Posts Tagged ‘the Hague’

Moving About.

June 11, 2017

IMG_1100Moving

Our daughter ‘moving.’

I still remember the day we left Holland to sail to Australia. We went on-board with a bewildering number of suitcases and four trunks in which my parents stashed the most essentials. Some items were posted separately, destined to arrive  after arrival in Sydney. These included my father’s ‘comfy chair,’ mother’s ‘Singer’ foot pedal sewing machine, our electric  Westinghouse wooden barrelled (oak) washing machine with other odds and ends. I remember mother being quite snobby about having an electric washing machine. It might well have been the first electric washing machine in the whole of  The Hague if not in the street. It weighed a tonne with an enormous motor which made the lights dim when switched on. The wringer too was electric with rubber rollers grabbing anything in-sight. My mother came close to being strangled on several occasions when a loose fitting garment or her dangling necklace were mercilessly grabbed by these revengeful rollers. One had to quickly push a roller-release lever after which the rollers reluctantly released the hapless victim.

My father’s easy chair facilitated smoking more than repose or rest, or at least that is what I had surmised in my toddler’s years. “Gerard, leave your father at rest, don’t disturb him”, was my mother’s oft repeated refrain. For some reason Dad needed a lot of rest. At that early age I associated resting with blowing curls of smoke. My mother could never have been that tired, at least I never noticed smoke escaping from her mouth. Yet, when dad was at work, she would often sleep in his chair, especially after recovering from doing mountainous loads of washing with an occasional escape from attempted wringer strangulation.

My father’s smoking was a ritual which involved a packet of Douwe-Egberts  tobacco, some cigarette papers, and a lighter that contained a wick infused with petrol. To light the wick one had to push down a little lever that would grind a small wheel against a flint stone which in return would then ignite a spark thus flaming the protruding wick.  This device had me intrigued for years. Later on in his life his choice of tobacco inexplicably changed over to Rotterdam Shag tobacco.

During the war, especially towards the end, no tobacco was available. The only people still smoking were those that risked life in clandestine smuggling or by those that had swapped and changed national loyalty with the German soldiers. My father’s forced rehab from smoking made life unbearable for my mother. At times, I would be urged to go out and scan the footpath for any cigarette butts which my dad would gratefully receive and somehow unpick and re-roll to relieve his nicotine addiction by a few puffs. Oh, Gertie ( that was my dreadful given name during the war) can you go out and find some butts for your father. The problem was that other boys were sent on similar errands. I remember a bigger boy from the same street ‘Anton van Uden’ who stole three butts that I had spent 2 hours in finding around the bombed out streets. Oddly enough, later on we became the best of friends. After migrating to Australia I visited this friend back in Holland and found him to be in a very sad state. He was unhappily married with two young children. In great confidence he told me “never get married, Gerard.”  We went out that night to a dance-nightclub whereby another man was threatening me with a surly drunkenness out on revenge, urging me to fight him. My unhappily married friend got up and sorted him out in seconds. The friend was a military policeman.

My daughter is now moving closer to the city, ‘where all the action is.’ It reminded me of our move back in 1956 to Australia ‘where all the action was also much in vogue’. My parents left with suitcases and four trunks, six children. My daughter with two teen-age boys has enough stuff to fill an entire boat. It is not as simple as it used to be. It will take days. We are helping her move and she will hire a ‘Truck with two men.’ Good luck.

The birds understand.

November 15, 2016
Birds always understand

Birds always understand

The cabin that we escaped to was even better than expectations. It was tucked between ocean and bush with a mostly deserted beach in between. It had a very large and wide veranda decked by timber slats and covered overhead by a high cathedral shaped corrugated roof. The ideal retreat from US political turmoil and the night-mare of a Trump-led future. The image of him swaggering around the US, lunging at genitalia, building walls, exporting millions of Mexicans and Muslims became unbearable. We had to go away.

