Posts Tagged ‘Uncategorized’

Cows and Annemarie

February 22, 2010

By gerard oosterman

Battered old brown leather suitcase against a white background


When I was told that ‘Dutchies’ were popular with the girls in Melbourne, I packed a small suitcase, kick-started the Lambretta and headed south. At age 17 the discovery of Ma paw and her five daughters some years before had grown a bit wearisome and needed reviving. The change from left to right hand did not quite satisfy the yearning. I longed for a real girl friend and tales of conquests from work mates at the factory of Spectacle Makers in Clarence Street  only egged me on to at least give Melbourne a go.

I packed a suit, recently bought from Reuben’s Scarf. The two suits for the price of one was the deciding factor. The coats were a bit big and would have looked better on a Paganini just before his burial where some claim he could be heard to play his final violin concert even underground afterwards. In those days, the wearing of a suit was somewhat superfluous but with the fragile state of my confidence, I thought it would stand me in good stead with those Melbournian girls in need of a Dutchman. 

My father was most circumspect of this journey by a 150cc scooter and held grave fears. Never the less, at departure I shook hands and kissed my mother. Strange, thinking back of that shaking hands business. Back in 1958 travelling to Melbourne had been undertaken before. My dad made me feel as if I was Mawson on discovery of another polar region.

The suitcase had survived the Trans Atlantic and Indian Ocean trip a  couple of years before and even though battered, it did have locks on the lid with a key that fitted. It was made of leather looking carton and also had a handy strap with a buckle just to make sure it would not open un-expectantly. The rest of the suitcase included fresh singlets, shirts with ties and some Lambretta spares, contact points, spark plug and spanner, underpants. I still had the address of a Dutch family and a lovely daughter named ‘Annemarie’ whom I had met on the trip over a year before. The table tennis tournaments on board of The Johan Van OldenBarnevelt were made more interesting by the enthusiastic playing of Annemarie, she was fast and while bending over the tennis table I noticed her teen cleavage. I was lost already then!

‘Don’t forget the catechism Gerardus Antonius,’ mother urged me with some concern of my deeply soiled soul, no doubt worried about those nocturnal emissions on singlets. “Have you got your maps handy”, mum asked kindly? Yes, mum.” What about the spare spark plug?” ‘Yes dad.’ A final handshake and a kiss to mum, I kick-started the scooter and rode away like something out of ‘High Noon’. I looked in the mirror with mum still waving but dad had gone.

The beginning of the trip went past areas that I had been before, Bankstown, Liverpool and Ingleburn. Then new territory opened up and from then on it became the adventure that lasted about three weeks. Somewhere past Gundagai and Wagga Wagga I turned left and this is where the adventure became a bit more serious. Most of the roads became gravel or dirt tracks and through steeply mountainous terrain. After about travelling a hundred kilometres or so, a huge mob of cows blocked my way. I stopped and tried to look and behave as nonchalantly as possible. I was terrified they would trample all over me and my scooter and suitcase. ‘A rampaging herd of cattle trampled a lone traveller with scooter.’ ‘My dad would read in the afternoon edition of the Mirror, with an arrow pointing to my body and dead scooter.’

 They were in their hundreds and did not want to budge. Their bovine manner got to me and I thought it best to pretend to be one of them. I started mooing and instantly became one of them, disguised my scooter with branches and just waited while smoking my Graven A’s, hoping the cows would understand!.

It seemed hours but the hunger for food must have got to the cattle. A couple started sauntering past me, bellowing, and signalling perhaps for the others to follow. Then, as on cue, they all started and with incredible agility they all ran past me. The dust was choking me but I had escaped the hooves and horns of the mob of cattle.

My expected arrival at Melbourne did involve a stop prior to knocking on the door of Annemarie’s parents place and behind an old eucalypt, changed into my Ruben’s Scarf suit and did a general spruce-up!

Annemarie, here I come!

Lonely Communities next Door

February 16, 2010

Lonely Communities with Neighbours next door.

The idea that we all need friends and neighbours might be getting somewhat lost these days. I was just finished getting my on line Green slip and Rego done, when it dawned on me that the experience might be convenient but totally without human contact. Where was the smiling girl behind the counter from last year? While so much is being done through the computer and even here on the Unleashed we think of ourselves as a ‘community ‘ or group with similar or opposing views. How real is this community?

