Leaving the lean times and memories of tie-clips and perky breasts (furtively enjoyed in the timber yard) behind, we will now go forward to an episode that too might have been significant in causing my intermittent scepticism of migration in general and my own in special. That is not to say, that not having moved countries things would have turned out to have been any different. To now have reached a level of freedom, hopefully some insight, and to have the luxury of enough time still left to come up with some answers that have eluded me so far.
The saving for the future was now on in earnest. My mum became the financial wizard and accountant . It had to be struck with a compromise between pocket money and fast saving to get our own place to live at. How we slept those first few months I have no memory off. We had nothing on arrival except the clothes we wore and the 4 steel trunks that travelled with us on the boat. The vacuum cleaner, and the pride of our street back in The Hague, the electric washing machine, we had shipped over separately. We could wash our clothes and vacuum, but on what did we sleep? I can’t remember anything about bedding. Did we sleep upright? It is possible but I don’t think so. Migrants are made of pioneering stuff, but upright sleeping was never an option? Right now, people would probably reflect and call migrating; seeking a life-style! We would surely at first been seeking for bedding?
The extra hours worked now above the normal forty hours became vital. Each day mother would wait for us to come home but it was always welcome if we came home later than expected; ‘overtime’ was being worked and, at time-and-a-half, would bring our aim of moving into own place closer and closer. Of course, work on Saturday or Sunday was as close to heaven as dad’s Milky way. Double time-money delirium! Even though it meant forgoing the cake eating event on the creaky veranda during the Sunday morning.
Dad would put his pay packet under mum’s dinner plate each pay day which I think was on a Thursday. Dad did this as a kind of weekly joke as if tipping the waitress for a nice meal. It might read a bit strange but families have their own jokes, don’t they? I would just give my earnings to mum straight away without any formalities or any joking, and so did my elder brother Frank. The coffer was swelling, slowly at first, but with increasing speed in tandem with the urgency. One of the items still to be told to complete a picture of our stay with the Dutch friends and their generosity of allowing us to get on our own feet, was the early morning urinating rituals.
The old house at the time we were living in it was crowded with two large families. The Dutch family with five children and ours with six making a total of fifteen including both sets of parents. The toilet was outside and at the back of the lean-to that I used as a dark room and for all of us a bathroom. It was quite a walk, often too far for us and the boys would share the nr 1’s with the rats and three legged dog against the stacks of timber outside. This was especially so at waking times. There was a flimsy partition between our portion of the house and that of our friends who had the larger part including a couple of bedrooms upstairs. The four girls sleeping upstairs would run down each morning and urinate loudly in a bucket which was next to the flimsy partition and clearly audible. This would result in a loud Dutch howl of laughter and coarseness from me and my brothers on the other side of the partition. We almost woke up early not to miss the ritual. That’s how it was then!
Over the next six months we heard amongst other Dutch migrants that the way forward was to get own block of land with a garage on it. The available time left after working o.t (over-time) was taken up by endless discussions on own block of land. It sounded like out of ‘Mice and Men’ and it was far above my Dad’s understanding or his interests, but not my mum. She knew the way forward was to do what other people advised us about. It wasn’t just the talk of other migrants. The world of ‘real estate’ seemed to be everywhere and Australia was at the fore-front of owning own home on own block of land. It was the very essence of what success was about. In any case renting was a waste of money and everyone nodded in agreement. It wasn’t made clear why that was so. But questioning ownership wasn’t on the horizon of pioneering migrants. Renting is what they had left behind!
It was a contagion that still lives on today. Nothing eases awkward social occasions better than the mentioning of ‘real estate’ and ‘home ownership’ around the dining table or even standing around an art gallery sipping the chardonnay while discussing Edvard Munch ‘The Scream’. Mum understood the language of ‘own block near railway station’, of mortgages, easy terms, deposits and interest rates immediately and had worked out that with the present level of income from Dad and her two eldest sons including so much o.t, we already had a ‘deposit’ for own block. Deposit and own block had the Oosterman family firmly in its grip. They were holy. My dad remained puzzled why we could not just go to the local council and asked to be given and provided a modest home to live in. It was now all so different.
After a while he was happy with the star-lit heavens and totally trusted his wife to steer us into the security of own block and garage. The garage was allowed then to be lived in as long as the garage door was painted the same as the garage walls. Better still, take the garage door off and replace with a window to then help the local council in simply designating the garage into ‘a temporary dwelling’. It sounded so much more domestic than garage and was legal to boot.