We had just unpacked the car and put milk and the lamb-curry in the fridge, when the first of the birds arrived. You could tell they expected something from us. They looked at us and insisted on making beady-eyed contact. Bird’s eyes are often beady and rather penetrating. When still living in Holland’s The Hague, I kept many pigeons on the veranda two stories up. I started communion with birds rather early.

It is always a good move to try and befriend birds by offerings of food. I broke open a packet of Aldi’s almond meal and marzipan little boat shaped cakes. It is one reason we made a last minute shop to Aldi. It is about the only sweet we sometimes allow to arrive inside our home. Both of us are not fond of sweets. I am much more of a herring man and H.is very keen on any food related to anchovies. We had rented cabins before and then as now, we had taken this marzipan-almond little tarts as a special treat. An Oosterman treat really.

The two coloured birds were getting excited. This is true, but only as far as it is possible to detect excitement in birds. They now moved their eyes to the almond cakes. I broke some off and put it on the railing just a metre or so from the chair. Well, it hit the right note. They immediately gave notice through the tangled jungle. ( in their own language) and all of a sudden all their mates arrived. They share, you see. No building walls, and birds don’t spread discontent or fear.

Just now I remember feeding seagulls in The Hague. A lake opposite, and around the Royal  Palace  was keenly visited by seagulls. All you had to do was to hold a piece of bread, and a friendly seagull in full flight would swoop by and take it from your hand.

A great memory.

So much more to Laws of order and compliance.(Auto-biography)

August 19, 2015

Of course the idea of shifting home and hearth to a different continent because of a disallowance to eat peanut and cheese sandwiches while sitting down in a State protected nature-reserve is perhaps a bit too flighty to take serious.  It is just too silly for words. Holland is a small country and just ‘imagine’ if we all went around eating sandwiches willy-nilly in nature reserves; not a blade of grass would survive the onslaught of peanut butter and cheese sandwiches being flung about in the bushes by rebellious kids for whom nothing short of a Big MacDonald’s with a Coke would suffice. Even if we did not sit down with the sandwiches, nature would not cope with the millions of feet trampling all over the place. The acidity of Coke vapours would kill the few remaining forests. Holland is wise to tell its citizens; you can look at the growing grasses but stay off it!

No, there were other reasons for this sudden decision to leave when all seemed to go so well. It might well have to do with something that makes a country appreciated when living away from it. The very things that I disliked about our previous abode in Australia were the very things I now missed. I missed them sorely!  It could well be the total contrast of the environment. Holland is neat, tidy and so well organised. Nothing out of place. Nothing allowed to be out of place.

Australia can be chaotic. It has the freedom to be so. Weeds are growing between the cracks on bitumen roads. Some footpaths lifted and sticking up from battle hardened  paper-bark tree roots, rampantly and disobediently growing upwards, without a diploma, permission or license. Sheets of rusted corrugation flapping merrily in the wind in a contemptuous dereliction. Car sales yards with yawning bonnets neck on neck and in between suburban houses. The rickety verandas  enclosed with crinkle- glassed louvre windows, some open like missing teeth, giving the inhabitant the opportunity to wind-dry unashamedly orange singlets with holes it or to look at the belching diesel fumes of a passing truck.

After three years in Holland our re-entry visas to Australia had run out. We had to go through the rigmarole of applying for migration. Our three children had Australian citizenship allowing a speedy permission to re-migrate to Australia. Again, the buff coloured letter-heads came in handy once again. Australia was still in dire needs of painting. The ‘good’ kind of painting for houses and industry. The jovial consular official of the Australia embassy cracked a couple of jokes. We were almost back in Australia within those The Hague embassy walls. His top three or four buttons of his shirt were undone. He made us a coffee.

One of the more fortuitous events that we were totally unaware off while in Holland, were the tumultuous political shenanigans that had occurred in Australia during our absence. There were scandals of unscrupulous money borrowings from shady Middle Eastern money merchants. There were love intrigues between married politicians. The world lapped it all up. Sensational exposure to scandal after scandal. Governments resigned and the Australian dollar collapsed. After flying back and landing in Sydney, my brother picked us up from the airport. We were to live in their house while he and his three children were going to travel to Europe. In exchange we gave them our trusted VW Kombi parked at my parents place in Holland.