The last few days we spent looking after grandchildren in a leafy Sydney suburb and during that time  would often sit outside, perched on a shaded veranda well above street level.  The usual background noises of cars and aeroplanes would only be interrupted by the call of the currawong and the cacophony of kookaburras. It was all rather peaceful and pleasant.  The dog would be taken for a walk and a run around the local park, which is down a steep bit of bushland and with river frontage.

During those few days I reflected on the discussion we often have about the apparent lack of seeing people about in our cities and suburbs.  Sitting on that veranda, listening to sounds, the sounds that humans make were far and wide in between. Usually, in the afternoon, if one was lucky, one might hear someone being greeted by another when exiting their car. That is, of course, providing the car is not being shunted inside behind the electronically activated roll-a-shutter.

How real is our perception of neighbours getting together sharing a coffee with indulging and confessing our everyday concerns? The kids, the family, our partners, experience during the last few days, in fact all the important trivia and debris of our lives? We can’t live by privacy alone. Being locked up behind our homes and computers does not constitute communal living at all.

How real are those virtual communities of face book, youth-tubes and internet forums? Does it fulfil our need for other ‘real’ people with real blood and bones?

 On one of those walks I met the elderly lady next door. She was born In Hungary and had lost her husband last year. While patting the dog we had a nice little yarn and she was keen to talk. Next we were talking about Hungary and music. She told me her husband used to love playing the piano and how she misses that now. She plays the piano as well and asked me if we could hear this.  I answered that it was so nice to hear her music and that my daughter was also enjoying the sound. She was so happy to hear that. Next there were tears in her eyes.

Of course, being retired we had the time to sit there, walk the dog and talk to those that we happened to meet on the street. I wonder how many do take the time off and make the efforts in meeting neighbours. When is the last time you shared a cuppa with your neighbours, or do you just say ‘good-day’ and slink inside?

It is not unusual to read about people passing away without anyone being aware of it. Yet, we read about some drama somewhere, a shooting or strange going ons, wild swinging parties, murders and throat cuttings. In the same breath, with a typical sensational press hungry for copy, talk about ‘close knit’ community with a teddy bear thrown in the front yard for good measure and effect. It beats me how a close knit community can be ignorant of someone passing away and all those other calamities without anyone knowing about it.

People go missing and many are never heard of again. Worse, people go missing and are never even missed. Yet, we all are meant to live together and care. We even are supposed to own a duty of care towards each other. We are obliged to care but hopefully, and preferably care, without the need of this obligation.

Is the inclusion of so much of our perceived concern about privacy not overdone and obsessive? We cover ourselves with anonymity, with pseudonyms and subterfuge behind all things hidden. We sheath our houses with fences and electronic gates. We cover any chance of an inside look by a stranger with curtains and blinds. How welcoming and friendly is that?

I have always believed that out obsession with privacy is inherited from our Anglo forefathers. You know those strong believers in ‘home is our castle’ with moats and drawbridges? Certainly in Continental European cities one sees far more people congregating on street corners and cafes than here. The el fresco dining experience is a fairly recent phenomenon here. Not all that not long ago I received a complaint from someone telling me, “What are all those people doing, sitting around eating”? “They should be working”. What a miserable creature, I thought.

Social intercourse is often the glue that holds societies together. It is not just a luxury or something that we should sometimes indulge in, time permitting. We need it as much as food. It is about the only thing in life that is free. We ought to encourage and engage in this intercourse far more often and embrace our neighbours and communities with gusto each time the opportunity presents itself.

Go on, say hello and invite your neighbours around the wooden table of sharing the ‘give and take’ of our everyday life.

What not to Wear by Helvi Oosterman

February 14, 2010

November 9, 2009

Just to get you boys here.

