Life drawing with a fondue. (Auto-biography.)

July 31, 2015
'Billabong'

‘Billabong’

‘Billabong’. From Wikipedia;

“The etymology of the word billabong is disputed. The word is most likely derived from the Wiradjuri term bilabaŋ, which means “a watercourse that runs only after rain” and is derived from bila, meaning “river”,[3] and possibly bong or bung, meaning “dead”. One source, however, claims that the term is of Scottish Gaelic origin.[6]Billabongs attained significance as they held water longer than parts of rivers and it was therefore important for people to name these areas.

Gaelic or aboriginal, I’ll settle for the latter and painted accordingly in the ochre, chrome yellow, sienna colouring and avoided any kilt hues. You’ll be hard pushed to see any well hung MacDonald’s quarter pounders in my Billabong.

The above painting ‘Billabong’ must have got the nod of approval by the panel of judges and was hung in the NSW Gallery in 1972. The seventies was a period, not only of vegie co-ops, baby sitting clubs and going bra-less, it was also a period of enormous cultural change in Australia..  It all started in the late sixties and had its origin in a couple of cafes around the Cross in Sydney. I think Frank Morehouse, an Australian writer, was savvy to this and even wrote a book called ‘ Days of Wine and Rage.’ Up till the late sixties, the Nescafe instant coffee was the preferred brown drink. For many years TV advertisements used to swear each cup had 43 beans of  ‘real coffee’, implying that there were coffees around that were not ‘real’, conveniently forgetting that Nescafe instant coffee is as far removed  from being real coffee than ‘tasty cheese’  is from being an honest cheese. Most readers of this blog would know my stand on ‘tasty cheese’!

Towards the end of the sixties a coffee lounge opened up named ‘Reggios’ at the corner of Crown street and near Chapel Street, Sydney. Not only was it one of the first ‘real’ coffee lounges to open, it was also selling the best coffee in town and it was ‘real’ coffee percolated from ‘real’ beans. Reggio’s was frequented by a lot of Italians. Many were migrants from boats such as Roma and Sydney. Most were single. If one looked carefully it was noticed that many looked somewhat doe- eyed. The tragedy of a shortage of available women was expressed in their eyes after they  lifted their faces from the  empty coffee cups and looked into mine. I understood their plight.

A few girls of the night soon cottoned onto this Mediterranean loneliness and for a modest sum would allow some relief to the forlorn of Messina or Napoli. It wasn’t the kind of love those men sought but it was better than nothing. The coffee afterwards helped. But it was a love so bitter and not helped by the dusty train journey home afterwards to their even lonelier suburb.

Soon more coffee lounges followed. Today it has become a mile long stretch of coffee lounges and cafés, catering for the well-heeled,  the property developers, the gangsters, toy boys and their  well coiffured owners. All now are sitting under the striped awnings together with their barristers or  Labor Ministers. All are wildly gesticulating and doing their sipping. Of course there is so much more to coffee now. There is a bewilderingly long list of different coffees available. It frightens me, as I have long ago given up in remembering the latest of this or that. We still ask for a simple ‘latte’. Does anyone in our age group ask for a macchiato coffee? I doubt it. What is it?

Our daughters 'Susanna and Natasha in Finland. Nr 3 and 4 on the right.

Our daughters ‘Susanna and Natasha in Finland. Nr 3 and 4 on the right.

In between running a business we also found time to do life drawing and have fondue parties. The fondue set would come down from the top cupboard and with the help of a little dish with methylated spirits we would cook bits of raw meat in a container with oil which was heated by the metho. The meat was held at the end of steel prongs. The fad lasted for a few years together with exercise bikes. I noticed there has been an upsurge of exercise machinery. Some look as if they are ready to go on an outer space journey. So massive,  I wonder if they can double as a diesel truck or prime mover or a good lathe? Would it not be better to go for a walk or has that become too dangerous with perverts stalking the streets?

In any case, society had progressed and nothing was not tried and experimented with. It came about that some would eagerly strip off for a spontaneous life drawing session all inside our Gertrude cottage. Of course, that is finished. Can one imagine the horror of stripping off now. There would be a stampede out of Gertrude’s cottage or a call to the police, even an ambulance!.

Those were the days.

The good years 1966-1973. (Auto biography)

July 30, 2015
Gertrude's Cottage.

Gertrude’s Cottage.

With the birth of our two daughters, life in Gertrude’s cottage was enjoyed on a steady forward path. I remember it mainly as a very bright sunny yellow reflection on the timber floor with a shimmering expanse of water in the distance. A  few years of uninterrupted family bliss. I had my own business. The painting of pictures was done in between shooting out to deliver material or organise meetings with builders, clerk of works or quoting for new contracts.  I can’t remember if I had an easel or  just painted on the floor. Most of my work was entered into municipal competitions and I had a list of dates and places of when and where to send the paintings. I do remember that the size of the paintings became larger and larger perhaps in tandem with the growing of our little family. An expression of exuberance? The paintings also became braver.