As we again scoured around to find a place to live there was no question we would again find our feet back in old trusted Balmain.  Our kids were enrolled in the school that our eldest daughter had been going to before we went to Holland in search of the artist salary. The very house that we used to admire before our departure to Holland was for sale. Can you believe it? A five bedroom house made of sandstone with a large garden. We were told Germaine Greer had lived in it during her wild student days. We were totally but very pleasantly knocked off our socks when we converted our Dutch guilders into Australian dollars. The devaluation meant we came back with more than what we had left with. Much more. How could Australia be any friendlier? We bought the house with a small mortgage.

It all had turned out well.

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!

Peace

Peace

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.

The magic Car. A matter of opinion.

May 4, 2015
The old Chevy  ute.

The old Chevy ute.

Photo Google images.

All good things came to an end. We packed up from the Scheyville camp to move in with our Dutch friends who had written to us in Holland about their success in buying their own place within a few years after arrival in Australia. This sounded a dream come true. My mother was especially keen on getting a place with a bathroom. We used to get a coin to visit a public bathhouse in The Hague. The value of the coin would allow a certain time for taking a shower. Of course we could only afford the shortest of showers with the smallest coin, which meant that one had to undress and shower at the speed of lightning. A large angry man would bang on the door when your time had lapsed.

To have a house with a bathroom was a dream too far in Holland and with the glorious letters arriving in Holland from Australia it did not take long for mum to be convinced that our future laid there where a bathroom could be attained within a few years. Dad was more circumspect. However, the colour movie of postmen leaping fences with white toothed smiling owners on such sunny verdant lawns did impress. His wife could be pretty persuasive. While mum was the practical partner, dad was more of the celestial kind. He loved the heavens and stars. Rumors had it he met my mum one evening when he walked into a moving tram while staring at the sky. He had a bleeding fore-head which she wiped tenderly. They were married within a year. Of course indulging in star gazing together with his other passion- short-wave radios, it was a difficult task. Six children would run around the table while shouting, imitating Indians or cowboys, during those far too many rainy days in our upstairs apartment.

Mum became even more practical in later life when she saw the interview on TV of her son having had the knife put to his vas deferens when Helvi was pregnant with number three. “Oh Helvi, if I had my time over again today, I would have done the same.”   “For sure,” she added with gusto.” That was a rather big step for mum, seeing her religion urged all onto,  ‘let the little ones come.’  Still, it is reassuring that being number two in a line of six, at least I am here to tell the tale!  She told me later on she saw the advice of the doctor if he could not have done something with or to my father to prevent further pregnancies, she felt she had more than enough.  Poor dad, surely they  must have enjoyed  conjugal blessings  more than six times?

The move in our friends house I have no memories of. We would have taken the train to Granville followed by the bus to Woodville Road Guildford. I do remember dad asking for the train tickets to Granville but pronouncing it in French. The station master,   “wha’s that maid, sayj je it agin”? It took a while but we finally got the tickets. What I do remember when walking onto our Friends’ property seeing an old car that had a cabin behind the motor part and a tray behind that. They were the remnants of a utility or presently known as the ‘pick up’.  Was this the car that I had fantasized so much about? The car; half sedan that would morph into a truck by the push of a button?  It was that indeed. It still had three wheels and a stack of bricks where the fourth one would have been in better times. I never saw it being driven.

It might have been  ‘all that glitters isn’t gold’,  but this old Chevy ute was sure past magic.

The house that they had bought, or, what they said they had bought, was rambling old but did have a bathroom with a gas geyser at the back in a lean to. It was a bit like the Chevy, had seen better days. It had a rickety but charming veranda with some loose boards and nails sticking out, but facing the sun.  On one side it had a few rows of bricks in the shape of a room. It Holland they had written to us they were planning to put an extra room on so that we would be able to spread out a bit. It must have come to an abrupt end because weeds were growing over the bricks already!

