Persistant Migrant Memories

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

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

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

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


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

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

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5 Responses to “Persistant Migrant Memories”

  1. auntyuta Says:

    Thanks for writing about your arrival in Australia, Gerard. Being a migrant myself, it’s for me especially interesting. I arrived in Australia by boat in 1959 with my husband Peter and two baby-girls. We did get to know some migrants who weren’t very happy here in the beginning. Some went back to their home-country. Obviously your family stayed here.

    I am very much looking forward to reading a continuation of your story. I hope, you’re going to write a bit more about your early years in Australia.. For instance, how long did it take your family before things were improving? Were you being educated in Australia?

    We know some suburbs not far from the suburbs you mentioned.
    We often meet one of our daughters in Merrylands or Parramatta. I recently wrote a blog about visiting these suburbs and included some photos. Coming from Dapto, it is for us a three hour train-trip to Merrylands Station. By car it takes us only one and a half hours!
    But we usually go on the two Dollars fifty train-trip. Much cheaper than the car and better for the environment.


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Thank you Uta,
    Sorry I did not respond earlier but we have been in Sydney for a few days and I am not really all that savvy with the use of other peoples computers.
    We too catch the train as much as possible but the last three days we travelled up and down to Sydney by car. We lived at Merrylands-Guildford on the Woodville Rd back in 1956 in between the stacks of timber that surrounded the house of our Dutch friends.
    It took my parents a long time to get used to Australia which was mainly due to my older brother developing severe chronic schizophrenia. He had a terrible time at Callan Park mental hospital and after years of misery was finally repatriated back to Holland where the care for the mentally ill was so much more advanced. He is now 73 and still in good care. My parents followed him back to Holland and lived there till they both died. My mother lived to 94 and only died about 9 years ago.
    So, that in short has been a bit of historical background of how we fared after arrival so many years ago.


  3. auntyuta Says:

    Hi Gerard,
    thanks for your reply. I can imagine that your parents went through a difficult time here in Australia. I guess for us it was quite difficult too when our children were struck down by polio in 1961. But we never considered moving back to Germany.
    I have a brother in Berlin who’s 74 next month. Unfortunately he’s an alcoholic. He has a good pension and has received a lot of care over the years. He has his ups and many downs. My other brother has given up on him. It’s very sad how alcohol can ruin people’s lives.
    My mother died in 1994, aged 83. Peter and I were able to be with her before she died. We were for a visit in Berlin at the time. My father died of cancer in 1966 already, aged 62. The first visit back to Germany, that we could afford, was in 1977. Peter’s father too died of cancer and we didn’t see him again after we left Germany in 1959. We were able to see Peter’s mother a few times during several visits back to Germany. She was 87 when she died.
    We have planned a visit back to Germany from Sept. to Nov. this year. I think this may be our very last visit to the old country because Peter and I are both in our late seventies.
    Have you ever been back to Holland?


  4. gerard oosterman Says:

    Hello Uta,
    Sorry to hear that polio struck your family. It must have been a hard journey for you as well.

    Yes we went back many times, especially after my parents returned in 1975. They would also visit Australia many times to visit the rest of her children ( my three brothers and one sister and us) They also had a good pension and being able to be with their sick son who was finally well cared for and not wandering the streets as was the case here. Their retirement years were probably the best years of their lives being able to be with their family again.

    We also lived in Holland for three years on a small farm whereby I was teaching adults in a town called Assen, not far from the German border. Our three children were all born in Australia and two of them went to primary school both in Australia and also during our three years in Holland.

    We decided to return to Australia in 1976 and our children then went back to finish their education here. We missed the casual life style and sunny climate.
    Helvi and I sometimes still think of travelling again but are also busy with our three grandchildren.


  5. auntyuta Says:

    It’s great, Gerard, that you can be there for your grandchildren. As the grandchildren get a bit older, maybe you and Helvi can travel a bit more again. You’re probably still young enough to do this in a few years time. A lot of migrants say that they find the casual life style and sunny climate of Australia very attractive.
    Have a great weekend with your family.


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