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.
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.