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.
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.