Still in The Hague. My parents

Still in The Hague. My parents

We were overjoyed to be away from the camp and the routine of queuing for chops and peas. It was a great opportunity to get our life in order. Dad was to get a job and mum back to the household routine. She had her  washing machine shipped over from Holland and its arrival in Sydney in perfect timing with moving into the old friend’s house. We were grateful and happy for a number of days. It wasn’t till my father found out he would not be able to get a job within the Government that things turned a bit bleak again. Non British subjects (together with non-whites) were barred from Governmental jobs. He went to bed not to get up for another six weeks. Fortunately, I did get a job with special ticket of dispensation from the Government, allowing me to work even though I was still under age. I loved earning money from the first time I received my pay packet. It was real cash in a beige coloured envelope with my name and number of hours worked. It even contained paper money.

I kept counting it out over and over again.

Europe on mutton chops at Scheyville camp.

May 1, 2015

Typical Nissen hut in most migrant camps.

The first night in the Nissen hut would have been spent in a deep slumber. It was all so much to take in. We must have been exhausted. The long hot bus drive along miles of car yards, huge  hoardings of Vincent’s APC’s headache powders, the beer stop-over, the unloading and dispersion of all into the low-slung huts of Scheyville Camp had all been bravely taken into our stride. An overload of emotions. My parents would perhaps have had some thoughts of Holland, life back then was so orderly. Life on-board a Dutch passenger liner was still a bit like being in Holland, but Scheyville was not. Today we might well have said, ‘far out.’

The following weeks I could not have taken any photos. Perhaps feelings of ambiguity about Australia were rising already then, or was I merely reflecting or responding to my dad’s visible distress? I am not sure. It was so long ago. I know that no photos were taken till we went to live with our Dutch war-time friends and ‘aunt’ of the nr 2’s coal shed notoriety.   Frank, John and I were too busy scanning the grounds and immediate surroundings. It was hot and very humid with regular torrential downpours on most afternoons.

The country-side was rain- flooded with  hills sticking up like islands, bleating cattle atop looking around for help. We noticed also in the distance, trees with oranges suspended from their branches. They looked inviting. Can one imagine, oranges hanging there just like in the garden of Eden?  With the camp isolated and marooned we were somewhat stuck and mud was everywhere, including on our shoes. Poor dad could not cope with this new experience of mud on shoes and flew into a fit of anger. Even though Holland was the country that had invented rain, mud on shoes was unheard of.  We were city kids.There was simply no mud in The Hague. (only Embassies giving generous tips) Dad was coping the best he could but mud on shoes was one step too far, especially then!

An unforgettable memory etched in my mind was the generosity of the Australian government run Camp in the availability of unlimited supplies of food. It was all free and copious in quantity. The first few days we ate in the very large food hall. You picked up the food by queuing at the kitchen counter with a large plate. You ate what was ladled out. It was mainly very large enormous mutton chops, still glistening in fat with peas and a mountain of mashed potatoes.  Sometimes it was sausages and pumpkin. You then carried the full plate back to large tables that had knifes and forks already spread out. You sat on benches. We would all tuck in with a vengeance.

You can imagine, most migrants were from post or still on-going, war ravaged countries. Hungarians, Czechoslovakians and Bulgarians, many with university degrees, not to mention refugees who had escaped from German extermination camps that had already spent years roaming from camp to camp in Europe. They were true refugees.  Many also from Holland and Germany, Italy and Greece, today classified as ‘economic’ refugees.. All of whom were hungry and now in the promised land.. This  Scheyville food hall fed a hungry Europe as never seen before. Some straddled the benches with plates clutched between thighs instead of sitting at the table, so as to be closer to the plate or perhaps of fear the food would get stolen. One large Bulgarian man would chew on his mutton chops pulverising the chop- bone with bare teeth. I looked on in amazement. He did it to impress his country fellowmen much to their amusement and laughter. After the solid food was eaten one could again tank up or take seconds in the form of a jelly. The jelly was aeroplane jelly. A favourite ad on the radio was ‘I love aeroplane jelly’. Here it is for musical readers.

