The learning of Fox Trot and my V8 Ford.

May 25, 2015
Ford V8 Singl spinner

Ford V8 Single spinner

Of course with the powder-blue Ford V8 sedan and the family being treated to a few tours around Sydney, thoughts went to try and get to know more about the opposite sex. These were lean times spent with females.  Harking back to the Scheyville migrant camp with the very limited and lonely Polish-pubic- bush peek through the shower partition, the experience had exhausted itself. I decided to take the bull by the horn and take some dancing lessons. I had noticed that in some magazines of  the ‘boy wants to meet girl’ kind (or the reverse), photos of the boys were often taken while nonchalantly leaning with one foot elevated into the door- way of a car.  A photo leaning one footed in the side-car of my motor bike wasn’t all that exciting a prospect for a girl to be taken out in. I mean, on A Roman Holiday the girls rode around on a Vespa but that was a bit different from driving around mute Sydney suburbia and its nodding petunias in an ex-police motor bike, even with a side-car.

The nous for someone with a guttural accent to get to know a girl in a strange country might now have  to include a photo of myself leaning casually in my FordV8.  Even then, I feared it might just not melt the tigers enough to make the butter.  I needed some flair, more oomph, chutzpah even. Before placing an ad in a lonely heart’s magazine I decided to take dancing lessons from Phyllis Bates dancing academy. I had already learnt that the word ‘academy’ was used in Australia with careless abandon.  I mean, that word in Holland meant professors and  Leiden University or an eight year ballet course in Moscow with the Bolshoi. Here an ‘academy’ could be doing Jiu jitsu , car repairs, or jigging about above a Greek milk bar. In any case, this dancing academy offered a booklet of twenty tickets on ‘special’. In the late fifties and sixties, everything was ‘special’. Even a local built car was Holden ‘special’. You did not have much that was sold being ‘not-special.’ The one thing that remained static and fixed, even till now is, that some cheese survived today, is still sold as ‘tasty.’

The flooding of the love-market was heavily tilted towards single bull necked males with strong gnarled horned hands. They were the ones to build the Snowy Mountain’s  Electricity supply scheme, now  redundant; the digging of mines at Mnt Isa, now redundant;  the cutting of sugar cane in hot Queensland, now by giant machines. I thought that by learning to do a nifty fox-trot or even a quick-step I would have an edge over the Queensland cane-cutters and bulky Bulgarians when it came to getting to know a girl with a lovely smile. I duly took the train to Sydney after donning a clean Pelaco shirt, finely ironed by my mother and a smart Reuben- Scarf suit (two for the price of one). I walked to Pitt Street and clambered the stairs up to Phyllis Bates Academy. (above the milk bar) and presented my booklet of twenty tickets After a ticket was ripped out of my booklet I entered a room from which before I could hear a lively tune being emitted. A very nice cone bra encased woman came to me and after introduction told me she would start teach me a fox trot.

‘ Just follow the painted footsteps on the floor’ and ‘I’ll guide you’. Just start one two…one two….I hopped along but could hardly believe a woman was holding me, I mean a real woman!  To think I still had nineteen tickets left. I could hardly contain my pleasure but did notice that most of the dance students were all bulky cane cutter males. The teacher in the meantime said; ‘ you have to hold me in such a way that a book must be firmly held between us and not fall on the floor’. The last thing I wanted for future memories was the misery of unable to even hold the book between me and a female body and suffer the ignominy of a failed book holder while learning the fox trot.

But, where were the girls? So much to come yet.

The Ford V8 period and other stuff.

May 22, 2015
On own block.

On own block.

(The above shot I found yesterday in a box full of photos. It is very interesting and shows perfectly our situation at that time. My father seems to be sitting on an asbestos sheet wearing a tie. Frank shirtless at the front. Dora cuddling our pet dog, mum in a deck chair. I seem to be just hanging on. The plight of our lives seems so clear. Was it the birth of the curmudgeon? The house behind Dad on the other side of the road does have windows but venetian blinds were at pitch fever popular and so was ‘privacy’. England had moats and drawbridges, Australia has blinds). The house next to the venetians had a Dutch family living in it).

As I motor-biked  past a car sales yard, I noticed a large car for sale amongst many others. This car was a powder blue colour and its chrome glimmered seductively. They say men fall in love with cars. Even the primates shown recently on TV, the male gets drawn to anything with wheels while the female ape cuddles dolls. What hope have we got? As a homo sapient  men might as well do away with free choice when a car sales yard beckons us more than a bevy of dolls. I mean what could be nicer than cuddling a doll? Yet, it is the hot embrace of high revving pistons and killer speeds that we seem to be drawn to. The smarmy salesman saw me coming looking out from his little window inside his pigeon hole office overlooking his domain of gaping cars. The perfect customer. A young man on a the hunt for his first car.

