Europe on mutton chops at Scheyville camp.

Typical Nissen hut in most migrant camps.

The first night in the Nissen hut would have been spent in a deep slumber. It was all so much to take in. We must have been exhausted. The long hot bus drive along miles of car yards, huge  hoardings of Vincent’s APC’s headache powders, the beer stop-over, the unloading and dispersion of all into the low-slung huts of Scheyville Camp had all been bravely taken into our stride. An overload of emotions. My parents would perhaps have had some thoughts of Holland, life back then was so orderly. Life on-board a Dutch passenger liner was still a bit like being in Holland, but Scheyville was not. Today we might well have said, ‘far out.’

The following weeks I could not have taken any photos. Perhaps feelings of ambiguity about Australia were rising already then, or was I merely reflecting or responding to my dad’s visible distress? I am not sure. It was so long ago. I know that no photos were taken till we went to live with our Dutch war-time friends and ‘aunt’ of the nr 2’s coal shed notoriety.   Frank, John and I were too busy scanning the grounds and immediate surroundings. It was hot and very humid with regular torrential downpours on most afternoons.

The country-side was rain- flooded with  hills sticking up like islands, bleating cattle atop looking around for help. We noticed also in the distance, trees with oranges suspended from their branches. They looked inviting. Can one imagine, oranges hanging there just like in the garden of Eden?  With the camp isolated and marooned we were somewhat stuck and mud was everywhere, including on our shoes. Poor dad could not cope with this new experience of mud on shoes and flew into a fit of anger. Even though Holland was the country that had invented rain, mud on shoes was unheard of.  We were city kids.There was simply no mud in The Hague. (only Embassies giving generous tips) Dad was coping the best he could but mud on shoes was one step too far, especially then!

An unforgettable memory etched in my mind was the generosity of the Australian government run Camp in the availability of unlimited supplies of food. It was all free and copious in quantity. The first few days we ate in the very large food hall. You picked up the food by queuing at the kitchen counter with a large plate. You ate what was ladled out. It was mainly very large enormous mutton chops, still glistening in fat with peas and a mountain of mashed potatoes.  Sometimes it was sausages and pumpkin. You then carried the full plate back to large tables that had knifes and forks already spread out. You sat on benches. We would all tuck in with a vengeance.

You can imagine, most migrants were from post or still on-going, war ravaged countries. Hungarians, Czechoslovakians and Bulgarians, many with university degrees, not to mention refugees who had escaped from German extermination camps that had already spent years roaming from camp to camp in Europe. They were true refugees.  Many also from Holland and Germany, Italy and Greece, today classified as ‘economic’ refugees.. All of whom were hungry and now in the promised land.. This  Scheyville food hall fed a hungry Europe as never seen before. Some straddled the benches with plates clutched between thighs instead of sitting at the table, so as to be closer to the plate or perhaps of fear the food would get stolen. One large Bulgarian man would chew on his mutton chops pulverising the chop- bone with bare teeth. I looked on in amazement. He did it to impress his country fellowmen much to their amusement and laughter. After the solid food was eaten one could again tank up or take seconds in the form of a jelly. The jelly was aeroplane jelly. A favourite ad on the radio was ‘I love aeroplane jelly’. Here it is for musical readers.

I used to grab slices of bread for afters, scooped up large quantities of IXL jam available on every table in giant gallon jars.. It had huge chunks of real fruit in it.  It was lovely, fancy being able to take as much as you liked? Surely Australia so far was everything that it had promised and more!

Migrant camps were also the breeding grounds for the budding entrepreneur. Future giants and captains of industry in Australia were often fermented (or fomented depending on  views of capitalism versus socialism) in migrant camps. One Polish man had sat up a smart taxi service. He had managed to get one of those large ancient Ford V8 cars and had become a self proclaimed taxi driver. He knew the way out of the camp having found a route to circumvent the flooded roads. He was doing a good trade and was helpful in giving information about availability and time tables of the train to Sydney. It would take a few hours and if leaving early enough one could get back in one day. He would wait for us at the station on the way back from Sydney.

The taxi-driver's car.

The taxi-driver’s car.

We had him drive us to the rail- station which might have been ten or more miles away and caught the train to Sydney. What followed during our first trip on the train still lives on, the memories growing ever riper and maturing with the times. It gets retold at every Christmas.

