A frank Story. part 2 ( so much jam and own block of land)
Frank’s story part 2
If any more proof was needed to show the abundance of Australia, of course shown already on the day after arrival at Scheyville camp with those oranges on trees, it would have to be the provisions in that huge communal dining room during breakfast, lunch and dinner of huge gallon drums of very chunky IXL melon and pineapple jam, with no control on how much one ladled out. Real fruit jam in Holland was expensive and mother just used to give our sandwiches not much more than a slight hint of jam in order to save for our future. Imagine our joy with being able, and totally unshackled from any restrictions, to scoop unlimited ladles of jam out of those huge drums of fruit laden conserve on top of mountains of pre-sliced white bread. It was totally out of dad’s control but he managed to accept it for what it was.
A few days later our perception in all that abundance of goodness and sweetness was somewhat dented and damaged. We often just used to ladle our food on plates and walk to our hut, eat in private, away from the swills and spills of the food hall where everyone just used to eat sitting on large benches and wooden tables. Well, eating was a bit of a euphemism, more as if the whole of Europe were on a trough and had been waiting for a good feed.
It was when we had just arrived back to our hut with plates full, got seated and ready to fork into the lamb chops, when a man on a pushbike was riding fast from hut to hut shouting, ” there are maggots in the meat.” Now, we had experienced war and famine, head lice, tobacco shortages and indeed food shortages but no way would it have been even remotely possible to have had the experience of ‘maggots in meat’. There simply never was any meat during the 1940-45 second world war. Peering onto our plates and deep into the crevices of the chops in particular, it only took a second to see what the pushbike man had heralded a minute earlier. Maggots indeed. This of course took the edge of our sojourn into this new country somewhat, if not those chops as well, but what the heck; we were told Australia needed people with pioneering spirit.
Of course, flesh eating maggots were already then peculiar to Australia. It was not until years later that sheep had become known for getting eaten alive by maggots and farmers resorted to scraping away dinner plate size chunks of skin from around the sheep’s bums. This finally resulted in Australia loosing valuable wool export through the actions of world- wide boycotting of Australian wool products. Those film clips back in Europe showing the best of Australia to future immigrants, must have been carefully edited and did not show politicians or anyone else for that matter, waving away hordes of flies and potential flesh eating insects. I am not sure, if mulesing on humans were practised then.
Our time spent at Scheyville was not according to the original plan. The Van Dijks were going to provide us with accommodation at their place direct after landing, indeed, an extension would be built that would give us adequate space for the whole eight of us. But for one reason or another it would be best to get on our feet with rest and adjust to a new country and its ways. It was suggested that we would be better placed in understanding about Australia if we had some experience in this Scheyville camp. It would just be for a few weeks and then we would all move into their place.
This gave us some time to reconnoitre the surroundings and perhaps do the basics of trying to start normal live in getting through the formalities of getting employment, enrolling the young ones for schools, and in the case of me and Frank, finding work and earn money that would certainly be a
leap into the future. It was therefore decided to get the Pole and his top secret route with his taxi service to take us through the flooded surroundings and back roads to the nearest railway station. It would just be a nice train trip to see more of Sydney. A bit of a holiday in fact. We were dropped off early in the morning; the Polish car driver had given us the timetable of train to Sydney and back. Dad asked for the return tickets in French a ‘retour de Sydney’, he was a bit nervous, after all it was his first attempt at English. His knowledge of English was based on his schooling, alright by many standards, certainly better than the train guard who asked to see the tickets after we had been on the train for about one hour. CCsHows yer frigginen thikets, he demanded, lurching rather dangerously towards my mother. What was this now? Pardon, my father asked. STicketts mate was his answer. Well, it was an improvement on being called ‘love’ back in deserted Fremantle. Even so, the consternation was rising in our little group. Our concern was noticed by a fellow train passenger. Don’t worry, the friendly train traveller assured us, ‘he has been on the turps. Turps? My father was racking his brains about turps, but slowly it must have dawned on my parents that the train guard was drunk. Stone, and totally drunk. How was this possible? In a country that was supposed to be a better place for the children’s future? This was totally unexpected and unsettling. What was waiting for us in Sydney? Instead of healthy fence leaping by postmen and newspaper deliverers we were confronted with a drunk. This was totally out of the norm by any standard.
In Holland none of us had ever experienced even seeing wine or alcohol, let alone anyone drunk. Well,’ never seen alcohol’, might be a bit of an exaggeration, father and mother did have a New Year’s single small glass of sherry every year.
Our arrival in Sydney was drunk-less and a great relief for all of us. We walked to Hyde Park and mum distributed all the ready- made IXL jam sandwiches, but not with as much jam as we would have liked. Old habits die hard, they say.
On the way back to Scheyville we met up with the Van Dijks at Granville rail station, this is a railway station of some significance and would feature into the next eight months of our lives. It was arranged we would live with the Van Dijks and our departure from the Camp was now imminent. My mother went with Beb Van Dijk shopping at some stage because after we all moved from Scheyville to the Van Dijks we all had brand new, gleaming, chrome plated steel framed double bunk beds. The arrival of all of us at the Van Dijks was not without big surprises. You can imagine my keenness to finally discover this magic car that would convert to truck and back to sedan. As it turned out, it was a 1939 Chevrolet utility with three wheels, the forth one was missing and the car was compensated for that loss by a pile of bricks. It was rusty and nothing like what I had imagined. What a blow, if not deceit. I never saw it being driven.