I used to grab slices of bread for afters, scooped up large quantities of IXL jam available on every table in giant gallon jars.. It had huge chunks of real fruit in it.  It was lovely, fancy being able to take as much as you liked? Surely Australia so far was everything that it had promised and more!

Migrant camps were also the breeding grounds for the budding entrepreneur. Future giants and captains of industry in Australia were often fermented (or fomented depending on  views of capitalism versus socialism) in migrant camps. One Polish man had sat up a smart taxi service. He had managed to get one of those large ancient Ford V8 cars and had become a self proclaimed taxi driver. He knew the way out of the camp having found a route to circumvent the flooded roads. He was doing a good trade and was helpful in giving information about availability and time tables of the train to Sydney. It would take a few hours and if leaving early enough one could get back in one day. He would wait for us at the station on the way back from Sydney.

The taxi-driver's car.

The taxi-driver’s car.

We had him drive us to the rail- station which might have been ten or more miles away and caught the train to Sydney. What followed during our first trip on the train still lives on, the memories growing ever riper and maturing with the times. It gets retold at every Christmas.

But, that will have to wait till next time. Milo is forcing my hand from the keyboard.

My Box Camera

April 3, 2015
IMG_20140701_0002

The family 1975.

A few weeks ago I bought a book by Gunther Grass (umlaut) titled ‘The box’.  On its cover it features a box camera and the words ‘tales from the darkroom.’ It is funny how a picture is able to recall memories deeply buried in the ashes of time passed all too soon. It was during my last year at high school in The Hague and rumors of my parents wanting to migrate to Australia were vaguely doing the rounds. I was fifteen.  I happened to pass a camera shop and became instantly smitten by cameras that were displayed in the shop window.

My dad was a camera fan and had one of those cameras that one could focus on the subject by a lens that was able to be moved backwards and forwards by a concertina type action. I think it was a Leica camera. However, with his six children running around the dining table ( while shouting) and the Dutch rainy weather forever keeping us inside, his photography took a background stance.  I don’t think he took many photos that I can remember, except some years later after migration to send back some photos to his parents (my paternal grandparents) whom he never saw again. My mother lost her parents at ten years of age during the Spanish flue epidemic.

When the migration plans became certain I was taken out of school and within days was working delivering fruit and vegetables to different embassies of which The Hague was full of. I did those deliveries on a sturdy steel bike with huge handle bars and large cane basket fitted over the front wheel. It was an industrial bike build specific for deliveries. The season was heading towards winter and storms were normal. However, I had my mind set on a box camera that I looked at numerous time in the window of the camera shop. Perhaps I inherited my dad’s obsession gene. I just had to have that camera.

My greatest joy was when a delivery had to be made to the American embassy. I was friendly with the kitchen staff and practised my English that I had been taught since  two years at primary and the four years at high school. I would be given a hot soup and a tip that made my heart leap into my throat. I had started to smoke already and apart from the tip was given packets of Camel. Can you believe and understand my total happiness? Smoking in the fifties was regarded a form of maturity and for men at least almost a healthy habit to engage in. Even doctors gave it the nod of approval while wearing the stethoscope and white jacket.

I did also at times, try and get my hand underneath the wrapped up fruit and remember snitching a few grapes,  while I single handed manoeuvred the bike again storm and rain. It was hungry work. I am not sure if the kitchen staff ever noticed the juicy  ends of the few missing plucked grapes. In any case the tips kept on coming and within a few weeks I went to the camera shop and bought the camera. I always gave my earnings to my parents but was allowed to keep the generous tips. The camera is the same as on Gunther Grass’ book. I am sure it was a Brownie Kodak with a strap on top and two view finders.

I can still so vividly recall taking my first roll of film. I think it might have been eight photos or perhaps twelve.  I took the  exposed film spool to the camera shop who told me it would be ready in a week or so. I could hardly wait for them to be in my hands. The photos were poured over for hours. I was totally transfixed by the idea of getting an image to be fixed forever to be looked at over and over again. They had serrated edges as well and in black and white.

