Archive for the ‘Gerard Oosterman’ Category

Striking out on one’s own and first Sex..

May 30, 2015

 

Etching 'is it love?'

Etching ‘is it love?’

The next few years after the momentous and epic Woy Woy first date journey, time seems to have gone quickly.  I kept up going to Vic’s Cabaret and even expanded my dancing skills by learning ‘the Stomp’ which was of short duration. It was taken over by doing the ‘twist’ . Looking at old footage of twisting and stomping it all seems to have been so silly. You did not even touch the girl. At least with jiving you threw the girl over your back,  or dragged her beween your legs, teach her a good lesson.  Of course, the hidden message of that dance was for the boy to be dragged between the girls’ legs which happened in some rare instances but always with the boy facing the floor, never upwards into her billowing skirt. I did not experience that till later. It was with a nice woman from Malta that I finally lost my virginity. “It was on the Isle of Malta where I met you…”, no, not really, it was in a boarding house in Sydney’s Paddington. The problem with the Maltese woman was not her generosity of spirit and her overabundance of yielding softness but that she had a husband, a butcher by trade, who kept a loaded shotgun in the wardrobe.

I would be lying to say that dating girls ever led to much more than a furtive kiss given in return for a movie with chocolate Maltesers or packet of crisps. The Parramatta scooter club that I belonged to folded when motor bikes joined and we could not agree on how to keep the Vespa club at bay. They seemed to outnumber the Lambrettas now and ran treasure hunts to Palm Beach to which a few of our own members had been seen going to. There was a seething discontent in scooter clubs of the fifties and sixties. Now of course this has seeped into the Comancheros and Hells Angels. They now have guns and rocks of crystal meth while we had malted milkshakes.

This boat of love seemed to flounder forever on the rocky shores of my Isle of Doom. The problem was my ‘mien’. It was the somewhat sombre impression at first sight. Girls had to overcome this. Not an easy task.  I could not change what was the essence of my own being.  It was at the same time also my best feature. I say this with some confidence because this mien always stood me in good faith later on.  The dilemma is that most young girls and boys like good cheer with easy going friendly smiling demeanours. Not many girls seemed to be drawn at my ice-breaking attempts introducing small talk about a demonically violin playing  Paganini, or a ponder about lives behind the venetian blinds, or indeed my clear own unique insight in the state of Australian cemeteries. I suppose suburbs don’t encourage seriousness when the essence of  life in burbs can be so bleak and lacking in a joie de vivre already. The last thing anyone wants on a night out is a dark Schubert journey of KlageLieder and hopeless love buried in the deepest of  oceans. This Jeremiah wasn’t a Don Juan.

A helping hand was soon  knocking at the front-door of my life. A fortuitous move on hindsight was the move away from home to rent a room with board in Paddington. The Landlady was from Malta and she certainly had a good mien. A bundle of laughs and generosity expressed by ample heaving  and shuddering breasts. On accepting the terms she immediately cooked me some lovely lamb cutlets with lots of garlic and salted anchovies with rosemary. I remember it so well. “I give you plenty food, Gerard,” she said. The full board was to include bed and all meals with her and family, including the husband, with shotgun as previously touched upon.

etching

etching

Within a week of settling in I was watching TV with her husband sitting opposite from his wife sitting directly next to me. A few days before she had invited me over to look at some photos of her and her husband’s wedding in Malta. We were both seated on her marital bed. I thought it a very friendly gesture and put it down to Maltese culture and openness. None of that Anglo Saxon reserve. I was happy but a bit nervous. Her bosom was  welling up but with such a large and generous endowment one would have to wear a knight’s armour and necktie to seek cover. “My husband sick now”, she added, of which its significance escaped me at that moment.

While watching TV and Bonanza with the three brothers and their father galloping around the same set of rocks several times, I felt a movement in my left pocket. It was the hand of the Maltese landlady searching me…. me. It took a while to sink in but was sure her hand wasn’t looking for my hanky. It was definitely an amorous attempt, sexual even. A tour de force. I was petrified and with her husband sitting in the other opposite corner!.  Did he not know? However, her hand and gentle but insistent fingers ambushed my resolve to end it by me running away.  Au contraire. It was so lovely.  I was so excited and even collegially leant a bit backwards to give more room to her expert married hand. I had the temerity to lightly stroke her back,  keeping a guilty eye out for her husband. What could I do for her. Wasn’t this supposed to go twin carburettor for both of us? The horses and Bonanza all but a black and white blur, running berserk for all I cared. A fata morgana that was now really happening to me. The oasis of a real woman.

