The First Years of the WEGGELAAR Family in Western Australia
In years to come, one of our grand-children may start wondering about our family name and what the first couple of that name were like and how they settled in West Aust. Now that I write these lines, it is nearly 44 years ago that I first stepped ashore in Fremantle and faced the task of starting a new chapter in my life at the age of 27. I had to make the first step on my own as married couples could only migrate if proper housing was available which, in our case, could not be guaranteed. So, there I was with Oma and our first son, Rudolf, still in Holland after having been married just over 4 years and all of us looking forward to the moment of being together again.
The first impression of Fremantle was the great number of corrugated iron roofs and buildings that could do with a clean-up and a coat of paint. Perth was a little better mainly because of the palm-trees and the flame-trees in full bloom in the middle of the winter with the calendar telling me it was the 15th July, 1949.
My next impression of West Australia was my boarding-house in Newcastle Street; it was as if I had stepped back into history. It was not only the toilet in the backyard, but also the interior and the furnishings had the style of long ago. To make things worse there was no electric light but that could be blamed on the coalminers who had one of their many strikes which for long or short periods paralyzed the state. Collie coal fed the power station and very few people or industries escaped the discomfort that a power-strike has on a community that depends on electricity in so many ways. For me it meant that I saw Perth in its darkest mood and that included the chance of getting a job, earning some money and starting the life I was hoping for.
The first few weeks in Perth must have been more like a nightmare than a dream come true. First of all and more important than anything else was the fact that I had to learn more of the language. I had tried to learn English while still in Holland and it had helped me to a certain extent when I came out on an English ship as far as Singapore, but I had to get used to the Australian pronunciation and learn a lot more words besides that. Next came the question how to find work, considering my limited knowledge of the language, no connections or friends and no idea how long the present situation of the power strike would last. As I had left Holland as a newspaper photographer, I tried to find a similar position here. Soon I came to the conclusion that the market was small and no vacancies were in the offing. After nearly a week of trying I followed a tip to see if the Royal Perth Hospital could use me as an orderly. After finding out what an orderly was, I applied to the man in charge, but as he had no need for more staff he advised me to see the Dietician who was looking for a night-cook. Another ward to find, and another interview followed. I handled this with “yes” or “no" at the right time to land me the job.
My first nightshift, I shared with a Greek who was to instruct me, but he spoke as little English as I did. My next shift was with a lady-cook who had served as cook in the Air Force and spoke in a way which I also could not clearly understand. It all became quite confusing for me but with the "List of directions for the night-duty-cook", the help of the dictionary and a few hints from the landlady of my boarding-house, I got through the first few shifts on my own. Gradually it became a routine to have around 50 meals ready by midnight and I also managed to make acceptable sweets which were quite different from what I was used to at home. After all, I had never been a cook and it was only the need to earn money that I, at least for the time being, put aside my plans to get back into photography.
While I had my nighttime job, I kept in contact with some photographic studios and also did some private work that I could process in the darkroom of a Mr Paget, whom I met through a Dutch boy living in the boarding-house.
contacts was very important to get over the feeling of being alone in the world,
not knowing the people next door or the name of the next street, shop or town or
even the morals, manners or language of this new home. It is no wonder that in
the first months or years of his arrival a migrant lives in two worlds, his own
old world where everything was known and the new world where everything is more
or less a big question mark. Adjustment is very personal and varies from
whinging about anything that is strange or Australian, to claiming that one
forgets his own language after 6 months in Australia. Not many can go through
the first months without bouts of despair or homesickness when the going is much
harder than expected. A friendly word from an understanding friend or work-mate
will often bring back the strength to see the brighter side of life.
As soon as I knew my way around I made inquiries about the possibility of having Oma and Rudolf join me. Oma was working and saving for the boat-trip and I tried to get suitable accommodation for a family of three. My landlady was willing to let me have the large room where I was sleeping with two other Dutch boys. It was duly checked by an immigration official and papers signed, after which the landlady changed her mind and made another room available which was dark and untidy. To make that one livable I cleaned the walls and woodwork and painted the whole room at my own cost, after which the landlady changed her mind again and made the previous room available! At the same time I fell out with the chief cook who took advantage of my willingness to work by leaving bags of beans to clean when I had spare time during the night. This made my temper flare and the result was that I gave notice to leave the job.
I placed an advertisement in the paper for a room for three. I found a job as a packer at Atkins and an old lady offered a room in her house in Wasley St. Mt. Lawley. My experiences were not unusual at that time as migrants were often taken advantage of through their lack of English and their unfamiliarity with the circumstances. In my case it was probably also my temper, but I still believe that the attitude towards the first generation migrants never changed. The job at (Atkins) was simple, paid the basic-wage and held little prospect for improvement. The advantages were the normal working hours that would be important when Oma and Rudolf arrived, to have a normal routine and no night- shift. I still had the ambition to become a photographer again, especially after I did so well at the Royal Show. An Englishman, who stayed at the same boarding-house, had told me to enter some of my work, in the Show to make myself known in the industry. I entered some old and also some very recent photographs and had the pleasant shock to see them exhibited with a First, Second prize and a Kodak trophy for the best entry in the professional section. The result was a total silence from the people I had hoped to make contact with; there was a message in that for me, I think.
The photographs I sent to Holland for publication in 6 magazines were well received but only paid the expenses and little else. I had ventured into a stint of journalism by reporting about a meeting with Prime Minister Ben Chifley when he spoke in the Perth Town Hall, before the 1949 election which he lost. The article, with photographs, was accepted and placed in the paper I had worked for but further contact did not eventuate.
All this was overshadowed by the fact that Oma and Rudolf were on their way to Australia and I had bought a second-hand Indian motorbike to provide transport for when they arrived at Fremantle. This happened on 15th January 1950, when the S.S.Volendam berthed at F.Shed. I managed to get aboard using my old press card and some bluff. I can't remember who I first met, Oma or my son; neither can I remember what I said but we were happy that the six months of separation were finally over. For Oma it was also the end of a very uncomfortable trip on a ship that was stripped of most luxuries to take as many migrants to Australia as possible and on the return trip a full load of soldiers back from Indonesia. The food on the five week trip had been so plain that the packet of biscuits that I had bought to have for breakfast, was soon shared among Oma’s cabin mates.
As soon as the Customs and other official formalities were behind us, we made our way to Kings Park on the motorbike. I tried as much as I could to show how lovely Australia was on a sunny day to soften the blow that would come later when we had to get used to living in a single room. The motorbike was going to be our transport for the three of us to see all the beauty spots of beach and bush I had been writing about in an endeavour to paint a favourable picture of West Aust. as a future place to live. Now, on her first day in West Australia, I could show Oma the best view of Perth and the river from the heights of Kings Park.
