Life in Scheyville Camp and my first Bush in 1956

Our Dutch friends and us in their home 1956.

Dutch friends and us in their home 1956.

The above photo after we had moved in with our Dutch friends/ From left: my mum, husband of Dutch friends, my dad in shorts, ( late) brother John, Lies, daughter of Dutch friend, the coal shed for Nr 2 Aunty and last, brother Adrian.

We soon must move away from Scheyville.  I can sense a Deja vu coming on. Just a few more Scheyville memories that have obsessively stuck through the decades… After the first few days eating in the communal food hall, we started taking our plates and chops to our own hut. Of course it was mid-summer and if anything, the food would get even hotter walking outside under the fiery sun.

The summing up of Scheyville Camp period.

1. It is a credit to the ingenuity of migrants that already some of them had obtained old groaning vehicles making them independent from the monopoly of the Polish taxi driver, buses or public trains. Some Dutch migrants had as proof of their lingering culture obtained bicycles to get around on. They would be seen cycling around the camp running messages or getting food. One day as were keenly tucking into the mutton in our huts, one of the Dutch cyclers was racing around the huts shouting in Dutch, ‘ maggots, maggots in the meat, maggots.’ He was like the town crier all red in the face too. What was lacking was the bell. It took us a few seconds to reflect upon his message but soon started to look downwards. Yes, there they were, not too obvious, but when prising open the juicy crevices of the chops, they were there, all wriggling away happily, waiting for their wings.

2.  As mentioned earlier a Pole had become a self proclaimed taxi-driver. In Holland this would never ever be allowed to happen. It was an example of how one could  become and have the freedom to initiate an independency without interference from higher up the Australian Bureaucracy. It was a heaven of freedom.However, on the way to the train I could hardly look the Polish taxi-driver in the face. I had observed his wife in the shower and seen her ‘bush’. The showers were sex separated but in the same block. I had already heard through the camp grapevine,. that if you took the last cubicle adjacent to the female section, one could get a peek. Soon after, I too became privilege to that peek and had obtained another level of attainment in sexual observations. At that time I was the envy and aspirations held by many boys in their early teens. It was such a specific goal in growing up…I could now hold my head high.

photo taken within a few months of landing 1956. Sister Dora and brothers Herman and Adrian in the middle of merry go round.

photo taken within a few months of landing 1956. Sister Dora and brothers Herman and Adrian in the middle of merry go round.

Of course, today those things are observed in all it’s plucked chicken wing minutia on the Internet well before 15 years of age. Different times now, but far more erotic then. It was afterwards and with some guilt (always on automatic)I recognised the woman walking along the mess-hall. I could not look her in the eye. One can imagine going to the Polish taxi-driver’s hut when she came out. It was his wife that I had been viewing through the opening of the flimsy shower partition. A deep shame must have coloured me red…But, I was fifteen.

3.  The train trip. We had all settled in he train. Mum was holding a small suitcase in her lap in which she had packed numerous sandwiches made from the free white bread and previously mentioned free fruit laden IXL jam. Those sandwiches would see us through the day and perhaps even on the trip back. Frugality would reign in this family through thick and thin but mainly thin. But, the rhythmic rocking of the train together with the pleasure of viewing the new passing landscape was interrupted (never to be forgotten) by the conductor wanting to clip a hole in all the passengers tickets.

There was something a bit odd about him. He had a dense smell and unfocussed eyes. ‘Show us your thickets or fickets’, he kept mumbling,  swaying along while holding onto mum’s seat. We could not understand what he was saying but knew he might want our tickets. Even so, dad wanted to know and  asked; ‘pardon?’ Pronouncing it in French. ‘Show us yer frucking thickest maid’, he persevered, now lurching dangerously towards my mum, suitcase held firmly in her lap. We were by this time getting very alarmed. Were we about to be robbed or worse, was our mum and sandwiches at risk? All of a sudden, the  conductor gave up all pretence of soberness and just fell on top of mum and her case with sandwiches. We were all dumb struck. What was this?  Someone said ‘ he’s been on the turps.’  We had never heard of this term, didn’t know even what ‘turps’ was. A man who understood our plight gave the hand to mouth gesture indicating drinking. We understood quickly. The passengers helped the man up who stumbled back to his locket. We were so scared. In Holland we had never ever observed a drunk. A drunken conductor on a train? What would be waiting for us in Sydney? Lucky, that was the only incident but it was a great shock to us.We made it back home and the kind Polish taxi driver was waiting at the station. This time I was more brazen and felt that after the shock of the drunken train conductor, a mere peek of his wife in a shower was now an honest well earned  bonus. We had survived some difficult times and I needed something to cheer me up.