You older folk here might remember the times, when anything Indian was all the rage; long cotton caftans for the girls and rough hewn grandpa shirts for the boys. Those were the days when your tie-dyed, floor length wrap-around skirts, not only kept your legs warm but at the same time swept the streets or maybe just the foot paths clean…

The council workers whistled at you, not because they admired your legs, but because you were doing their job for them. I remember wearing a long caftan when six months pregnant, looking rather majestic, almost a cross between Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, Brunnhilde from Wagner’s Ring comes to mind. Hubby too suffered for his latest acquisition, sandals made from old car tyres with some brass buckles tagged on them that gave his feet bad rashes.

Many years later  the tights arrived on the fashion scene; welcomed by all comfort loving females, mums, daughters and grannies. They were taken up by skinny girls, fat sheilas, old and young, tall and short. My slightly underweight girlfriend gave me a backhanded compliment: “Helvi, you look good in them because you got big legs, I look like a starved baby bird in those”. Ah well, who needs enemies when your friends tell the truth about your short  comings. These tights, as you all know, were usually teamed up with oversized t-shirts or large tops  with huge shoulder pads. These pads were not sewn but usually Velcroed to shoulder seams and easily removed. On long train trips they could double up as pillows, after all some were almost bigger than average size Tontine.

Not all that long ago the fashionistas got inspired by India again; the bright colours were in and black was out. Tired of looking like Sicilian widows, we now took to rainbow colours, glitter and sequins like ducks to water. Many of us suburban mums   of course even looked like ducks, waddling in our tiered skirts and heavily sequined tops weighing us down. All those vivid colours that so flatter darker skinned slim Indian girls, made us look like stumpy Christmas trees.

Oops, almost forgot about those hipster jeans, maybe it is because I really want to forget about them; all those tummies and bottoms bared, and in country towns still bravely exposed, even  when the city girls have moved to the” waist highs” a long ago.

This morning I had to go to town early for an appointment. Popping in to buy a newspaper at the mall, I noticed a group of young girls still in their nighties hanging around. I assumed they had had some kind of sleep out or a pyjama party and were on their way home. The polyester swishing could be heard as they walked past. Later on I came to realise they were not nighties,but this season’s new look: floor-length summer dresses that reminded me of those caftans. Only the caftans were cotton and pleasant to wear, these long  poly dresses must be as hot as a visit to a sauna.

I feel like a cooling swim is needed right now!

Growing Pains

February 11, 2010


factory workers


The owner of the second factory and wooden leg had a curious way of dealing with others. His mouth did not just contain a fag with brown spittle leaking, but mouth was also set permanently at twenty past eight o’clock and he would spend the day creaking around the factory floor with gammy leg, sneering and leering at the cavorting going on. At times he would get into his strides and gun for me. He would grab my hair and pull my head towards the floor. ‘You forgot this bit here’ he would say. Look at it, you bastard, ‘here’ and he would spit a lifetime of smoking induced load of phlegm onto the floor.  Those unfortunate experiences were tolerated when considering that the pay off, at least, was not having to join in any buggering in front of the capstan lathe machine. 



Again, at some time later and another job, as an apprentice spectacle maker in Clarence Street, Sydney, the initiation for the young and upcoming workforce was for the adults to get Ultra marine blue or Cobalt blue dye in powder form and after taking the pants down of the uninitiated, rub this powdered dye around the genitals of the hapless victim.  This dye was so strong it would stain legs, genitals and clothes for weeks. Later on when I found out that this was widespread and tolerated and accepted as an almost essential part of ‘growing up’, I knew that there was a serious and serial kind of bullying going on. Of course, at that time I was also astonished to observe young kids going to schools in quasi army uniforms and with mock rifles slung over their tiny shoulders. Was there a war still? Girls, in the middle of hot summers with black skirts, black tops, black hats, black stockings and even black gloves. Was there some connection between all that and bullying?

Cobalt blue


My younger brothers and single sister in the meantime were enrolled at different schools. Some at the primary school locally, and two brothers to a catholic high school, called ‘De La Salle’ College. It was not long before our parents found out that the punishment of whacking her children with a ruler or cane was not all that rare, so off the ‘chief of staff’, (mother) went to confront the Head ‘Brother” of this ‘benevolent’ College wanting to stop the bullying by physical violence of her children. The practise that was commonly used would be the voluntary holding up of the palm of hands, whereby the kindly ‘brother’ would sweep down at full throttle and hit the upturned palm with the ruler. Another much liked version was the hitting of hands with the knuckles up. This was popular because it inflicted so much more pain and was even more effective in installing subservience and non questioning education in pupils.