It had been my idea to leave an established life in Holland for an uncertain future in Australia, so it was my duty to make our new life as acceptable as possible. I had overcome the feeling of being all by myself and lonely at times and I knew that Oma would also go through the traumas that most migrants have to endure in the first months or even years. Being young makes it somewhat easier to adjust to the circumstances and the best way to do that was going out on the bike and see the sights around Perth. We had already noticed the attraction of the beach and the bush and we took to it with great gusto and suffered the consequences. On the first Sunday to the beach, Oma enjoyed the sun so much that she was sick for a week with sunburn. After that we played it safe and went to Yanchep as it had more shady spots to protect us from the February sun. What we did not do was to boil the billy like others did, but when we were thirsty we just drank from the taps with the result that we all caught dysentery to a rather bad degree. From that time on we followed the great tradition and stuck to "Billy Tea".
After a few
weeks we thought it a good idea to let our son go to the nearest kindergarten to
learn some English and make friends.
The first day must have been torture for him because he came back in tears and
complained in broken Dutch that he could not understand the kids. At home he
played with the boy next door who soon taught him the usual words and even a few
unusual ones he was not allowed to use. He and we, gradually adapted ourselves
to the many rules our old landlady forced upon us. She was in fear of noise,
afraid that she would trip over toys and when we tried to have a quick bath
together she banged on the door to stop the waste of water. We felt unwelcome
and not wanted. The highlight of the day for me was when Oma and Rudolf came to
meet me half way down William Street on my way home from work at Atkins. Rudolf
loved to play hidey behind the trees in Hyde Park and often we lingered around
the ponds to feed the ducks with left-over bread. We were all
glad to be together again as a family and in the first weeks and months
we concentrated more on our happiness
than to worry about the future. When our landlady became too difficult to live
with, we placed advertisements for a
room or part of a house for rent and the offer to do some housework as well. We
had two replies; one very shabby place with people I did not trust and one
somewhere in Lesmurdie. To get there we took the bike and the only road at that
time Chrystal Brook Road. We made it halfway up the steep road when the thick
smoke behind us told me it was time to give the old engine a rest and give us a
chance to enjoy the panorama. When we continued and found the given address, we
were in for another disappointment. The lady of the house wanted a rather high
rent for a dilapidated out-house and also expected Oma to be the all-day house-
maid for her. She was the type we had heard about; a vampire. We were rather
downhearted when we stopped on the way back to sit on a rock, look as far as the
ocean and shed a few tears in the solitude of the bush around us.
At work I had made it known that I was looking for a place to live, just in case someone heard of such an unlikely thing. This time it happened and a colleague told me the name and address of a family whom his sister rented a house from but no longer needed it. I found the address and we made arrangements to see the house the next Saturday. We were very excited about the prospect of a place in Kalamunda, somewhere high up in the hills where we had not been yet. Saturday morning came and we rattled in the Kalamunda bus up the hills which looked very pretty with lots of yellow flowering trees which we had not seen before. We saw many more of them when we walked along Railway Road and a kind lady answered our question that her beautiful tree was a Wattle tree. She must have thought we were mad or foreigners. Next we noticed a house with number 123 on a rather big bushy block and while we looked at it the family Castledine arrived in a utility. They showed us the house which was clean, emptv and large and much better than we had dreamed of.
This happened in August 1950 and at that time Kalumunda attracted a fair number of immigrants from Holland who did not mind the distance from Perth but were glad to be able to rent a house or part of it in a bushland setting. We were luckier than most others to have the Castledines as house owners to rent from, because they treated us as friends and charged us a low rent compared to many others. In return we looked after the house and made many improvements over the years. Moving into the house was not very complicated because our total belongings fitted into a suitcase and the four small cases Oma brought with clothing and other necessities. The cases served as seats and table until we were able to buy the things we normally take for granted. Despite the primitive circumstances we accepted the situation as a great improvement and a milestone in our life. We were free and we were together and looking forward to making this place a home for the family.
I still worked in the packing-room at Atkins and one of the few perks we had was the permission to take home any packing-cases that were not required for re-use. When it was my turn I had enough timber to make two benches to sit at the kitchen table. After this attempt followed a frame for a bed. with legs made of red bricks neatly stacked up and hidden by a home-made bed cover, that later matched the curtains Oma made for the kitchen and the lounge. Gradually the house became homely and comfortable to live in and we enjoyed living in the hills with nature right on the doorstep. Contact with people around us did not amount to much more than greeting from a distance and it was a relief when we met Dutch people who also went to evening lessons of English at the Kalamunda school. Some of them have been our friends ever since, like the Van Rynswouds and the Rentiers. Several other friendships or connections were made as a normal part of belonging to a group with a common ideal, background or philosophy, but many floundered or came to nought through lack of mutual interest or trust. True friendship is a very scarce commodity but one of the most necessary needs for a person to feel at home in a strange country. It is part of the security to belong and to be somebody as a counter-balance of the moods that may strike one when doubts and worries paint the future black. Getting ahead on a wage from Atkins did not look like a possibility and extra income from making photographs or making a series for the papers in Holland, earned hardly more than the cost of material and time. It became clear that without capital, connections or a car, it would be a battle which I was not prepared to take as it interfered with the normal life we tried to have with the three of us. So far we had spent our weekends exploring the bush and the ranges nearby with picnics and wildflower walks, while we did longer trips on the old Indian motorbike. Many a time the bike came to an unexpected stop which taxed my technical knowledge to the maximum. Even at that time it was hard to find a helpful bystander who knew something about "magneto- ignition". After a while I did and was not even proud of it!
However, it was more important to earn a better wage to get ahead faster than I was, so I decided to start bricklaying. A tradesman who came out on the same ship as I did, asked me to team-up with him to build a cottage in South Perth. I never thought I would go back to my old trade for which I had served my apprenticeship until the war broke out in 1940. At that time most building workers were pressed to work in projects for German warfare, which I did not want to join. This time I chose to go back to bricklaying but after a few days I nearly gave up because it was much harder than I expected. The prospect of more money kept me going and when the first job was finished I accepted the next because with the job came the use of a motorbike which was much better than mine. Later on I did several country jobs that paid better still if you managed to get your money. On one job the builder shot through with the money and on another occasion I broke my wrist when trying to start the car of my companion with the crank handle. Experiences like this are often enough to toss-in the towel as it affects the family as a whole in every respect. Social security in 1951 was only in its early stages and I was too pig-headed or too proud to ask if I came under some support scheme. We did weather the storm and when I thought that my wrist was strong enough after ten weeks in plaster, I found work with the State Electricity Commission in East Perth. In the first weeks I kept the plaster cast on my wrist hidden under a long sleeve but when it had been on for twelve weeks I cut it off myself to save another doctor’s bill and a possible x-ray as well. In 1951 it was generally known that working for the P.W.D. or the SEC was an easy job so it suited me fine to get into shape again for working for a private boss later on.
the meantime we made some little improvements inside and outside the house, made
a start with a garden, kept contact with friends and tried to make new friends
which in most cases did not succeed. Our English improved with practice but our
background, and the need to be very careful with our money, made us different
from the established population. Oma did her part by doing housework for a few
ladies in the neighbourhood who knew that the reputation of Dutch women was good
and reliable. Some ladies made more than good use of it, like Mrs Dempster, who
had the largest house in Gooseberry Hill, but knew how to get the most for a few
shillings. This job came to an end when at the end of the morning she insisted
to check Oma’s bag because she was missing a silver teaspoon. A suspicion like
this is an insult to any woman but it makes a new migrant speechless,
defenceless and oh so lonely at the same time. Even the apologies of
Mr Dempster later on did not induce Oma to go back. Luckily there were
some good ones as well who did appreciate a good worker.