It was one of those inexplicable fates of lucky circumstance that I met a Hungarian painter who taught art in the very heart of Sydney. It was at Sydney’s Rocks, just metres away from the Harbour bridge. His name was Desiderius Orban.  He had established himself as a modern and successful painter. He had also published a book on art and was a well-known  teacher. He did not really teach in the sense that he showed you a skill or technique. He encouraged rather than taught and very much pushed the students in expressing whatever was in them and did not care if you painted with a brush, a stick or your fingers. He was already very old but even so, lived on forever. Some people when getting old seem to get a new burst of live when already well past the age when most people are happy to take a permanent rest in the urn or the reserved plot of no return. He died aged 101.!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desiderius_Orban

Another of those artists that seem to deny or defy the welcoming (but icy embrace) of the dearly departed is John Olsen. Readers might remember I took art lessons at the Mary White school of art  where he and Robert Klippel were doing some teaching. This was before my marriage while still living at home.  Both were free spirits and  indeed used to go to the local pub and imbibe a couple, only to return rather jovial and praising all students no matter what they had cobbled together.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Olsen_(artist)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Klippel

John Olsen is still alive today ( 30/7/2015) and one of the only too rare an instance where his paintings are selling for millions and the artist able to enjoy it. How Vincent would turn is his grave?

With the continuation of entering my paintings in competition it would be outside the law of averages, if sooner or later, I would not hit the jack-pot. Hitting the jackpot might be a bit exaggerated  seeing the prices were rather within the limits of the Shire’s income forever struggling with keeping rates low. It was more of a way to climb the ladder to getting known and even more important, able to sell the work. I did win a couple of prices and more importantly had a painting accepted in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/wynne/1972/24292/

It was also in that year that Helvi visited her family in Finland with both our daughters. I stayed behind to continue the decorating business. I had promised to look after the eldest daughter’s teddy bear by giving it porridge. The KLM flight included a photo taken of Helvi carrying the youngest in the Papoose which at the time was a novel way of traveling with very young children. This photo went world wide in the KLM’s magazine. It was a great shot and just wished I could find it. Alas it is ‘somewhere’ in our apartment but hidden in either boxes, linen- drawers or even albums, …

somewhere!

‘Winter in America,’ Children’s Library and Vegie co-op (Auto-biography)

July 26, 2015
Balmain Watch-house.

Balmain Watch-house.

The way things are going in this auto- biography it will run into a literary cinemascope  version of  Days of our Lives with the Hammond organ belting out a circular and never ending tune.  The cheek of thinking that my life is any better or more important or interesting than that of any living being or Jo Blow!  I shall just continue because I enjoy this very much.  And if there is a blow out of too many words, well…just skip a few pages… or start at the end and work towards the middle. Even if it relieves insomnia for just a single night for just a single person, I’ll be a happy man.

Apart from the baby-sitting club, another community enterprise was the vegie co-op which also started to sprout up in the various communities of inner Sydney suburbs. I am not sure anymore if this came about during our stay at Gertrude’s cottage between 1969-1973 or after our stay in Holland and subsequent return in 1976. In any case a group of people decided to fork out $10.- each week towards a kitty to buy fruit and vegetables at the Flemington wholesale fruit and vegie markets at Homebush.  It was a huge market covering a very large area where all the fruit and vegie shops would get their produce at wholesale prices. It also had several cafeteria where the buyers could get sustenance and a coffee. Many fruit and vegie shops were run by Italians and Greeks, so food and coffees were as necessary as the apples, kale and celery which they filled their trucks up with, especially when the buying started at 5am.  You can imagine how early the growers had to get up and prepare their stalls? Farming is tough! It was a hectic few hours and the men, and many women too, would be ravenous by seven am. The market as all markets do, also had great atmosphere and laughter was everywhere.

Of some interest was my market shopping partner Jimmy Stewart. He was  Irish. He loved a good yarn and food. He looked somewhat like a juvenile Oscar Wilde. He had dark hair hanging over his face and a large stomach. After our shopping of many boxes of fruit and vegies, we would visit the cafeteria, enjoy bacon and eggs, coffee and a cigarette. He loved women and they generously reciprocated, yet he was never good marriage material. His income sporadic and swallowed up by international phone calls to entrepreneurial music and record companies. He generally managed to get me to buy cigarettes and pay for the bacon and eggs. But, he was terrific company, always whistling and singing. A cheerful soul. A great friend.

He was a writer of music, popular music and would let nothing stand in the way of doing that. Sadly, it did not bring in a regular income, yet women were attracted to him often in order to find out that a future including a cosy and secure family-life would be hazardous at best and reckless at worst.  That’s how so often and so sadly, love gets lost. The combination of income with a mutual everlasting and reasonable attraction is so desired and yet so rarely achieved. Money so often the banana skin on the doorstep of many relationships. Indeed, even with plenty of money things can get perilous.

While we drove to the markets and back he used to hum a song that really hit the world at that time. It was ‘Winter in America’.  It had a line that included the ‘Frangipani’. “The harbour’s misty in the morning, love, oh how I miss December / The frangipani opens up to kiss the salty air” – Ashdown’s lament to “leave love enough alone” has become one of the great Australian standards.