I took the camera to Australia and even took photos on the trip over. The boat had a developer on board so my excitement knew no bounds then.

I wish I could regain some of that excitement again.imagesCAY6GIQF

Peter Greste is freed. What about the Manus Island refugees?

February 2, 2015
Asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Australian journalist Peter Greste is freed through the intervention of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Could Abbott show similar compassion and free the refugees held in detention on Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru?

Peter Greste was at least charged with something, yet the refugees, some of them locked up for well over one year have never been charged.

Nauru

Nauru


I mean, are the refugees going to be locked up forever, totally forgotten?
It is a stain so reminiscent of Auschwitz footage I saw on TV just last Friday.”

No matter on how we look at the situations of refugees in indefinite detention under the ‘care’ of Australia. We can’t go into the future without dealing with the past.

It might help again to point out the following.

Here a partial extract written by Paul Toohey; ‘That sinking feeling.’

“The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as:

“Any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country”.

This definition is used by the Australian Government to determine whether our country has protection obligations towards an individual. If a person is found to be a refugee, Australia is obliged under international law to offer protection and support and to ensure that they are not sent back unwillingly to the country of origin.

An asylum seeker is a person who has sought protection as a refugee, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed. Every refugee has at some point been an asylum seeker.

Those asylum seekers who are found to be refugees are entitled to international protection and assistance. Those who are found not to be refugees, nor to be in need of any other form of international protection, can be sent back to their country of origin.

As of 30 June 2014 there were 24,500 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat (including 1,870 children) who had been permitted to live in the community on Bridging Visas while waiting for their claims for protection to be processed.

As at June 30 2014 there were 3,624 people in immigration detention facilities and 3,007 people in community detention.

MYTHS ABOUT REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
There are many myths about refugees and asylum seekers. These are some of the common ones.

People who come by boat are illegals. The UNHCR states that a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution should be viewed as a refugee and not labelled an ‘illegal immigrant’ as the very nature of persecution means their only means of escape may be via illegal entry or the use of false documentation or having no documents at all. The right to enter without prior authorisation is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which Australia helped to draft.

Boat people are ‘queue jumpers’. Some believe that people who arrive by boat are taking the place of more deserving refugees waiting in resettlement camps. The reality is that there is no orderly queue, only a small proportion of the world’s refugees are registered with the UNHCR and in many places there is no opportunity to register at all.

Boat arrivals aren’t genuine refugees. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are subject to the same assessment criteria as all other asylum applicants. Recent figures show that over 90% of asylum seekers arriving by boat have been found to be refugees and granted protection here or in another country.

We take more refugees than our share. Australia is one of only about 20 countries who participate in the UNHCR’s resettlement program and we accept a quota of about 13,750 per year. However this is only 0.03 per cent of the worlds 4 million refugees. The UNHCR’s program currently only resettles 1 per cent of the world’s refugees, with most remaining in developing countries neighbouring the countries from which they have fled.

Refugees receive higher welfare payments than Australian citizens. There is no truth to this myth, which has been widely circulated by email. Refugees living in the community have only the same entitlements as all other permanent residents. They do not have their rental bonds paid for by the government, nor do they receive a lump sum payment on arrival. Asylum seekers are not eligible to receive financial assistance through Centrelink but some can be eligible for the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme administered by the Australian Red Cross and other contracted service providers. The scheme provides a basic living allowance equivalent to 89% of Centrelink payments.”

Confession of a reformed smoker.

January 28, 2015

DSCN2836
Our first house in Balmain on harbour-waterfrontage bought for $12.500,- around 1968.

My first smoke was enjoyed by inhaling burning tobacco through a grass halm stuck into a hollowed out acorn. This pipe was handmade by me and the beginning of a promising artistic career. It was a primitive implement but it did work. That first draw was probably coughed out but I was hardened in persisting by the daily cod liver oil unguent given by my mum at earlier years. I was immensely proud of my resourcefulness even though the idea most likely came from other sources. I might have been about twelve or thirteen. A good age to explore. One can never be too young. A burning need the mother of all inventions.