‘Care to take a closer look,’ the man said while consolidating his opinion of me. He had seen so many come and go that day but not many young ones. He could tell, having honed his car salesmanship at his previous sales yard along Parramatta Rd called “Pacific cars is Terrific”. He had broken the back of many a customer’s reluctance. He knew the ropes and his cars and was keenly sought after around the car-yard precincts of Sydney.  The year would have been around 1961/62. I had gone through a Lambretta scooter after which I bought an ex-police bike with side-car in which I used to go rabbit and fox hunting with with my brother John. John was very tall, over two metres. I don’t know how we fitted tent and two rifles in the outfit but we must have. When one is young matters of comfort are hardly ever considered. When getting to my present age, comfort is all and sleeping in a tent gets a bit hazardous with serpents and crocodiles around, huge poisonous cane toads that can kill by leaving a slimy substance. After seventy, the inner spring mattrass beckons like a nun waiting for her habit.

Our first house in Balmain.

Our first house in Balmain.

(Photo showing  my mother with (late) brother John and his wife jenny behind her.  Helvi looking at camera, then brother Herman, brother in law Dieter and sister Dora. Notice we are sitting on paint drums! The Broadway slow combustion wood-heater. A real Christmas tree and candles. They were very good and happy times.)

DSCN2836

(Outside our first house in Balmain taken from the street, facing the harbour on the other side.)

I walked around this blue car, both clock-wise and anti. The tension between us was palpable. I knew what it felt like to drive a bunch of condensed steel, wherever I steered it to, but also felt that to be inside a car- space was going to be a different experience. The salesman remained quiet so far, confident his prey was now slowly being seduced. They all get to it, sooner or later, he surmised philosophically.  ‘Would you like to go inside, get the feel of it?’ Of course I would. No sooner the door was opened, I slid inside. Leather seats, a cigarette lighter! The salesman nonchalantly stalked back to his office. The perfect ploy. He knew his trade so well. The master at work.

As soon as I sat inside the car, I was gone. The smooth feel of the steering wheel and smell of waxed leather and..it had a huge back seat as well, with inbuilt ash trays. I could drive my parents around, a real treat for the family. I got out and went to the office. The salesman put the phone down. ‘I want to buy the car,’ I said. ‘Oh, I just had an enquiry about the same car, a bloke had a look earlier on,’  the salesman said with cruel intend.  I signed the papers with two years of payments on ‘easy terms’ and drove off. The car, a Ford Single spinner V8 cost 220 Pounds.  Oh, what a feeling!

Art and burgeoning Business acumen.

May 21, 2015
Me and mother 1995?

Me and mother 1995?

Frank came home and we all went straight back to fear and anticipation of more outbursts. My father did have contact with some doctors  at Callan Park. If we wanted Frank to stay there if he wasn’t well, there was a procedure whereby he could be admitted as an involuntary  patient of the asylum permanently. It also meant he would not and could not come home, even for visits. It seemed a very strange law but there was no way out if we wanted Frank to not come home when he wasn’t well. He would be there at the ‘pleasure’ of the Government. It seemed a very draconian way. Surely Frank’s freedom would be curtailed and from what we had seen of Callan Park, it was an asylum straight out of Bedlam. Many of the patients seemed like caged animals, walking up and down automatically. I remember my aunt taking me to a zoo as a child and seeing a tiger in a small cage just walking up and down, up and down. Many patients were deeply institutionalised.

We wanted Frank to come home when he was well and not when he wasn’t, in which case we could visit him. We thought that enough care at Callan Park would ensure he would not travel home when he wasn’t well enough. That seemed impossible to achieve. Officialdom and obstinate entrenched bureaucracy was the essence of Anglo culture with  the ‘don’t change if it ain’t broke’ reigning high at all levels, even today. This is in direct contrast to the Dutch ‘if it ain’t broke, break it and start anew, try and improve!’  My parents would never allow the permanent involuntary locking up of their son in an institute.

From then on Frank came when he felt like it, well or unwell. It was when Frank started to wander the streets and arrive by train to our home clad in his pyjamas that my parents knew that something had to be done. Home life became dreadful and all would scatter when Frank arrived in an unwell state. Dad and I developed an antenna that would transmit signals when Frank was about to become unwell and cranky/violent. Mum did not have such an antenna. She would fuss and exhort Frank to brush his hair, clean the room, tidy up or this or that. It clearly irritated him. We would tell her to just leave him be, but mum never picked up on that. She wanted Frank to accept her love and care. Schizophrenia does not adhere to giving normal responses.

It is such a baffling disease and experience. Frank would know he had misbehaved and would want to be taken back to Callan Park, yet again. At my sister’s or brother’s wedding (I have forgotten), we were all standing in front of the church’s steps.  The steps ran all along the churches entrance. There might have been forty or more people including Frank standing on the back step behind the groom and bride looking radiant . The photographer was almost ready to take the wedding photos. When we had all synchronised our positions and smiles, Frank all of a sudden pushed his brother Herman down the steps. It was always on the cards and had warned mother not to have Frank at the wedding.

Frank came to me and asked to be taken back to Callan Park. ‘Just put me on the train’, he said. He always felt remorse afterwards yet could not prevent his outbursts. I took him to the train back to Callan Park. Some years later I gave Frank a job working on a building side painting. He did well for a few days including singing his favourite song  ” I am just singing in the rain, singing in the rain”. The Greek painters thought he was very funny, you have a funny brother’ they would tell me. During one lunch and sitting on a ledge which had a steep drop to one side, Frank took a swipe at me. I told Frank that could not be done on the job. He said  “I know Gerard, take me back to Callan Park.” We walked back to his second home, Callan Park, and we said goodbye.