Disappointed, but I got over it, at least they did have a car, a tiny 1951 Renault that was more like a jacket than a car, something that one put on for a rain shower and it was small. None the less, the whole family would pile into it on the way to church and back. This is when the cake eating came into its own. The house itself was in Guildford, not far from that Granville Station, on a busy road and was very old and in disrepair. Apart from that it was situated in the middle of large stacks of timber and cast iron baths. The baths must have looked promising to our mother. The raison d’être for her coming to Australia was in sight! The car was not the only item on three legs. The pet dog, a large German Sheppard at least ran around on three legs. A friendly dog but why three legs? 20
Anyway, that first evening after our arrival we all had coffee and cakes and good times would surely be arriving. Perhaps a bit hesitantly, but step by step our determination and sense of Dutch pioneering would triumph?
CHAPTER 3 Those first two years and Own Block of Land.
So, it was after we moved in from the Migrant Camp of Scheyville with the Van Dijks and our discovery that it is ‘not all gold that glitters’ and that their reporting about their good fortunes in Australia looked a bit pale, that we had to put shoulders under the tasks ahead. Mother was the chief of staff that sat out this mammoth job. Dad, crumbled not only from the disappointment of now living in the middle of a timber yard with huge rats being chased by a three legged dog, nor the ‘magic’ car on three wheels, nor that the extension that we would live in but not built. The only thing that was true was the Van Dijks cake eating every Sunday, after hobbling down-hill in the Renault coat jacket.
Dad just collapsed and refused to come out of bed, deeply depressed and knee deep in gloom. The promised Government job was not available to non British subjects, and he, who was totally spoon fed on life-long permanent Government security, was crushed. The temporary ideology of a culture that thrived on temporary accommodation and temporary jobs, temporary living quarters, people moving to another address at the drop of a hat, was something totally alien to us, especially Dad. He stayed in bed for six weeks. It is difficult to describe those first few months after arrival without coming to some conclusion that the picture of a new country as portrayed by the Australian Immigration Office in The Netherlands and the letters from the Van Dijks had not met the reality of our situation and life then. The accommodation at the house surrounded by timber yard, mud and rodents was the worst we had experienced, certainly not something we would think of in terms of the Van Dijks as having achieved a better future. It was odd, that our Dutch friends dating back to the war years in Rotterdam, whereby we helped each other through so many hardships had been so deceptive in their presentation of what they had achieved in those five years in Australia. The biggest blow was not just the three legged cars and pets, no; it was when we found out why the extension had not been built. They simply did not own the dilapidated house. Apart from the Sunday cake eating, there was little of substance that we, especially dad, could find in support of the idea that Australia could make dreams come true. Perhaps, the whole idea of finding a better life was based on that weekly cake eating, something back in Holland would only occur at birthdays, at the most. Those cakes were awful though, just apple pies and mock cream, Yuk!
Anyway, as stated, mum took things in her own hand and despite having hardly any English took it upon her to salvage family. She dragged me and Frank around an employment agency and immediately found work. My first wage was about 4pounds and 5 shillings, but with overtime this could easily become 6 pounds. Frank, with his difficult behaviour and bouts of anger would go through many jobs, each time it seemed as if jobs were available almost everywhere one applied. My dad also finally got out of bed and after a few jobs in blue overalls managed to get a technical job that he knew something about. Telephone equipment was his expertise and he seemed happy in that, it offered some security.
The old house was noisy to the extent that in the mornings the daughters of the Van Dijks of which there were four, took turns pissing loudly in a bucket which was just on the other side of a rather flimsy partition, knocked together by Mr V.Dijk to give our quarters some sort of privacy. The privacy was a bit three legged as well, but we took great joy in the sound of their bucket noises and used to holler out Dutch coarse words, followed with great laughter and mirth making. It was a bit of relief from the hardship!
My introduction to work was about at the time when dad was in the middle of his six weeks bedded down with a melancholy and deep depression. The pissing daughters next to the flimsy partition, the rats and three legged dog and car, took its toll. My first job was cleaning the floor of “Roger’s Chains”, which was a big metal shed factory with many men working machinery making links of chains, large and small. The part that I liked most was the ordering of the factory workers lunches. Meat pies, apple pies and soft drinks. I was amazed how some of them would just eat only half and throw the rest out, on the floor. I was almost tempted to eat those remnants, but did not for fear of getting infected with something horrible. The main problem was understanding the Australian accent or slang. I did notice one word that kept cropping up and seemed to be repeated in almost every third or fourth word. I decided to ask the Van Dijks. What is this fukking or fucgling or fouging, I asked them? Now, you would have thought that their Dutch background would have immediately come to the rescue and explain the meaning of that word. No word in Dutch was something to be ashamed off. Sure, there are coarse words; even so, they are still just words. Instead, their assimilation to Australia and it’s culture was so successful that they immediately went into that silly world of sniggering and evasively trying to convey that there was something absolutely terrible going on with that word, without giving the requested explanation.
They finally told me that the word was bad and that it was alright for men to talk like that but never ever in front of a woman, how curious. Not using certain words in front of a woman? What was going on here? The next bit of salient advice from the Van Dijks was to always say, beggepayrden. If you don’t understand something, just say; beggepayrden. When passing someone on the bus, peggepayrden again. Well, beggepayrden we all did. I beg your pardon!
The cleaning at Roger’s Chains factory lasted just a few weeks, by which time I had earned some money which I gave towards the family for saving better accommodation. I kept some which I put in a tin. My regular weekly spending was for a small packet of Graven A filter cigarettes, and the occasional orange drink called Fanta. An apple pie, just once a week was a special treat.
