Persistant Migrant Memories

Persistant Migrant Memories

 

Our arrival in Sydney was drunk-less and a great relief for all of us. We walked to Hyde Park and mum distributed all the ready- made IXL jam sandwiches, but not with as much jam as we would have liked. Old habits die hard, they say.

On the way back to Scheyville we met up with the Van Dijks at Granville rail station, this is a railway station of some significance and would feature into the next eight months of our lives. It was arranged we would live with the Van Dijks and our departure from the Camp was now imminent. My mother went with Beb Van Dijk shopping at some stage because after we all moved from Scheyville to the Van Dijks we all had brand new, gleaming, chrome plated steel framed double bunk beds. The arrival of all of us at the Van Dijks was not without big surprises. You can imagine my keenness to finally discover this magic car that would convert to truck and back to sedan. As it turned out, it was a 1939 Chevrolet utility with three wheels, the forth one was missing and the car was compensated for that loss by a pile of bricks. It was rusty and nothing like what I had imagined. What a blow, if not deceit. I never saw it being driven.

Disappointed, but I got over it, at least they did have a car, a tiny 1951 Renault that was more like a jacket than a car, something that one put on for a rain shower and it was small. None the less, the whole family would pile into it on the way to church and back. This is when the cake eating came into its own. The house itself was in Guildford, not far from that Granville Station, on a busy road and was very old and in disrepair. Apart from that it was situated in the middle of large stacks of timber and cast iron baths. The baths must have looked promising to our mother. The raison d’être for her coming to Australia was in sight! The car was not the only item on three legs. The pet dog, a large German Sheppard at least ran around on three legs. A friendly dog but why three legs? 20

Anyway, that first evening after our arrival we all had coffee and cakes and good times would surely be arriving. Perhaps a bit hesitantly, but step by step our determination and sense of Dutch pioneering would triumph?

 

So, it was after we moved in from the Migrant Camp of Scheyville with the Van Dijks and our discovery that it is ‘not all gold that glitters’ and that their reporting about their good fortunes in Australia looked a bit pale, that we had to put shoulders under the tasks ahead. Mother was the chief of staff that sat out this mammoth job. Dad, crumbled not only from the disappointment of now living in the middle of a timber yard with huge rats being chased by a three legged dog, nor the ‘magic’ car on three wheels, nor that the extension that we would live in but not built. The only thing that was true was the Van Dijks cake eating every Sunday, after hobbling down-hill in the Renault coat jacket.

Dad just collapsed and refused to come out of bed, deeply depressed and knee deep in gloom. The promised Government job was not available to non British subjects, and he, who was totally spoon fed on life-long permanent Government security, was crushed. The temporary ideology of a culture that thrived on temporary accommodation and temporary jobs, temporary living quarters, people moving to another address at the drop of a hat, was something totally alien to us, especially Dad. He stayed in bed for six weeks. It is difficult to describe those first few months after arrival without coming to some conclusion that the picture of a new country as portrayed by the Australian Immigration Office in The Netherlands and the letters from the Van Dijks had not met the reality of our situation and life then.

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2 Responses to “Persistant Migrant Memories”

  1. Elisabeth Says:

    My Dutch father used to say you had to be three times better than an Australian to get ahead. He felt it keenly. The weight of his accent and the sense that despite his optimism about a new life in Australia and his capacity to work it was still hard to get on despite the promises back home post war. Our two fathers sound similar, Gerard, in the degree to which they could not make the transition easily. But then again who can?
    I think of this and your post in the wake of the film about sending so-called boat people and asylum seekers back home and my heart aches.

    Like this

  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Thank you Elizabeth. Yes, my father was promised he would get a job on arrival in the same field and for the Government. He was a total aficionado of order and security. After arrival he was told that to get a government job , which for him was in the telephone industry, the PMG at that time, a Government institution would and could not employ him because any Government job was strictly for Australian and British citizens.
    After learning that he went to bed and did not surface for 6 weeks. On top of all else, my elder brother developed severe and chronic schizophrenia which at that time was blamed on parents. So… a hard time to overcome, but they did. They returned in the mid seventies to Holland and lived out their lives reasonably happy.

    Like this

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