Children do adjust to new life much quicker and when Rudolf went to the new kindergarten in Kalamunda he soon learned songs, words and stories that we could not teach him. We still had books with children, stories from Holland and before bed-time our son loved to hear the stories he already knew by heart. To make things easier for him, I thought it would help him if I substituted some words with the english words. This made him say one evening “ We do talk funny, don’t we Pappa?”
When he went to primary school we tried. to help him with reading like most parents do but we were puzzled why he seemed to remember more than he could actually read or spell. Oma went to see the teacher and found that we had nothing to worry about as our son was one of the best in the class. Our contact with the Castledine family was still very friendly and the way we looked after the house had their approval and kept the rent low. We felt secure enough with house and work to think about another child; as a result came Frank and we were very proud of him as the first addition among the Dutch families. All the time that we were in Australia we had kept contact with our relatives and especially with Oma's parents. It must have been a hard lot for them to have their only daughter so far from home and also miss the enjoyment of grand-children like other grand-parents. To soften the blow we wrote every two weeks at least and we enclosed photographs as often as we could. For a long time we were still living in two worlds and we were fortunate to know several people who shared the same feelings. They were our friends who over the years became the uncles and aunties for our children, in the same way did we became family for their children. Over the years we often said that friends of that kind are more valuable in one's life than family. It also proved to us that assimilation and integration were ideals that were difficult to attain by the first generation migrants. People from West Europe may try at first but in general will find more company and contact amongst their own kind. Most of us who came in 1949-1960, were established families with their own ways and manners. After living that way for years, it becomes the standard other methods. are measured by it.
We had no trouble to love the house, the bush and the lovely weather, but it was hard to adjust to the toilet in the backyard with a big pan to make the deposits in and rainwater tanks around the house to catch enough water in winter-time to last all through the summer. No wonder we often compared our life with that of our grandparents. To adjust to the new way of living was more difficult for the married women than it was for the men. As soon as the husband found work he started to accept the circumstances for the sake of a regular income and at same time he learned some of the language and manners from his work-mates. For women who had to stay home, the day was fraught with difficulties as her whole routine was changed and the language barrier locked her out from normal conversation with neighbours or shop-assistants. Not many women, and for that matter also men, escaped periods of home- sickness when the reality of the change turned into a night-mare. I wonder if it was ever noticed that two of the first and permanent buildings in Fremantle were a gaol and a mental asylum! The gaol is easy to explain but the asylum, which is now the Maritime Museum, must have housed many early arrivals from England for whom the stress was too much to bear. I wonder if any of our grandchildren will ever see our generation as pioneers of some kind, even if we did not go bush with pick and shovel? So far I had not been out of work as building workers were in full demand. I had adopted the English way of working and every job I got was through recommendation. After the first summer in the trade I stopped exposing my body to the hot sun as it had resulted twice in a severe heat-exhaustion. A hat and shirt kept me more comfortable and on doctor’s orders I made sure to use enough salt in my food. This was one of the things that a new-comer had to learn but it was one among hundreds. Through a chance remark with a neighbour who took the same bus, I came in contact with the manager of Watson Brothers, Jack Watson, who also lived in Kalamunda but had an agency business in Perth. I started to do jobs for him that varied from coolrooms to incinerators and garage-doors. In the meantime I teamed up with a Dutch bricklayer, Peter ten Velde who was older and more experienced than I and who proved to be the best companion I ever had. We both had plans to build our own house so our thoughts and discussions were often on the same subjects. Many people started building their own home as it saved money and it gave them the opportunity to move-in before the house was completed and so save on rent. Our friends in Kalamunda had already started and we had bought a block in Morley also with house-building in mind and even the plans to start a poultry farm.
This idea did not come from me but from a Peit Nederpelt who had contacted me some time before to discuss what to do when his prefabricated house arrived by ship in Fremantle. There was a block, for sale in Morley that was too big for him but could be sub-divided in two 5 acre blocks for the two of us. The price was what is now $1000 for 10 acres (approx 4 hectares) and it could be paid for in instalments of 50 cents per week. just the thing, we could afford. To be helpful I offered to assist with the drawings and permit to build and later to help with the construction. I could have done much better for myself if I had stayed in employment as a weekend builder. Some schemes only work out if you don't put your expectations too high or if you do it with trusted friends.
experience started when I had a number of bricks left over from a job and I
offered to buy them and then
transported them to our block. Few people knew where Morley Park was and to find
our block was even more difficult as one had to follow a bad sand-track through
the bush. Further down the track was a poultry farm which was connected to the
powerline of the SEC, so we had every chance to get a connection when we were
ready. Before we could take to the bush with shovel and pick, we had to get our
plan for the house passed by the Road Board of Bayswater, as it was called in
that time. Next came the pump which was sunk by one of the locals. It was just a
plain hand-pump that brought nice and clear water from a depth of some 10
meters. I located the spot for the shed in relation to the house to be, and
started to clear the bush for our first building effort. It was simple and cheap
and would be a toolshed in the
future. The dimensions were 2 metres by about 3.5 metres, big enough so that I
could sleep in it if necessary during the weekends. Just as well we took this
precaution because we got a request
from our landlady asking us to share the house with her married daughter,
husband and baby. Now the pressure was on, as it was clear that their own
daughter had preference over us. We accepted this as we
had been treated so fairly for close on four years. The shed was now
finished and the foundation for the house was laid. Building materials like
bricks, cement and joinery were still hard to get but with our small budget it
did not matter much as long as we could keep going from weekend to weekend.