Can you understand the dread, fear and yet the rewards coming finally to me so longed for and dreamed about? The misery of home life. The rejections of dates and dorky evenings at the cinema with Ben Hur, a Moses with tablets, or some Quo Vadis on a big screen. Here it was, her lovely hand, let the husband shoot me, who cares! Bonanza finished. She got up after her husband had left. “Gerard, get some ‘Frenchies’ tomorrow, quickly”. She smiled and kissed me good night. What a Bonanza.

Next day at 9.01 am I was at the chemist. You will know that condoms at that time could only be given consent and sold by the chemist himself. He or a she would always be standing, as today, on a podium. I asked for three packets of condoms. All caution to the wind now and I was on a high. He looked me over and grumpily sold me the condoms. Next morning, I was in bed which was on a linoleum floor, all shiny and clean. She walked in with husband gone to work (slicing the sausages). She smiled and lifted her dress standing next to my head. Both of us in a single bed and she was so big. But where there is a will… And that was it. A great initiation by a good woman. I left suddenly after a few days. I did not like the deceit on her husband and especially not with a loaded shotgun in the wardrobe. The situation was so dangerous.

Was he really sick and why this gun? I could not understand that she had the nerve to do this with her husband in the same room. She did like me and for a year or so she would phone and I knew it was her. She would say, “Gerard, Gerard”, but I did not answer her.

Perhaps she too had sadness. Don’t we all at times?

 

The Willi Willy at Woy Woy.

May 28, 2015

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The journey of acquiring my first car, the trip to learn in a rhythmic tempo of moving thighs, the Fox trot and the tempestuous Austrian Waltz with Phyllis Bates, would now surely also include a first date? It was on the cards long before any of that. Growing genes and rocking hormones does all that for us, irrespective of will and choice. The world is full of people now as sure proof of this.

The Vic’s cabaret at Strathfield was a large hall that had a raised podium on top of which to house a small orchestra. The ceiling was high and made of weatherboards painted a stark white as were the walls. There was seating on both sides with ample wooden benches. On the opposite side of the entrance the benches were occupied by the girls but on both sides of the entrance and opposite the dance floor all the boys. It provided a clear view of both sexes to study each other. The boys were much more blatant, the girls much more coy but also darting quick looks across assessing possible dancing partners.

In the middle of the ceiling was a large rotating ball which held little mirrors that threw fascinating effects around the walls and floor adding excitement and an atmosphere of expectation. I mean those flickering images and the music added to a letting go of inhibitions which of course is a requirement of daring to dance with another body, let alone another body of the opposite sex.

All boys and girls on entering were looked over and sniffed for any hint of alcohol. They were strict on that and that was good. All were stone sober so all initiatives to a dance were of free will and cold choice, no chemical help of any kind. My brylcreme with artificial little Kookie hair-wave and the Pelaco shirt was about the only external aid I could use. It must be remembered that at the late fifties and sixties Australia was swamped with young man and this created a shortage of women.

However, if a man had car it would give him a bit of ‘a leg-up.’   I had a car; what’s more a Ford V8 single spinner. But, I could hardly go up to a girl and say,” Hello, my name is Gerard and I have a big V8, would you like to dance?” With the abundance of men and shortage of girls on the dance floor, many a refusal had to be lived with. The “no thank you”, had to be overcome time and time again. It was also true that at that time the girls were more attracted to the true blue Aussie male. The foreigners had strange accents and eating habits, often far too polite and formal, shaking hands and all that stuff, taking the girls back to their seat after the dance.

However, there was one sure way of getting to dance. It was the ‘Pride of Erin’. This was a dance were a kind of circle or Conga line of boys and girls was formed in equal numbers. It took some time to organise but the excitement was at fever pitch. Everyone loved the Pride of Erin. Many a boy was straining at the leash. This was the time to strike out and get a date. The music started and I remember well the tune. It was ‘ What’s the matter with kids today?’ I soon got in my stride and swirled like the best of them. I tried an air of utter nonchalance and even practised the Australian ‘could not care less’ bravado. You only had seconds to strike out for a date but with the second round and same girl one could get a rapport going that hopefully would result in a date and exchange of addresses afterwards. (Of course texting was decades off let alone sexting or incriminating selfies. Now people have amazing sex through vibrating IPhones or Tweets.)

To cut the story short and after many a visit to Vic’s and endless Prides of Erin, I did manage a date. I took her to Woy Woy which the week before had been struck by a Willy Willy or tornado. It was the best I could come up with. I could have gone to the Blue Mountains but to stare at a mountain-view sitting inside a car might be fraught with some aspects of awkwardness. I felt touring around the devastation of roofs having been blown off and boats blown out of the water could offer a distraction and something to talk about. There was also a very famous artist living in the area and I thought it might be worthwhile to drive past his house and possibly have something to talk about.