 Another perplexing insight in this new country was given that for children to move up to the next level of education, this did not depend on having passed examinations on subjects, but rather on how much someone had grown up? The younger ones did not have the advantage that Frank and I had of having had a few years of English back in Holland, so it was perhaps much harder those first couple of years for the younger brothers and sister to stay in front. When it was suggested that John should perhaps spend another year at the same level, the answer was that John was so tall he could not possibly spend another year in the same class.

Of Proust and Penguins

February 10, 2010


September 19, 2009

By Helvi Oosterman.

I’m standing in front of our floor to ceiling book cases and I don’t know where to start my weeding; we are moving to a smaller place and I have to select which books to take and which not. I have three milk crates on the table: one for daughter, one for charity and one for the cottage. The ones I want to keep can stay until we actually move.

I take books out at random. ‘The End of Certainty’ by Paul Kelly is the first one. It was a birthday present from Allan, who passed away far too young at fifty. His beautiful hand writing makes me choke at the loss of a dear friend and I want to keep the book. ‘In the box’, says the boss who hasn’t even read it. The next one happens to be a slim volume by Marguerite Duras, a French writer who used live in Vietnam when it was still Indo-China. I start reading ‘Practicalities’; beautiful short essays about life, love, writing, Paris and wasting time. I feel I’m not wasting a minute re-reading this and not sticking to the task at hand: I have to keep this one;  it’s only a slip of a book.

On the bottom shelf, out of sight are my yearly diet books; I have bought one every January, new year, new me. Easy goodbyes to all; from Atkins to Scarsdale to South Beach. I count only seven;  many of them have already left the house to end up fattening girl friends’ book shelves. Then I pick a stack of yellowed old Penguins, Mishima, Kawabata, Hermann Hesse and Böll, which have escaped the previous throw-out. They are like very old friends now;   I put them back on the shelf.

I’m not doing too well, and I decide to take a break and walk to check the cottage collection. I find that most of them are results of previous culls, books that I had not chosen myself. Even so I managed to bring back an armful: a book on Finnish art, a long lost one of V.S. Naipaul and ‘By Way of Sainte-Beuve’ by Marcel Proust.

I have spent some hours by now and not much to show for; maybe the best thing to do is to tackle one shelf daily until the job is done. We have time;  we haven’t even put the house on the market yet. Husband walks by and looks at the empty boxes, he can see that I’m getting a headache and am close to tears: Maybe I can help tomorrow? This is not what I want;  he’ll only leave his Patrick Whites and some boring stories about Aussies migrating to Paraguay and maybe George Perec’ s  ‘Life, the User’s Manual’. ‘You can help with the cook books and the gardening ones’, I say as I have already promised to give them to family members; I have enough recipes in my head by now and my new garden will  be very small.

Oh no, I have totally forgotten about dictionaries and other language and reference books in the office and all my favorites in the bed room!

Mika Hakkinen and Matchsticks by Helvi Oosterman

February 9, 2010

December 18, 2009

By Helvi Oosterman

Feminism is not our major concerns these days; women’s liberation is something that smells of grannies; did you really burn your bras in them olden days asks many a confident granddaughter whilst giving a fleeting glance to check if going without support caused any sagging…

The daughters and granddaughters have more in their pay packet and they know whom to call when the boss pinches their bottom. Wishful thinking from their part if you ask me; I believe the once hurt male finds it safer to hang out with mates, rather than enter the bitchy world of females. It’s back to “like it was in granddad’s days “for boys.  They now watch the bullying blondes from the distance…

This all brings me to my first uplifting experience of sisterhood, the power of girls not spitting at each other but naturally becoming the shelter of each other. It was a long time ago; I was seven and in the first year of primary school. In those days it was thought as useful to teach knitting for both girls and for boys, something to do with dexterity, preparing the fingers for writing.

I was sitting on one of those two seater all-wood school desks, next to Mikko who had taken to knitting like a duck to water, and who was laughing at my somewhat loose stitches. The teacher was busy helping another student and I was struggling with tears and shame for so lacking in this most female art form.

