Posts Tagged ‘Milky Way’

Moving onto ‘Own’ block of Land with ‘Deposit’ and ‘Easy Terms’.

May 13, 2015
Own Block with garage. Little brother tending a cabbage.

Own Block with garage. Little brother tending a cabbage.

Leaving the lean times and memories of tie-clips and perky breasts (furtively enjoyed in the timber yard) behind, we will now go forward to an episode that too might have been significant in  causing my intermittent scepticism of migration in general and my own in special. That is not to say, that not having moved countries things would have turned out to have been  any different. To now have reached a level of freedom, hopefully some insight, and to have the luxury of enough time still left to come up with some answers that have eluded me so far.

The saving for the future was now on in earnest. My mum became the financial wizard and accountant . It had to be struck with a compromise between pocket money and fast saving to get our own place to live at. How we slept those first few months I have no memory off. We had nothing on arrival except the clothes we wore and the 4 steel trunks that travelled with us on the boat. The vacuum cleaner, and the pride of our street back in The Hague, the electric washing machine, we had shipped over separately. We could wash our clothes and vacuum, but on what did we sleep? I can’t remember anything about bedding. Did we sleep upright? It is possible but I don’t think so. Migrants are made of pioneering stuff, but upright sleeping was never an option? Right now, people would probably reflect and call migrating; seeking a life-style! We would surely at first been seeking for bedding?

The extra hours worked now above the normal forty hours became vital. Each day mother would wait for us to come home but it was always welcome if we came home later than expected; ‘overtime’ was being worked and, at time-and-a-half, would bring our aim of moving into own place closer and closer. Of course, work on Saturday or Sunday was as close to heaven as dad’s Milky way. Double time-money delirium! Even though it meant forgoing the cake eating event on the creaky veranda during the Sunday morning.

Dad would put his pay packet under mum’s dinner plate each pay day which I think was  on a Thursday. Dad did this as a kind of weekly joke as if tipping the waitress for a nice meal. It might read a bit strange but families have their own jokes, don’t they?  I would just give my earnings  to mum straight away  without any formalities or any joking, and so did my elder brother Frank. The coffer was swelling, slowly at first, but with increasing speed in tandem with the urgency. One of the items still to be told to complete a picture of our stay with the Dutch friends and their generosity of allowing us to get on our own feet, was the early morning urinating rituals.

The old house at the time we were living in it was crowded with two large families. The Dutch family with five children and ours with six making a total of fifteen including both sets of parents. The toilet was outside and at the back of the lean-to that I used as a dark room and for all of us a bathroom. It was quite a walk, often too far for us and the boys would share the nr 1’s with the rats and three legged dog against the stacks of timber outside. This was especially so at waking times. There was a flimsy partition between our portion of the house and that of our friends who had the larger part including a couple of bedrooms upstairs. The  four girls sleeping upstairs would run down each morning and urinate loudly in a bucket which was next to the flimsy partition and clearly audible. This would result in a loud Dutch howl of laughter and coarseness from me and my brothers on the other side of the partition. We almost woke up early not to miss the ritual. That’s how it was then!

Over the next six months we heard amongst other Dutch migrants that the way forward was to get own block of land with a garage on it. The available time left after working o.t (over-time) was taken up by endless discussions on own block of land. It sounded like out of ‘Mice and Men’ and it was far above my Dad’s understanding or his interests, but not my mum. She knew the way forward was to do what other people advised us about. It wasn’t just the talk of other migrants. The world of ‘real estate’ seemed to be everywhere and Australia was at the fore-front of owning own home on own block of land. It was the very essence of what success was about. In any case renting was a waste of money and everyone nodded in agreement. It wasn’t made clear why that was so. But questioning ownership wasn’t on the horizon of pioneering migrants. Renting is what they had left behind!



It was a contagion that still lives on today. Nothing eases awkward social occasions better than the mentioning of ‘real estate’ and ‘home ownership’ around the dining table or even standing around an art gallery sipping the chardonnay while discussing Edvard Munch ‘The Scream’. Mum understood the language of ‘own block near railway station’, of mortgages, easy terms, deposits and interest rates immediately  and  had worked out that with the present level of income from Dad and her two eldest sons including so much o.t, we already had a ‘deposit’ for own block. Deposit and own block had the Oosterman family firmly in its grip. They were holy. My dad remained puzzled why we could not just go to the local council and asked to be given and provided  a modest home to live in. It was now all so different.

After a while he was happy with the star-lit heavens and totally trusted his wife to steer us into the security of own block and garage. The garage was allowed then to be lived in as long as the garage door was painted the same as the garage walls. Better still, take the garage door off and replace with a window to then help the local council in simply designating the garage into ‘a temporary dwelling’. It sounded so much more domestic than garage and was legal to boot.