The day wasn’t a great success. The talk wasn’t flowing. I tried history and Dresden with WW2, the state of neglect of our cemeteries, ( we drove past one)nothing worked and she kept saying ” oh, that is lovely, and oh, thank you’ over and over. It was difficult. We stopped on the way back when she finally said something; “I would like a malted milkshake”, she said. I think we stopped at Hornsby after the Ford V8 blew a lot of smoke going up a very steep hill when crossing the Hawkesbury river. We sat in the milk-bar and slurped the milkshake. She was really sweet and very shy. Perhaps it was her first date as well. I did not want to ask because it might indicate a kind of unpopularity with boys. It is such a delicate time. I drove her back to Coogee where she lived. The door was opened by her dad. He was a huge tree of a man, and looked me over. She fled inside after another ‘thank you’.

It was my first date.

Vic’s Cabaret and first Date.

May 26, 2015
Milo in deep thought.

Milo in deep thought.

With the Phyllis Bates ‘academy’ dance lessons firmly tucked under my arms I  was ready and willing to go and practise for the first time my  dancing without the pre-painted dance-steps on a floor.   An Austrian Waltz was the last one I was taught. At one stage I came close to losing the book held between us.  I had to place my leg (just one) between both the lovely teacher’s  legs and do a majestic sweep of one hundred eighty degree turn while holding my chin proudly  upwards and sideways. I had at the same time hold both my right arm  and her left arm stretching out towards Central Railway. I did not want to  press, or move anything inappropriately while in that delicate but intimate position. I feared that some excitement might finally show but with my Reuben Scarf suit and generously billowing trousers I was somewhat reassured that nothing would betray even this possibility. In any case my concentration was focussed on the firm pushing Of Human Bondage book held between us.

I was informed about a dance club on Parramatta Rd near Sydney’s Strathfield. Readers might remember the salesman that sold me the Ford V8 also came from that area. He might well turn up at the same place. The place was called Vic’s Cabaret but like the word ‘academy’ it was another case of the  misuse of words  imbued with more than what was actually there. I remember being fascinated by ‘Palm Beach’ when still back in Holland before the migration episode. The map of Sydney had ‘Palm Beach’ on it.  I used to lay in bed conjuring up waving palm trees and could not wait to see those. It was  a B/W news-reel back in the winter cold of The Hague with natives on tropical islands sipping cool drinks from coconuts underneath beckoning palm trees. After migration I went to Palm Beach on my scooter. Not a single palm tree in sight! Now, I always thought that cabaret was a bit more than a place to dance in even if it included a small band.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2008-10-22/32400

Still, Vic’s Cabaret in Strathfield even without it being a true cabaret in a more European sense, was still a good place to start finding a date. Lots of nice girls would be there and it just needed a positive attitude and some extra brylcreme. Having straight hair did not have at that time the same allure as having a bit of a wave. The TV series Seventy Seven Sunset Strip was responsible for millions of young men imitating the forever hair combing hair-wave owning wisecracking rock and roll Kookie character. I tried to get this  wave and with enough Brilliantine hope I would also share in the glory of this popular character. Not unlike today with so many young men wanting to be a Bieber clone (or Russell Crowe for the more mature).

The Vic’s cabaret was a short drive from home and after a good wash and polish of the V8 I was ready and took off. I managed to park within a reasonable distance and took good note of where I parked. Most streets looked alike but it helped if one took notice of an unusual feature of where one parked. I took a mental note that the garden next to my car had old white painted rubber tyres around some azaleas. The old tyres were a feature of those times and also kept the weeds out. It was considered a very handy place to put old tyres and often this hint was given in the Garden magazine.  It was one of dad’s pet hatreds together with the habits of many elderly ladies painting the hair blue or a bright pink. “I saw a lady in the bus today who had pink hair.  ” A famous sentence of my dad still doing the rounds at Christmas time amongst the Oostermans. Dad had great difficulty with adjusting to some  odd or strange habits differing from some equally strange habits in his own country. I mean, riding bicycles while wearing a suit, or dipping a raw herring in onions and eating it in full view of pedestrians? All the windows open in full sight of a family eating their dinner?

How strange is that?

The learning of Fox Trot and my V8 Ford.