To my and to the teacher’s great astonishment we all heard this loud and clear statement from the back of the class: “Helvi can knit better with match sticks than you Mikko with proper needles!” It was my second best friend Maija. It might have been a strategic call from her, hoping to be elevated to the first place in friendship stakes. Now, that’s the older and more cynical me thinking. Back then it dried my tears, it warmed my heart and soul; it made me happy. After the class had been settled and returned to previous calm, I remember thinking how my friend came to the idea of knitting with match sticks…

Mika Hakkinen

Well, Maija always was a creative girl and later on she became a writer of some fame and Mikko, if I’m to believe my sister’s Finnish newspaper clippings: a knitwear designer! He changed his name to more international Mika, riding on Mika Hakkinen’s fame, no doubt. I am being jealous now, I think.

L’indolente and Masterpieces from Paris

February 7, 2010

By gerard oosterman


We visited the National Gallery against all advice not to attempt it during week-end. We arrived about 11.30 and the queue overhead the roadway did not look promising. We clambered up some stairs amongst the rubble of a large extension, plywood panelling on both sides with scaffolding. Upstairs and outside under a tent-like galley we joined a queue. There was some queue confusion when it became clear you first had to get tickets. We joined a new one, bought our tickets and returned to the original file. Towards the entrance the line of keen art appreciators was compressed into a zig-zag line-up, giving hope and revival of spirits to all and sundry.

It was moving along   nicely and we were finely ticketed inside and moved into room NR 1.  It was well worth it and the crowd was filing pensively past each and every painting.

George Seurat’s three little paintings of his frontal nude girlfriend in room NR 2 were outstanding . I took note that she appeared underage but it must have past the classification board at that time.

In room NR 3 was a large painting by Gustave Geffroy of a man in front of a large bookcase. I did not realise that penguins were already available then. Please also notice the Dutch tulips with the plasma telly just above them.

Cezanne certainly loved his onions with beautifully coloured plates of fruit as well. A beautiful monochrome coloured painting by Edouard Vuillard was outstanding.

Gustave Geffroy 

A crackerjack painting of a fat cracking portrayal of a mouthwatering and beautiful sprawled on bed nude was Pierre Bonnards ” woman dozing on a bed” with the very suitable French title L’indolente, was in my opinion the most outstanding of the lot.

This is a must see exhibitions. Come on everyone. Go and see it, even on a Saturday.

Underage Childcare in the Sixties

February 5, 2010

The last bastion in the late sixties for males to break down was the right to baby-sit. Women were in the throng of burning bras and going girdle less, stockings with seams were passé and Germaine Greer had announced ‘Bras are a ludicrous invention’. So, while women burned bras because they were seen as accoutrements of torture, men burned their draft cards avoiding real torture and felt liberated until they tried to baby-sit in Inner West of Sydney.

As it was, I turned up one evening and with the household all dressed to go and dine somewhere or see Zorba the Greek, I noticed a distinct cooling towards me. They made a discreet phone call and decided it would be safe for a man to be allowed to baby sit, just this time.  ? Of course, many of the parents that knew each other through social events knew each other as couples or, in the case of play groups, were mainly always women. For a man to be on its own, solo, and at baby-sitting in the evening was not that far advanced in acceptance yet. There was a meeting and the majority approved ‘male baby-sitting’. I don’t know what the objections or criteria were for being suspicious of males doing baby-sitting. Curiously enough, the mother that was surprised and taken aback somewhat when I presented myself to baby-sit, thought nothing of taking her clothes off for a life drawing session. Were males going to do evil things or was the reluctance because of lack of skills? It was not that much of a challenge though and much depended on what sort of facilities the parents had provided. Real coffee instead of the instant variety was preferred. Sometimes, there was a good book or a television program. Sometimes, especially if it was after midnight (double points) you would just go to sleep on a couch if available. Never in their marital bed of course!

Most times, babies would either sleep or cry. If they cried you generally gave them the option of a milk bottle or a dummy. With some families there were directions on procedures, and I remember one cot having a type of fly screen lid fitted on top. It was hinged and had a locking device which was difficult to open; it had a trick to it. I ended phoning the secretary. Did they think their baby was going to get stolen? I only had one time that my baby soothing skills were inadequate. Mind you, the babies (twins) were known as ‘the horrible twins’. Apparently, they would scream and could not be bend in order to change their nappies. It was my turn to baby-sit for these twins and as soon as I walked near them they broke out in a howl and in tandem. The nappy stench made clear I had to change them, but even another step towards their cot resulted in a renewal of their blaring sirens. It would only abate when stepping back. I kept stepping back and phoned the secretary again, she came around and changed the nappies. By 1972 most males had broken the barrier and were fully accepted for babysitting.

Mystery paring of Pears and a Huge day for Milo

February 1, 2010

By gerard oosterman

Its a miracle, its a miracle.

 The pear tree flowering in late summer.

Miracle Flowering with tears from above 

Pear trees are flowering here and I haven’t even been good. Finally a reward for reckless living and the devil take the hindmost.

Milo also had a huge day. A walk through Bowral and a lady across the road shouting ‘Milo, Milo, is that you Milo? Milo is starting to make an impact on Bowral, getting recognition and being showered with attention… Here he is, trying to flush out the naughty birds.

Milo in full flight 


He has calmed down just resting on his laurels.

Home Birthing in the Inner West

January 27, 2010

Porpoise-built Home Birth

(Gerard Oosterman)

Home birthing.

In the same street but opposite, lived a man and a woman. She an artist, he an artist by exterior only. You know the type, totally esoteric in giving answers to even the simplest question. Unable to straight talk and everything imbued with a deep meaning but totally away from comprehension. He was on his third marriage and happily ignored his kids from previous encounters but always ready to criticise the terrible ‘middle classes’. His latest wife was pregnant and ready to ‘unpack’ the baby. Both were ardent believers in the alternative world of Bach remedies and early morning Chakras aligning themselves to magic columns and circles. The birth was going to be a ‘home under water birth’ in the garden and  after baby just born but still attached to umbilical cord, would be kept under water for the first five minutes of his or her life.  This was all part of the essential but incomprehensible deeper involvement of mysticism and very Sufism related multiple and opposite meanings.

The whole street would be kept informed and noise be kept to a minimum. The husband had rigged up an old cast iron bath with an empty 40 gallon drum elevated on bricks with a wood fire underneath next to the bath, and our old above ground pool pump would be circulating warm water from drum to the bath. The time had arrived and being mid winter the fire under the drum was kept up with a never ending supply of old timber remnants from renovations that seemed to be going on all year around everywhere.

Majestically and totally very hirsute, the huge form of the wife appeared. We had front stall looks from the upper storey of our house direct into their garden across the road. She plunged into the bath, ready for the delivery of this sub-marine baby. The moaning started and the husband was flat out stoking the fire and holding the wife submerged. The pump was revving at fever pitch circulating the water that was getting so hot at one stage that the wife had to get out letting things cool down a bit. In the meantime, the husband in an act of supreme solidarity, (his astral travel the night before had taken him to powerful and hitherto unknown regions) stripped off and stepped in the bath behind his wife. Both squatted down and he held her from behind, shouting ‘push, push’, you bitch, push!

She now had much less space and was holding her legs up in the air above the bath but also sometimes against the rim to help the pushing and straining. The screaming increased in intensity and volume, the timbre of her voice not unlike a badly tuned hurdy gurdy being played in a tiled underground rail tunnel in Moscow. Our kids and their friends were hanging out of the windows and still no sign of the underwater miracle. The dogs were howling and barking in tune with the screaming wife. This went on for a few hours with both getting in and out of the bath, adjusting the temperature and fire. Some of the neighbours were shrugging their shoulders and others voicing disapproval. Not a baby in sight and the crowds started dissipating. Out of the blue, a siren was getting closer and closer. An ambulance appeared, a stretcher was produced and the poor woman dripping and with skin like a plucked chicken was without further ado strapped in and carried to the ambulance. The husband still starkers standing on the road near the ambulance, with hanging testicles like walnuts in a sock, was muttering incantations, but the baby was delivered at the hospital, a little girl.

Up until this day no one ever found out who called the ambulance. I am still wondering myself!