiographical book Missing Friends: Being the Adventures of a Danish Emigrant in Queensland (1871-1880), 1892, has to end where it does because “I could not continue the history of my life and still preserve my incognito unless I wrote fiction.” It’s not as if he became famous or notorious or adopted a public position of authority and power that might have been affected by this record of his first, itinerant, ten years in Australia -- I searched for him on a genealogy website, no fame – but there was evidently a wariness or politeness or modesty in him that he trusted was general to human nature: the book was published anonymously and he removed the names of other people too, he says, in his introduction – also, “I have erased such private matters as, of course, would be out of place in a publication … Should any one who may read this book think they recognize themselves in any part of my descriptions, I must beg them to accept my apology. They will most likely then also recognize the substantial truth of my description and my endeavour not to be too personal.” At the end of the second-last chapter he rides into an anonymous town and this is where the danger of being recognised must have begun for him in hindsight because there is no story afterwards.
Then I go to the genealogy website:
The family settled in Bundaberg (1880-85); then Brisbane (1885-87), eventually becoming the first settlers of the Montville area in 1887. Their youngest child, Henry, was the first white person born on the Blackall Range in 1888. After Jane died, in 1900 Thorvald married Mary Wynne, a widower from Brisbane. The marriage did not last very long and Thorvald travelled to New Zealand for a number of years. It is unknown how long he was away from Australia, but he was in the Maleny district in 1913-14 and then went to Herbaton on the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland. Thorvald opened a joinery shop and stayed there until he suffered ill health. In late 1918 his son, Christian, took him to his residence in Bundaberg and he died about 6 months later. He was buried in the Bundaberg Cemetery, June 1919. He was, indeed, a colourful and sometimes "eccentric" character who, in his own way, helped shape Queensland's history.
The website doesn’t tell me why he should be called “eccentric”, which I find tantalising, because his description of himself in Missing Friends is not the description of an eccentric man, and in fact he ends by notifying us that his restless movement, which might seem eccentric in some places, was normal in Queensland, not only during the time that is covered by the book but also in the early 1890s when he was preparing to publish the manuscript: “Australia is full of young men who, like myself at that time, travel about from place to place.” He hears of something interesting, he sells his belongings, he abandons his job, he gets on a horse, he goes: it is quite natural. Groups of other men around him are behaving in the same way. He comes back months later to discover that the people who stayed behind have prospered; he is regretful, but he does it again. There is supposed to be gold in the Palmer or somewhere and everyone goes to the Palmer. He describes them tearing through the streets in the direction of wherever the Palmer is. Other people are watching. “The baker and his wife, and a young girl also, were peeping out through the half-opened door, and seemed to enjoy the spectacle of the crowd racing down the street. I said to myself, 'Bother running like a fool here, I am going for a bottle of beer.'” There are two Thorvalds in the book, one of them running, the other believing that running is ridiculous: he is a ludicrous spectacle to himself. No doubt it is only the fact that they are both Scandinavian that makes me want to compare this to Knut Hamsun's way of looking at whatever you are doing, and simultaneously condemning it for a disgusting, stupid thing and believing that you must continue to do it. It is like the production of the book itself: he must expose himself immodestly with an autobiography but at the same time he may not make his life easier by writing "fiction:" this is a set of rules that he sees hovering heavily before him.
But "I have erased such private matters as, of course, would be out of place in a publication" is a reminder that the firmness of the rules that you have set for yourself is an illusion that you can bend and make as you like; and so Weitemeyer's book can be true and confessional and still erase his wife (m. 1878) just as John Cowper Powys' self-abnegating Autobiography, 1934, deletes his mother: there is something there that cannot be touched, something other than embarrassment.
In Weitemeyer, as in Hamsun, you have an ‘I’ who is determined to show you the times he behaved rudely, disgraced himself, confused everyone -- ruined a play that he was supposed to be acting in, drilled holes in the floor of a house he was supposed to be guarding, locked a woman in a room for her own safety and then threw the key outside thinking somehow that this would make her safer, fired a gun at the wrong time, and got laughed at.
The Yankee sat and smoked his pipe, and laughed in a peculiar way; and, wild and ashamed of myself, I could not help feeling amused at him, because he laughed, although the grimaces in his face were exactly those another man would make if he were going to cry. By and by the captain began to feel calmer, and as I was disposed only to feel angry with myself for the fear which had caused me to press on the trigger of the rifle until it went off, we were soon friends again.
None of the running men have been to the Palmer before -- “no one seemed to know properly where the Palmer was, and as conflicting and disparaging statements soon arrived from the Palmer, and the wet season was coming on, the north was everywhere swarming with men who were ready to camp and prospect anywhere” – but masses of them persist. People run and ride, they will get lost, and there will be a flood, a death, and Thorkill from Iceland will never see Reykjavik again though he’ll witness a Russian emigrant ship flying through the air above the tent, a sight that Weitemeyer cannot see. “I somehow thought he was looking at a bird, and wondered he had not got the gun, so I sat still and said nothing, but kept watching him.” Then “My mate was dying, and I knew it now.” The author himself has hallucinations as he rides through bushland at the end of the second-last chapter before he reaches the town that may (guessing from information on the genealogy page) have been St George in the Shire of Balonne, where, today, council meetings are held on the third Thursday of every month. From Monday 9th May until Friday 13th May 2016 there will be a Wild Dog Trapping Campaign. Spirits were high as community members gathered for the Declaration of Office by new Councillors for the Balonne Shire on Friday, April 8th, 2016 at the St George Cultural Centre. Following each Councillor making their declaration, newly appointed Mayor Richard Marsh highlighted the diversity of the group of elected members and focused on working cohesively as a team to progress the shire in his first public address. Councillor Fiona Gaske was elected to Deputy Mayor at the Inaugural Post Election meeting, held on the same day. Scads of ladies and gentlemen are “lolling out their tongues” at Weitemeyer as he travels through the lonely trees on his horse, whereat he sees a pan of eggs and potatoes on a log, moments later he notices that it is a woman, then it is a devil, but he recovers. “About noon I had a bath in a water-hole I came to, and ate some snails I found in the water. After that I felt somewhat better, and shortly after I came on to the road. I became quite collected in my mind at once, and jumping on to the horse tore away at full gallop for the town.”
I reflect that there was much suddenness in Queensland at the time, and I see now that the first art movement in colonial Australia had to be Impressionistic and not Futuristic because the exercise of speed was already there, the artists had no need to create it, “And on we raced,” Manifesto of Futurism, 1909, Filippo Marinetti, tr. R.W. Flint (?). There was a drunk tourist at a casino in Las Vegas one night, who, deciding that he did not want to walk down three floors to reach his car, climbed over a railing shouting, “Man up!”, crossed those three storeys in one plummet, and broke his arm. His friend began laughing, it was that sudden. “What a lark! What a plunge!” Mrs Dalloway, 1925, Virginia Woolf. “To the reader who has kindly followed me so far, I would say that he may believe that Australia is full of young men who, like myself at that time, travel about from place to place, and that similar scenes to those I have described happen every day in all parts of Queensland.”