I have written before about Callan Park. There was a royal commission in 1961 and as Royal commissions go, a bit of an exoneration for all from the Private school boy’s clubs that generally manoeuvre themselves into lucrative Royal Commissions. Some many years later another one on Chelmsford and the estimated deaths of at least eighty patients under the care of Dr Harry Baily who committed suicide after the investigation on the deaths of so many patients. Dr Harry Baily was the superintendant at Callan Park when Frank was admitted. Some years later and married to lovely Helvi, I was phoned by my mother to go quickly to Callan Park, “your father is on his way to try and kill Dr Harry Bailey”, she said.  Helvi and I arrived to see my father hopping through the Rhododendrons at Callan Park in the nick of time.  Hot murder in his eyes. Poor dad, driven to the very edge of his sanity as well.

Etching

Etching

I now will try and get to happier words. While all this was happening I did a course in creative drawing together with a certificate in quantity surveying. I still don’t know or understand why I did the latter. A complete mystery, a blank draw each time I mull over that strange choice. I had worked at several jobs and knew how to save. One of those was painting and understood how to try and get my own contracting business going. Maybe the strange course was an idea to break into the world of contracting. In any case, I knew how to price jobs from bills of quantities submitted on my requests from architects and builders. I had letterheads printed with matching envelopes, always a good impression beating others who would scribble their quotes on bits of paper.  I soon had a good and lucrative contracting business. I made good money. I also did swinging stage work on the outside of buildings. I had no fear of heights either.

Another lucky break.

Frank and Callan Park asylum.

May 19, 2015
Callan Park

Callan Park

The firing of the shotgun and the commotion in the street resulted with Frank being put in a police paddy wagon. My parents were interviewed . They must have told police of problems they were having with Frank’s violence.  The incident with the scissors was considered serious enough and culminated with Frank being taken away to Callan park for  assessment. Callan Park was a mental asylum situated close to the City in very large park like surroundings.  It consisted of many  double story Georgian old sandstone buildings. It had a very high wall around it and looked intimidating when approached from the front. It would be Frank’s main home  for the next fourteen years. He was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.

wedding photo of my parents with mum's brother and sister.

wedding photo of my parents with mum’s brother and sister.

A sigh of relief was washing over our family. The children came home from school without the fear and expectation of another shemozzle or explosion of anger. We could sit around without skulking away in our rooms, out of troubles way. Dad and mum were happy that Frank would now get care and attention from experts in a place designed for people with a mental illness. A cure or some form of action would be initiated and Frank would get back in charge of a life and return home soon. That must have been my parents fervent wish.  And, surely not one that could be seen as extravagant?

My memories so far are from between fifteen and twenty years of age, so the atmosphere and family life then lived is from that period which since has clocked up another fifty years. And yet, it will not let go of me. What is this compulsion and why can’t this episode let go of me? Is there a link somewhere that explains those events of much further down life’s river?  Were Hansel and Gretel’s white pebbles of  this period strewn already then?  Will an answer be there when  the trail has been followed to the end ?

It has to be admitted that my view of Australia hasn’t always been so benign and lofty as they should or could have. I have spent far more years here than anywhere else and am a naturalised Australian, born in Holland. So why at times, the chagrin? The naturalisation ceremony and oath were taken with  swearing allegiance to the Queen of England, which I thought odd as I could have sworn we migrated to Australia. But, the cup-o-tea and the S.A.O. crackers with ‘tasty’ cheese ( Salvation Army Officer) afterwards were welcome. It was a mass naturalisation ceremony at the Sydney Town Hall. It was a period when cinema goers were slowly starting to refuse and stand up for the National Flag raising and Save the Queen anthem before the movie. Some cinemas had a Hammond organ rising up majestically from below the stage. A  Liberace like suited and war medalled bedecked man would belt out this Anthem. It did not help and soon no one stood up anymore and this little irrelevant ditty was dropped. Oddly enough, Australia today still prefers the monarchy to a republic. If ever there was proof of being a bit miffed about Australia. Just contemplate that little contradiction!

mother on left. her brother and sister.

mother on left. her brother and sister.

The initial stay of my brother Frank at Callan park was short lived. My memory of the first visit to Frank at Callan Park asylum was when the brother to brother recognition was first starting to melt and flee.  It was a pitiful sight. He was so dishevelled and had trousers that were not his. They were for someone twice his size and without a belt. He could only walk by holding his trousers with both hands. The warden unlocked him with a large bunch of keys hanging from his belt. No chairs for visitors, no visiting areas. Just a large court-yard with no trees.

The demented and the declared insanely inebriated patients standing there as if all hope was now held by the unyielding surrounding stone wall, spoken to in gravelled voices. Frank said he had been held in wet bed sheets for hours. Later on we found out that that method was common to restrain patients. He was so very much not there and must have been heavily pilled up. I asked were his clothes were. Mum had brought some oranges which she peeled for him. Frank smoked a cigarette from a packet that dad had brought along…Was Frank going to be lining that court yard and become part of the stone wall? Mother had tears and dad was numb with shock but had to drive home with much silence in the car.

Frank on the left. Gerard with hair sticking up. In Rotterdam.

