Posts Tagged ‘Schubert’

Fibro Asbestos Homes; A ticking time bomb.

June 10, 2013

imagesCAU96KL6

Fibro asbestos homes; a time bomb waiting to explode.

It was to be the fulfillment of Australia’s promise to migrants; ‘You will end up owning your own home’.  In Australia dreams and aspirations are made of working towards ‘own home’. It worked for my parents but they were also, unwittingly, working towards a strong possibility of owning their own coffin in the bargain. It sounds a bit grim, therefore let me explain.

Before coming to Australia, as far as we were concerned, we owned a home. True, there was a lull in the event during WW2 when living in own home was often precarious with reckless sorties of planes flying overhead dropping incendiary devices that were decidedly anti home. But, by and large, people lived in own homes.

Actually, and speaking strictly, we did not ‘own’ home in as much as it was possible to own a shirt or underpants but we did own a home in the sense of having a secure roof over our heads that was indisputably ours. No one ever even thought of a possible owning of a pile of bricks and timber like you did when you bought a shirt or underpants. Most people lived and died in a home whose bricks and walls were owned by the government of the country or the city that one lived in.  It was never thought of otherwise and it never occurred that we were at risk of not being able to live there as long as we wanted. Titles of ownership were mostly unheard of.

After my parents arrival in Australia ‘owing a home’ was almost right from the start the main conversation between many new arrivals. First you bought own block of land and this would then be followed with building own house. This is what drove almost every migrant and was soon seen as the raison d’être for having migrated in the first place. First my father was perplexed by this new type of living whereby one had to buy a roof over one’s head. Why was it so different from Holland whereby a roof was considered something that you rented for life and never worried about having to buy it?

It was all a bit of a puzzle but soon ‘toute la famille’ were taken in by the fervor and own home rush, busy with working getting at least a ‘deposit’ together. The term ‘deposit’ was also something totally unheard of, as were people called ‘Real Estate agents.’ Dutch migrants that we met in this frenzied atmosphere of ‘own homes’ got together with my parents at week-ends and talked almost exclusively about deposits and estate agents, rates of interest on loans and The Dutch Building society that would give loans.

The memory of Schubert’s Lieder and my soft Margo now seemed so far away, unobtainable forever and ever and separated by oceans of dried salted tears.

How’s your deposit going was so much more of the essence now.

In a very quick time, and all Oostermans capable of working with lots of overtime being paid double or at week-ends ‘triple,’ a deposit was salted away and exploratory  train trips were made to many different suburbs of outer laying Sydney to investigate ‘own block’ of land.  Those trips were also sometimes made with a ‘Real- Estate’ agent. My dad thought it such a strange term. “Are there ‘Un-real Estate agents as well”, he would flippantly ask the agent?

At the late fifties, Shire-Councils closed an eye to migrants living on blocks of land with a garage on it. It was euphemistically called ‘a temporary dwelling.’ My mum spotted an advertisement of such a temporary dwelling in Revesby. Revesby then was on the edge of Sydney’s civilization, still unsewered but did have a pub in the making and most importantly was on a rail-line with a real station, schools and a church, even a fish and chips shop! I have never forgotten the salty potato scallops wrapped in “the Sun’ newspaper.

My dad put down the oft migrant’s feverishly debated ‘deposit’, and after a while the land and its asbestos sheeted garage was ours. Now, this is where the possibility of ‘own home’ with the possibility of ‘own coffin’ creeps in this rather philosophical discourse. Even as early as the late forties and fifties cases of a mysterious and deadly serious disease started coming in, especially from workers who worked in the Wittenoom asbestos mines of Western Australia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wittenoom,_Western_Australia

However, the action on the link between asbestos and the 1948 diagnosed asbestosis was delayed and deliberately ignored. In fact, during the period that already had scores of victims of asbestosis Australia was building hundreds of thousands of houses sheeted externally and sometimes internally as well, with fibro cement asbestos sheeting. It was thought by bonding the dangerous asbestos with cement it would be a safe and cheap building product. We first lived in the 8 by 4 metres of unpainted and unlined asbestos sheeted ‘temporary dwelling and then for another 18 years in a small house made from the same asbestos fibro sheeted home. None of us succumbed to the dreadful asbestos induced cancer Mesothelioma. We were lucky. Not so were those having died so far or the untold who will continue to die in the future. Some price for ‘own home’!

In 1948, Dr Eric Saint, a Government Medical Officer, wrote to the head of the Health Department of Western Australia. He warned of the dust levels in the mine and mill, the lack of extractors and the dangers of asbestos and risk of asbestosis, and advised that the mine would produce the greatest crop of asbestosis the world has ever seen.

You can see, why I now feel that the dream of ‘own home’ could well have been a very nasty and expensive coffin for my parents and their children, which it has become and will continue for the tens of thousands still living in the asbestos containing cladded homes.

How come Australia doesn’t provide alternative accommodation to all who still live in asbestos containing fibro cement sheeted homes and give compensation to all the sufferers? After all, the Telstra fibro cement sheeted asbestos containing telephone pits are now the subject of huge turmoil and consternation. But, what about real people living in real danger?