So, from this time on it was planning and budgeting. It also meant that we had to do everything ourselves and if money could be saved we did it by hand instead of getting a machine to do it In practice it came down to working with pick and shovel like it was done in the early days; the bush was cleared; sand for concrete or mortar came from our own land that was all sand and when it came to mixing mortar or concrete it was done by hand. Our working weekend started on Friday afternoon when Oma took the bus from Kalamunda to Perth and from Perth to Morley as far as Walter Road, then a walk of nearly an hour along Camboon Rd to the sand track that was the west-end of Benara Rd. Baby Frank did the trip in the pram but had to share the ride with lots of shopping that was needed for the many meals in the weekend. Rudolf came too and soon found his old friends again as the Nederpelt boys, who lived next door, had been to the same kindergarten in Kalamunda. I came after work on the moped as I had sold the motor-bike as being too dangerous for a man with the responsibility for a growing family. I also sold the old 1931 Austin Tourer as it was too unreliable and too expensive in repairs. The toolshed never served to house tools but was turned into mini-living quarters, if one used some imagination. We had two single bunks for the four of us which gave sufficient room for the two boys but made it rather cramped for us. During daylight we had all the room we wanted with a make-shift table and seats under the tree which we had saved for that purpose in mind. It may sound like one big picnic but for us it was working without a let-up for months. We had one thing in mind and that was a house to live in and if possible before the rain started . To speed things up we decided to build only half the house for the time being but even that took longer than we expected. We must have worked like slaves to have the walls and the roof up before the weather broke. We left our house in Kalamunda on good terms with the Castledines and the four of us moved into the toolshed. That was going to be our house for the six months to come. Afterwards we have often thought how we could manage to live in such a small place. In a way it had the luxuries we did not have before, for instance the sink with a real tap above it, and enough water to use as long as I kept the drum on the roof filled by using the hand-pump and a hose for a quarter of an hour. It was all done in the knowledge that we were living on our own block of land and that everything we did to the house was to our own benefit. At times it must have been a daunting prospect that so much had to be done with so little money and moods must have been tested to the limit, but we made it and eventually moved into the house when we had a ceiling and a floor and windows in the kitchen. After that, we slept in every part of the house till our bedroom was finally finished and habitable. Most of the work was done by me but if it needed more than two hands I could always get assistance from friends or my companion. In return I worked for them the same number of days when they had a tricky job or wanted a fire-place or fancy wall built. Mutual help worked very well in our group and we are still friends to prove it. Sometimes it was also necessary to do a weekend job for someone else in order to earn extra money for materials. At one stage we looked at each other when progress seemed slow despite our 7 days a week effort and still no ceilings in the house and no money to spare. Pessimism set in until I thought to look at my savings book that I sometimes used to clear cheques from customers but had not used for some time. At once the world looked brighter when we saw that there was just sufficient money in the bank to pay for plaster-board. Things like this could lift the spirits above the clouds. In a philosophical mood I often thought whether it was idealism, desperation or just dogged realism to finish what I had initiated, building a house and doing all the trades that anybody in his right mind would leave to people who are trained to do it.
If there is a single answer it is MONEY. Money was also the reason that Oma started to take on jobs for housework. This time she had to go to Mt Lawley on the push-bike with Frank on the carrier behind her. Once again she had a boss with a famous name and the manners of the rich; Mrs Plunkett, who always had more work than the few hours she was prepared to pay for. It came to an end when half the house was more or less finished and we were able to raise a mortgage from Mrs Dogle, a lady Oma had worked for in Kalamunda. The mortgage was to pay for the vehicle we were going to buy to have our own transport and it would give me a chance to do a job at Narndee Station, near Mt Magnet, owned by Mr Bogle. In every respect it was a proper financial contract. The vehicle we bought was a new Commer van with no other refinements other than side windows. Before we went to Mt Magnet, I had to finish the job I was working on and at once noticed how much time it saved me in traveling and how useful the van was to collect the leftovers from jobs which were so very useful to my house-building.
When that project was finished we went to Narndee Station where I was to build new toilets and a septic-system for the shearer’s quarters. If I needed extra help I could ask some of the temporary station-hands to help me. They were called in to construct some yards and fencing but after they knocked off they went hunting for kangaroos, dingoes or foxes for food or for the vermin premium on the scalps. Rudolf had a great time going with them and may even now remember it as an adventure. What he also may remember is that his mother was a stern teacher who made him do his correspondence lessons without giving too much time off for running around the station. For us too it was a great experience to have three months of station-life on a property of 400 000 acres and 7000 sheep. When we came back we had some money saved and could start again to build the second half of the house.
I now had a regular position with J Watson building coolrooms and incinerators etc. They had a works-manager who supervised my and other jobs, claiming that he had done similar work in England. I had met him a year before on a job and knew he was just a carpenter and a cheat, but he had the trust of the boss. Up till the time I gave notice to leave, our relationship was never cordial and on several occasions he tried to replace me with another bricklayer. However, things like that often happen when people feel superior in their position but inferior in their knowledge. When they are resisted they can make life rather difficult all. I was not in a financially strong position to assert my point.
While I was sometimes up to my neck in old or new incinerators and many other smelly or dirty jobs, I kept up my spirits knowing that the work paid money and that every dog has his day!
In the meantime the family had grown with the arrival of Ronald, which kept us happy and young and made me alter the plan of the house to fit an extra place in for when they all wanted their own rooms. Changing the plan was not very difficult because the original plan did not bear much resemblance to what was now the house. We had now two boys at school and we joined the parents in the monthly P+C meetings, mostly only a handful and always in need of money. Rudolf had been in the Cub pack in Inglewood and they also had a parents committee. As young parents who wanted to know what kind of people were in charge of our boys, we were regular members of the committees and took an active part in the work. When Rudolf turned 11, he left the Cub-pack and wanted to join the Scouts. There were enough boys of his age in Morley who also wanted to join if a leader could be found and a proper Scout group established. We found a suitable leader and I was asked to be the group scoutmaster of the Morley Scout Group. If one wants to do the job properly one has to be prepared to donate a lot of time to it to follow courses, camps and meetings, just what I could not afford. I had taken the position as chairman of the school P+C, because nobody else volunteered to take it on; similarly with the scout group, there were enough boys but no adults to be the leader. Again I volunteered but still had plenty of work to do on the house that was still not finished.
The Morley Primary School was growing every year through the influx of many migrant families, many in the process of building a house or at least building a new future. Naturally, again money was scarce and the necessary equipment that had to be provided by the parents could only be bought through donations by the regular members of the P+C. As chairman, with an accent and a restricted vocabulary, I had to cross swords a few times with the headmaster and some staff as certain purchases had been made, not for the benefit of the pupils but for the comfort of the staff. It did little for my popularity. At the end of 3 school years and with the help of parents, fetes and raffles, we provided the school with a 16mm projector and trolley, sporting equipment and a reticulation system on a grassed sports field previously planted by the parents.
from the parents from the scout group was better
and more friendly as they often noticed an agreeable change in their sons. It
did not take long before they started to mention that their younger children
would like to join the cub pack as soon as we got it going. Frank was now old
enough to be a cub and once again I did not have much of a choice but to add the
position of Cubmaster to the others. Lucky for me, Oma was willing to take her
part as assistant Cub-mistress, or Bahloo, as it was called, and it did not take
long to reach the maximum for a Pack, 24 boys. Our way of running the pack was
sometimes rather unorthodox as we had no other meeting-place than the
school-playground and the verandahs of the primary-school. As a result we worked
in the open and concentrated on practical training and games. It was good fun
for both of us and the cubs but I had to devote more time to house-building as
Oma’s parents intended to visit us and they had to have a room for themselves.
