This photo taken after the house was built on our own block. Mother’s sister ‘Agnes’ on a visit, then Frank, my father, Herman with cat, my mother. Seated are sister Dora with cat and Adrian with a dog. 1960 perhaps!
While the distance to rail-station and shops were all important as well as owning own block with having a temporary dwelling (garage) for living in, the social aspects of a particular area were totally unknown. I don’t think this was at all considered. It was all to do with practical objectives and affordability. Comparisons with other Dutch migrants generally were about price, distance from infrastructure and size of the own block. Driving around it all looked rather the same with well kempt lawns and nodding petunias being prominent. Liking or disliking a certain area because of a ‘milieu’ or making a choice between any social and cultural differences, if any, did not feature between migrated people that were lucky enough to have at least made it to getting a place to move into, no matter how humble or culturally isolated it might be.
Within a few weeks after moving in our own garage, a lean- to was built between our garage and next door fence which increased the liveable space with an extra 50%. A huge difference. The corrugated asbestos sheeting had not been pushed under the existing roof sheeting far enough. Each time it rained heavily the water would bank up and run back and into the lean to and above the bunks. Herman and I slept on the lower beds but John and Frank were not so lucky.
Dad who wasn’t very handy, had pinned plastic sheeting above the bunks and underneath the corrugated roof sheeting against the wooden rafters. He was hoping the water would just run down the inside of the plastic sheeting and somehow flow outside again between the gap of the fibro wall sheets and the top timber plate. However, the slope of the roof and plastic sheeting wasn’t acute or steep enough and water would well up in frighteningly large bubbles, inches above the peacefully sleeping bodies. In winter with the outside just four millimetres away, it wasn’t very nice when this bubble would spill and flood the unsuspected sleepers. Of course during day-time rain, mum would relieve the water bubble by pushing it upwards and out. In time we all took responsibility by waking in turns to relieve this water flood emergency above the two bunks. During heavy rain I could not be bothered and just sat in a chair all night, watch the water bubbles swell up and then relieve the threat giving the others a reasonable sleep. It was a good time for melancholia to thrive and ponder reflections of past and possible futures..
If you look at the previous article photo where we are all in beds and on the floor you might have noticed a curtain. This curtain would be drawn with all the floor mattresses tucked in between the beds at the back of the garage and out of sight. This would then create a small lounge/dining / kitchen area. At night four boys slept in the lean-to which also kept the trunks with our clothing. At the other end of the garage opposite my parents bedding (and Dora and Adrian’s) there was a small electric stove with one hot-plate and underneath a minuscule oven. My mother cooked the most amazing meals on this miniature electric stove/ oven. We were hungry. Above this little stove was the electric hot water for the trickle shower. Next to the sink was the shower cubicle. My father (who wasn’t very handy) had jammed a round stick between the rickety shower walls to hold up a plastic shower sheet strung from plastic rings. It wasn’t unusual for someone to take a shower while mum was working above the stove creating a magic meal, for the shower curtain to collapse spontaneously. This would be met with howls of laughter from all of us but not the hapless victim standing in the nude just a metre or so away from our steaming meal.
In the evenings, the boys had to do home-work but as a reward would listen to a radio play, ‘ The adventures of Smokey Dawson’. They were the events of the week over the whole of Australia syndicated over more than a hundred radio stations. Isn’t it amazing how we were spellbound by voices telling a story over the radio?
We met the neighbours within a few weeks. Again it was our mother who made the move. She was fearless and despite speaking mainly in Dutch she would knock on the door. It has to remembered that houses in Australia are rather private. Dad wondered why the houses had windows! The whole street’s housing was uniformly barred from the inside and outside by sternly refusing anyone to get an inkling of what might be going on inside. Not a movement would ever escape to the outside. At night one could sometimes detect a sliver of faint light escaping through obstinate Venetian blinds, double backed up by layers of white lacy material and for extra security and more darkness, heavy curtains. It wasn’t easy to break through but our mum wasn’t to be deterred. She made friends. Years later after my parents moved back for good to Holland and on a trip back to Australia and their former home, the neighbours organised a surprise party for them. They remembered her efforts in bringing not only the neighbours together but also together in the sense that some would live with open curtains and have proper sit-downs with cups of tea.
She made a difference.