The Arrival in Sydney; Dreams, Chevy Utility and Nightmares.

Me, Adrian and John after landing in Sydney 1956

Me, Adrian and John after landing in Sydney 1956

The photo above might be one of the first taken after arrival in Sydney. It looks as if we were still on the boat. Notice our Sunday best attire including ties and coats! It would have been hot in February, even so, a good impression on arrival was to be persevered with.  Mum told us to wet our hair and run a comb through it. I always did try to get a slight wave at the front of my too straight hair with the help of a generous blob of brilliantine. I had my own jar.

The on-shore stevedoring workers were dressed in blue singlets and shorts. They could well have thought, while looking up and rolling their ready rub ciggie; ‘here comes another bloody boatload of bloody reffos.’ Definition of ‘Reffo’  ‘a refugee.’  Strictly speaking we were not refugees, but we were all painted with the same brush. European history was complicated and Australians at that time kept things fairly simple. At least we were white.

After the ship’s berth in Sydney we were greeted by our Dutch friends. They had already gone through all those emotions and experiences that we were now bravely facing head-on. My father looked tense while greeting our friends.  Our war-time friends and previous neighbours from Rotterdam were seasoned and well adjusted migrants, who, according to the letters they sent us, were totally happy and content with having made that choice so may years earlier. There were also many others greeting the new arrivals holding up signs with ‘carpenters, painters, bricklayers’ wanted. It was as if one could already start earning money within minutes of landing. Was this a sign of  ‘In Australia, streets are paved with gold?’

Dad must have arranged for our trunks of belongings to be forwarded to Scheyville migrant camp that we were supposed to travel to. The original plan to stay and live with our friends were put on hold. The reason I heard was so that we could first knuckle down to camp life in order to appreciate the better living with our Dutch friends afterwards. I think that might have well been the reason for my dad’s previous mentioned furrowed tense look. Did he smell a rat?

Holland was now almost six weeks in the past, yet had not forgotten the item of a special car. The car was a major drawcard for at least having some interest in coming to Australia. Remember, I was fifteen! Fifteen year old boys are interested, apart from roseate breast, also in cars.  Our friends had written they bought a car that was both a sedan AND a truck. How could that be? I knew that America was a country were all was possible. Australia might well be a miniature version of that magical US. I could not let go of this vision of such a magic car that could be both. A kind of wonderful conjuring trick so unbelievable, so magical. It was all I could think off. Was a button pushed that would change the sedan morph into a truck? In my feverously overexcited mind, everything was possible. After all, did not American trucks drive into every school in Holland giving each child a bottle of Coca Cola? That was magic as well as part of the Marshall Plan to help Europe back on its feet…

Mum On left. Dutch friend on right. Girl Dutch friend's daughter, the rest brothers Frank, Adrian and Herman.

Mum On left. Dutch friend on right. Girl Dutch friend’s daughter, the rest brothers Frank, Adrian and Herman. On right also (late) brother John with Lies daughter of friend.

I remember taking this photo ( and developing). It would have been after our stay at the migrant camp. The woman with the perm was called aunty but wasn’t a real aunt at all, more like a dragon. She used to lock Frank and John up in the coal shed when they had done a number 2 in their pants during their Montesori kindergarten days. I had to walk both home to this ‘aunty’. Mum was in hospital giving birth or something. Doing number 2’s during war time wasn’t unusual. In fact, it was one of those things that at least gave some relief during times of  trauma and bombs.

Our friends had come to greet us not by traveling to the port by this special car but by train. A bit of a blow but it was just the first day. We walked around Sydney with them and that’s when I enjoyed my first milkshake. In Holland I drank milk and had never imagined one could better the taste of cow’s milk by shaking it and mixing it with an unguent such as strawberry or vanilla. But, there you have it. A country of milk and honey, the milkshake was just the beginning. The milk-bar had a strange name, probably ‘Stavros or even Mavros- Milkbar. It was in George Street but not anymore now.

At midday we had to say goodbye to our friends as the buses were now ready to take us well outside Sydney to Migrant Camp, Scheyville.

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15 Responses to “The Arrival in Sydney; Dreams, Chevy Utility and Nightmares.”

  1. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Those so called friends had a change of mind but should not have offered your family the prospect of staying with them. I think I would have changed friends after that put down.