It was Jimmy Stewart’s creation and he would often sing it while driving to Flemington markets..

Here it is;

At the same time of the weekly boxes of fruit and vegies, another group also brought to fruition a Children’s library. Another community effort. The retired chief Commonwealth librarian named Larry Lake was the main person behind this idea. The National Trust had given the use of the Balmain Lock-up to a group that called themselves “The Balmain Association’. The ‘Lock-up’ or Watch house’ was busy during the heydays of Balmain still working as a Stevedoring and Waterfront suburb. There were lots of maritime associated industries and that is what attracted many to the area when that ceded to exist. During earlier times and at night the local constable would have been busy locking up inebriated sailors or others that liked to frequent so many pubs it was difficult to find normal houses in between. I believe Balmain had over 60 pubs at one stage. The air used to be thick with coarse oaths and rank vomit renting along the blue-stone cobbled noisy streets. It frightened the horses at times.

A group including myself spent many evenings getting this library working. There were fundraisings and book covering, cataloguing and getting shelving to fit into one of the Lock-up cells. It had a heavy steel door and sliding locking mechanism. Those poor drunks! The children that used to visit the cell library afterwards, just loved it.

Those were the days. It did include occasional bra removals, but also baby-sitting, vegie co-ops, music and books for children.

The good years of Bra burnings and Baby-sitting. (Auto-biography).

July 24, 2015
Balmain cottage downstairs room

Balmain cottage downstairs room

We moved from King’s Cross to our house in Balmain with all our belongings in the back of our Ford-Zephyr utility. We had bought this utility from Pacific Auction car sales on Parramatta Rd after arrival in Australia. They had a slogan ‘Pacific is Terrific’. They were indeed. You put your bid on the car of your choice that was being driven in front of a podium where a man with a booming voice would announce the cars to be auctioned to the highest bidder. It was fast moving and the buyers were supposed to check the vehicles beforehand. No guarantee was given to roadworthiness. It wasn’t unusual for a car refusing to start in which case the car was pushed by well muscled helpers or sometimes even the buyers with much laughter and shouts of ‘who wants this bomb?’  Helvi came with me and thought it hugely entertaining. I had always bought my cars there and would  go and buy another one if the present car was on its last leg. However, I never had a car on three wheels and bricks like those Dutch Friends had in the timber yard after our arrival, together with a large dog on three legs chasing huge and very fast rats (on four legs). Some time later I worked in a factory where the owner was suspected of having just one leg because there was a strange creaking sound escaping from his trousers when he was walking.

The Ford Zephyr utility was however the car of which I had fantasised so much about back in Holland, when those Dutch friends had written they bought a car that was sometimes a sedan and at other times a truck. I thought then it was a modern American invention whereby with the push of a button a car would morph from one type into the next. Of course, in the meantime I had learnt the harsh realty that truth and fantasy are bad bedfellows and rarely did the twain meet.  In our apartment at Kanimbla Hall in King’s Cross we had a seat made and some bookshelves. We bought a long piece of hard rubber which we had covered with a nice  deep wine-red coloured piece of strong material bought from Artes Studio at Sydney’s George Street. The rubber was cut to size from a Clark Rubber shop. Clark Rubber was ‘the’ place for young couples to get cheap furnishings together with a good range of hiking boots and camping gear, including cast iron camp stoves that used to get suspended from a tripod when camping, in which to cook potatoes or make a stew.

It just took one day to move from one place to the other. Diligent (or foolhardy) readers would have learnt that by that time we had two lovely daughters. There also appeared an article in the Newspaper that a mother from Balmain had set up play groups. This was really a fantastic initiative. It was simple. On given days mothers and young children would meet at a local playground, join each other and the children who would play around on the slippery dips, the round-a-bout and sandpit. The mothers would get to know each other and the children.  I am not sure, but I think that government pre-schools for toddlers below four years had as yet not been invented. The play groups were hugely successful and soon after a baby-sitting group was formed as well. It worked on a point system. Each hour of babysitting for someone would earn a plus point. A minus point would be deducted if own child was baby-sat. It was expected that plus and minus points would balance out within a reasonable time-frame.

Those with good memories would know that, thanks to Germaine Greer, the bra was becoming more and more seen as fashion article of enslavement, a tool to keep them (breasts) propped up, purely for the sake of looks and salivating males. It went further and it was suggested, they were designed together with girdles and make-up, as a ploy to keep women  shackled to the kitchen sink and nappy buckets. It was therefore also suggested to ditch the bra and if a droop resulted, be proud and walk tall. Together with ditching the bra, radical lesbianism was embraced. I never witnessed any bra burning or rampaging lesbians but do remember going to a party held at a professor of philosophy house who insisted all women hang their bras on the door knob before allowed in. They all did and it was one of the more memorable parties in Balmain.