Frank on the left. Gerard with hair sticking up. In Rotterdam.

We could not get over that visit and the sun wasn’t shining much better with Frank not at home. The nightmare of Callan Park courtyard and the bunches of keys hanging from the wardens belt wasn’t  acceptable, the wrapping up of Frank in wet bed-sheets. This was 1960 not 1860.  Frank soon came home again.

Frank and own House.

May 18, 2015
Life in the garage with mother looking on. My Lambretta scooter with sister Dora.

Life in the garage with mother looking on. My Lambretta scooter with sister Dora.

With so much happening despite the dramas, the joys, and many tearful tribulations, life in the garage assumed some normality, even became routine. Things fell into place. We got a pet dog and chickens were bought at the markets in Sydney at 6 weeks of age. They all turned into roosters. Dad could not eat chickens from the shop let alone our own roosters. The roosters probably killed each other or possibly got killed by that dog in the photo. I think my brother John started breeding his pigeons after the debacle of the fighting roosters.  We all had our place and those who worked kept surrendering earnings to our chief accountant who was now targeting the next objective; the building of our own home. After two years of some very tight turning and twisting in the crowded garage our house was built and we moved in. It was a glorious day. My mother’s saving and scrimping were legendary amongst  immigrant’s communities. She used to scrape the butter from the paper, shake the tomato sauce bottle, and empty the last smidgen of jam, that I have yet to see repeated anywhere in the world. And I have seen some scrapings! She sewed, patched, and knitted with not a minute to waste. If it was loose not nailed down, mother made it either into a meal or into garments or something useful, even pan holders. It was no wonder we could get the house built after just two years in the garage.

The photo above shows me on my scooter just before taking a round trip Sydney to Melbourne through the Snowy Mountains. It would be a trip of well over two thousand kilometres. I packed enough clothing, a small tent and some cooking utensils, including I suppose, a fork and knife. I went with a Dutch friend who had a Vespa. Vespa were considered a bit more upmarket. During that period I became part of a scooter club that met fortnightly at an ambulance-hall in Parramatta. My friend took a complete suit with him. He knew a girl from the Migrant boat that lived near Melbourne!  He planned to visit her. I did not know any girls but was keen on them from a distance anyway.

Hand coloured etching

Hand coloured etching

The trouble with Frank might well have been one reason for this trip. I wanted to get away!  It was such a creeping illness. The behaviour did not add up and it must have been such a puzzle. Why would Frank so often behave  bizarre?  He  was his own worst person and even though at times he was sorry for his behaviour, it would not stop and seemed incapable of stopping. My parents hoped that with the move into bigger house, things would get better. We were counselled by my mother to try and accept Frank and include him more. However all of us were younger than Frank. We might have felt sorry, I did, but we also had own friends, own growing up to do. Slowly Frank did become excluded. It was all too strange and upsetting.  I would hear my parents talking into the deep of the night about the problem of Frank. It crept into our lives as nothing before, not even the experiences of migration and the sardine-like condition in our previous fibro garage came close to this problem, let alone understanding the reasons or getting it resolved. It was all getting dark and joy of our own house was slowly leaching away.  It could be tempting to feel that the migration and other traumas effected Frank badly but there were already things with Frank before the immigration from Holland.  I remember Frank was taken out of high-school in Holland to learn a trade with a watchmaker. However, it did not last long…Frank’s behaviour already then was becoming erratic. He would be very obsessive about certain things and not with other more important issues. He was becoming a bit outside of things.

My parents in front of their old house. It was their last visit to Australia.

My parents in front of their old house. It was their last visit to Australia.

After Frank’s run with so many jobs in Australia, almost on a weekly basis, it must have dawned on my parents that Frank had a serious problem. It all came to a head when once again Frank had become violent and thrown a pair of scissors at his brother John. The scissors were sticking out of John’s thigh. My father took the pointy scissors out while Frank escaped through the front door. At the time dad was doing some drying of dishes. Dad followed Frank outside with the dish towel still hanging over his shoulder. Frank was faster but both run up the hill with dad in pursuit. Frank, half way up the hill then ran into someone’s garden and hid himself between the bushes. As dad arrived with tea towel still slung over his shoulder, the owner of the house and his garden came out brandishing a shot gun. Without mucking about or further ado or contemplation of this strange event and Frank hiding in his azaleas, the man pointed his gun at the sky and fired a deafening shot.  This seemed to calm the situation. The police arrived and Frank was taken away. This was the last day in Frank’s life where he would enjoy a normal family life. Of course, ‘normal family life’ is open to question and has endless variations. Nothing is really normal. So much still to come and so many answers for begging.

The throwing of a geographical Dart in Sydney.

May 16, 2015

IMG_20150503_0002This photo taken after the house was built on our own block. Mother’s sister ‘Agnes’ on a visit, then  Frank, my father, Herman with cat, my mother. Seated are sister Dora with cat and Adrian with a dog. 1960 perhaps!

