Johannes Maria, my father.

Bev Woodman
was kind enough to respond to my previous writing, and alerted me to the poem that she’s written, called What’s gone before_
So, while I was in the front yard, cutting up the shrub, into little pieces, (_It had badly needed trimming and now it needed to become mulch or invisible.
) I was mulling this over.
What’s Gone Before does relate to my father, in many ways but there are some differences.

Not only have I visited him regularly, since I could no longer care for him on my own, since last September, his grandchildren have visited and other friends have too.

He was born 14 July, 1917, the fourth son of Johannes Stephanus Mul and Gijsberta van Reeden, in Gouda, The Netherlands and named after his father and his aunt. So he is: Johannes *Maria*_. Something which embarrassed him the rest of his life. A sister was born a little less than two years later.

Seven years after that he lost his mother.
She was soon replaced by a step-mother and step-brother and two half -sisters and a half-brother came along.
His oldest brother was exactly ten years older. (Two birthdays, on 14th July) and this brother, in his very early twenties, was not happy with the new situation.

It would seem that all the children at my father’s school were, at one stage, vaccinated and that this affected my father’s sinuses. The effect made him very ill. Needed to stay at home and to be sent off to a health resort for children, to recover. (I guess, a little bit similar to, in NSW, the Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme, founded in 1924 by Reverend Stanley Drummond.)
Like his mother, he had frequent migraines for the rest of his life and developed chronic asthma in his early sixties.
(The schools in Gouda, at that stage had imaginative names like: School 3. School 7 and School 8._)
My father attended School III. My mother and her sisters, School 7. By the time I was enrolled in School 8, in 1952, it had been re-named after a famous person in Dutch education: Jan Ligthart
. )

23 May, 1906. (
His parents.
– By the time I knew my grand-father, he was known as mine-host, Fat John_, who liked to put me on his lap, in his cafĂ© (_local pub), while playing cards with his customers, and show me off, as his favourite grand-son (because I was much quieter than my cousins_).
My father was particularly good at mathematics. After finishing 6th grade, primary school, he waited out the time (
until he could legally go and work, as an apprentice in the building trade, at age 14,
) at a school where he was seated next to another Johannes Mul, who was born in November, 1917 and his rival, in a competition to see who could rush out to the teacher first, with the answer to the long division.
My father was known as Joop Mul Sr (born in July). The other Joop Mul ( Johannes Petrus, born in November) as Joop Mul Jr.

My father got to know my mother, when they had both joined the A.J.C. = Arbeiders Jeugd Centrale = Workers’ Youth Centre.
I believe this to have been roughly 1930, when they were only just teenagers.
Unlike the other youth movement, the Scouts and the Guides, the A.J.C., encouraged music, dance, expression through putting on show (skits, etc.) and a lot of healthy exercise (long walks).
My father played the drums.
Twenty years later I remember visitors sitting around our loungeroom table, playing various instruments. My father at the head of the table with a mouth organ, to lead these jam sessions.
My father always needed people around him (Still does!) and was, to use a well-worn-phrase, a born leader, wanting his way; making the decisions; being determined/stubborn but diplomatic and very dedicated to the cause.

The A.J.C., particularly shaped my father’s outlook on life. Upset by the fact that his mother could not be buried in consecrated ground, in the Catholic section, of the cemetery because she was not married to a catholic, he wanted (wants) nothing to do with religion.
I’m proud to report that it was a group of school teachers who established the A.J.C., which grew out of a quite left-wing political party of the late 19th century.
There is a touch of Montessori in the idea of young people teaching and looking each other, in the philosophy. Respecting nature. Enjoying self-expression.

In 1944, our part of Holland suffered the hunger winter. I was born in 1943. My father went begging the farmers for milk and he and my mother sometimes had only potato peelings to boil, as a meal. Often went to bed without any food at all.
But, after the war was over and I was a little boy, the big treat, in the winter time, was a walk with him, through the very cold night air, to the corner of a a street, about half a kilometre away where he would buy hot chips for both of us. In those typical (Dutch) cone-shaped bags.
(In the summer, there was the Italian man, with his ice-cream cart, on the market square.)
I also remember walking with him quite regularly to the Gouda v. visitors soccer games, on alternate Saturdays, when all the men (and boys) of Gouda seemed to walk along the dike, past my maternal grandparents place, en-mass.
All I remember is being enclosed by moving legs and bodies, somewhere up there, above my head.
At the soccer ground, we kids were allowed to crawl through and sit under the fence in front of the men. ( I doubt that many, if any women came to watch. )
I mainly remember the tinny sounding marching music over the p.a. system.
It gave me my first impressions of my father being so sociable.