I have been credited in Balmain,  still even today, of having lifted the ban on men not being allowed to babysit. The stranglehold of some women on insisting only men would be allowed to babysit was broken when in all innocence I turned up one evening.  A nervous mother made a hurried telephone call to the secretary and after a while it was decided I could baby sit. The year was 1973.   With my Dutch and Helvi’s  heritage I never even thought that it was solely the domain of women in our home countries to sit on babies.  Anyway, it was different then in Australia. From the early seventies, 1973 to be precise, men were allowed to babysit at each other’s houses. It was a male revolution on par with bra burning.  You can thank Gerard for this!

It was odd that some women felt emancipated by going bra-less and yet thought that it was a bit dodgy for  male friends to do babysitting.

It should be written up in our history books or at least on Wikipedia.

The years of ‘Gertrude’s Cottage.’ (Auto-biography)

July 22, 2015
'Gertrude Cottage.' Balmain

‘Gertrude Cottage.’ Balmain

 

The meandering through life’s travels and travails will continue for as long the memory will keep on serving the details or at least the general gist of them. After a while dates become irrelevant. It is the memory of events that count. This writer is not going for a PhD nor fame. A couple of ‘likes’ will suffice and makes him smile. I just read that cooking chefs are now more esteemed and held in a higher limelight than writers. And yet, most chefs on TV shows don’t really say much more than ‘mm’ or  ‘nice, really nice’  at the most. Of course they fill the program with beautiful scenery. Why cooking has to be done with the Austrian Dolomites in the background or in the middle of the Mekong river is baffling and seems to make us want to travel rather than grab the mortar and pestle. It is perplexing though  how cooking and watching cooking has now overtaken reading Vladimir Nabokov or Chekov. Perhaps all this is due to an ageing population wearing multifocal glasses! Many people also go to bed with food platters, (including smoked eels) instead of a book.

After our second daughter was born, the apartment became too small.  We happened to look at The Sydney Morning Herald with an advertisement for a cottage for sale, which was called ‘Gertrude’s Cottage. It faced the harbour and had a goat. The advertised price was $12.500.-. We knew this was ours right from the start. I don’t believe in premonition or future or fortune telling devises. I took a drive to the address which was right near the harbour of Sydney in Balmain which was an area that used to be ‘working class and ‘cut-throat’ territory, belonging to thieves, drunkards and Irish Catholics. I say, that ‘used’ to be, because it had become a bit of a low cost housing area for students and artists. It was changing and in an upward transit.

Even so, the rabbito men were still doing the rounds, albeit in its final years and the milkmen and bread delivery were still a daily event.  I am running ahead somewhat now. The Gertrude Cottage was as charming as I had imagined it to be with a large living-dining-kitchen area and with the bath all out in the lounge area. I knew Helvi would love it and she did. Upstairs were 2 small bedrooms. The whole cottage was weatherboard, very old and one corner had sunk on its foundations which made the floor canter to the lower side. It was a private sale and the owner a well known architect with 2 blond little daughters and a vivacious wife. The goat was tethered to a stake and eating the vegetation of derelict land between the house and the harbour. In the middle of the ground floor it had a slow combustion cast iron wood heater with a galvanised chimney going up through the roof. As an extra bonus it could also include a huge boulder that was about ten metres by thirty metres long and could be leased from the local Council. This boulder would extend our property to the next street corner giving us the right for intruders to be excluded.

We immediately went to the bank to try and get a mortgage. The manager promised an inspection and after a week he got back to us. Look, Gerard mate, he said, you are buying a glorified shed. Are you sure you want to go through with it?  Our deposit was sixty percent, so the bank had little option but to approve of the loan. The ‘shed,’ after six weeks or so became ours. It was heaven. The morning sun would come up over the harbour bridge and then reflect on the hardwood timber flooring. Looking against the light, the water was sparkling and shimmering, boats and ferries busying themselves with large merchant ships reversing engines before berthing making the landmass our house shake. Sydney still was an industrial harbour and full of life. The derelict land  adjacent and in front of the cottage facing the harbour was ideal for throwing in a fishing line and many did so, especially during week-ends. Our little family thrived and business thrived as well. In the meantime I kept on with my art and painted many pictures. At one stage we had nude life drawing classes and our friends would sometimes strip off and allow themselves to be charcoal drawn. Many early and adventurous couples decided to also buy those cheap places in Balmain, do them up and restore them to former glory.  Of course, working class cottages that were small and modest could hardly become ‘former glory mansions’ and some of the results were far from modest and ruined many of them. Extensions and extra storeys on top of former two bedroom cottage on small parcels of land ended up ugly and bloated. The flexing of moneyed people did not enhance the area in later years either.

Gertrude Cottage with our first daughter.

Gertrude Cottage with our first daughter.