    You looked quite spiffy decked out in a suit and tie but I can only imagine the heat of the day. Must have been awful.


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    The beginning was very stressful and my parents went through great difficulties. But many others were in the same boat. You can imagine the plight of present day boat people risking all to escape misery and mayhem. We did not have anywhere what they are experiencing.
    Even so, it was bad. The reality was so much different to expectations.


  3. auntyuta Says:

    When are you going to publish a book about your experiences, Gerard? Yes, as you say, the beginning in Australia was stressful.
    I don’t think it was as stressful for Peter and me, because we never had very high expectations. For us Australia promised a much better future than the future we saw for us in Germany. But maybe we were an exception. For I remember a lot of German migrants kept complaining about conditions in Australia. Maybe what they left behind in Germany was better than what was expecting them in Australia. This kind of thinking did not apply to us. We felt for Peter, me and our two babies there was no place in Germany, none at all! We were very grateful that the Australians wanted us as migrants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes Uta, it would be nice and icing on the cake in getting a book published. At the moment I am very happy to just write. It gets read by people throughout the world. What more could I ask for?

      My parents went from reasonable security in Holland to the totally unknown and insecurity in Australia and… with 6 growing children, three of whom were teenagers. That wasn’t easy.
      Their eldest son Frank soon showed severe symptoms of a mental disorder that grew worse as time went by.
      His treatment in Australia was extremely primitive and brutal.
      In 1956 condition might have been different as well. Perhaps you both were younger and had more stamina. My parents were in their forties!
      I any case. It seemed you both made a considered choice to come here and so did my parents, however, I did not have that choice and of course just went along with them. I was reasonable happy after arrival and liked much about living here and still do. I write about those past experiences as I felt them at the time, both the good, the funny and the bad. No filters and no roses. My words are of course limiting to express feelings of that past, but that’s all I can work with and some photos that have survived.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    The stories of your life give so many pleasure Gerard. A published “book” is nice, but often a self conceit. I have one behind me, and get more pleasure now from simply writing. If my children think to go through my computer one day they may find something worthwhile to struggle with if they want to do it.

    This is a great segue into your life in Australia. You are so organized


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I enjoy writing and am more than rewarded when I see that all over the world people read those snippets of my words. You Kayti , gladden my heart.
      I don’t know what my daughter and grandsons will find or think later on. Perhaps,’ A life well lived.’ ‘He did his best’ or even ‘he wasn’t the full ticket, you know.’ The best I am hoping for might be; ‘he could be funny and made us laugh.’

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jackie Says:

    I may not comment on your posts all the time but I wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading the stories of your life. Thank you for sharing them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Andrew Says:

    Your parents were very courageous Gerard. Traveling into the hardly known with uncertain prospects – an adventure maybe but fraught with challenges. The vast majority today have no understanding of hardship on such a scale. No guarantees of work, no guarantee of accommodation beyond a migrant camp. Such experiences forge a lifetime of humanitarianism that the politicians lack. You must keep writing about it.


  7. berlioz1935 Says:

    The people of Australia were always nice to us.But the official Australia was as bad as it gets. They did not tell the migrants much what was going to happen. On our arrival at Sydney Central station, they announced without warning, that women and children would be sent to Scheyville. Australians have no idea how bad their officials are. That is another reason I fear for the sanity of the asylum seekers. On my first roster days off I hitchhiked to Scheyville.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, there were nice individuals but as for social input after arrival, there was none. It was that issue of total lack of care or pointing to available options that was so difficult at first.
      It seemed very harsh and punishing. Oddly enough, you are right that institutional lack of care and bullying is here today still. How to explain the children of refugees in detention?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. bkpyett Says:

    So interesting to hear about your arrival in Australia, Gerard. I do feel badly that Australia hasn’t learnt how to be kind to refugees, with a few exceptions.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. sedwith Says:

    So Coke capitalism was in as they say like Flynn. Tarax was my memory for a 10c school lunch a sausage roll and a merangue! Loved it having had Brit school lunches and flicking peas that tasted like ballbearings…..So much for social ‘services’ and the mental health system here has a lot to answer for…loving your memoirs.📷 too!


  10. Patti Kuche Says:

    That White Australia Policy was a trick and a half wasn’t it . . .


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