My next job, without even losing one day was at another engineering factory, just a few streets behind the old job. It was run and owned by a man with just one leg. I seemed to be destined to meet creatures with missing limbs! Why was that so? Was life so fraught with accidents or danger here in Australia, that, people, dogs and cars would so casually go without important parts? The owner’s other leg was made of something artificial, perhaps wood, that used to creak when he slowly walked around the factory floor. Did the leg’s hinges need lubricating?
His house was just in front of the factory. I sometimes used to see the wife. She was very prim and proper and polite; contend to mind the petunias in the front garden, and keeping well away from the factory. The factory owner always had a cigarette hanging from his mouth which made the (bad)
word fucking even more sinister sounding. The F seemed to go on forever, hissing with spittle as a lubricant. He did obey the rule though of never saying that in front of his wife. The job of cleaning the factory floor was sometimes relieved by learning to work on machinery, a capstan lathe and milling machines, making nuts or bolts, putting threads on them, in fact, a bit of skill creeping into my daily routine. In the meantime I had saved for an old bicycle and saved bus money by travelling to and from work by bike.
The job was not what I intended to do when still back in Holland. I had some vague idea of studying to become an aircraft engineer. Sweeping a factory and buying lunches for factory workers was not all that inspiring, nor was the blatant homosexual capers that used to be played out very edifying. The non-stop pretend buggering was endemic, and the tolerance towards it staggering. Here was a really curious bit of factory culture. Most of the adult workers were married, had families or if not married, spoke about their girlfriends. Yet, it was almost as if all that homosexual pretend buggering was proof of being hetero sexual. To not partake in it, as I refused to do, was considered to be sissy. The social gatherings at that time showed similar traits. To be with women at a party was seen as having ‘poofter’ inclinations. You would not want to be seen with the opposite sex as this was being ‘soft’ and not masculine. Perhaps it had again something to do with the acute shortage of women during those penal times some decades before, and many just had to do with what was available and that was each other, and of the same sex. Old habits die hard. Another habit was to stick fingers up an unexpected worker’s bum through overalls or apron. It was called ‘dating’.
The owner of the second factory and wooden leg had a curious way of dealing with others. His mouth did not just contain a fag with brown spittle leaking, but mouth was also set permanently at twenty past eight o’clock and he would spend the day creaking around the factory floor with gammy leg, sneering and leering at the cavorting going on. At times he would get into his strides and gun for me. He would grab my hair and pull my head towards the floor. ‘You forgot this bit here’ he would say. Look at it, you bastard, ‘here’ and he would spit a lifetime of smoking induced load of phlegm onto the floor. Those unfortunate experiences were tolerated when considering that the pay off, at least, was not having to join in any buggering in front of the capstan lathe machine.
Again, at some time later and another job, as an apprentice spectacle maker in Clarence Street, Sydney, the initiation for the young and upcoming workforce was for the adults to get Ultra marine blue or Cobalt blue dye in powder form and after taking the pants down of the uninitiated, rub this powdered dye around the genitals of the hapless victim. This dye was so strong it would stain legs, genitals and clothes for weeks. Later on when I found out that this was widespread and tolerated and accepted as an almost essential part of ‘growing up’, I knew that there was a serious and serial kind of bullying going on. Of course, at that time I was also astonished to observe young kids going to schools in quasi army uniforms and with mock rifles slung over their tiny shoulders. Was there a war still? Girls, in the middle of hot summers with black skirts, black tops, black hats, black stockings and even black gloves. Was there some connection between all that and bullying?
My younger brothers and single sister in the meantime were enrolled at different schools. Some at the primary school locally, and two brothers to a catholic high school, called ‘De La Salle’ College. It was not long before our parents found out that the punishment of whacking her children with a ruler or cane was not all that rare, so off the ‘chief of staff’, (mother) went to confront the Head ‘Brother” of this ‘benevolent’ College wanting to stop the bullying by physical violence of her children. The practise that was commonly used would be the voluntary holding up of the palm of hands, whereby the kindly ‘brother’ would sweep down at full throttle and hit the upturned palm with the ruler. Another much liked version was the hitting of hands with the knuckles up. This was popular because it inflicted so much more pain and was even more effective in installing subservience and non questioning education in pupils.
Another perplexing insight in this new country was given that for children to move up to the next level of education, this did not depend on having passed examinations on subjects, but rather on how much someone had grown up? The younger ones did not have the advantage that Frank and I had of having had a few years of English back in Holland, so it was perhaps much harder those first couple of years for the younger brothers and sister to stay in front. When it was suggested that John should perhaps spend another year at the same level, the answer was that John was so tall he could not possibly spend another year in the same class.
So, there you have it. The assimilation took some time, getting used to all those differences but we were doing not too bad. The young ones soon started coming home with English phrases which in turn gave my mother the opportunity to pick up the lingo as well. Amazingly, mother who had barely gone through high school back in Holland was without fear when it came to practising her new language and did better than Dad who was more circumspect and less accepting of all that Aussie slang and strangeness. He was amazed seeing elderly ladies who had ‘blue hair’. Once he came home, and, I will never forget it, he said” I saw a woman with pink hair to-day”. Oh, those differences!
