The drunken train guard.
By gerard oosterman
Our time spent at Scheyville Migrant Camp was not according to the original plan. The Van Dijks were going to provide us with accommodation at their place direct after landing, indeed, an extension would be built that would give us adequate space for the whole eight of us. But for one reason or another it would be best to get on our feet with rest and adjust to a new country and its ways. It was suggested that we would be better placed in understanding about Australia if we had some experience in this Scheyville camp. It would just be for a few weeks and then we would all move into their place.
This gave us some time to reconnoitre the surroundings and perhaps do the basics of trying to start normal life in getting through some of the formalities, enrolling the young ones for schools, and in the case of dad, me and Frank, finding work and earn money that would certainly help us a leap into the future.
It was therefore decided to get the Pole and his top secret route with his taxi service to take us through the flooded surroundings and back roads to the nearest railway station. It would just be a nice train trip to see more of Sydney. A bit of a holiday in fact. We were dropped off early in the morning; the Polish car driver had given us the timetable of train to Sydney and back. Dad asked for the return tickets in French a ‘retour de Sydney’, he was a bit nervous, after all it was his first attempt at English.
His knowledge of English was based on his schooling, alright by many standards, certainly better than the train guard who asked to see the tickets after we had been on the train for about one hour. “CCsHows yer frigginen thikets”, he demanded, lurching rather dangerously towards my mother. What was this now? “Pardon”, my father asked. “ STicketts mate,” was his answer. Well, it was an improvement on being called ‘love’ back in deserted Fremantle. Even so, the consternation was rising in our little group. Our concern was noticed by a fellow train passenger. Don’t worry, the friendly train traveller assured us, ‘he has been on the turps’. Turps? My father was racking his brains about turps, but slowly it must have dawned on my parents that the train guard was drunk. Stone, and totally drunk. How was this possible? In a country that was supposed to be a better place for the children’s future? This was totally unexpected and unsettling. What was waiting for us in Sydney? Instead of healthy fence leaping by postmen and newspaper deliverers, as on the promotional film in Holland, we were confronted with a drunk. This was totally out of the norm by any standard.
In Holland none of us had ever experienced even seeing wine or alcohol, let alone anyone drunk. Well,’ never seen alcohol’, might be a bit of an exaggeration, father and mother did have a New Year’s single small glass of sherry every year.
Our arrival in Sydney was drunk-less and a great relief for all of us. We walked to Hyde Park and mum distributed all the ready- made IXL jam sandwiches, but not with as much jam as we would have liked. Old habits die hard, they say.