I was born in Gouda, the Netherlands during World War II. I migrated to Australia at the age of 12, on the migrant ship Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in 1956. My parents thought they would find a house and work easily in Perth but, after a brief talk with the family who had been our contacts, we got back on the ship and, on the advice of Dutch migration officials, tried our luck in the ‘Eastern States’ of Australia.
We were taken to Bonegilla Migrant Centre. This was a terrible shock to us, as we were now based in a former army camp, in such very basic accommodation, during a time of quite high unemployment.
My father was sent to work for the railways in Chullora, Sydney. He hated it. Because of the rules, he was only allowed to sweep the floors and regularly came home with migraines.
We lived in three more migrant hostels, namely Scheyville, Villawood and Matraville Hostels, intending to wait out the two years compulsory stay in Australia. (We came with assisted passage.) But two weeks of staying in tents on a five acre block of land at Leppington showed us what life was like outside the hostels and we bought and renovated an old house and we stayed there.
I finished the last few months of primary school, understanding very little of what the teacher was saying, but keeping very quiet because there was always the cane on his desk to control unruly pupils.
After the Christmas holidays and a non-verbal IQ test, I was off to high school learning Latin, Science, Maths I and Maths II, etc. Unfortunately I was also still learning English.
I made it to teachers’ college and I loved teaching. In the mid-’70s multiculturism gave me the chance to be a Dutch-language broadcaster on Radio 2EA and to be a member of the Dutch Syllabus Committees and teach Dutch in the Saturday Schools of Community Languages. That should have been the time to concentrate on climbing the promotions ladder.
I had to retire early last year as Assistant Principal, when the health of both my parents deteriorated badly.
My parents migrated for all the usual reasons. There was a fear of WWIII. There were changes in Holland. There were information evenings showing slides of bungalows in Australia, bathed in sunlight and wide avenues with motorcars. It sounded very good (and no doubt they believed it) to all who would listen that they were migrating for a better future for me.
I am so glad we have now been here 46 years. I loved teaching these last 37 years. I DID have the feeling that I needed to help my parents a lot when we came here. They were then both 39. I picked up English a lot more quickly than they did. Now that they are both very frail indeed, I am once again translating for them and caring for them.