We did as much as we could and the result was that the inside of the house was finished and comfortable. The one thing that still needed attention was the water supply. We had made an improvement by installing a jack-pump with an electric motor, so we only had to switch on the power to fill the overhead tank above the back verandah to have low-pressure water to all points in the house. For us it had been a great improvement but by modern standards it was rather primitive. However, Oma and Opa de Gids arrived and for the first time in their lives, our boys had grandparents as Rudolf could not remember the time with them when he was 3 years old. The visit was not without difficulties as the boys had to get used to elderly people who did not speak much English, which made a regular conversation between grandparents and grandchildren very hard. The conversation improved when the presents came out of the boxes and the big tin with lollies did the rest. Later on the children, and especially Frank, found a great friend in Opa, who could repair toys and make things like no-one else could . One of the things still in existence is the name of the house in wrought iron "Franckendale" and the crest of Amsterdam. Opa also made a railing for the side-verandah, which was a clever piece of work, all done by hand with simple tools. It is never easy for two generations to live together, and the very unfamiliar circumstances for old Oma and Opa did not make it any easier in our case. Young Oma. who was not yet Oma by then, had not seen her parents for more than 11 years, which made her, through the tough time in Australia, much more independent from her parents than they had expected. From a young woman with one child , she was now a mother of three boys and 11 years older with a lot of living experience that could not be imagined by her own mother who had led a sheltered life in comparison. Our friends in Kalamunda must have guessed that we needed a break and they asked old Oma and Opa a few times to stay with them for a week or so. We heard enthusiastic stories about it when they returned and at least it gave us the assurance that we still had good and helpful friends in Kalamunda. Before the end of the year (1961), we had made all the trips, picnics and visits we could think of and the time of departure came near. We thought it was enough after 8 months and the end of the holidays was welcomed by all.
During the year I had been given the chance to be trained as a staff-officer in the juvenile reformatory "Riverbank”. I had in mind to be out of the building trade by the time I turned 45, and this could be the possibility to land a permanent job at last. The firm "Watson Bros" had been taken over by Olympics Rubber, which made no difference to the trades-men but had made a noticeable change to the management; they started living on a more expensive level. I had felt the hostility for years and certainly the fact that I always missed out on extra income from overtime. Some time previously, I had done a plastic tile floor in a room in St John of God Hospital, something I had not done before. Afterwards I found out that the firm won the contract for covering every floor of the hospital on the sample of my work. It amounted to a considerable sum for the firm, but my part in getting it was never recognized in any way. I thought it better to keep my plans for the future to myself, do my work for the boss and do my study at night as well as possible. I enjoyed the training course very much and tried to take part in the discussions whenever I could. More or less it came down to public speaking to say what you had to say in a group of some thirty people who were all trying to make a good impression on the lecturer who was either a psychologist or the assistant director of the department, and who would in the end pass you or fail you for the job. The time I had devoted to the scouts and the cubs paid dividends because it had given me the opportunity to speak to a group. When it came to do practical lessons in Riverbank and in the farm school Hillston, I felt confident that I could handle that sort of boys as well. From remarks made by the assistant director and the lecturer, my lessons in photography and physical training were well received. After the exams it took a while to receive the results and even longer before I was offered work in Riverbank. Every day we expected a letter in the mail but nothing happened.
It was December, hot and almost holiday time. I had to repair an incinerator which was built by an unknown tradesman and already needed repair after the first period of use. I came home, smelly, black and exhausted from crawling inside an incinerator which had been burning till the day before. Never did I hate my job and the incompetent manager more than on this occasion. No comments were made or asked and a few days later we knocked off for the Christmas holidays.
we packed the van for our usual two weeks in the tent in Meelup we asked the
Robinsons, our neighbours, to keep an eye on the house and to collect the mail
if any. Off we went to Meelup and before the first week was over, we received a
telegram from them that 1 must contact Riverbank. This was a sign that they had
work for me there and I did not dare lose
one day by staying in the camp. I started on January 1st 1962. Three days later
I had made up my mind and went to see Jack Watson, who was most surprised and
annoyed that I did not want to come back. He even said that I could have
informed him that I had the intention to leave when the new job came for me. I
left him guessing why, as he was too arrogant to ask me for reasons or opinions.
He still saw me only as a servant, I think.
Riverbank was quite a change from what I had been doing so far in Australia. Officers dressed in white shirts and wore a tie at all times and were addressed by the boys as "Sir”. Meals were provided and eaten with the boys at the same table. At all times the boys were to be supervised and security was to be maintained as a first priority. From 6.a.m. till 9 p.m. the program ran like clockwork; sport, work, sport and hobbies and lots of cleaning. Everything was clean and shiny. One thing that was missing was freedom; high walls all around, all doors were locked, windows were barred. The effect on most boys was a surly, snarly attitude towards the staff, whom they saw as the ones responsible for their predicament. As the newest officer I had to be tested for weak spots and my defence from the start was to be strict till I knew my bearings. While I was strict, noticed that some colleagues made use of it by being relaxed and trying to be popular. There was a lot more that I noticed in the first few weeks and it was not what I had expected. There was favouritism, to assign certain duties to certain officers, and in this respect I felt that I was not only tested by the boys for weak spots. Many of the staff were migrants themselves but had not experienced the difficulties of learning English as a second language. The only real migrant besides me was a Dutchman who had worked as a trained mental-nurse before and had no trouble fitting into a system where many people seemed to have delusions of aggrandisement when they were one step up in the hierarchy. The whole staff had been together on the first training-course, when Riverbank was being built. They had been very friendly together until the moment that 5 of them were selected to be the future Senior Officers, which put them on a higher level and higher pay. Many of their fellow students felt that they were badly done by. As far as I could gather, the choice was influenced by military rank and service during the war and social graces in the bar after the weekly training-course finished. Many government appointments at that time were made with preference for people with active service records during the war. Whatever they had done during or after, one thing stood out that they were masters in manipulation to be the first in line for an easy job. After the pleasant time we had during the training-course, it was a real let down to find so much insincerity and manipulation going on in a group which was selected for suitability by psychologists and testing. I was still interested in doing further study in welfare work by doing the recommended course at Perth Technical College, devised by one of the lecturers of the training-course and meant for people who wanted to qualify for promotion. It was a study of minimum 4 years and about 17 subjects. With my scant education it was a prerequisite to do English 1 and a nurses course in physiology by correspondence. My tutor often returned my work with the remark:” This is used in spoken English but not in written English”. She had no idea that I learned most of my English on building sites, but she must have been pleased with my final assignment, in the second year, when she gave me 76%.
I enjoyed the study for the diploma-course, even when it took 2 hours per subject per night at Perth Technical College and a lot of study and home-work. Shift-work did not allow regular attendance, so, if possible, I swapped shifts with colleagues. During the first term the number of students fell off considerably and amongst them were several of the Riverbank staff. One of them was the Assistant Superintendent and the other was a Senior officer. That both of them had been carpenters and one of them was English made me think back to my previous job. It did not take long and it was indeed like that again, with the only difference that I told both my superiors what I thought of them in no uncertain terms. They made it quite clear to me that I was not the person who would ever make promotion even if I should finish the diploma course.
honesty with photographic material in my charge was questioned and my usefulness
in the photographic hobby-group was doubted. How childish they must have felt
after they had time to think about the accusations. However, for the time being
I did my duty and found working with delinquents often easier than pleasing the
whims of some superiors. Altogether the
work was much more rewarding than my old job and much less strain on the
back-muscles. Often I took physical-training and even if I was not a keen
sportsman myself, I could make the sessions in the gym interesting with
exercises I remembered from years ago, which went under the name of "Ground
Gymnastics" in Holland. Gradually I gained more practical experience,
adjusted myself to the ever changing circumstances of an institution and I think
I aquired some tact as well. It must
have had some effect on boys I had worked with, because if I happened to meet
them in town after their release, they invariably acted in a friendly manner. At
one stage we had a particularly unlikeable boy whom I gave some extra attention
for no other reason than that I thought he needed it as much as any other boy.