After perhaps a year or so with the Van Dijks and the three legged rat chasing dog and Chevy-ute patiently waiting on bricks for its relief in rubber, it was time to move on. Enough money had been saved and many week-ends were spent looking for “own block” like most other migrants were searching at the time. We had, by now, met several other Dutch couples with children and “own block”, with, if possible a “temporary dwelling” on it, was very much the talk at social gatherings. Indeed, some of those had already found the “block” and had moved from Migrant Camp or rented accommodation into own temporary dwelling. Let me explain that “own block” is a block of sub divided land with own title that could be bought. In Australia, then as now, the dream of owning a block of land had reached an almost religious fervour amongst the just arrived migrant. The talk was contagious and after coming home from an afternoon of talk with others about this possibility of having own block, we were beside ourselves with the prospect of having a large garden where we could play or perhaps keep a dog, with four legs, and have leghorn chickens. After having looked for a few weeks, the block with ‘temporary dwelling’ was found. Hoorah. It was near railway, had a small shopping centre and was also in the process of building a pub with a modern circular roof line. It was the buzz of Sydney, a pub with a dome like structure. We really had landed with our nose in the butter. The suburb was Revesby.
The most important aspect of this search for own block of land was that requirement to be near a rail way station. Sydney already then had expanded over a very large area with a centre around the Harbour Bridge and Town Hall with a cob web of rail lines going in all direction and to many dozens of suburbs spread out to perhaps fifteen kilometres or even more away from the centre. The further one went, the cheaper the land. However, if the land was near a rail station that would be regarded as a significant advantage and a premium would be paid for the convenience. So, the choice was, for either close to the city but pay more, or further out but near a rail line and pay less or the same. The land near the city was often hard to find but also much smaller in area and far more congested with people and cars, noise and smoke.
Our move from the Van Dijks to our Revesby block was by a truck that moved the gleaming chrome plated bunk beds and all the bits and pieces that had been sent over from Holland.
A ‘dressoir’ or dresser with a mirror also some chairs and a coffee table. The’ lazy chair’ which had an adjustable back that could be slotted to a more horizontal level for comfort with arm rests which were wide enough to support an ashtray. This is where dad used to sit and ponder, smoke his ciggies .The laden truck left in the afternoon and I remember dad helping to prevent the scattering of households along Woodville Road by spreading himself eagle-like on top of sloping boxes of pots and pans at the back of the truck. The arrival of truck at our own block and temporary dwelling went smoothly and things were put inside our fibro- asbestos sheeted Temporary Dwelling. The sleeping of the eight of us needed the ingenuity of creators of puzzles. How to fit all of us in an area of 8 by 4 metres? Simple, piece of cake! Stack all mattresses during day and put them all down during evening and night. The turning around at night during sleep had to be carefully stage managed, and restless sleep was not allowed. This went on for a few weeks when, after saving up for many bags of cement, sand and blue metal, a concrete base was poured for an extension to the fibro garage. The cement, sand and blue metal was hand mixed and a floor of 8 by 3 metres was poured. The week after Mr V.Dijk, who, as previously mentioned, had building experience knocked together the extension with a timber frame and clad it with the asbestos cement sheeting externally and corrugated asbestos roof sheets. The living space had now increased a massive 50% and all boys slept in the extension and sister Dora and parents in the original dwelling. Dad knocked a hole in the wall to gain excess to the ‘bedroom’. As it turned out the roof sheeting had not been long enough and the extension leaked whenever it rained which made those sleeping on the top bunks wet. Not too worry, a plastic sheet was fastened above the top bunks and fastened to the roof timbers so the water would run on top of the sheet and then down the inside of the wall and seep out into the soil outside.
We lived in that dwelling for over two years. Frank in the meantime had managed to go through so many jobs; it was getting more serious as time went by that there was a problem that no longer could be ignored. Our dwelling was not lined inside. This meant that we were separated from the outside by the 5 millimetres of the asbestos cement sheeting. The heat in summer and the frost in winter were never far away, particular the winters were somewhat worse than we had imagined. At no stage did we ever contemplate that Australia could be cold, let alone have frost! All we ever saw were tropical gardens and waving palm trees.
A peculiar incident of Australian easy going culture that we experienced during those early years was when mother had to be hospitalised for a couple of weeks. She had those mysterious stays in hospitals occasionally. Perhaps it was woman trouble or varicose vein disturbances. I never really found out, but considering she only died a few years ago at the sound age of 94, I feel that her health overall was well taken care off. During the first few months on own block with dwelling, we had knocked up some kind of chicken pen. John had gone to the City markets called Paddy Markets and came home with about six leghorns travelling by train. The chooks were carried in a hessian bag with their heads sticking out of holes specifically made for breathing purpose. The train was crowded and standing place only. John had no option but to stand in the area between carriages and hold onto a post with one hand and hold the bag of chooks above his head with the other. Fellow travellers were being entertained by being stared upon by the beady eyes of the somewhat nervous leghorns above them.
Now, during the hospital period we had some kind of domestic help from the government or perhaps the local church. She was in her late fifties and was one of those ‘old girls ‘that looked as if she would play bingo and frequent the ladies lounge at the local. She was bone idle but as kind as a raffle ticket. Her main job was to cook a meal for the evening when all kids and dad would be home. The routine was simple; lamb, spuds and boiled vegetables. Later on, we were told by neighbours, that during the day she would saunter up to the Revesby pub (with the round dome) and have ‘a couple’ before coming back and prepare the meal… Her speciality however was the dessert. This dessert was a very sweet fruit mince type of cake, a bit like a Christmas type pudding but, and this is amazing, she had taken the rounded domed water dish from the chook pen to make the cake in. It must have had the perfect shape for the cake! Now, we knew what happened to the water dish. Each time the dish was returned to the chooks she would without as much as batting her eyelids take the dish back to make yet another cake. To make sure the chickens were not without water, she would put a normal saucepan in the pen. As it turned out, most of the young leghorns turned out to be roosters. No eggs. Was this another variant on the three legged creatures? Many times, when the kids came home from school, she would be found snoring away by an alcohol induced torpor.
