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  • Adrian J. Boas

On Appropriation


The Henley-on-Todd Regatta - Alli Polin [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Each year since 1961 the central Australian town of Alice Springs holds a major sporting event - the Henley-on-Todd Regatta. Up to 20,000 locals and visitors watch the colourful spectacle as teams guide their sailboat, rowboats and other vessels down the Todd River. But in 1993 the regatta had to be cancelled. A freak rainstorm had resulted in conditions that were unsuitable for the boats. There was water in the river.


The Henley-on-Todd Regatta takes place in the dry riverbed of the Todd that runs through the Australian outback from the MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory to Lake Eyre in South Australia. The boat teams man their bottomless boats and race down the river course, propelling them, not by the use of oars or by the sails that are merely for show, but rather by some rather fancy footwork. It is of course a joke, a way for Australians to poke fun at the seriousness of British participants and spectators at the event's namesake, the Henley-on-Thames Regatta, but equally, of Australians laughing at themselves and at the oddness of their own circumstances. It might be also seen as an example of how the descendants of European settlers have preserved something of their heritage and adapted it, with a bit of humour, to suit the reality of the very different surroundings in which they live.


Carruca (woodcut from wikimedia - public domain)

In the early years of the twelfth century Frankish settlers in the Latin East introduced into the countryside an organised rural administrative system based on the European feudal system but with so many adjustments necessitated by the very different nature of the countryside and its residents that it became something quite different. One example of this is that in the Latin East, serfdom, a central aspect of European feudal life, was virtually non-existent. The Frankish settlers, who by the mid-century had begun to establish their own villages and farmsteads, were freemen, owing rents, taxes and tithes, but their own masters and possessors of their own property.


Among the numerous necessary adjustments to the European framework that the Franks introduced were matters relating to the actual working of the land and to the administrative machinery. One example of how, when adapting themselves to the new surroundings they were able to introduce certain Western methodologies but not others, is preserved in the Latin word carruca. Carruca has a double meaning. It is the name of a type of plough developed and employed in many parts of Europe in the Middle Ages, a highly improved apparatus that revolutionised medieval agriculture, expanding the regions that could be farmed, greatly increasing crop production and physically changing the landscape with the introduction of what became known as the ridge and furrow system. The carruca was a wheeled plough with a heavy iron ploughshare and a coulter or mouldboard (an iron sheet that would cut deeply into the soil and enable the plough to turn over a furrow). Its considerable weight required that the plough be drawn by a team of eight oxen or horses, which, being difficult to turn in the field, led to the development of strip-farming with elongated, narrow fields. The carruca was a major improvement in farming heavy clayish soil, but was entirely useless in rocky terrain and in regions with thin, dry soils such as is the case in the Levant. Consequently, the machine was not introduced to the crusader states and the old and appropriate wheel-less stick-plough was retained.


Nonetheless the carruca was introduced into the crusader states and came to play a very prominent role - but not as a plough. The other meaning of the word was as a standard unit of measurement - the amount of land that could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a year (season). When land was measured out to be granted or sold it was recorded in so many carrucae. For example, settlers in the villeneuve, the new villages established by the Crown, the churches, the monasteries and the military orders, were generally given, along with land on which to build their houses, one or two carrucae of farmland. The plough itself, not appropriate for the new surroundings, was abandoned, but the carruca as a land measurement was introduced and extensively used. It appears in hundreds of documents, surviving in records as a residue of Western feudal life that was introduced into the Latin East.

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