May 25, 2015
Ford V8 Singl spinner

Ford V8 Single spinner

Of course with the powder-blue Ford V8 sedan and the family being treated to a few tours around Sydney, thoughts went to try and get to know more about the opposite sex. These were lean times spent with females.  Harking back to the Scheyville migrant camp with the very limited and lonely Polish-pubic- bush peek through the shower partition, the experience had exhausted itself. I decided to take the bull by the horn and take some dancing lessons. I had noticed that in some magazines of  the ‘boy wants to meet girl’ kind (or the reverse), photos of the boys were often taken while nonchalantly leaning with one foot elevated into the door- way of a car.  A photo leaning one footed in the side-car of my motor bike wasn’t all that exciting a prospect for a girl to be taken out in. I mean, on A Roman Holiday the girls rode around on a Vespa but that was a bit different from driving around mute Sydney suburbia and its nodding petunias in an ex-police motor bike, even with a side-car.

The nous for someone with a guttural accent to get to know a girl in a strange country might now have  to include a photo of myself leaning casually in my FordV8.  Even then, I feared it might just not melt the tigers enough to make the butter.  I needed some flair, more oomph, chutzpah even. Before placing an ad in a lonely heart’s magazine I decided to take dancing lessons from Phyllis Bates dancing academy. I had already learnt that the word ‘academy’ was used in Australia with careless abandon.  I mean, that word in Holland meant professors and  Leiden University or an eight year ballet course in Moscow with the Bolshoi. Here an ‘academy’ could be doing Jiu jitsu , car repairs, or jigging about above a Greek milk bar. In any case, this dancing academy offered a booklet of twenty tickets on ‘special’. In the late fifties and sixties, everything was ‘special’. Even a local built car was Holden ‘special’. You did not have much that was sold being ‘not-special.’ The one thing that remained static and fixed, even till now is, that some cheese survived today, is still sold as ‘tasty.’

The flooding of the love-market was heavily tilted towards single bull necked males with strong gnarled horned hands. They were the ones to build the Snowy Mountain’s  Electricity supply scheme, now  redundant; the digging of mines at Mnt Isa, now redundant;  the cutting of sugar cane in hot Queensland, now by giant machines. I thought that by learning to do a nifty fox-trot or even a quick-step I would have an edge over the Queensland cane-cutters and bulky Bulgarians when it came to getting to know a girl with a lovely smile. I duly took the train to Sydney after donning a clean Pelaco shirt, finely ironed by my mother and a smart Reuben- Scarf suit (two for the price of one). I walked to Pitt Street and clambered the stairs up to Phyllis Bates Academy. (above the milk bar) and presented my booklet of twenty tickets After a ticket was ripped out of my booklet I entered a room from which before I could hear a lively tune being emitted. A very nice cone bra encased woman came to me and after introduction told me she would start teach me a fox trot.

‘ Just follow the painted footsteps on the floor’ and ‘I’ll guide you’. Just start one two…one two….I hopped along but could hardly believe a woman was holding me, I mean a real woman!  To think I still had nineteen tickets left. I could hardly contain my pleasure but did notice that most of the dance students were all bulky cane cutter males. The teacher in the meantime said; ‘ you have to hold me in such a way that a book must be firmly held between us and not fall on the floor’. The last thing I wanted for future memories was the misery of unable to even hold the book between me and a female body and suffer the ignominy of a failed book holder while learning the fox trot.

But, where were the girls? So much to come yet.

The Ford V8 period and other stuff.

May 22, 2015
On own block.

On own block.

(The above shot I found yesterday in a box full of photos. It is very interesting and shows perfectly our situation at that time. My father seems to be sitting on an asbestos sheet wearing a tie. Frank shirtless at the front. Dora cuddling our pet dog, mum in a deck chair. I seem to be just hanging on. The plight of our lives seems so clear. Was it the birth of the curmudgeon? The house behind Dad on the other side of the road does have windows but venetian blinds were at pitch fever popular and so was ‘privacy’. England had moats and drawbridges, Australia has blinds). The house next to the venetians had a Dutch family living in it).

As I motor-biked  past a car sales yard, I noticed a large car for sale amongst many others. This car was a powder blue colour and its chrome glimmered seductively. They say men fall in love with cars. Even the primates shown recently on TV, the male gets drawn to anything with wheels while the female ape cuddles dolls. What hope have we got? As a homo sapient  men might as well do away with free choice when a car sales yard beckons us more than a bevy of dolls. I mean what could be nicer than cuddling a doll? Yet, it is the hot embrace of high revving pistons and killer speeds that we seem to be drawn to. The smarmy salesman saw me coming looking out from his little window inside his pigeon hole office overlooking his domain of gaping cars. The perfect customer. A young man on a the hunt for his first car.