At the same time as the leghorns, John also bought a sweet little Labrador puppy from the same City markets at the back of Central Station towards Ultimo. This was at that time quite a busy place on a Saturday, when all the rural producers and markets gardeners would get to the city markets and sell their wares. Most of those behind the stalls were Italian, Greek and many different Russian Federation vendors, also some Baltic or’ Balts’ as they were called. The best and freshest and cheapest vegetables could be bought there. Many of the customers were also Europeans, not just for the vegetables or live stock, also for the ‘life’ itself. At the time of arrival in 1956, the only place to get coffee as opposed to that dreadful invention Nescafe with the 43 beans was to either go to David Jones or to Paddy’s markets. Worse, once in a cafe we asked if the coffee served was real and the answer was to point to the large powdered coffee tin. The waitress at that time did not know that coffee came from beans.
John came home, again by train after having bought the puppy. How tragedy can strike at a young age is what we are supposed to accept as part of growing up. It is how ‘we deal with it’ we are told much later on. At some stage, disappointments and with the mystery of everlasting magic waning, we grow up a little wiser but also a little less being feeling young and protected from life’s misery. The puppy, after John building a nice dog house and spending his pocket money on leads and special puppy food became ill with distemper. It lasted a number of weeks. John held out hope till the very end and would sit up all day and night in the garden with his beloved but very sick puppy. It finally died. John was heaving with grief, he loved the chickens and his puppy and was inconsolable, but the rooster chickens were not much consolation then.
After a suitable period of grieving and getting over this blow he came up with his next animal project, homing pigeons. We had some experience with homing pigeons at our top storey place at The Hague where, during the last year or so of our stay in Holland, both John and I built a pigeon loft on the large balcony outside. The pigeons were those lovely racing pigeons that serious breeders would take to other countries and release, the pigeon that came home first would win a price. This is how I understood it at the time. We had bought our first pigeons from a school friend not far from our street. We generally liked the flying of pigeons coming back to their loft for feed and were fascinated by their homing instincts. From those early pigeon memories that are still with me now, most of the pigeons we had bought, when released, would immediately return to their previous owners. They, for a small cost, would give them back, but at the same time, were running a lucrative business in selling pigeons that were old and probably trained to always come back to their owners who would then sell over and over, the same pigeons.
In Revesby, I had developed different interests, was working and had bought a Lambretta Scooter with money saved up, but John who was still at school and with the sad lost of his beloved puppy, thought he would at least have some involvement with animals. The roosters were useless and fought tooth and nail when they grew up. John, the eternal optimist would not believe that all were roosters and wait until the crowing started. They were subsequently either given away or were given a shovel and buried. The chicken coup was transformed into a pigeon house and after yet another trip to Paddy’s market and with another hessian bag on the train, John came home with some pigeons. The racing pigeons were in the sack together with some really lovely ‘fan-tales’. They were white and used to fan their tail feathers out when in an amorous mood. Pigeons are often amorous and as a result John soon had a couple of dozen pigeons. The inbreeding or line breeding of the birds was no hindrance and the resulting progeny certainly did not suffer from any genetic malfunction and continued with the same amorous behaviour and vigour. Soon John had sixty or more. Their homing instincts were superb and eating them would have been considered pet murder. The sky for the birds was the limit, the chicken coup was the home for the night, but during the day, they would happily do the rounds between the suburban rooftops of neighbours, just sit there high up and generally enjoy the view. . , and do a couple of couplings, take turns sitting on the next lot of eggs.
The pride and joy of our neighbours were their houses and many a Saturday would be spent sprucing and brushing the exterior of their homes. The gardens also were meticulously kept. Not a leaf would be allowed to rest on roof or lawn. The neighbour right next to us, his name Bill, with lovely wife and six children, would spend entire week-ends on knees tending his lawn. At first I thought he was praying on his knees or perhaps meditating, even though at that time, the art of meditation was decades away. Later on I discovered, while carefully and discretely looking at his kneeling down, he was having a small fork like tool whereby he would crawl around the lawn and dig out bits of undesired grass. I have never ever discovered what the aim was. I can only surmise that he wanted a uniform lawn without the intrusion of different green blades of grass that did not belong to the specie that he so badly desired in his lawn. He would sometimes stand up, straighten himself and roll a cigarette. He was then a picture of contentment only to cloud over when looking at John’s pigeons on his roof.
His work to make the perfect lawn was interrupted by John’s pigeons. The pigeons were hell-bent on roosting on his shiny red terra-cotta tiled roof. The house was new and pigeons did not respect this or were totally unaware of the owner’s pride in trying to preserve the house almost as if still in wrapping or gift paper. They, the pigeons, especially the fan tails, shat unrelentingly and in total irreverence to Bill the neighbour. The cooing by the many pigeons which was music to John’s ears sounded to Bill like a war cry, a kind of bugle heralding an army of defecators ready to defile his pride and joy, his terra-cotta roof. For years, the good humoured Bill would climb on roof and with stiff broom sweep off the white pigeon shit. Of course it would all roll into his gutter, which meant he also had to clean them out as well. He was as particular with his roof as he was with his lawn. To his credit, he would sometimes allude to the pigeon problem but was too good natured to make a fuss. It was only after we built our own house that our father thought the pigeons should go. They had now taken a fancy to our new roof and the numbers were becoming unmanageable.