The bath in the middle of living area was eventually screened off. Adjacent to the bath we had a second hand washing machine with draining of rinsing water done by lowering the hose to the outside and then sucking on it to encourage the flow. Nowadays it could be seen as a bit primitive, but to have a washing machine that did everything except pumping out the water, was seen as a minor dysfunction. The cottage itself with its open sunny feeling could only be improved upon by bits of furniture that we mainly scrounged around for in second hand shops, St Vinnie’s etc. It was shielded from the street by a very high timber fence that the previous architect owner had put up. It was so high that you could not even jump up to get a hold and climb over it. Some friends that had lived in Indonesia remarked it reminded them of a brothel that the Japanese were running then during the occupation.  No doubt, if it would have been possible to have had a look inside during the nude drawing lessons that the brothel conclusion could have been drawn as well.” (from Frank’s story)

 

Children, tripping over and business. ( Auto-biography)

July 21, 2015
The flooded creek

The flooded creek

After we settled in King’s Cross there was a flurry of marriages in the Oosterman clan. My friend Bernard married a Japanese girl and went to live in Japan. I continued with the painting business on my own.  One of my brothers married a girl from Russia but born in Peru, another from Polish background, my sister married a man born in Germany with just one who married an Australian. I of course married a lovely Finn. Apart from my brother who married an Aussie and has died since, we all are still married to our first love.

They were busy times all racing to get home and hearth together as well as bonnie babies. There were nappies and the smell of them. Toys on the floor. A variety of bassinettes and other bouncing contraptions that we would easily trip over.  They were the years when tripping over was normal and totally safe. Of course now a fall could easily result in an ambulance racing over to lift you on a stretcher and to a hospital, nurse putting on the gloves and a worried doctor looking you over. I haven’t as yet reached that stage yet, but it will come about!  Helvi urges me to take a firm hold of the handrail coming down from the computer upstairs. It pays to be careful! I sometimes wish that recklessness could continue. It was such a part of being young. Reckless and foolish. Now we play it safe and pretend to be wise, but really just give in to ageing, play it secure, getting old, sip our coffee and remind each other to take medicine. We have learnt our lesson.

It seems odd that when we were young and had a life ahead, we were reckless, took our chances when at the same time so much was at stake. One fatal mistake could easily result in having to pay for it over the rest of your natural life. Yet, now that we (I am) are old and with our lives more behind than in front we have far more solid reasons to be reckless. Throw caution to the wind. What is there to lose? What is holding us back?  Do a bungy jump or fight a crocodile, live in Bali or Amsterdam. We might just, with luck,  squeeze in a couple of years more or so. Of course many of the old do amazing things still, but by and large we have become more cautious and play it safe. I never ever thought I would reach that stage. Yet it is has come about.  Even so, we still have no insurance of any kind except third party property car insurance which I suppose is proof of some lingering recklessness. harking back to youthful risk taking.  I mean, does one not get buried without having any money.  Does it matter? Mozart got buried in a pauper’s grave. Perhaps, that is just bundied about to encourage budding composers to keep on trying, regardless of fame or fortune.

But going back (to those years of recklessness),  and having settled down it came about that families were sprouting up all over the place. Our first was born within a couple of years after arrival in Sydney. Our second daughter two years after that, delivered by the same doctor named Holt. I renewed previous contacts and gained quickly new jobs. Some years later, I won some really substantial contracts including the painting of the extensions to the NSW Art Gallery and the International Flight kitchen at Sydney’s airport. I tried as well to keep on with painting pictures and even had, optimistically, bought a huge  fifty metres by two metres roll of raw cotton canvas together with varied sizes of stretchers on which to span and make canvasses ready to paint.

I was an optimist and Helvi the supporting wife and mother…They were very good years,

many good years were yet to come.

Life at ” The Cross.” (Auto-biography)

July 19, 2015
Fountain at King's Cross

Fountain at King’s Cross

Our move to Sydney’s Kings Cross was decided the next day. It needed no considering really. We walked around the main shopping street, looked at the apartment of Kanimbla-Hall which Helvi really liked. She has always been able to see the potential in any of our homes. Perhaps that sense of good proportions and making the best of any given space as well as this undefined art of recognizing what makes things look good or awfully ugly. It seems to be the domain of a Finn. Perhaps it is also a genetic thing.  I don’t think you can teach good design if the eye for the visual is absent nor make a good writer by teaching cobbling  words together when they enter a brain better equipped for understanding Rock-a-Billy or galloping horses . The idea that we are all capable of doing amazing things if only given the encouragement together with being diligent enough and have the determination to succeed, might be over-rated. We do the best we can and the philosophy ‘and may the devil take the hindmost’ always a good thing to keep in mind. Just in case! (“or Love Lies a-Bleeding, 1611:)”  Does it really matter? It is in the doing and we can all do, surely?

In the mid sixties, Sydney did have a few areas where multi- culture and a cosmopolitan life existed. Now of course almost everything has ‘a life style’, even buying a house or an electric knife sharpener, is imbued by its promise to ‘add’ to your lifestyle. The advertising world has managed to make us all fear in missing out on the promised land of the magic lifestyle and have hordes of people rushing to Harvey Norman and those Meccas of consuming, the shopping Malls. It is all proof on how we are goaded into leading our lives never quite fulfilled of having attained this desired ‘lifestyle’, while sinking somewhat deflated into our latest acquisition, the reclining sofa, while watching Neighbours on a three metre barking mad wide flat screen TV. It resists all our efforts, no matter how we shop till we drop and of course ‘drop’ we finally do. The ultimate ‘life-style’ finally achieved with ashes to ashes!

