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Schooldays. That old gang of mine. Back to Chester Hill. What goes around...

On Saturday 25th October, 2008, Chester Hill North Public School celebrates 50 years of quality education.
That puzzles me a little (but I believe I have heard an explanation).
I was a pupil there for a brief period, in 1956 when it was brand-spanking new.
So this must have been its gestation period, pre official opening?

That’s me on the left and Henny Haak, on the right. The girl in the middle was Lenie Smit (I’m pretty sure.) and the other girl a friend of hers, but not in our little gang.

Lenie had taught me one of my first very important English sentences: Excuse me, Sir. May I be excused. (A girl!!!! had to help me with that!)
At least, in those days it wasn’t as much of a problem for me, as it is now.
It must have been winter of 1956.
We had arrived in Australia, at Port Melbourne, in May. Spent a month or so in Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre, near Albury. (Did you see Silver City?)
Followed (my mother and I) by another month or two, in Scheyville Migrant Hostel, near Windsor. Before we joined my father in Villawood Hostel (Now a refugee detention centre).

Had a few weeks of school, in Scheyville. (" Stephen. Say it in Dutch. Was the first English sentence I learnt. It was said often by the teacher there to the boy, in my 6th class there who knew more English than any of us. Two-thirds were Dutch, at the time. The others Maltese.)
When I arrived in Villawood Hostel, the school was accommodated in one of the large nissen huts, like the one we were living in.
(All these hostels were ex-army camps.)
Later we moved to another set of huts and then to Chester Hill North School, down a pathway, beside houses, outside the camp grounds and beside those huge pipelines that apparently take the water supply from the catchment area to the middle of Sydney.
It was on my way to Chester Hill North Public School, walking there with either Robbie Arentz, or his brother, that I experienced the only ever anti-immigrant abuse.
( !! Not quite true! An English teacher, at South Sydney Boys Junior High, making us read in turn, when he came to me, said: No that’s enough. I cannot take any more of this. ~Meanwhile they had me learn Latin! No E.S.L. support in those days!! ~ I could hardly speak English yet.)

A boy, about my age, made fun of the shorts I was wearing to school. Australian boys were used to them hanging below their knees. Mine came straight from Holland and reached half-way down to my knees.

We must have been transferred to Chester Hill North Public School in spring, possibly late October because I remember the principal coming into the classroom and having us sing Silent Night, in different languages.
He also explained that a very important thing we had to learn was the game of cricket.
I suspect that he was accompanied by a school inspector (I cannot remember) who came to see how the children from the hostel were settling in.
Not much after that my parents and I were able to be transferred to the migrant hostel, in Pozieres Ave, Matraville (No!! Not the one in Bunnerong Road which had nice lawns and some flower beds. That was the one where the immigrants from the U.K. were accommodated.) so that we could rejoin Gerda, Gerard and daughter, Netty van Hoorn, with whom we had migrated.

I finished 6th grade, at Matraville Public School, sitting out the last few weeks of the school year. There were practically no lessons. Final exams had taken place.
The high schools to which my class mates would be going, after the Christmas / summer holidays, had been decided.
One day we were taken to South Sydney Technical Boys High, half-way between Matraville and Maroubra Junction, for an orientation visit.
I (and my parents) panicked. Unlike my father but more like his uncle and other relatives, I was not wanting to be a tradesman, I was determined to be a teacher.
Luckily the the non-verbal I.Q. test, taken in Bridge Street, where the head office of the Department of Education was, had proved that my i.q., was above average.
I had to tell my mother that, when the test was over because her English wasn’t strong enough, when the officer from the department explained this, after the test.
Of the four hostels, from May 1956 until early in 1957, Villawood Hostel was for me the biggest adventure. Four of us formed the kind of little gang that you used to read about in (mainly girls’) books.
Lenie, Hendrieka, Henny and I were the core. We explored the little bit of bush in the Villawood Hostel grounds and sort-of built our hut there.
I was bullied a bit by a German boy. My father went with me to complain to the parents but the father threatened to get the police and we retreated.
(Feelings were still a bit raw, in 1956. After all, one of the reasons for migrating was fear of a third world war! And my parents had endured the Hunger Winter, of 1944. But that’s another story.)
The teachers in Villawood Hostel and then briefly in Chester Hill North had been kind. Seeing little kids lined up for caning, after lunch-time was a bit new for us Dutch kids. I remember Lenie being upset, seeing her little brother in the queue, out the front of our 6th class.
I cannot remember the compulsory milk drinking, at Chester Hill North but it must have carried on.
I remember it very well, after recess, back in Villawood Hostel, queuing up and standing up straight so that you’d get another little bottle, which, hopefully had stayed cool, under the little brick structure.
The teacher (
Can almost remember his name.
) Laughed and goodnaturedly, called me Joop the Dope. (Joop, pronounced: Yope). It was done in fun, but, as you can see, 52 years later I often mention it.
He handed me manuscript paper because he liked the way I could play the piano accordion. He and the other (head-?) teacher, took a group of us to Manly Beach, one Saturday, to show us – for the first time – Aussie beaches.
We were impressed. I told the staff at Manly Council so, a few years ago when I assessed their beach, for Keep Australia Beautiful’s Clean Beach Challenge.
I would not expect to see Lenie, Hendrika or Henny Haak, on October 25th.
Every so often I have been passed on emails/messages to do with Henny Haak.
A memory that has stuck with me is how he and I, one day were exploring the area, when a security guard, on the industrial property on the other side of the fence, invited us on a tour.
With a straight face, and already in the teacher-mode, I walked between the security guard and Henny, translating all these pieces of information.
It must have been fun for that man, to see how important I made it all look and how very wrong I probably got the translation.
So it was that, until April, 1956, I was in Mr Berrety’s 6th class, in the Jan Ligthartschool, looking after the class (My fellow class-mates) every Wednesday for about forty minutes, while Mr Berretty rushed off to teach in high school students, in Rotterdam. A few months later I was on the other side of the world, after a 5 week voyage, on the J.v.O., in Scheyville, listening to Steven saying it in Dutch. (We did lots of long division. That didn’t need language.)
Willy, who was a cute little class-mate, in Mr Berretty’s class, is now in regular contact with me, from the Netherlands, via www.hyves.nl, tells me that I was already such a typical teacher, when I was 12 and bossing her around!
I’m very unlikely to attend the dinner, on October 25 but will certainly attend the fete and open day, at Chester Hill North.