Chapter 4. Our house and living in the suburbs.
The building of our own house started after about two years of living in the garage or ‘temporary dwelling’ euphemistically named by Shire Councillors. You were not allowed to live in a garage but if the garage was named ‘temporary dwelling’ all was fine and hundreds of thousands of migrants would start their life in Australia living inside those small dwellings. It was the leg-up to something grander in the future, namely ‘own home on own block’.
After months of handwringing, worrying about paying interest and taking a loan and endless negotiations with several lenders, it was decided to accept a loan from The Dutch Building Society at the ridiculous rate of 2 or 3 percent for the building of a home. Many home-plans were looked at and a final 3 bedroom plan was chosen. The bricks for the foundation footings were laid. Jumping from footing to footing I remember thinking that the house appeared rather small. Soon after, the rest of the material arrived, a large pile of red cement roof tiles arrived, a few broke unloading from the truck, and dad thought it an immediate disaster. Within a couple of months the house was built, painted and handed over. We moved from our cramped temporary dwelling to a more generous sized house. The house was small but had 3 bedrooms, a bathroom with shiny Masonite based wall panelling that had some kind of tile effect embossed on it. The floor had real mosaic type tiles, quite pretty and practical. There was a hand-basin and a hot and cold shower and bath, no toilet because at that time there still was no sewerage connected in most of the outer suburbs of Sydney. Mother was pleased with the house and her dream of having a bathroom had finally been fulfilled.
Not having sewerage connected was normal in Australia during the time of European immigration from early days till the early 1960’s. The enormous distances between houses and suburbs and the sheer spread of just a few hundred people over many kilometres of land made the provision of infrastructure such as sewerage systems too expensive for the time. The way out was for the local Council to provide a ‘dunnee-pan’. This pan was a heavy metal container coated with pitch or bitumen and actually smelled fresh and spicy when just delivered. A bit like an industrial harbour foreshore, with moorings and thick ropes, tarred anchors and pylons. This pan would be used in a small outside room of about two square metres and called the ‘dunnee’. An outside toilet, sometimes politely called by the upper shore, ‘the out-house’… The dunnee pan would be covered by another outer metal shell with a hinged wooden lid. With some imagination, this could then be seen as a toilet. However, when lifting the lid, no matter what it looked like from outside, the smell and darkness inside was brutally brooding and very sienna-brown, and left nothing at all to imagination. Not too many would linger or read poetry or even the Newspaper.
The pan would be collected once a week by burley blokes in blue singlets and verdant armpits, who would come before dawn and summer-heat, to heave the full sloshing pan on shoulders and put on a truck. Coarse oaths would be renting the still morning air and heavily shod feet would crunch the concrete path along the side of the veranda. This dunnee pan would be capped by a lid secured on top with some sort of metal band that would lever the lid tightly around the container, not unlike some preservatives, such as sour kraut or apple sauce, of the present day. This was a job purely reserved for dinky-di Australians and much coveted. It was well paid and had all sorts of lurks, including dalliances with lonely women and early knock off times when finished. I am not sure, if the smell added to their appeal, but rumours had it that many a woman, widowed, single or even married, was left happy after an early visit from the ‘dunnee man’.
Large families were given a ‘special 2 pan treat’, this usually meant giving very generously at Christmas time. (A couple of crates of beer would suffice) Any large family that were too stingy at Christmas would soon find a lonely single pan again. Those dunnee men were often kind rogues but a law onto their own revered by many and feared by some. The ‘dunnee man’ is now part of folklore and long gone since.
Our family was more than just large and Dad had to make some adjustment to a down pipe outside the dunnee that would carry rain water from the roof to the open storm water drain at the front of the street. Despite our generosity towards the Shire’s dunnee men at Christmas time, we never had more than 2 pans a week. For our family this was not enough. I never did find out how our neighbours coped, they had six children as well. We were on friendly terms but not that friendly that you could ask; what do you do with your human manure (shit)? In any case, their concern was more focussed on the fan tail pigeons’ shit on their shiny roof tiles all caused by my brother John’s flock of sixty pigeons… It would have been unwise to mention anything to do with poo.
It was not as if our family produced too much ‘solid stuff’, no, it was the sloshing around of the liquid waste that was the problem. Of course, being right next to neighbours it wasn’t as if one could go outside at any time and urinate in the garden. This is what happened though. When the height in the pan became critical, and the dunnee man still a day or so away from collecting, that the boys were told to do as much urinating as possible at school or wait till late at night and then in the garden in the dark.
In the summer this caused some olfactory concerns and when this ammonia like stench could no longer be hidden or blamed on Dad’s fertiliser for the veggie patch, that Dad did a piece of engineering that is still admired until this day. As I already said before, there was a metal downpipe running on the outside of the toilet that carried rainwater from the roof to the trench at the front of the house. Dad simply cut a small hole in the fibro on the inside of the toilet directly abutting the down pipe and conveniently next to the pan; this hole was also made on the inside of the downpipe. Both holes corresponded and synchronized brilliantly. This hole was then used for all the males (six in total) as a urinal taking the piss straight down the downpipe and to the front of the house in the open stormwater trench. This trench was usually overgrown with weeds. Generous rains would wash it downhill and finally into concrete stormwater and into the Georges River. Council used to come along three times a year to get rid of the weeds and mow the grass around it. Well, our trench was the most luxuriously green and lush looking of the whole street. It would have won a blue ribbon for excellence if that nature strip could have been entered into the Easter Show. It wasn’t till many years later that sewerage was connected and my mother’s dream of ‘own bathroom’ with inside flushing toilet, was truly fulfilled. My father was a genius.
