A ‘new Country’. (extract from Frank story)

Australia here we come.

The Van Dijk family with their coal shed of convenience for the incontinent toddlers also had six children by the end of the war. They had stayed on in Rotterdam but in 1951 decided to immigrate to Australia. From then on we received countless reports of the fabulous earning and riches that they had found in Sydney. Father Van Dijk was a concrete form worker. His expertise was much in demand in Australia, whereby filling plywood forms with concrete was just beginning to take off. Reports from Australia of own bathroom and ‘cake with cream’ eating every Sunday after church started to erode my father’s stubborn resolve to make the most of family life in Holland. After all, the Marshall plan had just started to kick in. The bombed out buildings and streets slowly started to be cleared and optimism was bubbling up, the system of buying limited foods with Government issued stamps started to phase out and above all, our Christmas stockings started to fill out much more substantially. Instead of getting knitted socks and underwear in the stockings we got real presents and real toys. I even received a stamp album with pages that were screwed in and had a hard cover, also a soccer ball and meccano sets as well. Things generally started to look up. Meat appeared at least once a week on the table, and we would be peeling mandarins on the way to school after the lunch break.  I used to buy a cucumber from pocket money and even ice cream.

The Van Dijk’s persisted with the propaganda though and I often thought years later that those letters were a way of assuaging themselves of having made the right choice after all, and that all the loneliness and hardship, the friends and foes left behind, the strangeness of foreign language, the kids having to wear uniforms to school, and getting hit by rulers and the cane, the heat and flies, were all worth the sacrifice, even though at times, the price extracted in leaving home and hearth must have been so overwhelmingly heavy and so sad.

Hence all those letters, not so much to convince us but more to balm their own pain. I was perhaps fourteen when my mother received yet another letter in which the Van Dijk’s wrote about having bought a car that was both a sedan and half truck. Now, I was impressed. Imagine some sort of button that would convert the car from sedan to truck. Was it some kind of conjurers trick or a morphing technique now available in Australia and originally from America?  In Holland the cars were getting streamlined and trains travelling faster but cars that were both sedan and truck were unimaginable. The Van Dijks also wrote that they now lived in a house that had a bathroom. We were made to understand that the house with bathroom was theirs and as they had already lived in Australia a number of years, we assumed that at least their material dreams were coming true. All their sacrifices had been worth it.  Own house with own bathroom was not to be sneered at. This bathroom was what grabbed my mother’s attention the same way as the sedan car into truck conversion took mine.

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2 Responses to “A ‘new Country’. (extract from Frank story)”

  1. Elisabeth Says:

    My parents arrived from Haarlem in 1951 with four children in tow and my mother pregnant with the fifth, Gerard. They found life difficult in the beginning and in many ways I think my father never adjusted to life here. He was the primary breadwinner, started out as a carpenter and wound up an accountant, and yet his thick accent and difficult personality – not to say anything about having to care for nine children and work against his problem with alcohol and a traumatic family history lived against the back drop of war – meant that he never found Australia the land of milk and honey he’d perhaps dreamed of. My mother fared better.

    Your story, Frank’s story here is familiar to me, and yet I was born here in Australia dreaming of Holland as the place to be, and not the other way around.

    Thanks for this beautifully written and resonant post.

    Like

  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    We all came here in 1956, mainly as a result of the Van Dijks. Soon after arrival my older brother Frank at 16 developed chronic schizophrenia. Our lives became severely unstuck. His admission to Callan Park in Sydney was necessary but as a place for the mentally ill was barbaric and an unimaginable torture for us but especially my parents.
    The superintendent, a Dr Harry Baily was in charge. My dad came close to murdering him. Later on Harry Baily became the principal mover in establishing a slaughter house called ;’Chelmsford Hospital’, whereby dozens died as a result of ‘deep-sleep therapy’.
    Some years back, Dr Baily committed suicide near Gosford.
    When Frank finally was repatriated back to Holland, my parents followed. They were the best years of their lives. They knew Frank was well looked after and not wandering the streets.My mother lived till 94 just a few years ago.
    Thank you for your kind words and visiting my blog. You made my day.

    Like

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