He had shown his appreciation at the time but the surprise came after his
release. We met him when we were shopping in town and he was walking around with
his girl-friend when he spotted us. He came and introduced his girl to us and
then explained to her that Mr Weggelaar and he used to work in the same
establishment. It took an effort to keep a straight face and I wished them well.
first 4 week holiday came in January 1963, and for the first time since being in
Australia did I feel assured that there would be work for me when I came back
from the holidays. Up till then, the prospect of being unemployed always worried
me. It had never happened to me, but as a child I experienced the depression of
1930 till 1940, and that put a fear in me which never left me. This holiday we
went to Albany and had good time together with the three boys. Friends lent us a
Primus with gas-bottles which was the first time this product had come onto the
market. Other comforts were that for the first time we did not have to be too
careful with money, a fact that
Rudolf noted when we bought some bottles of cool-drink.
My new job was not physically exhausting and on my days off I added an outdoor area with a fishpond to the side of the house. When Rudolf and I had 2 days off, we sunk a concrete well 24 feet or 7.50 m. deep, that later made it possible to pump a stream of clear water for house and garden use. The boys will have their own memories about this time as Rudolf went to High School while Frank and Ron went for one year to the same Morley Primary School.
Technical College started after the summer recess, I did 3 subjects at night and
did English Expression 2, by correspondence.
The routine was interrupted when I was told that I was transferred to Hillston Farm school in Stoneville. It had been the fore-runner of Riverbank and its reputation in the department was not high. It started as an experiment by the Anglican Church to rehabilitate delinquent boys by training them for farm-work. Some of the staff were trained in the same course as I had done but most of them were taken on by the Church from local people. Besides some rudimentary schooling for the younger boys, most of the activities were outside in the bush, orchard or farm. No walls to keep them in and only your own wits to enforce some discipline and make them do the job that had to be done. It was a far cry from what I had done for over one year and I had to make some quick adjustments if I wanted to stay in this type of work. I also had to work it out for myself as the old staff had little idea of what I had to go through and 3 new staff-members from Riverbank who came just before me, were now in exalted positions and kept their distance from me. Actually this did not surprise me. Their big ideas of staff solidarity and their references to psychological theories and books while in Riverbank, had all been hog-wash in the hope of making promotion. Now, one was the new Assistant Superintendent and the two others were promoted to Senior Officers. Two of the three had been particularly active to show how well they under- stood all the theories of psychology we had learned and had even tried them on boys and staff in Riverbank. I did not fare too well in one of them and was seriously informed of it by the Asst. Supt. It was a project known as a Sociogram in which the boys had to put their names against names of officers they liked to be with. It was the second time this was done and apparently my name did not show-up too often or at all. I asked my Asst Supt, if he had expected something else when the boys had to choose between officers who played cricket or football or the one who always did the security and other unpleasant duties? Besides that there was also the choice of names like: Brown, Howe, Sara, Smith, Waite against the difficult one which even my colleagues could not remember to spell correctly. The third one of the trio was a man who never rocked the boat, looked after number one and later got promotion.
realized that working at Hillston had the advantage that by having no walls the
boys felt like not being locked up and could be themselves without too much
supervision from staff. Most of them were old enough to work and every officer
had to take 5 or up to 12 of them to do farm-work, gardening or firewood cutting
and clearing in the bush. My first job was to take the truck and 8 boys and
collect firewood at the end of the big paddock. I had no idea where to go, so I
took 2 boys in the cab to show me where it was and following their instruction I
finished in a soggy spot and up to the axles in the mud. My workers thought it a
big joke that they led me astray and I admitted that they had succeeded. One
cheeky, scrawny fellow offered to go to the farm and get the tractor to pull us
out of the mire. 1 hardly knew what to do but let him go, hoping to see him
again. He did and I congratulated myself when he manipulated the tractor and a
cable in the manner of a competent driver. Years later, when his name often
appeared in the newspapers, I always thought of the time in that muddy paddock.
Another advantage of working at Hillston was that we could cut our travelling expenses in half by sleeping in the staff-quarters after doing the afternoon shift till 10pm and starting the next morning-shift at 6am. The quarters were the same in all the other buildings, second-hand and ex-army. with the exception of the gym, the kitchen and dining-room which were just over a year old. Plans for a new cabin-block were nearly completed but until then we had all the boys in three dormitories with 20 beds each. All the staff were dressed in overalls and work-shoes and worked with the boys in the hope that they would learn something useful to be of benefit later in life. In many respects it suited my attitude remarkably well and for months I did all sorts of jobs, with all sorts of boys and never lost one. Most of the time I had around 10 boys from 9am till 12noon with work to do around the farm or in the bush well away from the camp. Before we left, one of the party collected a billy, cups, tea and sugar from the kitchen and often there were some biscuits or cakes as well. Never was it difficult to get a boy to volunteer to look after the fire and make tea as long as the officer provided the matches which the boys were not allowed to have to stop them from smoking. One day I forgot to bring matches when the tea-boy was ready to start the fire; panic. I told the party that if that fire was not lit by hook or by crook, they would miss out on morning tea. In next to no time we had a fire and no questions were asked. Many times things like this happened and it kept the atmosphere alive and fresh for an ever-changing duel between officer and a delinquent who needed to learn how he had to live and work without forever trying to beat authority. At least that was my philosophy in the treatment of delinquents who showed some willingness to make use of the chance to rehabilitate. After a few months I was accepted as an officer who kept his eyes open and did not take too much nonsense. It suited me but the boys started to ask me why I always copped the “crap-jobs”, to use their terminology. I could have told them that it had something to do with the Senior on duty but it was easily explained to tell them that I had not yet landed a permanent project that would take a long time to finish like the farm.