P.S.. Although, today, he is in hospital (Turned 91 yesterday.) my father has been a resident in the Abel Tasman Retirement Village, since October 2007.
When I walk to the Chester Hill shops, because the village is located in Waldron Road, Chester Hill, my mind goes back to 1956 and walking from Villawood Hostel to the cinema, in Chester Hill, to see Danny Kaye, hamming it up, on the screen.
We laughed a lot. But, unlike back in Gouda, there were no Dutch sub-titles.
I amost have the feeling that we started in the Chester Hill area, half a century ago and now we’re back!

P.P.S. My father passed away, aged 92, one year ago.

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Schooldays. That old gang of mine. Back to Chester Hill. What goes around... by 

Saturday 25th October, Chester Hill Public School celebrates 50 years of quality education. I was there, briefly, right at the beginning.

Good to see positive reactions. Please read our DUTCH IMMIGRATION EXPERIENCES……..




In 1969, I enrolled in the “Art Teachers Conversion Course”. It was my first experience of formal art lessons. Soon other interests prevailed, until, I had lunch, in Hazelhurst and then enjoyed the art classes there. Culminating in my exhibition, in 2008.

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  • chasingsooz
    chasingsoozover 6 years ago

    I love these photos Jo and really enjoyed this journey back to when you were a boy in short shorts. You are a wonderful storyteller Jo and I sense a novel in your future?

  • Thanks for that Sooz. Some of us do it more easily in speech, face to face. Some of us are better at (taking our time and ) writing it down. :)
    One of the first adult book (Not in the sense of being naughty) I ever read, was: Juffrouw Bunkel schrijft een boek. (Miss Bunkel writes a book.) About a woman who writes a successful book but upsets the village because she’s written about all the people around her.
    After reading that book, a looooooooong time ago, I’ve alwys thought: There’s a book in me! But so does everyone else! :) :(

    – MrJoop

  • Thea T
    Thea Tover 4 years ago

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your history of migrating to Australia from Holland. I imagine it would have been quite the culture shock!! My Dad also migrated in 1956 (age 26) from Holland and went to Melbourne, then Sydney and eventually Perth. Unfortunately, he passed when I was 11 years old but I still remember some of the stories he told us of his time in Holland, especially of wartime and the Hunger Winter that you mention. My Dutch Grandma even got shot in the leg by the Brits (and survived) as she was out after curfew and had been picked up by a German truck which was the British planes intended target. It is interesting what you said about people being scared of a possible WW3 (and rightly so). Of course, those memories would have still been so real and raw (and still are for some)…it makes me wonder if that influenced my Dad’s decision for migrating here. I know that when he arrived he had a few dutch connections, but for the main part, he did his best to assimilate to the Australian cultural norms and it seemed that he was happy for the most part. Although, sometimes I would catch him in a deep reverie, with that faraway look in his eyes… I’m sure he was thinking of Holland! All the best to you, Mr Joop!! Thea :)

  • MrJoop
    MrJoopover 3 years ago

    Myriam is Belgian and her parents migrated to Australia in 1960. They were in Bonegilla camp and then were sent to Scheyville where they stayed till it closed. They were accommodated near the Dutch people, in the blocks not far from the school. Her best friends were Dutch girls, Helen and Marion whose parents had left Indonesia, after experiencing the Japanese camps.
    Helen’s mother used to make those Dutch sweets, “Hopjes”, on Wednesdays. Myriam liked them very much! They had a TV and Myriam was allowed to watch Rin Tin Tin, with Helen.
    There were also Willie, Maya and Dinnie, three sisters whose mother had died. They were alone with their father. They were Myriam’s very, very close friends. She writes:
    “En zo heb ik mijn eerste Nederlandse woorden geleerd en ik denk dat mijn liefde voor Holland stamt uit die tijd. Nou, mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed maar ik heb het zo graag geleerd omdat ik een echte emotionele bond had met dit land en taal.”
    When Scheyville closed Myriam and her parents were sent to Villawood Hostel, where they stayed for two years and after much consideration, her parents decided to return to Belgium. Myriam was heartbroken.
    Now, she is living in France and the rest of her family is living in Belgium (The southern part as they are Walloons).
    They have lots of pictures and some films (Her parents used to film a lot at that time, in Australia) from that time and they watched them recently with the children and grandchildren.
    Myriam writes: “It’s quite funny (not the right word) to try to explain things that are unexplainable unless you experienced them yourself. But anyway, we pass on the message.”
    Myriam would like to find her friends from back then and send them a copy of these films because they appear several times in the films and even more in the pictures.
    (Myriam contacted me, Jo Mulholland (Was Joop Mul), after finding my report on my participation in the recent Scheyville 100 years celebration, on the site: Schoolfriends.
    Can you help her?!?

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