The above photo of my parents standing on one the quay’s of Sydney harbour. I have some doubt of when this photo was taken. Was it on the day of arrival? Why is that man at the front clapping his hands? My father (Bald head) seems to be a bit bewildered. The lady with handbag is my mum. In any case, all seem happy!
Soon we were all packed in a convoy of buses and heading towards our migrant camp, Scheyville. My milkshake and sandwiches bedded down, the adventure and first glimpses of Australia would now roll past. Those first images were vital and I hope the remembering is as truthful as possible. Did those fleeting images already set in motion future opinions and possible prejudices of Australia? Was I seeing my first glimpses of future resentments? I really can’t answer that. As a fifteen year old I would have been bursting with excitement in seeing a foreign country. There can’t be any doubt about that!
We had already seen Fremantle and Melbourne. Fremantle was on a Sunday during a period when Sundays were expected to be spent on reflections of mother England and caring for lawns. Melbourne did have people about and we took a train trip to the inner city. The train carriages were made of wood and so were many of the cars. I could not believe the age of cars, they seemed out of a world of my meccano set, given by my parents a couple of years before migration. Some of the cars in Melbourne had to be wound up by a large handle at the front.
Above photo of my parents still in Holland. A great picture of happy life, contentment. I don’t know what that board was in her lap. It could have been a crocheting work in progress. My mother was always doing something, rarely did nothing. Glad to see the grass was unkempt. Dad seems dreamily serious.
As our bus took off, it soon founds its way on a very busy road. I noticed large signs and many car sales yards with car bonnets open as if yawning or waiting to be fed. Later on I found out the road was called Parramatta Rd. About an hour along the journey or so the bus stopped and the driver walked across the road and disappeared into a pub. He left us baking inside the bus, but so what, it just allowed the passengers to see more carefully of so much that was new and different and the driver to get a couple of schooners of beer. Within a few month I noticed that beer drinking was very popular, as long as it was done before 6PM. Pubs closed at 6, allowing husbands to get home and if possible hand over the pay-packet before it all got pissed up against the porcelain. It is a hot and harsh country and beer does alleviate it.
The photo above is compliments of Google and is not mine. Notice the prevalence of men. Some time later the shortage became acute and I remember a rail bridge in Sydney with a large hand-painted sign, “Australia a country of men but no women”.
When we arrived at Scheyville we were more or less abandoned. There was someone who gave us a number for our accommodation. We had no clue as what to expect. No film footage at The Hague Embassy ever showed us converted metal corrugated Nissen Huts to be for many migrants and refugees the first form of accommodation. We just saw coloured films of postmen jumping fences giving glad tidings to very happy home owners standing tall on the well manicured lawns, beaming with happy and wearing gleaming white teeth in total sympathy with white picket fences. The same with newspapers being chucked onto same front lawns. It all seemed so very unregimented and free, so jolly and sunny.
As we found our accommodation corresponding with our given number it was a surprise to be shown ex-army huts. Nissen huts to be precise. This looked very regimented and was totally without smiles. Mum said: “Oh this must be for our bikes”, grabbing her first impression, hoping against all odds this wasn’t for sleeping in, surely not! Her Dutch-ness escaped into a desperate hope this hut was for our bikes, soon to be provided. Holland of course a bicycle is part of all life. Why not here as well? But why would bicycles have mattresses and chairs? Within a few minutes reality set in but my mum immediately accepted and got busy settling in. She was the hero of all migration and should have been given a Dame hood, surely? We had suitcases with the basics and soon we had our bedding arrangement sorted out. The bedside drawers had some crusts of bread in them. Later on we met a Dutch couple who had been in exactly the same Hut just before us and had abandoned the bread in the drawers. We laughed heartily about that for many years to come. ( It wasn’t all sad.)