My chance came when the old incinerator fell to pieces and I offered to build a new one. This was well received by the Supt who always liked to show something new that the boys had helped make when he received official visitors. Soon afterwards the builders started with the construction of the new dormitories, which gave me an opportunity to gather all sorts of bits and pieces that they discarded, and I suggested to use them for a proper fuel-store that was badly needed. This was also a project that received attention, when several boys volunteered to join me and learn bricklaying and concreting. To have my own project and some permanent boys in my party, gave me an opportunity to talk to them on personal matters and so bring into practice what I was learning from my course at Perth Tech. With psychology as the main subject I started to understand a few things about human behaviour and, maybe, even understood myself. Talking with the boys, sometimes gave me some insight into the circumstances they were brought up in and I gladly made use of it if they were genuinely trying to improve themselves. Once I talked to a new boy and complimented him that after only three days he knew already how to make his bed and keep his cabin shiny. He was a young and rather small boy for his age and he surprised me when told me that he regularly helped his father, who worked at the railways, to make the beds in the over-night trains and swept the cabins as well. He proudly told me that he also cooked the meals sometimes, because his mother left him and his brother with the father. Once he put too much salt on the potatoes and his father made him eat the lot by himself.
this, I don't think I had to justify the extra attention I gave him so now and
then. More robust was a comment I got from an older boy who had quite a record
but was a keen book-reader and was also more intelligent than the average
inmate. I tried to have a discussion with him and told him that I was surprised
that he put so much effort into being a delinquent while he had the brain to be
a scholar. He took a breath and answered, “You don't have to use this
child-psychology on me, Mr Weggelaar they
tried from the time I was 7 years old and they failed." All I could say was
that I thought that they had not failed but he had failed to listen and now he
was in an institution for the third time. Much later I met him again and he was
still the boisterous and self-assured young fellow but capable of holding his
liquor, so he told me! That every day could present new situations hit me when
it was my turn to do a shift on the farm. I let the farm-boys pick their own
jobs because I did not know much about what had to be done. Morning-shift went
without any problems and the afternoon shift was going smoothly until just
before milking-time I became aware of a deadly silence around me. Of my six boys
there not a sight was to be seen and I feared the worst,
losing my whole work-party. I decided that I had to do some quick
thinking, when I saw a lid on a drum move and a cover on a feed-bin opened
slightly and hay came alive. I knew they had played a joke on me and all I could
think of was to shout a few mild insults to the invisible six and there was loud
laughing from all sides. I freely admitted that they had
me worried for a while and that it was now high time to show that they
were able to do some hard work as well.
Often I told Oma what had happened at work and after some time at
Hillston she had the impression that it was a job full of fun and games with the
boys. She also thought that I was far too hard on our own sons at times. This
may have been the case in some instances but it was not without reason if you
saw how often a ex-juvenile delinquent progressed in his later years to an adult
criminal, while with some stricter upbringing he could have made much more of
his life than spending his best years in gaol. From my mistakes, my sons may
have learned how to do a better job than I have done, but times and
circumstances change and so do parents and children. I think that as a migrant
family with a different background from the average Australian
family we had a very reasonable family life and many opportunities to
make the most of it. Life in Morley had the advantage of having enough
room around us to let our children play in the bush and have all sorts of
games and adventures that seemed like real country life. We had a dog, cat,
chickens, ducks, white mice. rabbits and at one stage even a joey and a lamb.
For picnics during the school-
holidays, the boys and their friends only had to cross the road to be in the
bush and get up to all the mischief they wanted to . When they were older the
bush was good and big enough to let them go hunting or just shooting or try what
an old motor-cycle or old motor-car could do without being on the road or in
harm's way. Oma and I only had the worries, like all parents, that nothing
serious would happen and that they would return home in time.
Once, that fear turned into reality and on a Sunday night we were
called to Royal Perth Hospital
where Rudolf was admitted with a severe head- injury after his friend
Neddy N. pranged his car when returning from a youth club meeting. For days,
weeks and months we worried if Rudolf would ever be himself again as the signs
during and long after his release from hospital, pointed to a noticeable change
from his previous behaviour. Frank and Ron had to put up with parents who took
extra care about their coming and going in hope and fear that something might
happen to them.
I was in my third year at Perth Tech. and did four subjects which meant two nights per week from 6pm till 10pm. and all the study and reading that was required by the four different lecturers. It was hard going and it left barely any time to do anything else at home or even to go on a picnic. When I was at work I often did some furtive reading or I made use of short notes that fitted in the breast-pocket of my overalls. I offered a lot of my time to do a study which in my opinion had a beneficial effect on my work through understanding of more of the problems that were always around us. I may have been accepted as a good officer, but the management constantly overlooked me when it came to do relieving duty as a senior officer, even though it was well known that I studied to become qualified to do higher duties. One day I asked the Assistant Supt if there was a reason for it and he told me that it was up to the Supt to handle such things. When I asked the Supt he told me that the roster was the realm of the Asst .Supt. I told him what he had said. I was not sorry to stir things up, because the Asst had made it clear several times that he did not want me to get ahead. His words had been: “Your study interferes with your work”.
Soon after, I was doing four weeks of senior-officer duty and it suited
me fine when I found that I could do it even with little cooperation from other
would-be seniors. Not many months later I was appointed permanent
senior-officer. This arrangement did not come from Hillstone but from the Asst
Director of the Department who was also a student at the Perth Tech, in one of
the courses that I did. For the first time was it a matter of appreciating my
study but it also ruffled many feathers from high to low that I got promoted.
The duty of the senior was to be responsible for the smooth running of the staff
of some eight or more adults and up to sixty delinquent boys. In the morning the
day started with phys.ed, cleaning and breakfast and around 9am the work parties
went with their officers or teachers to work or school. Afternoons were similar
and evenings were filled with sports or hobbies or sometimes a film or t.v.. At
all times the boys had to be supervised as anything could happen in unguarded
situations. I had done all the jobs myself as an officer and knew how to keep
order, keep things simple and help others when a situation could get out of
hand. This time I was on the other side of the table and for a few weeks I saw
how certain staff undermined my authority or overloaded my job by all sorts of
complications, real or invented for the purpose. I had to keep my cool and
started to retaliate in a way that can best be seen as catching the ball and
returning it to the one who threw. The penny dropped that I was not going to be
intimidated and that it was not in my character to take vengeance. This I was
soon to prove when I was on night-shift with a particular nasty staff-member who
had expected to have the position I now had. As a rule, night-shift was not too
difficult and with some understanding of the risk, it was possible to take a nap
of an hour after midnight in turns,
in case a boy needed attention. My offsider was a great believer in this
arrangement, but deviated from the
routine and did everything to keep me awake. It amazed me how much noise can be
made by one man who has a bee in his bonnet! The night dragged on without the
usual little courtesies of tea or a sandwich, and earlier than necessary my
colleague left to attend to the kitchen fire and make breakfast for the staff
who were sleeping in the quarters. By doing this he left me the job of waking a
number of boys by myself which
normally was a job for two people for safety. From a distance, I heard the
normal noises in the kitchen but that ceased around a quarter past five. I could
feel what had happened and it was confirmed at ten minutes before six, when
early staff members came from outside and went to the kitchen for an early cup
of tea. They found my adversary sleeping in front of the kitchen fire, while
five staff including the cook were waiting in the quarters for the morning-call.
It was not necessary for me to mention what had happened, the person who did it
was well-known for the tricks he played on others but it was the last one he
tried on me. Why do I mention this unimportant episode? Well, one of our
lecturers once described the signs of behaviour of a psychopath, and they fitted
this person remarkably well. They are: intelligent, ruthless and they
take what they want, when they want it. If you let them know that you understand
their intentions, they will not try them on you!