He sometimes had to go to the mirror factory where he was foreman, on the weekend. Took me and let me talk to him on the phone!!

The owner of the factory made sure that all of his staff went on an annual holiday together. Of course my father was the leader / organiser.
He was also, of course the union rep..

(When you went on a holiday to the east of the Netherlands, you took, of course, a walking stick and, once you got there might even change into shorts!)
They went swimming in the open-air pool.

And went for walks through the woods and across the heath.

At a meeting of union representatives, he heard about the annual trip to the sea for the children of Gouda. This was organised by the principal of the school for youngsters with special needs.
Of course he volunteered and, of course, my mother went along.
Accommodation was on a farmers property, within walking distance of the town of Katwijk and the dunes and the sea.
I was taken along too.

We slept on hay. The boys downstairs. The girls upstairs. I knew two of the boys.
No communal showers or ablution blocks, at the farm! You washed your hands and your face!

Walks were the thing to do, on holidays, for children too, through the township of Katwijk, to the dunes and to the beach. The boy sitting on the right of my father was a friend of mine (sort of).

When we left Gouda, in 1956, it was, I guess, a smallish city.
My father had wanted a change, in the late forties and took over the insurance salesman job from the man, whose family had taken him under their wings when life at home for him, because of the tensions between his eldest brother and his step-mother had made life difficult.

He likes to say it’s because of that job that he knew just about everyone in this overgrown village but it had a lot to do with his personality.
Until only recently, I could still mention any contact I might have made with someone from Gouda, via the www and he could rattle off, whom they were married to, which street they lived in and what they’d been up to.

( In 1997, my children sat on the chairs, where my parents sat, to be married, in 1941, in the Gouda town hall. )

Particularly during the years 1998-2004, while driving him to visit my mother, in the nursing homes, he had a habit of asking (over and over):" I’ve never regretted it. Have you?"
Methinks he protestethed too much. The combination of having to have her cared for in a nursing home (so far away from her lively family of five sisters and three brothers) and driving through the Sydney streets, triggered that, every time.
Asking me that question didn’t quite make sense. I very much remember the day when he and Gerard van Hoorn had returned home from an information- (That’s another story!)evening on migration to Australia.
They were so enthusiastic, convincing the wives re migrating. We were in the house, in the Bockenbergstraat, which we had swapped for the apartment that Gerda and Gerard had been allocated a year or so earlier and he asked for my approval too.
Sure! What did I know? I was turning 12!
Do not misunderstand. I’m so glad he convinced us all and we did it!

The first job offer, through the people at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre was silly. My parents went and had a look at the property, out of Carcoar, in southern NSW. But in spite of the chance of having our own home there and free meat, my father was no farm hand and would not kill a fly (He’d take them outside in a match-box.). He certainly could not kill sheep.
The offer of work, for the railways, at Chullora, brought us to Sydney and Scheyville, Villawood and Matraville Hostels but he came home frequently with migraines because union rules prevented him from filling the working day with anything but walking around with a broom. (
Shades of having to pretend to be working for the Germans, in Gouda, during the war!
There was a short period of working in Villawood hostel but luckily, he found exactly the same job as the one he should never have left, in Gouda.
Again a mirror factory. Again a family business, though smaller. Again owners / bosses who treated him with much respect for his work and people skills.
As he’s explained umpteenth times: Before he knew it, he was foreman again, in spite of, in the beginning having little English.
He soon learnt. Lots of body language whenever yet more new people were employed who also spoke no English (nor Dutch.)
A personal memory and learning curve for me was how quickly he learnt the language which he needed at work, as distinct from when socialising.
During my first years, as a teacher, in Riverstone, in the far western suburbs of Sydney, he allowed me to use his volkswagen, until I could buy my own.
We’d drive to Newtown, pick up another Mapps Glass employee, drop both off and I’d drive on. Picking them up again in the afternoon.
They would temper their language, for the school-teacher son, whenever i came near.
After he’d retired one or two came to visit and so many years later, it was such a (not shock) but noticeable thing that the somewhat colourful language was being used again, until I approached the group, sitting in the sun in the backyard.

The main feature of his body-language that has always been so telling, was the rubbing of his hands, which he has not done for some time.
When he was in his element, entertaining people, enjoying himself, he rubbed his hands.
A memory which sticks with me is, when as a very young teenager, while visiting the van den Berg family, in their temporary dwelling, I started to think: Why does he do that? He would say: I have to stand up for this! and then, in a very animated way, relate yet another anecdote.

I also used to be struck by his excitement when, we would, yet again, be welcoming (back) people from the Netherlands, first at Sydney Harbour, later at Kingsford Smith Airport.
He could not sit still. He needed to pace. He loved being able to welcome people (back) to the delights of his new country.