‘Care to take a closer look,’ the man said while consolidating his opinion of me. He had seen so many come and go that day but not many young ones. He could tell, having honed his car salesmanship at his previous sales yard along Parramatta Rd called “Pacific cars is Terrific”. He had broken the back of many a customer’s reluctance. He knew the ropes and his cars and was keenly sought after around the car-yard precincts of Sydney.  The year would have been around 1961/62. I had gone through a Lambretta scooter after which I bought an ex-police bike with side-car in which I used to go rabbit and fox hunting with with my brother John. John was very tall, over two metres. I don’t know how we fitted tent and two rifles in the outfit but we must have. When one is young matters of comfort are hardly ever considered. When getting to my present age, comfort is all and sleeping in a tent gets a bit hazardous with serpents and crocodiles around, huge poisonous cane toads that can kill by leaving a slimy substance. After seventy, the inner spring mattrass beckons like a nun waiting for her habit.

Our first house in Balmain.

Our first house in Balmain.

(Photo showing  my mother with (late) brother John and his wife jenny behind her.  Helvi looking at camera, then brother Herman, brother in law Dieter and sister Dora. Notice we are sitting on paint drums! The Broadway slow combustion wood-heater. A real Christmas tree and candles. They were very good and happy times.)

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(Outside our first house in Balmain taken from the street, facing the harbour on the other side.)

I walked around this blue car, both clock-wise and anti. The tension between us was palpable. I knew what it felt like to drive a bunch of condensed steel, wherever I steered it to, but also felt that to be inside a car- space was going to be a different experience. The salesman remained quiet so far, confident his prey was now slowly being seduced. They all get to it, sooner or later, he surmised philosophically.  ‘Would you like to go inside, get the feel of it?’ Of course I would. No sooner the door was opened, I slid inside. Leather seats, a cigarette lighter! The salesman nonchalantly stalked back to his office. The perfect ploy. He knew his trade so well. The master at work.

As soon as I sat inside the car, I was gone. The smooth feel of the steering wheel and smell of waxed leather and..it had a huge back seat as well, with inbuilt ash trays. I could drive my parents around, a real treat for the family. I got out and went to the office. The salesman put the phone down. ‘I want to buy the car,’ I said. ‘Oh, I just had an enquiry about the same car, a bloke had a look earlier on,’  the salesman said with cruel intend.  I signed the papers with two years of payments on ‘easy terms’ and drove off. The car, a Ford Single spinner V8 cost 220 Pounds.  Oh, what a feeling!

Art and burgeoning Business acumen.

May 21, 2015
Me and mother 1995?

Me and mother 1995?

Frank came home and we all went straight back to fear and anticipation of more outbursts. My father did have contact with some doctors  at Callan Park. If we wanted Frank to stay there if he wasn’t well, there was a procedure whereby he could be admitted as an involuntary  patient of the asylum permanently. It also meant he would not and could not come home, even for visits. It seemed a very strange law but there was no way out if we wanted Frank to not come home when he wasn’t well. He would be there at the ‘pleasure’ of the Government. It seemed a very draconian way. Surely Frank’s freedom would be curtailed and from what we had seen of Callan Park, it was an asylum straight out of Bedlam. Many of the patients seemed like caged animals, walking up and down automatically. I remember my aunt taking me to a zoo as a child and seeing a tiger in a small cage just walking up and down, up and down. Many patients were deeply institutionalised.

We wanted Frank to come home when he was well and not when he wasn’t, in which case we could visit him. We thought that enough care at Callan Park would ensure he would not travel home when he wasn’t well enough. That seemed impossible to achieve. Officialdom and obstinate entrenched bureaucracy was the essence of Anglo culture with  the ‘don’t change if it ain’t broke’ reigning high at all levels, even today. This is in direct contrast to the Dutch ‘if it ain’t broke, break it and start anew, try and improve!’  My parents would never allow the permanent involuntary locking up of their son in an institute.

From then on Frank came when he felt like it, well or unwell. It was when Frank started to wander the streets and arrive by train to our home clad in his pyjamas that my parents knew that something had to be done. Home life became dreadful and all would scatter when Frank arrived in an unwell state. Dad and I developed an antenna that would transmit signals when Frank was about to become unwell and cranky/violent. Mum did not have such an antenna. She would fuss and exhort Frank to brush his hair, clean the room, tidy up or this or that. It clearly irritated him. We would tell her to just leave him be, but mum never picked up on that. She wanted Frank to accept her love and care. Schizophrenia does not adhere to giving normal responses.