But, that will have to wait till next time. Milo is forcing my hand from the keyboard.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

22 Responses to “Europe on mutton chops at Scheyville camp.”

  1. auntyuta Says:

    Milo knows what’s good for you, I bet.🙂
    I entertained myself with these Australian jingles. Makes me feel quite nostalgic. Have to read your story later. I am going out with my friends today. Have to get ready! Cheers, Uta🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rod Says:

    I had never heard of Aeroplane Jelly, but now I know who we have to thank for it – Adolphus Herbert Frederick Norman Appleroth.
    Leaves me close to speechless.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Aeroplane jelly is part of Australian culture. In the 1940’s it was played over 100 times a day on the radio. Aeroplane jelly was never made into a compulsory subject at schools. The original jingle score is now kept under lock and key in the Archives.
      I know that the study of Donald Bradman, the cricket legend was supposed to be a pre-requisite for future migrants acceptance into Australia.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. auntyuta Says:

    I have just been reading your memories about Scheyville Migrant Camp, Gerard. Yes, there certainly was plenty food offered for every meal. I remember when I had the first taste of vegemite. I thought that it tasted a bit like Maggi. Being not very much a meat lover at the best of times, for sure I would not have touched any of that mutton. Once I broke out in a severe rash. I went to the camp’s nursing station where a nurse inquired whether I had been eating strawberries. I could confirm this. This must have been the only time in my whole life when strawberries had such a bad effect on me. I don’t think it rained when we were in Scheyville in June 1959. No mud in the camp as far as I can remember.
    I read up about what Peter told you what happened when we arrived from Bonegilla on the overnight train in Sydney. They separated the man from the women and children! It was explained to us that there were family accommodations in the Balgownie Hostel for us, but they were not ready yet. I think they had to be repainted. They said at the moment they had only places for single men available. All the men could straight away start working in the steelworks. However the women and children had to go to Scheyville where accommodation was available for them. As soon as the family units in Balgownie Hostel were availabe, all the women and children would be transferred to the new accommodation. Actually this interlude did not take all that long, maybe a bit over a week. As soon as Peter had a couple of days off from the steelworks, he hitchhiked to Scheyville for a visit. Nine months later our third baby was born!

    Liked by 4 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I know that strawberries could never be eaten by my brother John who was allergic to them as well as tomatoes. 1956 was a very rainy year with Scheyville isolated through floods. Some people did find work in the surrounding areas, often on farms. It was difficult to find work there because it was so far from Sydney. We only stayed a few weeks in Scheyville after which we moved into the Dutch friend’s place in Guildford Sydney on Woodville rd. The house of our friends was in the middle of a timber yard and once again we had mud, lots of it!

      Peter must have been keen to visit you and seemed to include a ‘happy ending!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. berlioz1935 Says:

    Scheyville was miles away from Windsor Station. No electric trains to Windsor then. It was by rail motor. The mutton and the peas were inedible. I thought the peas were painted with the strangest green I’ve ever seen. Reconstituted they were; probably old army stock. We weren’t so much shocked but amazed how backward the country was. Others started to weep when they were dumped at the hostel.We lived about sixteen month at the hostel then moved into a garage.

    Still the hostel was a good opportunity to get one’s bearing and save up a few Quids. Yes, we were at the bottom of the heap and it only could get better.

    Liked by 4 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, not only weeping but vows to return next day! I remember one Dutch bachelor grimly washing his plate over the concrete troths, vowing he would try and fly back next day. I think his expectations were somewhat over the top. He was wearing his Colbert or dressy jacket that he must have worn in the office of his local Amsterdam branch of Bank Amsterdam. I mean, the contrast was a howl on hindsight. The mud, the concrete troths, the flimsy showers and the gruffness of Australian migration officials making us feel we ought to kneel down and slurp up the mud in gratitude. The Dutch bank clerk was yet to face the maggots in the mutton chops, but of that later!
      The army was called in a migrant camp some years earlier at Bonegilla Camp.
      http://www.bonegilla.org.au/history/whereitallbegan.asp

      Liked by 1 person

      • auntyuta Says:

        Thanks for this link to the Bonegilla Camp, Gerard. This revives a lot of memories. We stayed at Bonegilla only for the first few weeks in June (1959). Most men were soon offered work in the Port Kembla Steelworks. Some men preferred to look on their own for other jobs. There was no shortage of jobs at the time.

        Like

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        What the link does not tell you is that after the suicide of several men at Bonegilla, the riots became very serious so that over 200 soldiers were needed to quell the unrest.
        Scheyville too had a number of suicides including that of the father of a well known Dutch born model ‘Willie Koopman’ who featured for many years as a top model in many magazines.
        Yet today, we have the same lack of care for our refugees, again placed in isolated places and now housed in tents. Riots again including abuse of children.
        It seems to have gotten worse.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. gerard oosterman Says:

    Aeroplane jelly wasn’t the only cultural icon.

    “A BEX powder, a cup-o-tea and a good lie down,” was another one immortalised in a play performed in Phillip Street theatre which ran for a very long time. It was the housewife’s drug of choice in the thirties till the seventies and contained phenacetin which was blamed for kidney and liver failures in later life affecting tens of thousands. “Mother’s little Helper,” killed more than pain. The substance was banned in the early seventies.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Those early times in the immigrant camp sound hellish Even if you had mutton to eat and plenty of jam. I can well imagine you Dad being po’d about the mud if that was something he had not encountered before. Thankfully ya’ll were out of there before long.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It wasn’t all hellish, Ivonne. There was a roof above one’s head and food. For many that was a blessing. It was just the way it was done. Most camps were ex army camps and that also reflected in how they were run with mess halls, shower blocks and generally an atmosphere of lingering army routines.
      There was little in the way of respect or some understanding of what people were experiencing having left their home land. No concept of what it felt like being a migrant or refugee.
      My dad was a public servant back in Holland with the security implied with such a job. He found it difficult to adjust to the chaos and insecurity. And 6 children aged between 4 and 16.!

