Posts Tagged ‘WW2’

A life delete or not?

May 26, 2014

First flush of love

First flush of love

anxious already then

anxious already then

Australia is under attack from the conservatives. The obvious question; why conserve them in the first place? Isn’t a good conserve something locked in a jar with a screw top lid? I am surprised that a political party is proud to be named ‘conservative’. Do those that have died or in the process of doing so, belong to them? I mean, surely being alive is to progress along something or other. I am not usually given to philosophising, but after the remnants of the Vienna sourdough with fig and ginger conserve, am now in a mood that is mellow, gentle and reflective.

There are so many photos in my Window’s 8.1 explorer that I have taken to deleting those that I can’t remember ever having put there. I suspect that Windows is trawling through my posts and willy-nilly extrapolate something that one could then vaguely be pictorially be associated with. It is as hard to delete the pictures as it is to look at and sorting, checking any e-mails. One gets lost in the sheer monotony of pushing a delete button. A bit like watching a petrol bowser tick over when filling the tank on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I mean a button to ‘delete’? Is it perhaps a kind of subtracting of life segments.

After deleting some I came to photos of my parents. One picture just before the war in the flush of early love and without us kids. The other photo in our house around 1988 or so during a holiday back in Australia after they had returned to Holland many years before in 1976. An entire life in between. Perhaps you have seen the photos before. Old photo gazing does brings back things, doesn’t it?


One reason for their return was that their Dutch pension would be a lot better, more generous and not means tested. About 80% of average wages. But…the other and main reason was to be near their schizophrenic son Frank who had already been living in Holland as well.

The picture of those two in tub with my mother are Frank at the back and I at the front during WW2 in Rotterdam.

Pensioners whooping it up in Australia

Pensioners whooping it up in Australia

The lost Train Ticket

December 16, 2013


While most of the world is now in panic about obesity, many years ago the reverse was at play. Many victims of the last WW2 were underweight. Especially children. It was a battle then to put weight on.

“Gerard is too skinny, Mrs Oosterman, you must send him away. There is a family in South Belgium who have volunteered to try and feed-up the chronically undernourished,” doctor advised. “They are well off with plenty of food. “Gerard must put on weight. He is malnourished”. The years of potato peelings soup and limp water porridge wasn’t enough.

I can’t remember this precise conversation. It must have been something like that though. My mother often told me that the doctor was scared I would not survive. It was after 1945 with the war over. By the end of the war there were tens of thousands of children whose level of malnourishment was so severe, a national programme was set up to help those unable to regain normal weight and health. I and my brother Frank were both considered in the category of needing fattening up.

I remember my mother putting me on the train and she also impressed on me not to lose my ticket which she told me many times, “it is in your top jacket’s pocket.” She showed me. I was put in a train cabin which was one in a series of cabins with a corridor running alongside them. She asked the adult passengers to make sure I would get off at the destined station and also showed them where my ticket was to show the conductor and the border control. ( I was travelling on my own to another country) My mother had three other children to look after and perhaps no money for her own ticket. My father was working in another city. Anyway, I travelled on my own.

My memories are scant except for this dreaded nightmare of my life. When the conductor came along, my ticket was gone. I searched all my pockets. The passengers searched my pockets. The conductor searched as well. No ticket. It was gone. I cried, sobbed was lost myself. I had lost my ticket, my life. No mother around. I still have that fear of loss. I had lost my ticket. I must have been put off the train at the right station in Belgium. The Belgian French speaking people would have picked me up. I can’t remember.

The memories of my stay in the southern part of Belgium are rather scarce. I loved the mussels. I still see a huge saucepan filled with steaming pink-orange coloured mussels. It is the only food I remember from that time in Belgium. The other lovely memory was of a crepe paper fan that was attached between two flat sticks. When you held the sticks a little apart and waved it down quickly, a most amazing patterned and colourful world would open up. If you closed the two sticks together again, the paper pattern would fold back. It was my first introduction to pure magic. I spend days with this fan in a large garden… I could not understand French nor their Flemish-Dutch. The garden had apple trees. I ate real apples. I was inconsolable when this paper fan of magic finally broke. A second loss, and no mother.

The mussels greatly made up for that loss. The family also gave me a bike to ride on. They must have taught me. I can’t remember. But the proof is in that picture. It was a large house and my room was upstairs. I can see my bed which was left of the door.

The French speaking Belgian family wrote my parents updates over the few months that I stayed with them. I was doing well and had gained 300 grams after the first three weeks, they wrote to my mother. “Gerard is very brave,” they wrote. I still have that card. It was also when I learned to speak French which my parents could not understand on my return.

I am now a good 78 kilos and never go without my ticket.

When I see a film I clutch the ticket in my hands during the entire performance. I keep checking where my passport is and get quite annoyed when I lose something. H. has a hard job keeping me calm and not panic. I am not sure if it is related. Odd, how such an event could possibly keep one from being a bit more normal. I don’t easily give up fretting when something is temporarily missing. H. keeps saying it is NOT lost. She says don’t FEED your anxiety. The Allen key or ‘special’ bit of written note, your glasses will turn up. Don’t worry so much, she says with so much care and love.

Yes, true, but I lost my ticket. It was so long ago.

Fibro Asbestos Homes; A ticking time bomb.

June 10, 2013


Fibro asbestos homes; a time bomb waiting to explode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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