It is such a baffling disease and experience. Frank would know he had misbehaved and would want to be taken back to Callan Park, yet again. At my sister’s or brother’s wedding (I have forgotten), we were all standing in front of the church’s steps.  The steps ran all along the churches entrance. There might have been forty or more people including Frank standing on the back step behind the groom and bride looking radiant . The photographer was almost ready to take the wedding photos. When we had all synchronised our positions and smiles, Frank all of a sudden pushed his brother Herman down the steps. It was always on the cards and had warned mother not to have Frank at the wedding.

Frank came to me and asked to be taken back to Callan Park. ‘Just put me on the train’, he said. He always felt remorse afterwards yet could not prevent his outbursts. I took him to the train back to Callan Park. Some years later I gave Frank a job working on a building side painting. He did well for a few days including singing his favourite song  ” I am just singing in the rain, singing in the rain”. The Greek painters thought he was very funny, you have a funny brother’ they would tell me. During one lunch and sitting on a ledge which had a steep drop to one side, Frank took a swipe at me. I told Frank that could not be done on the job. He said  “I know Gerard, take me back to Callan Park.” We walked back to his second home, Callan Park, and we said goodbye.

I have written before about Callan Park. There was a royal commission in 1961 and as Royal commissions go, a bit of an exoneration for all from the Private school boy’s clubs that generally manoeuvre themselves into lucrative Royal Commissions. Some many years later another one on Chelmsford and the estimated deaths of at least eighty patients under the care of Dr Harry Baily who committed suicide after the investigation on the deaths of so many patients. Dr Harry Baily was the superintendant at Callan Park when Frank was admitted. Some years later and married to lovely Helvi, I was phoned by my mother to go quickly to Callan Park, “your father is on his way to try and kill Dr Harry Bailey”, she said.  Helvi and I arrived to see my father hopping through the Rhododendrons at Callan Park in the nick of time.  Hot murder in his eyes. Poor dad, driven to the very edge of his sanity as well.

Etching

Etching

I now will try and get to happier words. While all this was happening I did a course in creative drawing together with a certificate in quantity surveying. I still don’t know or understand why I did the latter. A complete mystery, a blank draw each time I mull over that strange choice. I had worked at several jobs and knew how to save. One of those was painting and understood how to try and get my own contracting business going. Maybe the strange course was an idea to break into the world of contracting. In any case, I knew how to price jobs from bills of quantities submitted on my requests from architects and builders. I had letterheads printed with matching envelopes, always a good impression beating others who would scribble their quotes on bits of paper.  I soon had a good and lucrative contracting business. I made good money. I also did swinging stage work on the outside of buildings. I had no fear of heights either.

Another lucky break.

Frank and Callan Park asylum.

May 19, 2015
Callan Park

Callan Park

The firing of the shotgun and the commotion in the street resulted with Frank being put in a police paddy wagon. My parents were interviewed . They must have told police of problems they were having with Frank’s violence.  The incident with the scissors was considered serious enough and culminated with Frank being taken away to Callan park for  assessment. Callan Park was a mental asylum situated close to the City in very large park like surroundings.  It consisted of many  double story Georgian old sandstone buildings. It had a very high wall around it and looked intimidating when approached from the front. It would be Frank’s main home  for the next fourteen years. He was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.

wedding photo of my parents with mum's brother and sister.

wedding photo of my parents with mum’s brother and sister.

A sigh of relief was washing over our family. The children came home from school without the fear and expectation of another shemozzle or explosion of anger. We could sit around without skulking away in our rooms, out of troubles way. Dad and mum were happy that Frank would now get care and attention from experts in a place designed for people with a mental illness. A cure or some form of action would be initiated and Frank would get back in charge of a life and return home soon. That must have been my parents fervent wish.  And, surely not one that could be seen as extravagant?

My memories so far are from between fifteen and twenty years of age, so the atmosphere and family life then lived is from that period which since has clocked up another fifty years. And yet, it will not let go of me. What is this compulsion and why can’t this episode let go of me? Is there a link somewhere that explains those events of much further down life’s river?  Were Hansel and Gretel’s white pebbles of  this period strewn already then?  Will an answer be there when  the trail has been followed to the end ?

It has to be admitted that my view of Australia hasn’t always been so benign and lofty as they should or could have. I have spent far more years here than anywhere else and am a naturalised Australian, born in Holland. So why at times, the chagrin? The naturalisation ceremony and oath were taken with  swearing allegiance to the Queen of England, which I thought odd as I could have sworn we migrated to Australia. But, the cup-o-tea and the S.A.O. crackers with ‘tasty’ cheese ( Salvation Army Officer) afterwards were welcome. It was a mass naturalisation ceremony at the Sydney Town Hall. It was a period when cinema goers were slowly starting to refuse and stand up for the National Flag raising and Save the Queen anthem before the movie. Some cinemas had a Hammond organ rising up majestically from below the stage. A  Liberace like suited and war medalled bedecked man would belt out this Anthem. It did not help and soon no one stood up anymore and this little irrelevant ditty was dropped. Oddly enough, Australia today still prefers the monarchy to a republic. If ever there was proof of being a bit miffed about Australia. Just contemplate that little contradiction!

mother on left. her brother and sister.

mother on left. her brother and sister.