      Liked by 3 people

      • berlioz1935 Says:

        The older people were and settled in their ways the harder it was. Here, people were more or less on their own. Coming to a new country, like Australia, meant people had to make changes. The struggle for survival was just that. In Europe, the state took more care of its people.

        I started in the steelwork, but this was not Australia. The foremen and leading hands were all East-European and spoke German. People with university degrees were sweeping floors. There was no need to learn English. After three month I looked for another job, more money and the opportunity to mix with Australians and speak English.

        Liked by 1 person

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        My dad’s qualification were in telephone and communications. He was not a man of tools and trade. The promise that he could get a job in an Australian governmental department was wrong advice. No non- British subject could get a job in Australian government department at that time.
        It was a blow enough to send him into bed for a solid six weeks. He felt totally wacked. He got a job in a factory doing process work and after a while in a private telephone company at Canterbury, Sydney. He stayed and worked there till 65 when both of my parents went back to Holland.
        This was mainly due to be with their son Frank who had spent about 18 years at Callan Park mental hospital. He was repatriated back to Holland a couple of years earlier and had very good care and dignity and respect from then on, something they had fought for years here in Australia. It was not be.
        Frank is still alive today!
        http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=%5CAgency%5C4960

        “The Commission found that there was some evidence of drunkenness of staff on duty, and two members of staff had been dismissed for this. (6)

        The Commission found that theft of food was rife in the organisation. One nurse had been arrested for stealing a large quantity of food. (7)”

        Read this link; Harry Baily was in charge when my brother Frank was at Callan Park. At one stage Helvi and I had to go to the hospital when my father was going there to strangle Harry Baily. We arrived in the nick of time.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Bailey

        Liked by 1 person

  7. auntyuta Says:

    Berlioz says, that In Europe, the state took more care of its people.
    Well, we always said that our main reason for wanting to leave Germany had been that in Germany in the 1950s there was still a severe housing shortage. We, as a very low income family with two very young children, would have had for many years to come no hope whatsoever to acquire a low rent flat. At the time my father had taken us in into his very small flat. Peter and I slept in one bedroom with our two babies. My father slept on a sofa-bed in one of the two living-rooms. Peter had a very low paid office job. I could not go to work. Childcare would have been totally unaffordable for me and was not available anyway. The statement that the state, in this case the Federal Republic of Germany, took care of its people, does not make sense to me. None whatsoever. I felt Australia took much better care of our young family. At least we had straight away a roof over our head. We thought these Nissan huts were splendid for us in the beginning. Peter had to do shift-work and sometimes overtime. He earned much more than I could have earned had I gone to work. And anyway with a third baby on the way soon after arrival in Australia, it seemed not realistic for me to look for such a low paid job. Peter earned so much that we could save up for a block of land.
    And after only a few years we lived in our own cottage. The monthly installments we had to pay off were less than rent would have been. After a fairly short time we were proud home owners having paid off the home loan in much less time than was required. We could never have achieved something like this in Germany!

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Uta, many people have been very successful in Australia, I would say, most of them have carved out a good life. So did we and so did my parents. When my parents left and perhaps even more when you left, Europe was on its knees, but… soon after a revolution took place that made Europe a much more economically stronger place and indeed migration from northern Europe came to a stop in the late seventies/ early eighties.
      I and all my brothers moved into apprenticeships and different trades and my sister in office work as soon as we turned 15 years and 10 months. All worked to help pay our parents’ mortgage on a modest house in Revesby. I don’t see many children paying parent’s mortgages today. Probably the other way around!

      For some reason, which I am getting to the bottom off, I seem to have a foot stuck in Europe. Helvi and I with our young children did go and live in Holland. It was very enjoyable and we all had a good and stimulating few years.

      Liked by 2 people

    • berlioz1935 Says:

      My statement in regard to the stat looking more after the people in Europe was meant to be in general. Here the “help” was restricted to the hostel and finding the first job. The way we lived on our own after the hostel would probably have been prohibited in Wester-Europe.When we left Germany, the post-war period just came to an end. I always joked that as soon as we left Germany had its “economic miracle”. It seemed to me that we had slowed down the economy.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Curt Mekemson Says:

    I would have been going after the bread and jam as well, Gerard. Big dollops just like you, and probably amazed no one was saying no.
    Good to see Milo is keeping you in line. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  9. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    This post and the commentary is fascinating. Continued thanks Gerard.

    Like

  10. Patti Kuche Says:

    With such vivid memories and the age you were when you left I’m not at all surprised you still have a foot stuck in Europe and thoroughly enjoying your process of getting to the bottom of it.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: