Posts Tagged ‘the Hague’

The Tent.

February 8, 2019
Image result for Tents

In our efforts to become leaner and not willing to burden our family with the washed-up flotsam of our earthly but temporary stay, we undertook to try and ditch some possessions we no longer use. The clutter of our third bedroom, used as an office is where we started some time ago. All those papers stored, ‘just in case’ but never looked at again. Do we really want to look at old gas bills, or Water & Sewage rates and taxation notices? Out they went.

We had stacks of photo albums. Hundreds of camping trips when our children were small. Holidays on the South Coast dating back to the sixties and seventies. Many recorded by my Agfa Clack camera bought from my savings while delivering fruit and vegetables to embassies in The Hague just prior to my parents’ adventure migrating to Australia. That camera was indestructible. Colour films at that time were sent to Melbourne for developing and it wasn’t cheap. Later on a new camera was bought and recorded our overseas trips to France, Holland, South America and a still lovely Bali, with some of our best memories from Santiago de Chile post Pinochet, and Argentina. We kept the best of those photos now stored in a blue Dutch Verkade biscuit tin and chucked the  empty faded albums in the recycle bin.

We have as a matter of getting away from inside our house also made attempts at cleaning up our garden shed. It seems that order of things don’t last even without actually using tools from within the shed. Sooner or later things become disorderly again out of their own volution. We discovered a rather large and bulky bag that looked almost as if it held an assortment of cricket gear. Most unlikely. We are to cricket what a herring is to a seagull.

It was a tent!

The tent was used a lot on our previous life on the farm. We can still hear the echoes of laughter from our grandchildren who, with their mothers, slept in the tent on many occasions. They would take books and read with light from candles. Did we not all do that when young? We did. I had rigged up a battery with a small globe and read Jules Verne’s adventures under the blankets during winter’s nights with the windows all iced up with frost designed flowering shaped greetings in the morning. Dutch winters were still cold.

With our grandkids now almost young adults and us on life lengthening medications we are most unlikely to go camping again. How would we get up from the ground? I suppose by the help of a tent pole. Over the last few weeks we did leave useful items on the ‘nature strip’ at the front of our housing complex. The nature strip is a green grassy area reserved for Australian suburbs. It also sums up to me a kind of terrible dullness. The noise of the petrol lawnmower doesn’t liven it up either.  Anyway, it held our small enamelled barbeque and several still working electric fans. They were all soon taken. However, I did not want to abuse this nature strip too often, and decided on a different method for ditching the tent.

Last Wednesday morning I went to the Moss-Vale Returned Soldiers Club for my weekly indoor bowling event. I thought that leaving the tent in the parking area, no doubt someone will get the benefit of this still in very good condition tent. The tent is one of those spring loaded pole affairs and easily put up. It was also large, for six people and a shade sheet for over the top with a floor sown onto the sides. Years of designing this tent went into its production.

After arrival at 10am, I parked the car out of sight from other cars. I opened the door and gently lowered the tent on the bitumen next to our Peugeot. No one had seen me doing it. But…just before the start of bowling who would walk in with a large bag? It was Peter.

‘Guess what I found next to my car, Peter said’?  It was my tent. He had parked next to my car after arrival. Other bowling mates advised Peter to unzip the bag to see what it was. I acted just as surprised and even said; ‘perhaps it is a gun’! After unzipping, it was found to be a tent. I wasn’t surprised. He decided to hand it in to the office near the entrance where members are always asked to show their identification before being allowed in. When I left after the bowling was over, I noticed the bag with the tent at the back of the office counter.

It had found a good home.

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Chickens.

August 25, 2018

IMG_20150516_0001

Rain with joy.

The Canberra’s writer’s festival would not have been happy with the latest political turmoil. Right bang in the middle of Canberra too. A most astonishing election for a new Prime Minister. Life is never dull. We were drawn to the Telly like horse-flies. Crackers and Boursin cheese at the ready.

Our neighbour also happen to be the Artistic Director of the Canberra Writers Festival. https://www.canberrawritersfestival.com.au/what-canberra-writers-festival

They kindly asked us to feed their three chickens and cat named ‘Brambles’ while they were in Canberra. The chickens have names but I can only remember just one, a white chicken ‘Blanche’. So each morning and afternoon I go and feed their animals. In return we get the eggs. I am astonished how prolific egg layers the chickens are. Blanche is the only white one. The other two are brown. There is something so beautiful about feeding chickens. A primeval call to what we perhaps ought to enjoy as part of normal living. Tending animals is of course an activity that most people were engaged in during past centuries.

Even in my birth city of Rotterdam and later on The Hague, it was fairly common to hear chickens cackling. Even highly urbanized cities in Europe still clung to people having chickens. Egg were shared.

In our everyday life we never chuck out food. We always eat leftovers. The Dutch hunger winter of 1945 taught us never waste food. However, the last few days we have given our scraps to the chooks. I don’t know, but Blanche must have laid two eggs in one day! I assume the brown eggs are laid by the two brown chickens and the white Blanche laying white eggs. Yesterday there were two white eggs! I felt like clapping.

The rain has come as well. It pelted down and gutters overflowed. One could hear the garden drinking. A standing ovation from jonquils, daffodils and burgeoning Japanese windflowers. Sighs of relief from the clivias. Everyone is hoping the farmers will get a bucketing and green returning to bleached baked paddocks and water flowing into barren dams.

As for our New Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. He is the architect of Nauru and Manus island torture centres. Let’ not go there.

Let’ not spoil the delights of the chickens.

 

Blue flower.

August 19, 2018

 

IMG_0095A Star

This pretty blue flower is from a bulb. We bought a packet of mixed bulbs a few years ago and planted them in a dish. Without fail, they reward us each spring. They pop up mid-winter. Nothing happens much except for grass-like greenery to spill over the edges. Come mid August and the first flower arrives and delights us no end. It came by stealth during the night in full moon’s light. It wasn’t there the day before!

Perhaps it is a snow-flower or star flower. My father used to delight in a small plant that he grew indoors when still living in The Hague, Holland. I can still see him peering at it. It was called, ‘Star of Bethlehem’. The apartment we lived in was on the third floor and had no garden. Dad made an indoor garden and the lounge room had many plants growing on all the window sills. It delighted dad no end. His greatest triumph was the Clivia flowering. We all had to admire the Clivia when it flowered. Mum made sure we did!

The delights of growing things doesn’t really need to be on a grand scale. The single blue flower above gives its beauty so generously. From now on we will look at this modest flower each day. I am sure more little blue flowers will arrive soon as well.

The sun is getting stronger but rain is needed.

 

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
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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