The initial stay of my brother Frank at Callan park was short lived. My memory of the first visit to Frank at Callan Park asylum was when the brother to brother recognition was first starting to melt and flee.  It was a pitiful sight. He was so dishevelled and had trousers that were not his. They were for someone twice his size and without a belt. He could only walk by holding his trousers with both hands. The warden unlocked him with a large bunch of keys hanging from his belt. No chairs for visitors, no visiting areas. Just a large court-yard with no trees.

The demented and the declared insanely inebriated patients standing there as if all hope was now held by the unyielding surrounding stone wall, spoken to in gravelled voices. Frank said he had been held in wet bed sheets for hours. Later on we found out that that method was common to restrain patients. He was so very much not there and must have been heavily pilled up. I asked were his clothes were. Mum had brought some oranges which she peeled for him. Frank smoked a cigarette from a packet that dad had brought along…Was Frank going to be lining that court yard and become part of the stone wall? Mother had tears and dad was numb with shock but had to drive home with much silence in the car.

Frank on the left. Gerard with hair sticking up. In Rotterdam.

Frank on the left. Gerard with hair sticking up. In Rotterdam.

We could not get over that visit and the sun wasn’t shining much better with Frank not at home. The nightmare of Callan Park courtyard and the bunches of keys hanging from the wardens belt wasn’t  acceptable, the wrapping up of Frank in wet bed-sheets. This was 1960 not 1860.  Frank soon came home again.

Frank and own House.

May 18, 2015
Life in the garage with mother looking on. My Lambretta scooter with sister Dora.

Life in the garage with mother looking on. My Lambretta scooter with sister Dora.

With so much happening despite the dramas, the joys, and many tearful tribulations, life in the garage assumed some normality, even became routine. Things fell into place. We got a pet dog and chickens were bought at the markets in Sydney at 6 weeks of age. They all turned into roosters. Dad could not eat chickens from the shop let alone our own roosters. The roosters probably killed each other or possibly got killed by that dog in the photo. I think my brother John started breeding his pigeons after the debacle of the fighting roosters.  We all had our place and those who worked kept surrendering earnings to our chief accountant who was now targeting the next objective; the building of our own home. After two years of some very tight turning and twisting in the crowded garage our house was built and we moved in. It was a glorious day. My mother’s saving and scrimping were legendary amongst  immigrant’s communities. She used to scrape the butter from the paper, shake the tomato sauce bottle, and empty the last smidgen of jam, that I have yet to see repeated anywhere in the world. And I have seen some scrapings! She sewed, patched, and knitted with not a minute to waste. If it was loose not nailed down, mother made it either into a meal or into garments or something useful, even pan holders. It was no wonder we could get the house built after just two years in the garage.

The photo above shows me on my scooter just before taking a round trip Sydney to Melbourne through the Snowy Mountains. It would be a trip of well over two thousand kilometres. I packed enough clothing, a small tent and some cooking utensils, including I suppose, a fork and knife. I went with a Dutch friend who had a Vespa. Vespa were considered a bit more upmarket. During that period I became part of a scooter club that met fortnightly at an ambulance-hall in Parramatta. My friend took a complete suit with him. He knew a girl from the Migrant boat that lived near Melbourne!  He planned to visit her. I did not know any girls but was keen on them from a distance anyway.

Hand coloured etching

Hand coloured etching

The trouble with Frank might well have been one reason for this trip. I wanted to get away!  It was such a creeping illness. The behaviour did not add up and it must have been such a puzzle. Why would Frank so often behave  bizarre?  He  was his own worst person and even though at times he was sorry for his behaviour, it would not stop and seemed incapable of stopping. My parents hoped that with the move into bigger house, things would get better. We were counselled by my mother to try and accept Frank and include him more. However all of us were younger than Frank. We might have felt sorry, I did, but we also had own friends, own growing up to do. Slowly Frank did become excluded. It was all too strange and upsetting.  I would hear my parents talking into the deep of the night about the problem of Frank. It crept into our lives as nothing before, not even the experiences of migration and the sardine-like condition in our previous fibro garage came close to this problem, let alone understanding the reasons or getting it resolved. It was all getting dark and joy of our own house was slowly leaching away.  It could be tempting to feel that the migration and other traumas effected Frank badly but there were already things with Frank before the immigration from Holland.  I remember Frank was taken out of high-school in Holland to learn a trade with a watchmaker. However, it did not last long…Frank’s behaviour already then was becoming erratic. He would be very obsessive about certain things and not with other more important issues. He was becoming a bit outside of things.

