The German shepherd with three legs and eating Cake.

Mum in Holland with electric vacuum cleaner.

Mum in Holland with electric vacuum cleaner.

The Dutch Friends’ house as previously mentioned was old and must have been a farm house before the  arrival of thousands of immigrants pushing further and further inland. Hill after hill were conquered with houses replacing trees and grazing cows with the sound of hammers, machinery and coarse  oaths renting the grey- blue smoky air. It was an era of every  migrant’s dream of achieving own home on own solid block of land come true. This old farm house was now the missing tooth amidst the sea of  many a migrants’ suburban prosperity.  In fact, the old house was now in the middle of a huge timber and building material yard supplying the frenetic race for building houses. Large stacks of different sized timber were balanced precariously hither and dither amongst stacks of baths, concrete laundry basins and other building materials. All this surrounded by a grey muddy clay that made getting to the house a slippery event. Bricks were placed here and there enabling one to hop from one to the other without risking wet feet or slipping down all together.

No doubt my parents could have done with, and experienced a less grim and more cheerful beginning but that’s how it was. Perhaps many might well have thought it a very cheerful beginning. However, our pioneering spirit was a bit lukewarm and run-down after Scheyville migrant camp. The timber yard was protected by a large German Shepherd. It was a very friendly and compassionate animal forever greeting those who entered the yard, foe or friend. It also had three legs. One of its hind leg was missing  in tandem with the old Chevy. He did not so much guard the timber yard from thieves as it did chasing rats that used to do ring-a ring- a- Rosie between the stacks of timber, scurrying like a flash when he arrived. The rats would scatter each time a crane moved a stack of timber to quickly scurry under the next lot of beams. The dog did his best but rats are clever and soon knew they had it over the dog. They used to dart out in full view, taunting him, only to quickly hide whenever he lifted his head. It was amusing to watch. There was a king rat almost the size of a cat who asserted  himself over his tribe. They would only follow if he made the first move. They would move in a specific, strictly disciplined and regimented order in a V shape behind the undisputed king-rat. No rat would come inside the house because of the two cats holding sentry near the entrances. The cats had all legs intact.

Whenever my dad could arouse himself from bed he would observe from the sunny veranda the bustle of cranes, trucks and the scuffles between the dog and rats. We knew things were improving with dad when mum caught him one night looking at the sky through a pair of binoculars. He had found the milky way!  A kind of peace came over him after his discovery of this Southern hemisphere’s heavenly night-sky. My job was progressing from cleaning the factory floor and getting the workers lunches to being initiated to use the machinery. The lunches for workers was the first sign of Australia being ‘paved with gold’ when apple- pies, Big Ben meat pies and bottles of Fanta were ordered as if it was normal. It was normal! Can you imagine? What we would look forward to once a year back in Holland on a birthday, was the norm daily here. Not only the norm. As proof of absolute opulence and belching richness, parts of the pies would be slung onto the floor as if it was nothing. I had the job of cleaning those carelessly flung out morsels, still warm and oozing. I was almost on my knees in admiration of a country so endowed with the splendour of excess.

Newspaper seller in Sydney.

Newspaper seller in Sydney in the 1960’s.

I have written before about the amazing antics of workers in factories whereby the proverb ‘Australia, where men are men but the sheep nervous,’ had more than a tinge of truth to it. The openly sexual meanderings  and ‘dating’ between men was somehow to be seen as proof of their heterosexual-ness. (Dating: the art of putting finger up the overall wearing co-worker’s bum when least expected) It was astonishing and puzzling. Perhaps with the sexes being so far apart and the not so distant years of convicts and penal camps that this cultural phenomenon had survived and was still being played out between factory workers. I did not join this dating and as a foreigner and migrant was somehow spared from these antics. The owner of the factory had a creaking leg and you always knew he was coming. I never asked and no one ever told me but I suppose he had lost a leg during the last war. Why was it that during those first few months things were missing, first the magic Chevy wheel, then the German Shepherd dog and now a factory owner?

My weekly wages I gave to my mother but I was to keep money earned by overtime. I had a small steel box in which I would save and keep my money. The more overtime the more would be deposited in this small safe of which I had a key. Overtime was paid time and a half and on Saturdays time and a half for morning and double after twelve o’clock,  and Sundays always double time. It was a time of enormous power by unions and  bosses had to comply or else! As the weeks went by dad finally roused himself and managed to get a job as well. He donned overalls and steel capped boots. We were on our way!

Our  Dutch friends’ only son had managed to buy a very small Renault in which the family would all pile in on a Sunday for church on top of the hill. The car was very small,  more like a jacket really. They sat in each others laps and when hurtling down home after the service would burst out and spread  on the sunny veranda. The wife (aunty) made a large pot of coffee and all would delve into eating big cake. This part of their accounts to us in Holland was absolutely true. The cake would be there each Sunday and it was clear they all enjoyed Australia at its best.

Cake eating each Sunday was factual and true. What was not true was that they had bought the old house! It was rented. The row of bricks that was supposed to be an extra room was abruptly halted when the owner of the timber yard and old house asked what the plan was. He did not want space taken up where he could put his building materials. He was a successful migrant himself.

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35 Responses to “The German shepherd with three legs and eating Cake.”

  1. Silver in the Barn Says:

    Gerard, you alway gift us with so much to contemplate and comment upon. The three-legged dog and his taunting rats are indelibly etched in your mind and I can completely understand your stunned awareness that you weren’t in Holland anymore when you found food tossed away. But the finger up the arse bit? Now that’s culture shock. I’m glad they spared you.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I hope I wasn’t indicating a prudishness but dating was one finger too far. I had never heard of this in Holland.