 

While the distance to rail-station and shops were all important as well as owning own block with having a temporary dwelling (garage) for living in, the social aspects of a particular area were totally unknown. I don’t think this was at all considered. It was all to do with practical objectives and affordability. Comparisons with other Dutch migrants generally were about price, distance from infrastructure and size of the own block. Driving around it all looked rather the same with well kempt lawns and nodding petunias being prominent. Liking or disliking a certain area because of a ‘milieu’  or making a choice between any social and cultural  differences, if any, did not feature between migrated people that were lucky enough to have at least made it to getting a place to move into, no matter how humble or culturally isolated it might be.

Within a few weeks after moving in our own garage, a lean- to was built between our garage and next door fence which increased the liveable space with an extra 50%. A huge difference.  The corrugated asbestos sheeting  had not been pushed under the existing roof sheeting far enough. Each time it rained heavily the water would bank up and run back and into the lean to and above the bunks. Herman and I slept on the lower beds but John and Frank were not so lucky.

Rain (etching)

Rain (etching)

 

Dad who wasn’t very handy, had pinned  plastic sheeting above the bunks and underneath the corrugated roof sheeting against the wooden rafters. He was hoping the water would just run down the inside of the plastic sheeting and somehow flow outside again between the gap of the fibro wall sheets and the top timber plate. However, the slope of the roof and plastic sheeting wasn’t acute or steep enough and water would well up in  frighteningly large bubbles, inches above the peacefully sleeping bodies. In winter with the outside just four millimetres away, it wasn’t very nice when this bubble would spill and flood the unsuspected  sleepers. Of course during day-time rain, mum would relieve the water bubble by pushing it upwards and out. In time we all took  responsibility by waking in turns to relieve this water flood emergency above the two bunks. During heavy rain I could not be bothered and just sat in a chair all night, watch the water bubbles swell up and then relieve the threat giving the others a reasonable sleep. It was a good time for melancholia to thrive  and ponder reflections of past and possible futures..

Hand coloured etching.

Hand coloured etching.

If you look at the previous article photo where we are all in beds and on the floor you might have noticed a curtain. This curtain would be drawn with all the floor mattresses tucked in between the beds at the back of the garage and out of sight. This would then create a small lounge/dining / kitchen area. At night four boys slept in the lean-to which also kept the trunks with our clothing. At the other end of the garage opposite my parents bedding (and Dora and Adrian’s) there was a small electric stove with one hot-plate and underneath a minuscule oven. My mother cooked the most amazing meals on this miniature electric stove/ oven. We were hungry. Above this little stove was the electric hot water for the trickle shower. Next to the sink was the shower cubicle. My father (who wasn’t very handy) had jammed a round stick between the rickety shower walls to hold up a plastic shower sheet strung from plastic rings. It wasn’t unusual for someone to take a shower while mum was working above the stove creating a magic meal, for the shower curtain to collapse spontaneously.  This would be met with howls of laughter from all of us but not  the hapless victim standing in the nude just a metre or so away from our steaming meal.

In the evenings, the boys had to do home-work but as a reward would listen to a radio play, ‘ The adventures of Smokey Dawson’. They were the events of the week over the whole of Australia syndicated over more than a hundred radio stations.  Isn’t it amazing how we were spellbound by  voices telling a story over the radio?

Table setting. Hand coloured etching.

Table setting. Hand coloured etching.

We met the neighbours within a few weeks. Again it was our mother who made the move. She was fearless and despite speaking mainly in Dutch she would knock on the door. It has to remembered that houses in Australia are rather private. Dad wondered why the houses had windows! The whole street’s housing was uniformly barred from the inside and outside by sternly refusing anyone to get an inkling of what might be going on inside. Not a movement would ever escape to the outside. At night one could sometimes detect a sliver of faint light escaping through obstinate Venetian blinds, double backed up by layers of white lacy material and for extra security and more darkness, heavy curtains. It wasn’t easy to break through but our mum wasn’t to be deterred. She made friends. Years later after my parents moved back for good to Holland and on a trip back to Australia and their former home, the neighbours organised a surprise party for them. They remembered her efforts in bringing not only the neighbours together but also together in the sense that some would live with open  curtains and have  proper sit-downs with cups of tea.

She made a difference.

 

Those first two years of hard Yakka.

May 15, 2015
Fibro garage. Our first 'temporary' home.

Fibro garage. Our first ‘temporary’ home.

The above photo taken after moving in own first home. Brother John (deceased) at front, mum and dad with glasses together (single bed), sister Dora on floor.  Smiling Frank on top right and Herman and Adrian on left top and bottom right. The mattress at front was ‘temporary’ vacated by me taking the picture.

The garage was 8 by 4 metres.

The move from the old house to our own block of land with garage (Temporary Dwelling) was achieved after much searching by my mother scanning the  ‘Blocks of Land” for sale in Newspapers. Enough money had been saved and even though my Mum’s English was very poor, that was no hindrance. She would just speak Dutch with a few English sounding vowels thrown in. Through week-end meetings with other migrants, the fever of achieving this first goal had bedded down. Inquiries of deposits and how getting a loan was made ‘easy’ by building societies was now well understood by our mother. Estate agents were taken on who would drive her around to the different blocks for sale and her appraisal. She would be quick to measure distance to nearest railway station and distance from the city. The closest to city and station, the more desirable and also more costly.