4. So what to make of all this? The few weeks at Scheyville Migrant Camp were totally unexpected. The Nissen huts an extraordinary form of housing that we were totally unprepared for. Not a hint of that during the interview at the Australia Embassy in The Hague. If only there would have been more information right from the beginning. We might still have migrated but better prepared. I really thought that our Dutch friends living in Australia would also have given us better information. They had written the most glorious accounts, it was all paved with gold!  The isolation of the camp did not really allow us a glimpse of the ‘real’ Australia. Afterwards we understood why our friends thought it would be better for us to experience camp life first in order to more appreciate living with them. Was my scepticism of migration ‘we did it for the children’ born already then? Or, was it a mere dormant incurable curmudgeon gene coming out?

More of that in the next episode.

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19 Responses to “Life in Scheyville Camp and my first Bush in 1956”

  1. berlioz1935 Says:

    We knew about the hostels before we left Germany. The German government had supplied us with some reading material in regard to Australia. The surprise for us came when they dived the men from the women folk at Sydney Central. They could have sold us or them into slavery and we wouldn’t have been any wiser.

    I could imagine that they tell the asylum seekers a pack of lies before they pack them off to Nauru or Manus Island.

    Liked by 4 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It was a bit of a contrast between the boat trip with violin and piano music and the Scheyville camp. My parents had no idea what to expect. Many people loved the camps and would stay for years, especially in camps closer to the city such as at Leichtenfield/ Villawood.
      I remember a German migrant starting a paint factory near there. Krysler paints. It became a huge success and he did very well and was eventually bought out by a much bigger company. Perhaps it was Pascol or Dulux. I used to buy paint from him at his shed which was a small factory.

      Liked by 5 people

      • berlioz1935 Says:

        When we arrived at the Balgownie Hostel, Fairymeadow, we found people there who had stayed for five years. They were mostly English.

        We met so many Dutch people everywhere. One used to be a truck driver in Holland during the war and drove trucks to Berlin. He also worked for the Duch underground and reported regularly on what he observed on his trips.

        Liked by 3 people

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Well over one hundred thousand Dutch families migrated to Australia, many also went to Canada. Australians are now migrating to Holland! Over 5% of the Australian population have decided to permanently live elsewhere.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Happy Go lucky Says:

        Wow or is that 5% of Dutch population in Oz ?


  2. Andrew Says:

    We have much to be grateful for today, even if we forget it in the main. You remind us, Gerard, and in a delightful way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Those were interesting and trying days and it’s a good thing that you and your siblings were still very young. Besides the fact that your mother had a rigid backbone and your dad a stiff upper lip. I learned these sayings from my German immigrant mother who was quite feminine but tough as an old boot. I’m afraid that few people now days would put up with what our folks did as immigrants.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      My mum was the lion who fought for everything. Had no idea her children would get a cane at school. Can you imagine children getting caned? It seemed like something out of the1890’s.
      She took it up with brethren of De La Salle college.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. petspeopleandlife Says:

    When you write caned do you mean expelled or physically punished for a so-called misdeed or an act of misbehaving?

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      No, it was normal in all schools. A stick whereby to hit the children with. Corporal punishment. It was used here till the late 1990’s when it was supposed to be out-lawed.
      The really cruel brethrens would use this form of punishment on top of the hands, even worse was when they did it on the knuckles.
      Some thought it just punishment, some did not, including my mother.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Silver in the Barn Says:

    Gerard, sorry, I’ve been scarce around your blog but we’ve been traveling. I see you’ve written a series of posts which are just my cup of tea. I had no idea about the camps.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      No worries Barbara, I did miss your blog but knew you would be busy.


    • Happy Go lucky Says:

      Me too silver. I never before seen this blog of his, a great guy and witty writer. I too went down this path around the world. It was tough at first. I wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed, at least till Holland got on its feet after the war.


  6. Silver in the Barn Says:

    That is amazing about the Krysler paint guy. I remember that brand. Wow.


  7. bkpyett Says:

    Love your descriptions Gerard of the maggots and the drunk conductor. Life certainly had some surprises for you and you survived it! 🙂


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