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