One cannot live off disillusionment alone.

May 11, 2015
etching by G O

etching by G O

With a magic car on three wheels, a dog on three legs,   many normal rats on all fours, but against that a factory owner with a creaking wooden leg, it was time for our family to bring some normalcy about. With dad’s discovery of the Southern night’s sky and with his beloved study of the Milky Way restored, things were on the upper trajectory once again. I was working earning money and so was my brother Frank. Even dad now donned a blue Yakka overall and put shoulders under the task of pitching in towards a better future. The premise of ‘ we do it for the children’ had to be fulfilled. No good regretting and mulling over what was. Past is past and Holland is cold and probably raining as well.

In those days jobs were everywhere and I managed to learn a lot on all sorts of heavy engineering machinery. The lathe, heavy presses and milling machines seemed to be everywhere I went and piece work was introduced as an incentive for workers to earn more than just a wage. Of course the shields that were there to protect workers from getting limbs cut off were often disabled to save time in cutting or pressing and milling the next bit of bolt or drilled bracket. I noticed  hands with missing fingers. With piece work and overtime I just about doubled my weekly earnings and my metal box was singing its praise with all those savings tucked inside. I wasn’t too stingy though and allowed myself a packet of ten Graven A’s cigarettes and the occasional Fanta orange drink with pie. A glorious celebratory gesture towards the golden paved Australia.

Mother decided that we needed to get away to our own accommodation as quickly as possible. Our Dutch friends gave us the opportunity to achieve this by asking very little in rent or perhaps none at all. I can’t remember. I do remember that the place they lived in was not theirs but belonged to the timber yard  owner. A bit of confusion but ‘owning’ own house was a concept we had no real understanding of anyway. That was yet to come! Apart from overtime earnings, all our income was pooled and given to Mum to try and move away to a better place away from being surrounded by piles of timber with dust and mud. One of the daughters taught me the basics of photo developing which we did in the back lean-to which was also the bathroom with the hot gas geyser above it. There was nothing like the hot weekly bath to luxuriate in at the end of a 6o hour work week languidly thinking of Anna Magnani of ‘The Rose Tattoo’, that I had seen during those cultural lean times. As I was taking this hot bath I noticed the friends’ Liebeth  walking by outside looking at me inside and in the bath. It might have been a case of being curious about the nude male. There might also have been a healthy awakening of her hormones. She was about twelve or thirteen. In any case, she had a quick look but from the angle of her eyes she observed more than just my face.

During the six months or so that we lived with the Dutch friends a rather pleasant memory  involving the bathroom looking inside with Lies installed itself that I have not forgotten. On Sundays it was the norm still then to dress up in Sunday best. My pants would be pressed and its crease would be preserved as much as possible at least during the morning. I would hitch up the crease when crossing legs and so did my dad and other brothers wearing long pants, at least till coffee and cakes had been consumed. With the ironed pants came a nice blue shirt and tie fastened by a clasp to be perfectly centred at all times. On top of that a sports jacket but kept off during the Sunday cake eating.

When cake eating was finished, Lies and I wondered off to the next allotment behind the house that was somewhat secluded from views with stacks of baths (my mother’s dream) and some bushes. I have forgotten on the why and how but suddenly Lies grabbed my tie clasp and ran away with it. I gave chase and caught her quickly. She laughed but I remained serious. It was my tie clasp. I tried to take it back but she would not give in and kept it firmly in her grip while tucking both hands between her legs. I wrestled but was too religious or too shy  to act deliberately inappropriately by grabbing her between her legs and hands to retrieve my tie clasp. I instead went to safer grounds and put one of my hands upwards on her tiny breasts knowing full well that the clasp would not be found there. It was a moment of daring and my second exploration of the female softness. Keen readers would remember a previous attempt less than a year before when still in Holland.

The farm in Holland

The farm in Holland

There was a shout from the house. One of the sisters  who taught me the photo developing thought it had gone far enough. She was hanging from the top window and called us back home. And that was that.  I never got my tie-clasp back. They were lean times in exploring the sexual awakenings of my youth. My mother always taught me to make the best of things. ‘Gerard’ she often said; ‘you have to row with oars that you were given.’

So true.

The German shepherd with three legs and eating Cake.

May 5, 2015
Mum in Holland with electric vacuum cleaner.

Mum in Holland with electric vacuum cleaner.