Kings Cross was the very heart of what life is capable of throwing up. There were artists, vagabonds, drug addicts, criminals and smiling red rouged but lovely prostitutes, mothers with babies in prams and some normal fathers.  It was a friendly and safe place then. Perhaps still is! It had book shops, and a great butcher shop  named ‘Hans Fleischmeister’ that sold continentals, including rookworst, sauerkraut, and marinated olives as well as prosciutto, preserved red cabbage and cooking apple in Hak glass containers and other strange and twisted looking delicatessen. On a Saturday morning the queue spilled over onto the pavement and the smell of this shop lured many to venture out of the apartment blocks like the town-crier of earlier times.

There were also nightclubs and strip joints, spruikers and American soldiers on RI leave from Vietnam or from wars somewhere. Many looked for romance but compromised with a hurried love for sale. We knew by sight some of the girls who scored a trick and nodded us with a smile. We were part of a world that still walked the pavements. A blushing fountain depicting a dandelion flower seed head was the very centre of our chosen domain and such a vibrant area to live in. It was surrounded by seats on which the book reading pensioners of the time could be seen reading or nodding. Sometimes both. The library and Franklyn supermarket were edged on this lovely little park. It was to be our home for a few years. Both of our daughters were born in Kings Cross and lived at our apartment.

IMG_20150719_0001

Helvi transformed the apartment by lifting the ‘wall-to-wall’ under which we found a perfect hardwood floor which we partially covered with a rug. One of my paintings was hung on the wall together with a Finnish wallhanging- a wedding present-now hanging in our present home. We also replaced the crockery with the Finnish Arabia brand and bought a very nice set of cutlery in a wooden box made in Austria. The Bakelite radio and laminated kitchen table and bed-head replaced with  nicer looking accoutrements. We bought a black and white small TV and watched ‘Pick-a Box’ with Bob Dyer and an excruciatingly irritating  wife with the name ‘Dolly’ who would come on-stage to drool ‘Oh yes Bob’ in a strong  accent, over and over again whenever she was beckoned by Bob. There was a world champion contest between the world’s best factual informed with also the most and best of the retentive memories at call on this Pick a Box. It was between an Australian named Barry Jones and a Finn. Barry Jones won and became a politician later on in life, which shows you how pure knowledge can be a bad thing.

These were our Kanimbla Hall years. Very good years they were too!

“Kanimbla Hall”, Pott’s Point, Sydney.(Auto Biography)

July 17, 2015
Kanimbla Hall, Kings Cross.

Kanimbla Hall, Kings Cross.

Little needs adding to the previous story of how we finally ended up on a boat to Australia, sailing first class, dining with an Italian couple and Helvi dancing with the captain. Perhaps I should add as a minor detail that I also won the ship’s chess competition with the final match being played with the ship’s doctor who was supposed to be a very good player. Boasting a bit here, but one might be forgiven. One should never resist the temptation to live off minor triumphs in life as much as possible. You just never know what tragedy might be waiting around the corner!

One other memory just bubbling up right now was the teaching of English to some of the Greek migrants on the boat. There was an Australian immigration officer on-board asking for volunteers teaching English. Helvi suggested I should offer to do just that. I was given a class of Greek people mostly men but also a few young couples. All were eager and keen. I have never met a more joyfully optimistic mob of Greek people. The teaching was simple. I knew no Greek and they no English. It was done by pointing and writing. There is a name for this type of teaching, but I can’t bother looking it up. Time is of the essence, and what is in a name?

I started narcissistically pointing to myself and at the same time saying ‘Gerard’ which was followed by everyone saying their names as well. This then became ‘my name is…followed by the whole class repeating it. The fun really started when progressing to trades, and jobs. Hammering down became a carpenter. Slapping around with a brush, a painter, and so. It turned out many of the men were all of the trades, They were all cobblers, butchers, you name the trade and the same hands would fly up.. This was cause for great hilarity. Talk about a keen lot of people. No wonder so many became successful in Australia.

One could ask why did they chose to leave a country that millions flock to each year, especially with a population so given to spontaneous dance, laughter and happiness?  I noticed the same with the Italians. Of course, grinding poverty and unemployment endemic in many Southern Europe countries could be the answer. Even so, there did not seem to be that same expression of cheer and good humour in countries where far better material conditions did exist. Has anyone ever caught public transport in the UK? Those grim faces holding onto their umbrellas as if a stolen stash of gold !

In Greece during the boat trip.

In Greece during the boat trip.

I reflected how within a few weeks those happy Greeks would be drawn to working, saving, and enjoying their new life. Now there would be unlimited plates laden with fetta, lamb and spinach. No shortage for the kids and….own house, even own business, a milk bar called Stavros with photos being sent back to the relatives in Greece. Did the boisterous laughter continue in Australia as then still on the ship? Leave the pensive reflections well alone ‘my name is gerard’. What are you hoping for?

