Our  first house in Balmain around 1970

Our first house in Balmain around 1970

Our neighbours living opposite us in Rotterdam migrated to Australia in 1949. They were my mother’s best friends and helped us out during the war, even though it was a habit of theirs to put us in the coal shed if we had done a number 2. The pedagogues today would have a field-day and the issue no doubt worthy of a Royal commission. Anyway, they did that to their own kids as well, so we oft shared the same coal shed.

My parents never did this and I am not aware if doing nr 2′s stopped after a while or if we got cunning and somehow ditched the load before getting home from the Montessori pre-school/kindergarten. My mum was forever in hospital with undefined ails or perhaps complications in birthing as that seemed to be, despite wars and lack of food, a yearly event. I was born one year and four days after my brother was born. After I saw the gloom of daylight first, my younger brother came out 1 year and four months later. So they were really rollicking rocking times.

After the neighbours’ migration to Australia, which then took 6 days by air, we were given jubilant reports about Australia which we found out later had been somewhat festooned and given balloons with cup-cakes instead of the reality of gruel and leached out mutton. They too had six children, five girls but only one boy while I had the reverse four brothers and one girl.

We arrived in Australia in 1956 and my mother immediately regained the previous friendship. I was to turn sixteen that year. For a while we shared the same house which they claimed they had bought. It turned out it was rented! They had an old Chevy ute on three wheels with the missing wheel propped up by bricks. Their three legged German Shepherd used to chase very large but frightened looking rats.

Of course memories of having shared the coal shed with their girls, many years before, were rapidly fading and I became reconciled that sharing nr 2s might well change into sharing better and more pertinent intimate details of a different softness and lushness. The roseate looking young girls that they had turned into were tantalisingly near. It was my first experience of true love. That is if you can call the first viewing of a pair of budding breasts ‘love’. I do still have fond memories of those first sexual discoveries and remember as if yesterday. The breasts were offered without any coercion or even asked for. She just bared them as if they were toffees.

The friendship between my parents and theirs continued. When my parents returned to spend their retirement back in Holland the friendship became more distant. I certainly moved on and away from pre-teen budding breasts into marriage and starting family of my own. It was during the late seventies that my mother’s war-time and migrated friend turned up in Holland. Her husband had died. He was a concrete form worker.

Australia could not get enough workers spreading concrete far and wide. Australia was expanding its suburbs as far as the eye could see. Hill after hill were bulldozed and concreted over. It was hard work but the husband got by with smoking and help from his supportive very Dutch wife. They had achieved a better life with own bathroom and cake eating on Sunday. The daughters had married well and the son became a potter. One girl married a fire-man, another a car salesman in Hunter’s Hill. I never found out what happened to the daughter who was so helpful in easing my curiosity about breasts.

“Yes, she told my mother, we were watching TV and I thought he was his usual grumpy self. Not a word out of him.”. When the show was over, I told him, why are you so quiet again? He refused to answer. I prodded him, he was dead.”

He died while watching ‘Bonanza’.