The Dutch Friends’ house as previously mentioned was old and must have been a farm house before the  arrival of thousands of immigrants pushing further and further inland. Hill after hill were conquered with houses replacing trees and grazing cows with the sound of hammers, machinery and coarse  oaths renting the grey- blue smoky air. It was an era of every  migrant’s dream of achieving own home on own solid block of land come true. This old farm house was now the missing tooth amidst the sea of  many a migrants’ suburban prosperity.  In fact, the old house was now in the middle of a huge timber and building material yard supplying the frenetic race for building houses. Large stacks of different sized timber were balanced precariously hither and dither amongst stacks of baths, concrete laundry basins and other building materials. All this surrounded by a grey muddy clay that made getting to the house a slippery event. Bricks were placed here and there enabling one to hop from one to the other without risking wet feet or slipping down all together.

No doubt my parents could have done with, and experienced a less grim and more cheerful beginning but that’s how it was. Perhaps many might well have thought it a very cheerful beginning. However, our pioneering spirit was a bit lukewarm and run-down after Scheyville migrant camp. The timber yard was protected by a large German Shepherd. It was a very friendly and compassionate animal forever greeting those who entered the yard, foe or friend. It also had three legs. One of its hind leg was missing  in tandem with the old Chevy. He did not so much guard the timber yard from thieves as it did chasing rats that used to do ring-a ring- a- Rosie between the stacks of timber, scurrying like a flash when he arrived. The rats would scatter each time a crane moved a stack of timber to quickly scurry under the next lot of beams. The dog did his best but rats are clever and soon knew they had it over the dog. They used to dart out in full view, taunting him, only to quickly hide whenever he lifted his head. It was amusing to watch. There was a king rat almost the size of a cat who asserted  himself over his tribe. They would only follow if he made the first move. They would move in a specific, strictly disciplined and regimented order in a V shape behind the undisputed king-rat. No rat would come inside the house because of the two cats holding sentry near the entrances. The cats had all legs intact.

Whenever my dad could arouse himself from bed he would observe from the sunny veranda the bustle of cranes, trucks and the scuffles between the dog and rats. We knew things were improving with dad when mum caught him one night looking at the sky through a pair of binoculars. He had found the milky way!  A kind of peace came over him after his discovery of this Southern hemisphere’s heavenly night-sky. My job was progressing from cleaning the factory floor and getting the workers lunches to being initiated to use the machinery. The lunches for workers was the first sign of Australia being ‘paved with gold’ when apple- pies, Big Ben meat pies and bottles of Fanta were ordered as if it was normal. It was normal! Can you imagine? What we would look forward to once a year back in Holland on a birthday, was the norm daily here. Not only the norm. As proof of absolute opulence and belching richness, parts of the pies would be slung onto the floor as if it was nothing. I had the job of cleaning those carelessly flung out morsels, still warm and oozing. I was almost on my knees in admiration of a country so endowed with the splendour of excess.

Newspaper seller in Sydney.

Newspaper seller in Sydney in the 1960’s.

I have written before about the amazing antics of workers in factories whereby the proverb ‘Australia, where men are men but the sheep nervous,’ had more than a tinge of truth to it. The openly sexual meanderings  and ‘dating’ between men was somehow to be seen as proof of their heterosexual-ness. (Dating: the art of putting finger up the overall wearing co-worker’s bum when least expected) It was astonishing and puzzling. Perhaps with the sexes being so far apart and the not so distant years of convicts and penal camps that this cultural phenomenon had survived and was still being played out between factory workers. I did not join this dating and as a foreigner and migrant was somehow spared from these antics. The owner of the factory had a creaking leg and you always knew he was coming. I never asked and no one ever told me but I suppose he had lost a leg during the last war. Why was it that during those first few months things were missing, first the magic Chevy wheel, then the German Shepherd dog and now a factory owner?

My weekly wages I gave to my mother but I was to keep money earned by overtime. I had a small steel box in which I would save and keep my money. The more overtime the more would be deposited in this small safe of which I had a key. Overtime was paid time and a half and on Saturdays time and a half for morning and double after twelve o’clock,  and Sundays always double time. It was a time of enormous power by unions and  bosses had to comply or else! As the weeks went by dad finally roused himself and managed to get a job as well. He donned overalls and steel capped boots. We were on our way!

Our  Dutch friends’ only son had managed to buy a very small Renault in which the family would all pile in on a Sunday for church on top of the hill. The car was very small,  more like a jacket really. They sat in each others laps and when hurtling down home after the service would burst out and spread  on the sunny veranda. The wife (aunty) made a large pot of coffee and all would delve into eating big cake. This part of their accounts to us in Holland was absolutely true. The cake would be there each Sunday and it was clear they all enjoyed Australia at its best.

Cake eating each Sunday was factual and true. What was not true was that they had bought the old house! It was rented. The row of bricks that was supposed to be an extra room was abruptly halted when the owner of the timber yard and old house asked what the plan was. He did not want space taken up where he could put his building materials. He was a successful migrant himself.