From memory, my parents bought me the first real cigarettes in a packet of ten. It came after the pipe period. I am not sure what the occasion was. Perhaps a birthday or pure generosity of my parents wanting me to feel they thought I had reached a level of maturity cusping into an adulthood. We could question the wisdom but not the love of my parents. Smoking was almost obligatory and even doctors were quoted as promoting smoking in advertisement. Smoking was healthy. All movies showed smoking. I remember tapping the cigarette on the packet first before lighting up, with the élan of an Eva Gardner or even Humphrey Bogart.

It all happened while our family of eight lived here in a typical Dutch street in The Hague; We lived on the top storey and it had three bedrooms. Look closely at the steps going up! There were four entrances at the top of those stairs.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/@52.074276,4.26686,3a,75y,189.8h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sX4t_DFwx_o1zKp1SGNZBQg!2e0

In those days milk would be delivered daily by a horse and carriage and the milkman. He would shout ‘milk’, not unreasonable because bread was delivered as well. He, the baker would shout ‘baker’. We also had a scrap- man coming around taking peelings and other food scraps away to be re-sold for animal feed. Most likely for contented pigs. He would make a living too. The scrap-man’s cart was pulled by a large ferocious looking dog that was tied underneath. I stayed well clear off his cart…

After the milkman shouted his presence my mum would shout back the number of litres she needed for that day. At the bottom of our internal stairs a bucket had been placed the previous night by dad. The bucket was enamel green in colour and covered by a cotton cloth. The same bucket used during the war to get soup from the communal soup kitchen! The milkman would then scoop the milk into the bucket and would do the same to all the occupants of the building at the top of those slated stairs leading to four apartments.

As the smoking got hold of me and not being able to fund the habit as readily as I would like, I had taken to buying single cigarettes with coins secreted away from out of the churches collection scoop. This scoop was connected to a long pole that would do the rows on Sunday church. I would put buttons in and take coins out. Many schoolboys would drop into the tobacco shop that smelt deliciously of rich cigars and pipes. We would light up in secret underneath stairs. There must have been some concern though, why did we try and hide it? It was a normal practise to do it in secret. It could be that this secretness added spice to this ritual of schoolboy smoking.

But let me get back to the milkman. One morning on my way to school going down those slated steps, I noticed an open cigarette paper holding some tobacco resting near the bottom of those stairs. Next to it was the almost full and bulging packet of Douwe Egbert’s tobacco. Was I finally being rewarded for having been so good? I did the washing up and laid the table for dinner. “Gerard is the best boy”, mum used to blackmail my brothers and sister with. Of course stealing money from the churches collection scoop was on a different level of ‘goodness’.

Without hesitation I pocketed in one swoop both the ready to roll cigarette paper and the whole packet of tobacco. What a find and how glorious a moment. I haven’t forgotten. However, and here comes the confession, the milkman who was a great aficionado and lover of tobacco, was scooping milk to the owners of the apartment on the right-hand side of those stairs and on the street. ( have a look ) He had just put his tobacco goodies to rest on the slates, ready for a nice reward afterwards. He was out of sight on those stairs going down. I instantly knew and understood the situation but also kept on walking! My heart was pounding. A significant event edged in my conscience. What should I have done? Confess my tobacco habit and dishonesty to the milkman, return sheepishly the tobacco? It wasn’t in me then.

I have always wondered since if the milkman had actually taken notice of me walking past. In any case, he would have been astounded discovering his tobacco had disappeared. If he did know who done it; would he confront me, or worse my father? We were a large family with great milk needs, a good customer! Did he chose to just let it go? I avoided eye contact with the milkman since.

A year later or so we migrated to Australia.

Ps. haven’t smoked for decades.

A ban on Australia for hounding refugees.

April 1, 2014

Boat people

Boat people


With piracy stopped on the high seas against whales by Japan. Can The Hague make a ruling on refugees being hounded by Australia?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-01/freeland-whaling-not-off-the-cards-just-yet/5358258#comments