How come it is so quiet on our western ‘own home’ front?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesothelioma

Advertisements

The Story of a crestfallen Philatelist.

June 1, 2013

press20070104

After the sad moving away of my first love ‘Marga’ to Utrecht, never to be seen again except in restless hand- fantasies, the days of touching and viewing of her roseate breasts were over. Little could I have known then it would be years before any girls would feature again, well after that fateful day in my V8 Ford to Woy Woy with devastation of Willy Willy storms, tempests and a very tough unyielding female friend.

I was terribly crestfallen, immensely sad and understood how Napoleon must have felt after being banned to Elba. When my parents were planning to migrate to Australia I almost wished for a change of heart. I was ready to embrace Siberia instead and totally related with the music of Schubert and his Lieder with his longings for a grave in the deepest and coldest of oceans. I just about ruined my father’s wind up record player with over and over again listening to music plumbing the depths of despair, tragedy and the morbidly supernatural.  My head was at a downward slope and acute angle to my chest, not unlike the swans featured in the songs of Schwanengesang D957. I relished it when I learned he had died at just 32.

My mother noticed my listless poking around at the mince and spuds. “What’s the matter Gerard?” “Oh, nothing mum, I am not hungry”. “Why don’t you read a good book?” This is of course one of the most damaging and maddening questions a mother can ask but she did love her kids. “I am sick of reading” I skulked, hoping she would not ask if my hands were kept above blankets at all times.

I did try, and had rigged up a small globe attached by some clever wiring to a square battery allowing me to read numerous Jules Verne books underneath the blankets. On some mornings the most magic of frozen patterns on the inside of the windows would greet me, totally symbiotic with my mood. Winters were never as cold as then. An icy wind would blast a wounded soul steeped in a ridiculous juvenile self-pity.

But, as often happens when young and down, another world opened up. It became the world of soaking postage stamps off envelopes and cards and sticking them in albums. It was the perfect hobby on cold winter evenings. It became a hobby that so enthralled me, I became manic, going around the neighbourhood asking for stamped envelopes.

I had started this some years before but with the advent of first sexual twinges and a twirling Marga I had thrown the album somewhere in a box together with my collection of leaden soldiers and horses. During imaginary games of war with friends, I rigged up my mother’s spring loaded wooden cloth pegs and with rubber bands had fashioned primitive cannons. Wet props of paper as cannon balls shot down opposing soldiers and their horses on our corridor’s wooden floor.

The time between adolescence and adulthood were turbulent and with migrating plans now well on their way, (We had seen numerous Australian Government promotional movies with postmen joyfully leaping over sun-drenched white picket fences with waving brilliantly white toothed gleaming happy neighbours intermittent with white crested surf and golden tanned girls on Bondi beaches) my parents decided I might as well leave high school and start work earn some money to help our start in Australia.

We would land with the clothes on our backs and traveling trunks filled with linen and pillows or with whatever could be shipped over (my dad’s only suit and neckties, with polished shoes). We would need beds and mattresses first, my mother declared somewhat teary. We can’t land in Australia on the 11th of Febr, 1956 and sleep on the floor somewhere. As it was we ended sleeping on kapok mattresses and proper beds but in Nissen huts. (I can hear readers sighing, not the bloody Nissan huts story again)

The boat trip was still some months away. I managed to get a job with a fruit and vegetable shop. They were high class and delivered to most embassies in The Hague. My job was to deliver whatever they ordered and did this on a heavy-duty push-bike. I pedaled as never before with a solid cane basket fastened above the front wheel and suspended from the handle bars.

I handed my wages over to parents (for 8 beds and mattresses.) but I kept tips which I decided I would save for a camera that I had spotted in the window of a nearby camera shop. It was an Agfa Clack.  Numerous times while cycling past, I would stop and stare at this camera.

I learned the cultural habits of those different countries that I delivered the fruit and veggies to by the size of their tips.  A limited perspective I know, but I had as yet not developed better criteria. The most outstandingly generous, and I am donning my cap here, was the US. I would get tips more than my entire weekly wages. My Agfa Clack was as good as in the bag within a couple of deliveries to the US embassy of Kipfler spuds and hot-house grown Muscatel grapes…

God bless America- Land that I love etc.

Not only tips, the staff in the kitchen gave me packets of Camel cigarettes (I was smoking) and fed me chicken soup, piping hot. “Sit down buddy”, “you’re shivering, here get this into you”. A most cheerful lot of people and I practiced my school English on them. I never forget their generosity and joviality.

The most miserly were the rich Dutch living in Wassenaar which still is a kind of snobbish enclave on the edge of The Hague with huge houses hidden between oak trees with pinched-up nosed inhabitants. After knocking on the door they would spy me through a little hole in the door first. “Just push the stuff through the opening” they would say in a peculiar ‘high-Dutch’ accent and the door would be opened just enough allowing the vegetables to be pushed through the gap. I must confess that a delivery to an address to Wassenaar involved me snitching grapes or an apple away from their delivery. Served them right, I can hear a chorus of approval from you, the readers.

Thank you for reading…