Work and study were fine but we also needed a holiday so now and again.
When Frank and Ron were still at school we rented a caravan and went in stages
to Carnarvon. It was also the first time that we had experienced the lonely
roads and the great distances between the towns. For a long time the two boys
remembered this vacation as the one that Dad locked the car and left the keys
inside. We still remember this trip as the one that Ron proved that he had
learned to count by counting every milepost we passed on this 700 mile trip.
Oma and I also made our first trip outside Australia. aboard
the "Centaur" on a round-trip to Singapore. We made a longer
trip a few years later, when we went to Holland after an absence of 22 years. We
were disappointed with Amsterdam, the town we had known so well and now so
strange with lots of rubbish and loud tourists everywhere. Not only was the town
changed but the inhabitants, including my relatives, were changed too. This
vacation and the next one, we stayed with Oma’s parents, from where we could
make trips and make numerous visits to family and old friends. In many ways it
was a great holiday but we did not fit in any more; we were strangers in more
than one respect. That was the result of having battled in so many ways to get a
foothold in another country and having accepted new standards of living that
varied from what we were used to in our younger life.
Similarly, our old friends from the youth organization we had all belonged to, had changed their standards also. None of them were hotly interested to find out how we had fared in Australia and our impression was that they were now aware of their importance as people of the world. Old ideals were not mentioned anymore and no correspondence was ever kept up or even started. The third and fourth time we went to Holland, we had a room in the retirement home where Oma’s parents now lived as they had passed the 80 year old mark.
During the 3rd holiday my brothers hired 3 cottages in a holiday-camp
to have the whole family together for a week. Our family plus one brother-in-law
and six sisters- in-law made a party of 15 people of which we were the youngest.
For me it was something like stepping back in the old days when our family was
still at home and the older ones brought their boy or girlfriends. It was a nice
holiday for all of us. When we came back we heard that Oma’s mother had that
morning passed away; apparently after a stroke. This was a most unexpected shock
that was difficult to accept after a week of pleasant walks and long talks with
our own family. For Oma’s father it was a great help that we, as his children,
were there to help and comfort him because he was just recovering from a series
of ray treatments for throat-cancer. In the days that followed we did everything
that could be expected of us in the circumstances and it was a very sad end and
farewell that came two weeks later.
Back at work, I noticed the usual changes that happened every time I
came back from a holiday. This time again the rules of 'Fair but Firm"
treatment of delinquents had lost some of its
sharper edges. This was a gradual process that started with the new
Superintendent who had been a Senior in Riverbank but also well known to me as a
fellow student on the same diploma-course. When he came, we also received more
attention from the psychologist of the Department. For the next four years
experts came and went and with every new psychologist some new experiment in
treatment had to be absorbed into the program. Often it was hard to understand
what the benefit could be to turn a farm-school for delinquents into a holiday-
camp, but so it was. More experts came in top positions and the lower rank of
Asst Supt came vacant. I applied for it and lost it to a colleague who had never
devoted one hour to further study. My belief in a fair deal and that
psychologists would be able to make an impersonal assessment, received a severe
shock. I did not let this episode interfere with my responsibilities as a
senior-officer, as it was already quite a job to keep order amongst the
delinquents but also under the young and freshly trained staff who found that
practice was rather different from the theory of the training-course they had
In our private life the changes were not
less drastic, when the boys were not longer boys. Rudolf married; Frank
married; Ron experimented with bikes, motor-bikes and old bombs, and in 1975 we
became Oma and Opa with the arrival of our first grandchild. We were thrilled
and excited and loved her as much as the other six that were to follow in later
years, to make one big family.
Out of the blue came the offer from an estate-agent, to buy our house
and land for a price that would cover all the expenses we had in mind and also
left a balance that would make life comfortable.
As soon as all the paperwork was done and the cheque was cleared, we
went house-hunting. We hardly discussed the location we had in mind but went
straight to Kalamunda where once we made our first friends and our first plans.
This time we bought a near new house for cash; not bad going for migrants after
23 years of battling. Ron was the only one who did not like the change as his
roots were in Morley where he grew up and had his friends. Eventually he got his
apprenticeship and a motorbike, so he also found his direction in life and had
transport as well.
When Ron married and moved on I made the first enquiries about retiring
at sixty. It worked out that with a little income from savings and the
superannuation cheque every fortnight. we could manage well because
for the first time in our life we had no financial commitments to worry
about. When my time came I had no difficulty to leave the job I had done for 20
years, and in my opinion served conscientiously according to the training we had
received from psychologists before we were accepted to work for the Child
Welfare Department, as it was called in those days. If I had wanted to milk the
system, I could have stayed on for at least another 10 months, by making
fraudulent use of the sick days I had accumulated over the years. Doing this was
against my pride, if nothing else, and I left quietly after the staff Christmas
party that was also the farewell to two staff members. Not the slightest sign of
acknowledgement of our retirement came from the Superintendent or Director I had
known as boss and as lecturer for 15 years. I thought it was a poor show.
For Oma and me, started a time of real leisure. Now we were free to do what we wanted and we started the most enjoyable time we ever had. Our sons had been doing well in their chosen profession or trade and the grandchildren had lovely mothers.
My story comes to an end. I told it the way I remember it and thought
to pass it on to my family. Many details have been omitted as they would be
unimportant or too personal or just through forgetfulness after so many years.
All we did was done with the best intent for the family in mind. Oma and I did
not always agree entirely on every point or at every stage in our life, it was
the trust and the love for each other and the children that kept us together and
helped us weather the many storms which often turn up amongst the changes,
whims, plans, joys and setbacks that form the segments of life. Old-fashioned it
may be but it suited us and led us to a good old age. I may have deliberated at
length on the building of our house, no wonder, it took money and time that
otherwise could have been spent on far more pleasant activities but the need to
have a roof over our heads was of the first importance. I also gave plenty of
time to further study and my work; it meant a lot to me at the time and a man's
job is a great part of his life. The study was not easy and the reward after 5
years work did not come. After all those years I can still feel the deliberate
snubs that came my way, because I was a migrant from a non-English speaking
country, as it is called in the jargon of today. I am glad that our children
will never meet with this sort of discrimination; their accent is Australian and
a foreign name is not as unusual
as it was in 1949. I think we did the right thing
migrating to Australia even if it was an adventure into the unknown in
more than one way. We had great plans and great hopes when we arrived.
Now we can look back after nearly 44 years, we have no regrets, even if the going was not always smooth as you may have gathered from reading these notes from a non-English speaking migrant whose first job was night cook at Royal Perth Hospital, in July 1949.
Kalamunda, 15th June 1993
Elizabeth WEGGELAAR-de GIDS
Born: 22-9-1922 at Schiedam
Arrived at Fremantle 15-1-1950
Gerardus Christiaan WEGGELAAR
Born: 27-12-1921 at Amsterdam
Arrived at Fremantle 15-7-1949
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