With the toilet indoors, the dunnee man receding into history, we should all have been riding high in the achievements wrought so hard by this migrant family of 6 children and parents. Those that could work were Dad, Frank and I. John followed when he finished his intermediate level at school and at sixteen started working as an apprentice in a wood working factory making rail carriages, as I remember. The achievements of getting into own house within about four years of arriving from Holland was remarkable but also mainly because those that earned money all chipping in and letting our mother work at the financial details. In this she was like the secretary of the IMF. Nothing would escape her need for scrimping and saving to lessen the future burden of any eventual downturn or disaster.
Every Thursday evening, when all the ‘workers’ had been paid, it was pay up time and ‘board moneys’ were handed over to mum who would keep a close record of what might still be owing on top of it, sometimes a tube of special toothpaste, at other times she would remember little extras that we had requested. This could be in the form of desirable little morsels of food such as chocolate bars or sparkling soft drink that one might sometimes indulge in. Cosmetics such as after shave, Brilliantine for hair, a bow tie. The finances were water tight but bills were always paid immediately when due. It wasn’t until another year or so of living in our new house when a Television was bought. There was a solid reason for doing that. Television was already available in Holland well before we came to Australia in 1956. They were the Melbourne Olympics that were the force behind its arrival in Australia. I suppose it would have been around 1961 or so when our large wooden TV arrived in our lounge room. It had four knobs. 1, knob for on/off. 2, knob for sound. 3. knob for sharpness. 4, knob for channel changing. That’s it. Now TV has remotes with 112 miniscule little toggles. Some advancement!
The reason was many folds. The flight away from home during week-ends by those that could get away was a constant nagging worry for our parents. The troubles with Frank had gradually become very worrying. He had grown up and was strong. His unpredictable behaviour started to include violence and aggressive behaviour. John and I would of course be away from that while at work and the evenings would be anticipated with some fear in case Frank would be in a bad mood. The origin of his behaviour was there when he was young back in Holland. Already then, as I wrote earlier, Frank was different, different in the sense that he did not get acceptance in the world that he was living in. At school, you had to keep up and progress from one stage to the other. Frank had good intelligence, had good memory and comprehended things well. He would just get stuck in a groove and could not jump out to the next groove. It was like a record needle going around at random or sometimes just sliding off, all together. He would often get the sack within a day or so of starting a new job and the feuding at home was also getting worse. My parents were at their wits end and there was no help, nor was there relief or escape for my parents as there was for us
I had formed a friendship with a boy back from when still in transit to Australia on the boat. His name was Roderick. He had two brother and two sisters, all of whom had been born in Indonesia from Dutch parents. At some stage back in the Dutch-East Indies (Indonesia) history a mixed relationship must have happened as the father had distinct dark brown skin, eyes and features that were somewhat Eastern of appearance. At the time of their arrival back in 1956, Australia had a law banning anyone ‘non-white’ from permanently settling in Australia. It was called the “White Australian Policy” and intended to restrict non-white people from settling in Australia and was one of the first Acts passed upon federation in 1901 without virtually any opposition. Australia at first only allowed white British migrants to settle but those from a British but non-white ancestry were not. It was also that many disgruntled white English were returning to England and Australia was finding it increasingly difficult to attract new settler that white non-British were allowed in. This was the beginning of Continental Europeans being allowed to settle into Australia. The passing of racial discrimination act in 1975 made the White Australian Policy finally obsolete and from then on non whites, British and non-British, were welcomed on equal footing as the paler white people, provided that all required qualifications and health standards were met.
Of course, back in 1956, not all immigration officials did at times possess a great deal of geographical or historical knowledge of the rest of the world. Apart from thousands of men fighting and dying during WW 1 and WW 2 in Europe, the travel of the average Australian was limited to the occasional trip to Manly or the Blue Mountains and many would only have a vague notion of the rest of the world. So it was that anyone with a Dutch passport and the required health and other qualifications would often be allowed to settle in Australia when afterwards in was discovered that there appeared a loophole by which non-whites sneaked into Australia………
Not everyone with a Dutch passport was white. The Indonesian President Sukarno who proclaimed independence in 1949 of the former Dutch East Indies into the Republic Indonesia did not waste time in making the Dutch unwelcome. Most of those, born and living in Indonesia for generations, were unceremoniously kicked out. Many of those came from mixed marriages and some of those holding Dutch passports were physically indistinguishable from Indonesian nationals. At one stage, many residents of some Islands such as Ambon, that opposed Sukarno’s proclamation of independence in 1949 were given the option by the Dutch Government of having the Dutch Nationality bestowed and allowing those to then settle in Holland if they chose to do so…Many did take the option and settled in Holland, and many also then decided to migrate to Australia. At least the weather was so much kinder and the Dutchies were very much in demand!