For twelve years, he was the president of the Netherlands Society, in Bankstown, organising dances, balls, bus trips, picnics, film evenings, etc..
Again, the enjoyment was obvious when the phone rang, so often and he answered it with a cheery hello, when he recognised the caller and always started with: How can I be of service to you? And then it was usually about the arrangements for the club’s activities.

This lady and her husband played two key-roles in our lives. The husband had been friends, back in Gouda with Gerard van Hoorn (with whom we migrated). Her mother and my mother had known each other back in Gouda, as members of a women’s group.
They were members of a Dutch drama society here, which, decided that members also needed social contact and changed into the Netherlands Society in Bankstown. The second president held that position for 12 years and then my father held it for twelve years.
This lady believed she was homesick for Gouda and they sold their house (where I am now) to my parents. (They returned to Sydney almost immediately.)
My father was always pleased to have moved into this quiet cul-de-sac, in 1972.
I was president of the social club for one year, so that it wouldn’t fold. Then someone else took over for three more years and my father was invited to blow out the candles, as the society was dissolved.

He was brought up, anti-royals. ( In the Netherlands, when pillarization categorized Dutch society this was, by my understanding, so much more important than we can now imagine. )
But when he raises that topic about having no regrets it is (was) always immediately followed by a list of highlights during the half century in Sydney.
Top of the list: Being introduced to the then Princess Beatrix and her (now late) husband, during their visit to Australia.
Also the friendly chat with her father, Prince Bernhardt, when he visited. Particularly when he came to Woonoona and DASI, the Dutch Australian Society in Illawarra.
The presidents of the various Dutch Australian societies in Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong were regular invitees at each other’s functions. So there was a kind of network, although remnants of pillarization (As I saw it.) persisted.
There was greater empathy between, say the Bankstown Club and DASI, than between The Bankstown Club and the Netherlands Society in Sydney, whose functions often included talks by v.i.p.s such as consuls, ambassadors, academics, and the like.
A bit more empathy with, say, the Carnaval Clubs (The Jokers. The Boomerangs). Getting dressed up as princes and getting stuck into the carnaval atmosphere, was not an aspect of the southern Netherlands culture that the majority of Bankstown Club members had brought with them.

Welcoming Sinterklaas, as he rode his white horse, past the Sydney Town Hall was another matter, in the sixties. Everyone was involved. As was everyone in the soccer matches, organised to welcome a shipload of Dutch sailors to Sydney. As was supporting the Dutch Ex-service men and women who marched on ANZAC Days.
During all these events, my father was in the thick of it, the organisation of it.
It all slowed down for him, as I became more involved, in the 80s.
While he was still at home, we tried to convince him that he should come to the social gatherings of carers and the people being cared for, here in the Bankstown area.
We succeeded once. I sat beside him and he tried to make conversation about how, not far from that community centre, he used to organise dances to which hundreds of people came.
The other elderly folk, seated at our table looked at him. Had no idea of what he was talking about.
I must admit that even I have to come to terms with the fact that those hundreds of people are now somewhere else or gone.
While being shown, for the first time the small monument dedicated to Dutch ex-service men and women, in the centre of the retirement village, where my father is and where he has now been moved to the unit closest to this monument, my guide – someone who is very active in the Dutch community currently, said to me: I must admit. I did not know your father.
That era has passed.
It all seems like yesterday to me.

So, you see, inspired by Bev Woodman’s poem, I recognise a lot in what she wrote, but, luckily, my father does have people who care. Whose son and grandchildren do visit him and still enjoy his sense of humour, so close to the surface.
Yes. He misses his best friend, after almost 75 years together.
He would have liked those other two babies to have survived but he has two grandchildren, now of whom he is very proud.
Turned 91 on Monday. Ask him! He’ll tell you:" Noone else in his family has managed that! Although he knows his sister is keeping up. She looks a lot like him. She has that same determination.
Today his coffee friends visited. They have been doing that for years.
He will have thoroughly enjoyed that.
The first thing I see in the newsletter, from NIDA (where my daughter works):
And when did you last see your father?
That always happens!

Johannes Maria, my father.


Ramsgate, Australia

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

Bev Woodman
was kind enough to respond to my previous writing, and alerted me to the poem that she’s written, called: What’s gone before
However, there are some differences, regarding my father’s situation.

Artwork Comments

  • hilarydougill
  • MrJoop
  • hilarydougill
  • Bev Woodman
  • martinm
  • MrJoop
  • katjaj
  • MrJoop
  • Ozcloggie
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