Into the night and beyond the hills.

It was close to dusk. Along with all the others we were taken to the steam train, from the ship and settled into the compartment. There was one other man in there.
Gerda offered him a gift. He thanked her. The train went a few hundred metres and stopped again and he got off. He was a worker there.

I’d never been on a steam train.

It got dark soon and the train rumbled on, passing through dimly lit stations, sometimes slowing down to leave the bag of mail.
As we briefly stopped, at one station the only people there were two policemen firmly taking care of a drunk.

See? my father said to me. That’s how they handle things in Australia. No beg pardons!

We travelled on. Through the small windows, I could see, every so often, fires burning, with people standing around them. It was absolutely dark. So they were just silhouettes.

I had read books about indians and so it seemed that Australia was obviously very much the way I’d imagined prairies to be.

Much later, I came to know that it was Empire Night, and these were bonfires celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday.

And so the train rumbled on, until it just stopped, some time after midnight. Somewhere, near a field and there were some very small patches of light, in the pitch-black around us.

We got our suitcases out of the racks and climbed down out of the train.

My father, typically went to help a woman, near us.

My mother chided him, to put it mildly.

But she has all those children, as well as the luggage, he explained.

Not a good argument, having brought us, half-way around the world, on a six weeks voyage, to Perth and discovering that there was no work there, making it necessary to take good advice and having to continue on to the east coast, where we knew no-one, except the other family with whom we’d come!!

Like all the others near us, somewhere in the darkness, we followed the young boy, carrying the torch, across the paddock, over or around ( I can’t remember) at least one fence, to the assembly hall, of Bonegilla Migrant Hostel, twelve kilometres from Wodonga, 300 km, from where we’d left the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, in Port Phillip Bay and 600 km, from Sydney, where we would eventually end up.

We were taken to two small rooms, (As so many have described them…) bare, except for a bed, cupboard and chair(s).

Of course my mother cried. Why had we left a lovely, comfortably furnished apartment, on the edge of Gouda, with a view over a dike and canal, for this?

I read in “Never Enough Dutch”, published by Parklands Albury Wodonga and written by Bruce Pennay, of Charles Sturt University, that _In 1954 Colonel HG Guinn DSO who had served as a director of migrant centres at Bathurst and Greta took charge at Bonegilla. and that He was disappointed that Bonegilla was ‘still an army camp’ with no heating, unlined messes and deep-pit latrines.

Well, in May 1956, I experienced the deep-pit latrines for the first time in my life. I was 12, an only child (one still-born baby brother and another who lived only a few months). My parents had been so pleased that in 1943, I did not die shortly after birth, as the doctors had told my parents that I would and then survived the hunger winter of 1944 (when the Nazi occupiers starved particularly our part of the Netherlands) that, yes, I had been wrapped in cotton-wool a little by my parents.

I hated the food, as well. Luckily there was jelly for dessert (which I did eat).

Please read: Never enough Dutch and Where Waters Meet, by Dirk and Marijke Eysbertse.

My parents and I, moved through three more migrant hostels (Scheyville, Villawood and Matraville) before sharing an old house with Gerda, Gerard and (daughter) Netty van Hoorn, with whom we’d been reunited in the hostel, in Matraville.

An old house, that real estate agents would describe as being in need of some loving care but we often repeat, that the years spent there, were the happiest in our lives.


Turned out that the situation on the East Coast was actually not much better than around Applecross, near Perth which had been our destination because we knew a family living there.
A protest meeting was held by the Dutch migrants, in Bonegilla. A Dutch government representative came and addressed the meeting.

The official said something very much like:

See those hills around the camp? Climbing them is not easy. But, once you get to the top and go down the other side, it is worth the effort.

Well. He wasn’t so far wrong! It’s been worth it!

Into the night and beyond the hills.


Ramsgate, Australia

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Artist's Description

As we briefly stopped, at one station the only people there were two policemen firmly taking care of a drunk.
See? my father said to me. That’s how they do things in Australia.


steam train

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