When I first met John twenty eight years ago he was a Brit living in England. At that time he asked me a strange question. He asked did I not feel a lack of roots in Australia, a lack of knowing where I came from as the white settlement in Australia was so young. “How can you understand where your culture is now if you don’t know where it has come from?” he asked me. I had no idea what he was talking about, although I at that time I thought I understood. No, of course not, was my answer. “My parents are British, I know where I come from!” was my ignorant answer. Since then as we have worked around the world through Europe, Asia and the Middle East often several times a year visiting ancient lands and ancient cultures, and working with family businesses where they have grown to accept us often it feels as though we have become part of their extended family, I have grown to comprehend John’s question all those years ago. It is really however only in the last three years since working in Eastern Europe that the meaning of cultural roots and traditions has become really clear to me. I now see that we (Anglo Saxons at least) in Australia have such a shallow background and knowledge of our history, that by comparison, our knowledge is non-existent. John was right – how on earth can we have any idea of where we are heading, when we have no idea where we have come from? History defines our future, and lack of knowledge of our history creates a lack of knowledge of the direction we may be heading. When we first began working in Eastern Europe I was surprised at how important and relevant their history was to the people, as it was still a rather foreign concept to me as an Australian. As we have worked more and more in Eastern Europe and I have begun to learn the importance of traditions to current life, I have grown to appreciate how completely relevant and vitally important history, traditions and an appreciation of local culture really is. At the same time I have grown to realize how lacking and impoverished we are in Australia without that depth of background, depth of culture and paucity of traditions. The other wake up for me was finally fully comprehending the meaning of the term “the break down of the extended family”. Yes, I knew what it meant, I had heard it so many times since my youth. But, I did not really comprehend it until the last three years following our work in Eastern Europe. Here it is common for three , or more , generations to live under the one roof. The homes are big, often three floors, with a generation living totally self contained on each floor. The family lives independently , but are there for each other if needed. The benefits – there is no mortgage because the home has been in the family for probably 250 years; there is no child care costs, because some member of the family is there to look after the children, plus as there is no mortgage, the need for mum to go out to work and earn an income to pay the mortgage does not exist, so mum can stay home is she chooses; there are no aged care costs, because there is someone around every day in case Gran needs looking out for. The other benefits are that family and cultural traditions are not lost, but are passed down from one generation to the next, so people are far more skilled than we are in Australia. In addition, the lack of expenses means that family members are more free to pursue their hobbies and pastimes, so they can go horse riding, fishing, camping, painting, or whatever, with far more freedom and far more often than we are able to in Australia because we have to focus on getting our mortgages paid and covering our child care costs when we go to work and paying our aged care costs. In addition the grand parents often grow the family vegetables in the back yard and then pass on those gardening and cooking skills to the family as well.Only now do I fully comprehend exactly what we in the west have lost when we are told we have experienced “the break down of the extended family”. With rising mortgage costs I wonder if we will see a cycling back to the ways of the past? My mother always told me that everything goes in cycles, and I did not believe her, but as I have accumulated many years under my belt, I see that she was right, I have seen so many things returning that we once left behind. Will we see a return to the extended family too? I hope so.
Driving down the motorway in Germany we had travelled for a little over an hour when Lara asked "So What's this Ausfaht then? We have passed about eight or nine signs for Ausfaht so far." "It's German for 'exit' La," I told her. "Oh," she said, "I thought it must of been a mighty big town, we've been signs for it for over a hundred and fifty kilometres now!" :D Kept us amused.
When we were in the USA, garden centres we visited told us they considered John Stanley to be the top horticultural consultant in the world. We went to the UK and he was described as a legend. Now in Hungary a garden centre we visited yesterday told us that they considered John to be to the horticultural industry what Microsofts Bill Gates is to the computer industry. I have to get John backto Australia quickly to bring him back down to earth!