We arrived in Fremantle. Of course on yet another Sunday. We sauntered through the hot lonely barren streets. It was my third Sunday in Fremantle. Not much had changed. The continuation to Melbourne was through The Great Australian Bite.  The enormous swell parallel with the boat made even the crew not turn up for meals, let alone the passengers. There were paper bags strung up along the corridors and stairs. Sea sickness is a cruel part of any sea voyage. Even though most passenger boats have stabilisers fitted, they were of little use. Most remained in their cabins, heaving, retching merrily away in private.

Of course, Helvi and I were exempted from all this misery. Proudly arm in arm we would pace the decks. Our faces into the fierce wind. Nonchalantly defiant to Zeus and Poseidon. No sea too rough no woman (or man) so tough! The dining rooms all but for a hardy few, deserted. Tables fastened and piano roped down in the corner. Those few passengers that did turn up ate out of plates that had been put on plastic sheets to give traction, prevent them from sliding about. We ordered bacon and eggs to the pale looking waiter. The Italians absent as was the captain.

After Melbourne, a more normal city and then …Sydney. That beautiful glide through the heads and then to the Opera House in full progress, cranes sticking up as if waving to the newcomers. Finally arriving at my parents place. They immediately liked Helvi. My mother thought we would live in the garage for a while. She had put up cheerful new curtains, a red and white checked cotton strung along the top of the louvered windows, facing the street. We slept there just one night. Next day went to the city including my little apartment in Kings-Cross or Pott’s Point. It had become vacant just before our departure from Finland. Helvi immediately liked it and we decided to live there instead. It was fully furnished, even had all the pots and pans, cutlery and fridge. Even its name ‘Kanimbla Hall’ seemed attractive. It was really a bit of a no choice. I mean, the no-ones land of the suburb, neither country-side nor city. The choice was for city.

We moved in next day. It was so exciting.

Alahärmän Pojat ja Tytöt; a burning ship, ( Auto-biography)

July 14, 2015

The six months or more that I lived in Finland could easily fill a book. I haven’t even reached the Kalevala.  Finland’s national epic of which so much Finish culture, music and design is derived from. Let me make amends and give you at least the basics of what the Kalevala is about and I copy from Wiki;

” is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.[2]It is regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala played an instrumental role in the development of the Finnish national identity, the intensification of Finland’s language strife and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917.[3

And yet, despite all that beauty and creativity, Finland remains a country with a rather reticent self image. It doesn’t easily boast or do unnecessary head-stands or engage in world-stage pole vaulting. The Ankeriasjarvi hut with outside sauna and water-well with its lovely lake had to come to an end. Love alone might never end but finally also needs more than walking along water’s edge or hacking holes in ice in the hope of catching sad eyed and lonely fish. Has anyone ever experienced the delights of throwing water on boiling hot stones inside a wooden hut lined with fragrant pine?

We had bought some  paints and I did do a few paintings while also waiting for news from the local Australian embassy to gain a residency permit for Helvi (my wife- vaimoni) to live in Australia. We were given an appointments for interview but when I showed the immigration man at the Embassy our buff coloured letter head with my parents address for ‘Head-Office’ within seconds assured us there was no problem. Australia was desperate for building and painting contractors. He almost gave me us free shovel and wheel- barrow.

We then booked a boat. It was again one of the Flotta Lauro boats, either the ‘Roma’ or its sister ship ‘Sydney’. The original idea was to live in Finland where I would paint pictures and Helvi teach. We had looked at a few timber houses in the country side but after a while decided to delay this plan, go to Australia for a few years instead, build up some capital. While first waiting for all paperwork to be finalised for a grand wedding and then just ditching it for a registry marriage, we now waited for all approvals for going to Australia. Helvi was never too fussed about conventions. I guess another reason we clicked together so well. Even so, the move to leave  home and hearth was hard and very brave. She had already moved away from her family home for some years when she had to live close to her gymnasium and after to the university. She shared a house with her brother who was also studying. At week-ends she travelled home to the farm to be with her very large and extensive family.

The village she lived in was peopled mainly by her father’s brothers and other close relatives with the farm houses clustered cosily together and the farm land nestled around this village. Some crops were grown, some had milking cows and most also produced timber.  I remember visiting her father’s sister just a short walk from the farm. She was married to a man who had lived for many years in Canada and spoke English with a strong Canadian accent. His name was Antti.  He told me an interesting and amazing story of why he went to Canada in the first place.  His wife was always a bit anxious when he spoke to me in English. Her name was aunty Maija.

 

H and I at the family farm with Helvi's brothers and two sisters.

H and I at the family farm with Helvi’s brothers and two sisters.

