By Dorine Booij
The story of my great-aunt starts at Tandjong Priok. The ship was slowly leaving. So many people were crying over the railings. A band was playing in the background. She did not yet realize that this was a final goodbye, a goodbye forever for so many.
They went to Texel, the Dutch island where her father was born. There her uncle had arranged a house for them, in de Koog. Here she went to school, where overall everyone was very friendly. The teacher though looked after three classes at once. ’When boys tried to tease us, saying ‘Indische apen’ (Indo monkeys), her sister would turn around and say Texelse schapen (Texel sheep)! ‘We looked a bit different, but that was also a plus’. After, they moved Oestgeest, near Leiden. ‘Unfortunately as children you were never asked anything and just did what was decided for you’ she writes me.
Holland was trying to cope with a big housing shortage after the war. This became a problem for many, and a reason why many families decided to go to the States. Many of the young repatriants were way behind in their schooling, and learning a trade seemed the only option. Music and dancing were what kept many happy. But, my aunt writes, they realized that in the Netherlands they would always stay at a certain level in society.
So, emigration was the thing to do. Photos from California showed happy friends with nice cars. This would have never been possible in Holland, she writes.
My auntie did not think about emigration until her three older sisters had married and left. Now she was the oldest in the house, and she realized her mother looked at her with plans in mind for her. ‘I realized that if I wanted my own life I had to leave, so I did. I did have a nice job, but I still wanted to live on my own.’ She chose Canada.
Via Toronto she went to Calgary. The harsh weather there though made her move to Vancouver. After job-hopping for a while, she started to work in the Hilton Hotel and got a part-time job at the airlines as well.
In Canada, finding accommodation was not difficult. First she stayed in an old house, on the second floor. One floor above her lived an old Canadian, who became more or less her advisor. He had been through two World Wars and sometimes told stories from the past.
Later she moved away, but she made a point to continue seeing her old friend until he got very sick. Out of his sick bed, her old friend told her he was not going to die until she got married. ‘I assured him that he would live forever, and I had no plans.’
One time she came to visit him, and he was gone. She didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. In the end she did marry though, and exactly with the kind of man her old friend predicted!
Photo: National Archives, Willem van de Pol. Repatriants get on board the SS Boschfontein in the harbor of Tandjong Priok, 1946
How I Wish We Had a Country
By Sandra Beynon, Brisbane, Australia
My mother, Hilda Otto, and her older sister Corrie and younger sister, Sylvie, grew up in Jakarta, eventually living in a state-run orphanage after their father died of yellow fever in the early 1930s and left my grandmother to have to work full-time to survive. They matriculated and then departed to the Netherlands where they landed in a snowy Vlissingen - what a culture shock! Arriving in a small, parochial town like this was challenging indeed.
They all managed to find work quickly, and my mother was introduced to my father by her sister's fiancé and once married, my father, Eddy Beynon, was desperate to move his young family (my older brother, Bert, and I - born 1962 and 1964, respectively) to Australia, having a particular distaste for the cold climes of dreary Holland.
Arriving in white Australia (Brisbane) in 1969 was yet another challenge for my parents. Particularly my mother struggled to find work she could be happy with. It must have been very trying times as an early immigrant in a very white Queensland. After a brief stay with our sponsors, Kees and Frieda Kimmel in Brighton, my mother soon found our own accommodation. After my father was offered a job that came with a free house to live in, we were able to save enough money for a deposit to buy a home and we eventually settled in humble Deagon, on the northside of Brisbane.
My father grew kankung, sawi, lombok, singkong, mandarins, mangoes, blimbimg, pomelos, a salam tree, pandan, serai, laos - everything a good Indo cook would need. And my mother is one of the best cooks in Brisbane - a well-known fact. We regularly had sate parties with lots of other Indo families, and weekends were often spent visiting Indo families at their homes, or going on outings together with them.
My father spent his childhood in Irian Jaya, one of 13 children, dodging Japanese bombs and almost starving to death until rescued by the American troops. He went on to study mechanics at night school, working in the Ford Factory there, until moving to Netherlands, where he met my mother. He hung out with the Papuas, learned to hunt and forage, is literally afraid of nothing, and is as tough as nails, working for 45 years as a diesel fitter/mechanic, tapping into that Indo toughness when required to descend into the bowels of diesel boats to fix engines on occasion. When nobody else could stand the heat, they called for Eddy, and he always delivered the goods and fixed whatever it was that nobody else could fix.
I remember holidays to far north Queensland tropics (e.g. Cairns, Daintree) and dad climbing up coconut trees to get the green coconuts, driving home with bags of them in the car and then making delicious kelapa mudah with rose syrup for weeks to come. Of course, stealing the odd mango from roadside trees was quite irresistible to a boy who grew up with so little, and had an appetite for so much.
I know my father and mother would be proud to have their simple story acknowledged - it is like that for many, yet each story is as individual as the many Dutch-Indo faces around the globe that have a culture with no country, as I like to call it. How I wish we had a country, a flag, somewhere to visit where we truly felt at home. But there is no such place, and there never will be. It's just a thing we carry with us that, other than in the Netherlands, no other country really appreciates or understands.
I shall miss the Indo connection once my parents are gone. I'll have nobody to share it with at all really. That's a sad reality that I'm not looking forward to.
Read more in Moesson International of January 2021