At one stage, for reasons I have long forgotten, but I suppose perhaps of having formed friendships amongst the Dutch Indonesians, I acted as a courier for some of those Javanese or Sumatran looking Dutch Nationals to try and obtain permanent residency status. Many, after the independence of Indonesia went to the former Dutch New Guinea with its Capital Hollandia, to at least be in a warmer climate. Holland for many was wet, with drizzle and stodgy food. They missed the warmth not only of climate but also of the friends left behind. Many would take the crossing by boat from Dutch New Guinea to Australia, I would go to immigration in Sydney and apply on the behalf of Dutch nationals but with brown skin, to try and obtain those permanent visas. The officials, at first let pass anyone with European nationality but as the ‘white Australian Policy’ was strictly adhered to, the slipping in of coloured Dutch people came to the notice of fussy officials. Many did not accept giving visas without the applicants being sighted in the flesh and not just from photographs. However, there were certain tricks that somehow would overcome all those obstacles.
It was with Roderick and brothers, sisters and parents that at week-ends I would often flee to. Frank was too difficult for my parents but with us siblings, it was just easier to escape. These were hard times and even the BW TV wasn’t enough to lure us home. One of the many series of TV that were popular was Bonanza and Seventy Seven Sunset Strip. Bonanza had a father and three sons. The mother somehow did not feature ever; discrimination had not appeared in the dictionary yet. I am sure Bonanza would now be censured. Oddly enough, I can’t even remember if any female played any role in that series, no girlfriends. No it was mainly horsing around, doing good and dramas would be resolved with a final getting together of Pa and Three sons in the final few seconds of re-united family bliss. (But without mum)
The final straw and beginning of a lifelong institutionalisation for Frank happened when again, during a huge flare-up and violence, Frank became too hard for my parents to try and reason with. My dad ended up chasing Frank who left the house and started to run up-hill followed by father. It was late in the afternoon and getting dark. Mother was inside with us sobbing while sitting on a chair. I went outside and saw my father with a tea towel over his shoulder pursuing Frank who was of course fitter and gaining distance. It was about twenty minutes later that a police car came by with Frank inside. What had happened was that Frank finally decided to enter a garden in the hope of remaining hidden from father. The owner of the house did not muck about when discovering a man hiding and another running towards his house. He, the owner of the house had taken a shotgun from inside, came outside again and shot a salvo into the air. This of course frightened Frank and dad alike. In a few minutes a car appeared and police turned up and took Frank away. Frank already must have had a few other incidents because after this latest, the police took him to Sydney’s Callan Park Mental Hospital.
The timing would have been around 1960 or so. The admission of Frank to Callan Park was a terrible event and a defeat for my parents, who were always in the hope that all would turn out for the best for Frank. This event marked our family profoundly for many decades, especially for my parents. After the admission to Callan Park, Frank must had some assessment and, as far as my memory allows it, remained there at least at the beginning stages during the week but at week-ends he would come home irrespective of his mental state. Sometimes he was well but at other times he was terrible with unpredictable mood swings.
When visiting Frank I remember being totally shocked to see the place he was in. It resembled a jail, with wardens going around with bundles of keys strapped to their belts, none ever took the trouble of talking to us and poor Frank just totally zonked out on medication. He told us they would wrap him and others up in wet bed sheets and when unable to move were then put in a room and locked in. The buildings were huge sandstone double storied fortresses and terribly forbidden looking. There seemed no furniture to be around and when visiting Frank, he would be coming from some dark interior to us outside and we would then just stand and talk. Was the furniture removed deliberately? Was it so bad that patients would hurl furniture around? Were some of those that were walking around dangerously insane or homicidal maniacs? Where we as visitors in danger? Who were the patients and who were the staff? They all looked strange and unfriendly and the main and all pervading feeling was of a total lack of humanity. Not as much as a smile would be forthcoming! Truly, it was something out of Kafka with Bedlam in control.
It was almost impossible to talk to a doctor and on the few times that my parents did, they were told that Frank had Schizophrenia, and that this was often the fault of parenting, especially the mother! We should all now undo the damage done and go for family therapy. We went to a few of those sessions but can’t remember getting anything out of it!
I remember a rather flirtatious patient getting the attention of the doctor who disappeared with her into his office while we were filing out of the therapy session. My father was put on the spot next time by this same doctor with a difficult question which dad simply could not answer quickly enough. The doctor made hay out of this by getting the rest of the families and other participants on his side with a cheap laugh. Some ‘therapy’.
Frank certainly did not improve and months after months my parents tried to find answers and still held hope that somehow Frank would turn a corner and get well again,
Conditions were so bad that even food was not adequate and we used to bolster Frank’s food intake by bringing him food during visiting times. When he once came home by train in his pyjamas, my parents just went totally of the rails as well and tried to get the Hospital to not let Frank just go off and come home while obviously so totally unwell. The answer from the Hospital management was that this could only be done if my parents would sign a piece of paper whereby Frank would be declared insane and, hence on, be a permanent ward of the state. This was something my parents were unwilling to agree to. It was decided that Frank would be coming home again and we would all try and accommodate Frank as much as possible, allowing his tantrums to be ignored and stay out of his way as his moods would dictate. This was not easy but for a while this seemed to work.
In the meantime, I managed to start up my own company. From factory sweeping, to Optical Mechanics in Clarence Street, Sydney, and a few tries at engineering work with lathe and milling machines, I had become totally convinced that these sort of jobs were degrading and without future. I had become very morose and unhappy, in fact, the worst and most unhappy time of my life. The one thing I kept up with was the saving as quickly as possible of my earnings in order to return to my friends, left behind five or six years earlier, and starting life all over again in Holland.
This whole event of migrating and all my desires to make something of my life was something I could not see being fulfilled in Australia anymore. Of course, the cruelty of Frank’s condition and all of us coping with the violence and unpredictable moods was so damaging and unfair.