The main event when visiting family and friends was to have coffee. Coffee drinking in Finland is  a national past-time together with eating ‘pulla’, a kind of cardamon semi-sweet cake and is revered as the essence of much Finnish baking. If you are offered coffee and pulla you are in good hands. Sometimes cream is put on top and coffee is sugared with cubes of sugar. (Readers might remember many years later on the hot train between Moscow and St Petersburg a kind and buxom woman offered me those same cubes but dipped in Absinthe after she found out I painted pictures. The same woman also dabbed her generous bosom with Eau de Cologne with an embroidered hanky. Oh, how those memories linger! Was the number of that Cologne 711 or 911? It is so confusing now).

It was within a few weeks of our departure when a telegram came that told us a fire had broken out on our ship cancelling our trip. But, as compensation, were offered a first class voyage to Australia on their other Flotta Lauro ship a couple of weeks or so later. When the time came we said goodbye, walked out of Helvi’s farm. We, somewhat sadly, now carried suitcases to take ferries and train to Genoa to catch the boat to Sydney. Half of this boat held about 20-30 passengers in its first class, the rest of the boat hundreds of migrants, mainly Italian and later on Greek migrants. One of the many perceived advantages, apart from having so much space, was dining almost every night with the captain and his top crew. Lucky we had a nice crew and the captain was popular at both parts of the boat. We would at times go to the other half and have more fun with so many more people around.

We shared a small round dining table with a sophisticated elderly Italian couple on their way to visit their pianist son in Melbourne. We also drank a bottle of white Italian wine every night called ‘Suave’ with our dinner. One can still buy this wine today. The Italian couple were very nice. One high point, at least in the case of Helvi, was that the very charming, debonair and white uniformed captain asked Helvi for a dance.  I could tell Helvi loved it.  They were a nice couple and looked stunning. Helvi is a natural when it comes to swaying and dancing. While on the other hand I danced as if still following the painted Phyllis Bates Fox trot steps on the parquetry floor in Sydney. I danced with the generously endowed Italian wife of the husband that we shared the dining- table with.

It was a great sea voyage.

“Näkemiin” my beautiful Suomi but back to reality ! (Auto-biography)

July 13, 2015

IMG_20150713_0001

There is no wedding video and the bride did not swoon or got swept away by a Sharif-like groom  on horseback with manes flying, galloping along the shoreline of the Golf of Bothnia. Instead the both of us spent some weeks in a cottage at Ankeriasjarvi where we lived on lots of pancakes, smoked eel and fruits of love. I tried to catch fish in order to prove I would be a good provider for the future. After hacking a hole in the frozen lake and lowering my fishing line, all I got was frozen feet and hands. I improved a little, a day or so after, when I promised to make her tea in a billy in ‘the Finnish bush’. I explained this was a cultural initiation ceremony in Australia for all newly weds. Omitting to tell her that often it was a string of  beer cans being pulled along a VW Kombi van instead. I made the best of the present romance enjoyed on the shores of a Finnish lake, sipping  Billy tea.

When the day warmed up to a balmy  -20c and a shy sun peeked a bit yellow, we both walked towards the edge of the frozen glistening lake and the pine forest surrounding and protecting it.  In no time did we find enough kindling to make a fire. Snow in the billy for pure water and … on the fire…and soon we had a cup of tea… “Bob is your uncle,” I mentioned unthinkingly. Even though this latest was said in German, Helvi did not get it, but gave a  smile anyway. “Bob ist ihr Onkel” . “Aber ich habe kein Onkel Bob,”  she said. It was then that we realised that a better common language would have to come about in bits and pieces. There were so many funny episodes, we laughed our heads off in between.

One day we also went to a piano concert being performed in the nearest city named Jyvaskyla. There was a train service between Ankeriasjarvi and Jyvaskyla.  Helvi  must have got a timetable and as we had walked to the cottage and train station a few times during the day we thought we could venture the same after the concert finished which would have been  close to 11pm. I forgot what  piano concerto was being played or the name of the pianist. It might have included Sibelius music as an extra. It should have! At the time I only learned about J P Sibelius through Helvi. My knowledge about Finland was so limited. All I wanted to know better was the girl from Finland at the expense of everything else. The hall in which the concert was held was designed by Alvar Aalto. He was the world’s best known architect and no wonder, his buildings are beautiful and so is almost everything designed in Finland. Simple, utilitarian and a pleasure to look at, always beautiful, never kitsch.

We notified the guard on the train we wanted to get off at Ankeriasjarvi. It all seemed rather simple. That’s how train travel was in the time I was there. The train would have stopped at around 11.30 or close to midnight. It was pitch dark and quite a step down onto the timber platform. Perhaps someone helped us to lower ourselves. We had taken a torch to lead us back through the snow and along he path that ran along the lake’s edge. I could add that there was a gentle moon reflecting in itself on the white frozen lake but also helping us along and back to our cottage. It was a walk that could  never have been repeated. It would have been a cliché. Our little cottage was still warm and we put on another log. Perhaps we had tea or coffee before hitting the sack. A great unforgettable evening.   We both liked the adventure and excitement of that walk during that arctic winter’s evening along the lake having listened to a wonderful concert.


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