Memories are enigmatic. Fact and memory are not necessarily identical. Are the memories real or constructed? Are they made from genuine moments or reconstructed by photos and family tales? Where, exactly, does the truth sit? Or when it comes to the past is truth only relative anyway?
My earliest memory centres on a wooden leg standing in corner of a darkened bedroom. Only many years later when I asked my mother about it did she tell me that it belonged to a great grandfather and I had seen it when we visited him. I must have been about two and a half at the time and the disembodied leg has been etched in my memory ever since. Other memories from that time include hiding under a desk which had drawers on either side and feeling secure while the adults talked. Taking a lolly from behind the counter at the barber’s is another. A warm recollection involves being held and cuddled by an Aunty and my bare foot exploring her coat pocket as she always had a treat for her one and only nephew. There are vague recollections too of the trip to Australia on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.
By the time I emigrated to Australia I was three and a half. This life changing event only holds vague and, on the whole, unreliable memories. There was a model of a ship floating in a barrel. My parents couldn’t substantiate that one. There was also an overall sense of sadness. Not, I think, from leaving Holland but rather from the separation on the boat from my parents for long periods of time. I am told that I was sent to a crèche and that I didn’t like being with crying younger children. One clear image is standing on a lower deck and seeing my parents on the deck above – that memory is always associated with a severe heartache.
My memories take on a firmness (whether true or not!) after our arrival in Australia. All the recollections of the Anderson family at “The Hill” in Mepunga West: Ola, Beth, Old Mrs Anderson and the rest of the multi personalitied clan, represent a tangled ball of wool in which times and events are, after 65 years, impossible to disentangle. The overwhelming emotions, however, are one of joy and security. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of having left a family behind I was now truly embraced by a new one. The main characters in this experience have all passed on but they are still solidly secure in my head and heart.
“Helping” with the milking, feeding hay to the herd and taking the full milk cans to the depot near Smith’s Post Office and telephone exchange (a room at the back of another farm house) and the glorious spread of the afternoon tea before the second milking are all memory-videos that I can replay in my mind without hesitation.
After a few months at the Anderson’s we moved to a house in Allansford opposite the Post Office.
The warning my father gave me about not entering the shed was crystal clear. Many years later I found out that there was a water storage under the shed but floor of the shed floor had become rotten over time and one could fall through the floor and drown.
I had two Uncles who had arrived two years earlier and had been welcomed by the Anderson family. One of these, Adrian, built me a cart.
A clear evocation is walking to the depot (a truck-tray height platform where farmers brought their milk cans every morning and evening) and hanging a billy can on one of a series of nails alongside the platform and then picking up a billycan of fresh milk later in the day. The depot was a little way along the highway out of town. I am sure that my mother would have come with me but all I can recall is walking with the billy can along the side of the road.
Christopher Ingles’ parents owned the local general store just a few metres from our house. Fortunately for me they were kindly people who communicated with my parents. I learned an important life lesson in this store which was that you needed to pay for things in a shop. You couldn’t just walk in and get stuff!
I hadn’t started school yet and my mother had visions of me riding a horse to school. Mum got these visions from some of the films the authorities had shown prospective migrants about Australia. The only problem was that the school was 150 metres away – or should I say “yards” as this was predecimal Australia. In any case it didn’t matter as we moved to Ocean Grove before I started school.