Sydney already then was spread out over an area almost the size of Holland and with everyone feverishly seeking own house on own block it doesn’t take a genius to understand why suburbia reigns in Australian cities like nowhere else. Ownership of a car then becomes as essential as sleeping on a mattress. Selling blocks of land and cars was a main ingredient and driving force for a future prosperous Australia. It still is.

We were totally swept into having to buy/build our house after arriving in Australia. To be able for most to achieve this, housing was made from as cheap a material as possible, hence the thin sheeting to  clad the houses both inside and outside making them not much more than windbreaks. The asbestos cement sheeting was at the forefront of  those cheap building materials. It had and still has dire consequences. In Australia there are hundreds of thousands of ageing homes clad with that material.

https://oosterman.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/fibro-asbestos-homes-a-ticking-time-bomb/

The day of moving in our first dwelling is still etched into my mind like nothing else (apart from my first juvenile experiences of ‘ female bush and breasts). All our belongings were piled on a truck with driver. They must have been hired for the day. It was much more than we thought. The four steel trunks, all our bedding and washing machine, the ice box and six children’s clothes and bits and pieces that we had acquired during the six months or so we had stayed with our friends.  All were piled on the truck including Dad who had to try and prevent our belongings from getting blown off during the trip to our new place. He was spreadeagled on top of the truck with  arms and legs flailing trying to keep all on the truck. The truck drove off and I can still see my dad thrashing about on his back.

We moved in and mum and dad must have been busy to prepare all the bedding. Us kids were so proud and would walk backwards and forwards over the own block of land like eighteenth century barons inspecting a newly inherited farm in Bavaria. There were no more rats, no three legged dogs and we were on our own. Dad had even survived the trip on the back of the truck.

Moving onto ‘Own’ block of Land with ‘Deposit’ and ‘Easy Terms’.

May 13, 2015
Own Block with garage. Little brother tending a cabbage.

Own Block with garage. Little brother tending a cabbage.

Leaving the lean times and memories of tie-clips and perky breasts (furtively enjoyed in the timber yard) behind, we will now go forward to an episode that too might have been significant in  causing my intermittent scepticism of migration in general and my own in special. That is not to say, that not having moved countries things would have turned out to have been  any different. To now have reached a level of freedom, hopefully some insight, and to have the luxury of enough time still left to come up with some answers that have eluded me so far.

The saving for the future was now on in earnest. My mum became the financial wizard and accountant . It had to be struck with a compromise between pocket money and fast saving to get our own place to live at. How we slept those first few months I have no memory off. We had nothing on arrival except the clothes we wore and the 4 steel trunks that travelled with us on the boat. The vacuum cleaner, and the pride of our street back in The Hague, the electric washing machine, we had shipped over separately. We could wash our clothes and vacuum, but on what did we sleep? I can’t remember anything about bedding. Did we sleep upright? It is possible but I don’t think so. Migrants are made of pioneering stuff, but upright sleeping was never an option? Right now, people would probably reflect and call migrating; seeking a life-style! We would surely at first been seeking for bedding?

The extra hours worked now above the normal forty hours became vital. Each day mother would wait for us to come home but it was always welcome if we came home later than expected; ‘overtime’ was being worked and, at time-and-a-half, would bring our aim of moving into own place closer and closer. Of course, work on Saturday or Sunday was as close to heaven as dad’s Milky way. Double time-money delirium! Even though it meant forgoing the cake eating event on the creaky veranda during the Sunday morning.

Dad would put his pay packet under mum’s dinner plate each pay day which I think was  on a Thursday. Dad did this as a kind of weekly joke as if tipping the waitress for a nice meal. It might read a bit strange but families have their own jokes, don’t they?  I would just give my earnings  to mum straight away  without any formalities or any joking, and so did my elder brother Frank. The coffer was swelling, slowly at first, but with increasing speed in tandem with the urgency. One of the items still to be told to complete a picture of our stay with the Dutch friends and their generosity of allowing us to get on our own feet, was the early morning urinating rituals.

The old house at the time we were living in it was crowded with two large families. The Dutch family with five children and ours with six making a total of fifteen including both sets of parents. The toilet was outside and at the back of the lean-to that I used as a dark room and for all of us a bathroom. It was quite a walk, often too far for us and the boys would share the nr 1’s with the rats and three legged dog against the stacks of timber outside. This was especially so at waking times. There was a flimsy partition between our portion of the house and that of our friends who had the larger part including a couple of bedrooms upstairs. The  four girls sleeping upstairs would run down each morning and urinate loudly in a bucket which was next to the flimsy partition and clearly audible. This would result in a loud Dutch howl of laughter and coarseness from me and my brothers on the other side of the partition. We almost woke up early not to miss the ritual. That’s how it was then!

Over the next six months we heard amongst other Dutch migrants that the way forward was to get own block of land with a garage on it. The available time left after working o.t (over-time) was taken up by endless discussions on own block of land. It sounded like out of ‘Mice and Men’ and it was far above my Dad’s understanding or his interests, but not my mum. She knew the way forward was to do what other people advised us about. It wasn’t just the talk of other migrants. The world of ‘real estate’ seemed to be everywhere and Australia was at the fore-front of owning own home on own block of land. It was the very essence of what success was about. In any case renting was a waste of money and everyone nodded in agreement. It wasn’t made clear why that was so. But questioning ownership wasn’t on the horizon of pioneering migrants. Renting is what they had left behind!