My parents in front of their old house. It was their last visit to Australia.

My parents in front of their old house. It was their last visit to Australia.

After Frank’s run with so many jobs in Australia, almost on a weekly basis, it must have dawned on my parents that Frank had a serious problem. It all came to a head when once again Frank had become violent and thrown a pair of scissors at his brother John. The scissors were sticking out of John’s thigh. My father took the pointy scissors out while Frank escaped through the front door. At the time dad was doing some drying of dishes. Dad followed Frank outside with the dish towel still hanging over his shoulder. Frank was faster but both run up the hill with dad in pursuit. Frank, half way up the hill then ran into someone’s garden and hid himself between the bushes. As dad arrived with tea towel still slung over his shoulder, the owner of the house and his garden came out brandishing a shot gun. Without mucking about or further ado or contemplation of this strange event and Frank hiding in his azaleas, the man pointed his gun at the sky and fired a deafening shot.  This seemed to calm the situation. The police arrived and Frank was taken away. This was the last day in Frank’s life where he would enjoy a normal family life. Of course, ‘normal family life’ is open to question and has endless variations. Nothing is really normal. So much still to come and so many answers for begging.

The throwing of a geographical Dart in Sydney.

May 16, 2015

IMG_20150503_0002This 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.

Rain (etching)

Rain (etching)

 

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..

Hand coloured etching.

Hand coloured etching.

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?

Table setting. Hand coloured etching.

Table setting. Hand coloured etching.

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.

 

Those first two years of hard Yakka.

May 15, 2015
Fibro garage. Our first 'temporary' home.

Fibro garage. Our first ‘temporary’ home.

The above photo taken after moving in own first home. Brother John (deceased) at front, mum and dad with glasses together (single bed), sister Dora on floor.  Smiling Frank on top right and Herman and Adrian on left top and bottom right. The mattress at front was ‘temporary’ vacated by me taking the picture.

The garage was 8 by 4 metres.

The move from the old house to our own block of land with garage (Temporary Dwelling) was achieved after much searching by my mother scanning the  ‘Blocks of Land” for sale in Newspapers. Enough money had been saved and even though my Mum’s English was very poor, that was no hindrance. She would just speak Dutch with a few English sounding vowels thrown in. Through week-end meetings with other migrants, the fever of achieving this first goal had bedded down. Inquiries of deposits and how getting a loan was made ‘easy’ by building societies was now well understood by our mother. Estate agents were taken on who would drive her around to the different blocks for sale and her appraisal. She would be quick to measure distance to nearest railway station and distance from the city. The closest to city and station, the more desirable and also more costly.

Sydney already then was spread out over an area almost the size of Holland and with everyone feverishly seeking own house on own block it doesn’t take a genius to understand why suburbia reigns in Australian cities like nowhere else. Ownership of a car then becomes as essential as sleeping on a mattress. Selling blocks of land and cars was a main ingredient and driving force for a future prosperous Australia. It still is.

We were totally swept into having to buy/build our house after arriving in Australia. To be able for most to achieve this, housing was made from as cheap a material as possible, hence the thin sheeting to  clad the houses both inside and outside making them not much more than windbreaks. The asbestos cement sheeting was at the forefront of  those cheap building materials. It had and still has dire consequences. In Australia there are hundreds of thousands of ageing homes clad with that material.

https://oosterman.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/fibro-asbestos-homes-a-ticking-time-bomb/

The day of moving in our first dwelling is still etched into my mind like nothing else (apart from my first juvenile experiences of ‘ female bush and breasts). All our belongings were piled on a truck with driver. They must have been hired for the day. It was much more than we thought. The four steel trunks, all our bedding and washing machine, the ice box and six children’s clothes and bits and pieces that we had acquired during the six months or so we had stayed with our friends.  All were piled on the truck including Dad who had to try and prevent our belongings from getting blown off during the trip to our new place. He was spreadeagled on top of the truck with  arms and legs flailing trying to keep all on the truck. The truck drove off and I can still see my dad thrashing about on his back.

We moved in and mum and dad must have been busy to prepare all the bedding. Us kids were so proud and would walk backwards and forwards over the own block of land like eighteenth century barons inspecting a newly inherited farm in Bavaria. There were no more rats, no three legged dogs and we were on our own. Dad had even survived the trip on the back of the truck.


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