      Liked by 1 person

    • berlioz1935 Says:

      I observed the same behaviour in the steelwork. Half the time Australian men were kneading their genitals to each other, chasing around the factory floor. They never touched migrant as their would have been fights as you say.

      When I started at the steelworks I was warned by other migrants never to bend down in the shower to pick up a piece of soap. No Australian men could have resisted that.

      I have idea whether such juvenile behaviour is still practised today.

      Like

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        You are so right, Berlioz. I think ‘the picking up the soap’ scenario was brought home to Australians in the 2014 TV series “The Rogue” featuring Richard Roxborough. I reckon it was filched from my previous unpublished bio.
        In factories where I worked you kept your backside at all time towards the wall or a large Capstan Lathe machine that was switched on.
        Beware of men that are so macho!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Carrie Rubin Says:

    I hate to see food wasted, even in my country of excess, so it must have been difficult to see your co-workers discard it so easily. As for the finger thing among your colleagues…well, I think I’ll just let that one be…

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I wonder that during those difficult1950’s times it was done in the Northern hemisphere as well. Instead of seeing movies with Debbie Reynolds in Tammy with a real girlfriend they would resort to ‘dating’ at work. It was grim and so far from Chekov or Dostoyevsky.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Hoo boy, the tales you tell. I can only imagine the crudeness of the factory workers and you at a young age having to witness that. I would have been shocked out of my shoes.

    Now about the rat the size of cat. Gee Gerard, that was a rat from hell if you are not stretching the truth here. I’ve heard that Norway rats were huge. Were the rats native to Australia?

    I’m glad that your Dad was finally able to pull him self from bed. That must have been a relief for you mother.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Ivonne, It was a strange ritual and common in the factories that I worked in. Later on I started in the building industry were it wasn’t practised at all. I suppose you worked out in the open and ‘dating’ and other froms of cavorting between male workers in public would not be allowed.
      The rats were big but perhaps the size of cats might have been a bit over the top. They were imported on ships from Europe decades before.
      Dad initially had a string of strange factory jobs but finally had a good job with just wearing a dust coat. Much to the joy of my mother it involved lots of overtime and extra money to save up for a block of land and garage for living in..

      Liked by 2 people

  4. berlioz1935 Says:

    Once again, I liked your post. Much you are writing about was observed by me too. We always put it down to their convict past.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you Berlioz. The aim was to attract as many as possible. At times the truth was a bit varnished or embellished.
      Of course the Australian Embassy in the Hague wasn’t going to warn people about the risk in picking up soap in male showers in Australia.

      Like

  5. rod Says:

    So to an extent your family was lured there under false pretences.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Well, that is what my dad felt. The attempt to lure English single men failed and many went back, they missed England and all what that entailed. That is when Bob Menzies thought of enticing European mainland migrants to come here. The laws did not keep pace after many from the Continent came here, including the law excluding non British subjects from working in government positions. This was changed in due course together with the abolition of the White Australian policy.

      Liked by 3 people

    • berlioz1935 Says:

      Rod, I’m not sure you are asking me? But we were not lured under false pretences. The migration officer at the Military Commission at Cologne made only one promise. Whatever happens, one day we will own our own home. It became true. But is not so today. Our children do not own their own homes.

      The behaviour of some people was new to us. That people stopped their cars to let us cross the road with a pram was simply miraculous.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. rod Says:

    Hi Guys. here in YUK people are always droning on about owning their own homes, which is OK, except they regard it – especially in England – as a capital gains progression rather than having a place to live. So as a matter of course, and without considering what it really means, they use the phrase ‘housing ladder’ all the time. You buy your first place, wait a couple of years, sell it at a profit then move on to a bigger place – and so on up the ladder.Obviously, this only works when prices are rising.

    I don’t consider this attitude healthy, whereas wanting someplace to live is natural.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Rod, The concept of owning own house was totally foreign to my parents. We never even thought that a house was something that one could even own, let alone strive for. That was back then in Holland.
      This changed after we came here. It was all that migrants talked about and owning title to a block of land was l that seemed to be the aim and only aim for many.
      We just wanted to live in a house that was as cosy and as much a home as that what we had left behind. My mum wanted a bathroom and that was a reasonable request. However, renting in Australia was an insecure form of housing mainly on six months leases.
      The buying of own house was what Australia was all about. Re-selling after the value went up was all the rage. Australians even today are a nation of nomads where the stats. tells us, on average once every seven years, people move to another place.
      Forget about a steady community or families staying together in the same area.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Andrew Says:

    I was expecting a man with an extra leg not a dog with one missing. Very amusing and good news that dad has found work. Did I ever tell you that I once saw a chicken with 3 legs? It is true.

    Like

  8. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    I enjoyed reading this post Gerard, especially the drive with the Renault. I am not sure if people here in USA even know what it is. I remember it well, we were stacked in there like sardines in a can🙂.

    Like

  9. Julia Lund Says:

    As ever, I am entranced by your tales, though some of what you reveal here had my eyes popping out at the thoughts … I love the comments and reminiscences from your followers too – such a treat to read; it’s like I’ve landed in a whole new world …

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lorena and Chris Hunter Says:

    Gerard, you are a fabulous story teller, even if the stories are true!

    Like

  11. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    I remember the old Renault. It was nice to think of it again. A good story once more. It’s nice that the cats are so large since there are so many rats, perhaps not all with four legs? Wonder how the German Shepherd lost that leg though.

    Like

  12. Patti Kuche Says:

    I thought bending over was only a problem in prison!

    Have you seen this gem . . . ?

    Like

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