Peace

Peace

It was a contagion that still lives on today. Nothing eases awkward social occasions better than the mentioning of ‘real estate’ and ‘home ownership’ around the dining table or even standing around an art gallery sipping the chardonnay while discussing Edvard Munch ‘The Scream’. Mum understood the language of ‘own block near railway station’, of mortgages, easy terms, deposits and interest rates immediately  and  had worked out that with the present level of income from Dad and her two eldest sons including so much o.t, we already had a ‘deposit’ for own block. Deposit and own block had the Oosterman family firmly in its grip. They were holy. My dad remained puzzled why we could not just go to the local council and asked to be given and provided  a modest home to live in. It was now all so different.

After a while he was happy with the star-lit heavens and totally trusted his wife to steer us into the security of own block and garage. The garage was allowed then to be lived in as long as the garage door was painted the same as the garage walls. Better still, take the garage door off and replace with a window to then help the local council in simply designating the garage into ‘a temporary dwelling’. It sounded so much more domestic than garage and was legal to boot.

One cannot live off disillusionment alone.

May 11, 2015
etching by G O

etching by G O

With a magic car on three wheels, a dog on three legs,   many normal rats on all fours, but against that a factory owner with a creaking wooden leg, it was time for our family to bring some normalcy about. With dad’s discovery of the Southern night’s sky and with his beloved study of the Milky Way restored, things were on the upper trajectory once again. I was working earning money and so was my brother Frank. Even dad now donned a blue Yakka overall and put shoulders under the task of pitching in towards a better future. The premise of ‘ we do it for the children’ had to be fulfilled. No good regretting and mulling over what was. Past is past and Holland is cold and probably raining as well.

In those days jobs were everywhere and I managed to learn a lot on all sorts of heavy engineering machinery. The lathe, heavy presses and milling machines seemed to be everywhere I went and piece work was introduced as an incentive for workers to earn more than just a wage. Of course the shields that were there to protect workers from getting limbs cut off were often disabled to save time in cutting or pressing and milling the next bit of bolt or drilled bracket. I noticed  hands with missing fingers. With piece work and overtime I just about doubled my weekly earnings and my metal box was singing its praise with all those savings tucked inside. I wasn’t too stingy though and allowed myself a packet of ten Graven A’s cigarettes and the occasional Fanta orange drink with pie. A glorious celebratory gesture towards the golden paved Australia.

Mother decided that we needed to get away to our own accommodation as quickly as possible. Our Dutch friends gave us the opportunity to achieve this by asking very little in rent or perhaps none at all. I can’t remember. I do remember that the place they lived in was not theirs but belonged to the timber yard  owner. A bit of confusion but ‘owning’ own house was a concept we had no real understanding of anyway. That was yet to come! Apart from overtime earnings, all our income was pooled and given to Mum to try and move away to a better place away from being surrounded by piles of timber with dust and mud. One of the daughters taught me the basics of photo developing which we did in the back lean-to which was also the bathroom with the hot gas geyser above it. There was nothing like the hot weekly bath to luxuriate in at the end of a 6o hour work week languidly thinking of Anna Magnani of ‘The Rose Tattoo’, that I had seen during those cultural lean times. As I was taking this hot bath I noticed the friends’ Liebeth  walking by outside looking at me inside and in the bath. It might have been a case of being curious about the nude male. There might also have been a healthy awakening of her hormones. She was about twelve or thirteen. In any case, she had a quick look but from the angle of her eyes she observed more than just my face.

During the six months or so that we lived with the Dutch friends a rather pleasant memory  involving the bathroom looking inside with Lies installed itself that I have not forgotten. On Sundays it was the norm still then to dress up in Sunday best. My pants would be pressed and its crease would be preserved as much as possible at least during the morning. I would hitch up the crease when crossing legs and so did my dad and other brothers wearing long pants, at least till coffee and cakes had been consumed. With the ironed pants came a nice blue shirt and tie fastened by a clasp to be perfectly centred at all times. On top of that a sports jacket but kept off during the Sunday cake eating.

When cake eating was finished, Lies and I wondered off to the next allotment behind the house that was somewhat secluded from views with stacks of baths (my mother’s dream) and some bushes. I have forgotten on the why and how but suddenly Lies grabbed my tie clasp and ran away with it. I gave chase and caught her quickly. She laughed but I remained serious. It was my tie clasp. I tried to take it back but she would not give in and kept it firmly in her grip while tucking both hands between her legs. I wrestled but was too religious or too shy  to act deliberately inappropriately by grabbing her between her legs and hands to retrieve my tie clasp. I instead went to safer grounds and put one of my hands upwards on her tiny breasts knowing full well that the clasp would not be found there. It was a moment of daring and my second exploration of the female softness. Keen readers would remember a previous attempt less than a year before when still in Holland.

The farm in Holland

The farm in Holland

There was a shout from the house. One of the sisters  who taught me the photo developing thought it had gone far enough. She was hanging from the top window and called us back home. And that was that.  I never got my tie-clasp back. They were lean times in exploring the sexual awakenings of my youth. My mother always taught me to make the best of things. ‘Gerard’ she often said; ‘you have to row with oars that you were given.’

So true.

The German shepherd with three legs and eating Cake.

May 5, 2015
Mum in Holland with electric vacuum cleaner.

Mum in Holland with electric vacuum cleaner.

The Dutch Friends’ house as previously mentioned was old and must have been a farm house before the  arrival of thousands of immigrants pushing further and further inland. Hill after hill were conquered with houses replacing trees and grazing cows with the sound of hammers, machinery and coarse  oaths renting the grey- blue smoky air. It was an era of every  migrant’s dream of achieving own home on own solid block of land come true. This old farm house was now the missing tooth amidst the sea of  many a migrants’ suburban prosperity.  In fact, the old house was now in the middle of a huge timber and building material yard supplying the frenetic race for building houses. Large stacks of different sized timber were balanced precariously hither and dither amongst stacks of baths, concrete laundry basins and other building materials. All this surrounded by a grey muddy clay that made getting to the house a slippery event. Bricks were placed here and there enabling one to hop from one to the other without risking wet feet or slipping down all together.

No doubt my parents could have done with, and experienced a less grim and more cheerful beginning but that’s how it was. Perhaps many might well have thought it a very cheerful beginning. However, our pioneering spirit was a bit lukewarm and run-down after Scheyville migrant camp. The timber yard was protected by a large German Shepherd. It was a very friendly and compassionate animal forever greeting those who entered the yard, foe or friend. It also had three legs. One of its hind leg was missing  in tandem with the old Chevy. He did not so much guard the timber yard from thieves as it did chasing rats that used to do ring-a ring- a- Rosie between the stacks of timber, scurrying like a flash when he arrived. The rats would scatter each time a crane moved a stack of timber to quickly scurry under the next lot of beams. The dog did his best but rats are clever and soon knew they had it over the dog. They used to dart out in full view, taunting him, only to quickly hide whenever he lifted his head. It was amusing to watch. There was a king rat almost the size of a cat who asserted  himself over his tribe. They would only follow if he made the first move. They would move in a specific, strictly disciplined and regimented order in a V shape behind the undisputed king-rat. No rat would come inside the house because of the two cats holding sentry near the entrances. The cats had all legs intact.

Whenever my dad could arouse himself from bed he would observe from the sunny veranda the bustle of cranes, trucks and the scuffles between the dog and rats. We knew things were improving with dad when mum caught him one night looking at the sky through a pair of binoculars. He had found the milky way!  A kind of peace came over him after his discovery of this Southern hemisphere’s heavenly night-sky. My job was progressing from cleaning the factory floor and getting the workers lunches to being initiated to use the machinery. The lunches for workers was the first sign of Australia being ‘paved with gold’ when apple- pies, Big Ben meat pies and bottles of Fanta were ordered as if it was normal. It was normal! Can you imagine? What we would look forward to once a year back in Holland on a birthday, was the norm daily here. Not only the norm. As proof of absolute opulence and belching richness, parts of the pies would be slung onto the floor as if it was nothing. I had the job of cleaning those carelessly flung out morsels, still warm and oozing. I was almost on my knees in admiration of a country so endowed with the splendour of excess.

Newspaper seller in Sydney.

Newspaper seller in Sydney in the 1960’s.

I have written before about the amazing antics of workers in factories whereby the proverb ‘Australia, where men are men but the sheep nervous,’ had more than a tinge of truth to it. The openly sexual meanderings  and ‘dating’ between men was somehow to be seen as proof of their heterosexual-ness. (Dating: the art of putting finger up the overall wearing co-worker’s bum when least expected) It was astonishing and puzzling. Perhaps with the sexes being so far apart and the not so distant years of convicts and penal camps that this cultural phenomenon had survived and was still being played out between factory workers. I did not join this dating and as a foreigner and migrant was somehow spared from these antics. The owner of the factory had a creaking leg and you always knew he was coming. I never asked and no one ever told me but I suppose he had lost a leg during the last war. Why was it that during those first few months things were missing, first the magic Chevy wheel, then the German Shepherd dog and now a factory owner?

My weekly wages I gave to my mother but I was to keep money earned by overtime. I had a small steel box in which I would save and keep my money. The more overtime the more would be deposited in this small safe of which I had a key. Overtime was paid time and a half and on Saturdays time and a half for morning and double after twelve o’clock,  and Sundays always double time. It was a time of enormous power by unions and  bosses had to comply or else! As the weeks went by dad finally roused himself and managed to get a job as well. He donned overalls and steel capped boots. We were on our way!

Our  Dutch friends’ only son had managed to buy a very small Renault in which the family would all pile in on a Sunday for church on top of the hill. The car was very small,  more like a jacket really. They sat in each others laps and when hurtling down home after the service would burst out and spread  on the sunny veranda. The wife (aunty) made a large pot of coffee and all would delve into eating big cake. This part of their accounts to us in Holland was absolutely true. The cake would be there each Sunday and it was clear they all enjoyed Australia at its best.

Cake eating each Sunday was factual and true. What was not true was that they had bought the old house! It was rented. The row of bricks that was supposed to be an extra room was abruptly halted when the owner of the timber yard and old house asked what the plan was. He did not want space taken up where he could put his building materials. He was a successful migrant himself.


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