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EMIGRATING AND EARLY NEW ZEALAND YEARS

photo of Sibajak

The idea was for my parents to follow me to New Zealand in due course, for me to blaze the trail so to speak. It had been my father who often talked about emigrating but did nothing about it but I took the bull by the horns and did so. They never seriously planned to follow, nor did my brothers show the slightest interest.

The boat trip over in February 1952 was interesting, meeting up with a second cousin John van Laar from the same home town. I had met him on a few occasions back in Ede but he was several years older than me hence we did not have much in common and he was also rather religious. He had an English motor bike which he let me drive once with him on the back but I went to fast to his liking being a very conservative sort of guy. I can't say that I particularly liked him then and only slightly better later in New Zealand.

The boat we traveled on was called the SIBAJAK and was an old Dutch liner which had been converted into a troop ship and reconverted into a migrant ship. I left home with a small suitcase containing the basics and $50 cash. On board I was introduced to chess, there were several grand masters on board and it was a joy to see them play, and although not having played for years since I was always glad to have learned the basics from them.

I was also introduced to alcohol, my immediate impression was , here is a potential brew which needed watching, hence limiting myself to two drinks at any time much to the annoyance of all concerned. From a very early age it was very important to me to be in control of myself in all respects, thus never reaching the stage to be fully drunk although in later years there have been a few occasions that I came near that stage but always retaining at least a part awareness. The horse racing and betting on board of the boat did not interest me, the deck games to a minor extend but I did make good use of the library, the show events and parades made a bit of an impact, it was all a learning experience for me.

The dining rooms made a great impressions on me. Of necessity they were extensive but also of high quality in fittings, servants and above all meals. Here I had my first taste of Indonesian meals which I enjoy to this day. The Indonesian waiters were good in explaining the numerous meals, spices and guiding one between the very hot and mild tastes. Several days out many passengers were seasick thus for days on end John (van Laar) and I were one of the very few in the dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner and as a result had the benefit of not just one waiter but several, I supposed they were bored hanging around with nothing to do.

There was a major storm in the bay of Biscay to the extend that the boat slowed its speed to a crawl, this is a busy stretch of sea and many boats around, although it was dark when I ventured on deck it was the many lights and fog horns which made a big impression, more so when venturing to the bow of the ship the rise and fall of many, many meters drove me back to my cabin. That was the nearest I got to being seasick. The next day I discovered that a large freighter had got into difficulties near us and sank.

I was not interested in girls at that time, however a couple of young women, girls really, stuck in my mind, very active at all sports around, one of them must have been a nursing mother as her blouse was saturated by breast milk, disgusting I was told by my second cousin, John, who was very much a prude.

The few stopovers were interesting too. In Calcutta we were told to walk around in groups as the prostitutes there were very aggressive. We did as we were told and must have been in bunches of a hundred or more walking through the town center. We saw what they meant realizing that the prostitutes made sorties to the edge of the group targeting selected males by securing a very firm grip on the testicles of some of them.

The Curaceau stop was even more interesting. Dutch residents there made it their practice to supply hospitality to all the passengers of passing Dutch boats by inviting all to their homes for the evening for talk about their homeland and supplying entertainment, drinks and meals.

I must have acclimatized quickly to the warmer climate because when we landed in Wellington, New Zealand, in February we felt being cheated the weather there being so cold, even compared to Holland, and it crossed my mind having made a mistake to have selected New Zealand to come to.

We had been assigned to be apprenticed to the Post Office thus were taken to their Hut Valley Camp. We were shown our sleeping quarters but it was the meals which took me by surprise. Lunch consisting of bread and butter and slices of luncheon sausage I had never come across, dinner was a surprise also coming across boiled pumpkin for the first time in my life, I was used to a wide variety of vegetables at home where the farmers fed their cattle the pumpkins.

There had been problems with previous immigrants selected as apprentices, not the least their pay, and we were given the option to continue with the apprenticeship or go where ever we wanted to go. Adopting the principle of having a choice one may as well take advantage of it we left them to it and traveled to Wellington to look for a job. We got one via the Labour Department or whatever you call it in New Zealand. I had teamed up by that stage with Chris (Krijger) another Dutchman. John, my second cousin had disappeared, and we were hired by the Wellington City Council as labourers on their tar sealing road gang. Here I learned the ins and out of Union membership, how to rip of the system so to speak limiting one's work efforts, shift ordinary time into time and a half and into double time. Although this secured us work and the needed money, the pay was good, after a while we wanted somewhat better. Although my English was adequate enough to get by I was very slow at reading and hopeless at writing (in English), I strongly felt at the time that if only people would speak more slowly so I could understand them better.

We applied for a job with the State Hydro Department as painters. Chris had never held a paintbrush in hand in his life but I was able to convince the overseer that because my father was a Master Painter with his own business and a craftsman at that I would be a good bet for him and would help my mate as he was not to so good at it. I omitted to inform him that much of my experience was theoretical observing my father painting but having very little practical experience.

As brush hands we spend a few weeks with the painter foreman who was impressed by our eagerness to work and keenness to learn, a rare attitude in those days, and soon he allowed us to work on our own. Generally they kept us away from the other painters so that we would not find out what the New Zealand rules of working were and as far as the Union was concerned what they did not know would not hurt them. We were send to various State Hydro Power Stations around the lower part of the North Island to paint Transformers, other equipment, huts, houses and buildings and to carry out other sundry tasks as re glazing etc. We soon learned to handle the six inch brush, the major painters tool then, how much turps to add to the paint, often up to 50/50, more if the paint ran out.

The foreman would transport us to an appropriate work station somewhere in the lower North Island with enough paint and materials to last us for the time he had set aside for the whole job ranging from a few weeks to a few months. He always got a call from us to say that the job was completed and to pick us up or supply more paint, well before his scheduled dates. More often than not he tried to ignore us but then we got the station manager to ring him which did not go down well with him.

We were in great demand by the State Hydro Managers as the word got around about the two mad Dutchmen. They had a waiting list running for jobs for us. The foreman never got to understand why we did not want the one to three weeks holidays between the jobs.

We bought push bikes and in our holidays traveled all the way to Auckland from Trentham by push bike sleeping overnight in a pup tent. Although it was in the middle of the summer it was very cold at night in the middle of the Desert Road. The Desert Road on the plateau seemed so long and flat stretching into the distance as far as one could see but as soon as you got on the bike and tried to peddle you realized that it was a very long slow incline.

A year or two later, based in Palmerston North, we took on a weekend job to bring in hay at a farm adjacent to the City, this was a backbreaking job lifting whole bales by hand onto the tray of the truck for about ten hours. We also had a go at starting our own painting business and did a couple of commercial jobs and one domestic one I think, but this venture petered out fairly quickly.

We stayed for a short period in a rental flat but soon thereafter in a private boarding house, a cross between a boarding house supplying full board and a house owner letting some rooms in the house. The owner of the house a rotund middle aged lady identified with all the people she let the rooms to and somewhere along the way persuaded me to drive her and her family around for shopping and the like and the odd trip around the countryside over the weekends.

The problem was that I had never driven a car before but was keen to learn, this was a fast learning process not without its ups and down. On one occasion somewhere between Pahiatua and Palmerston Nth having run out of petrol had to walk for miles finding a farmer willing to supply as with a can of petrol, at a considerable premium of course. On an other occasion navigating an unsealed road with large ruts and river gravel the car tipped on its side. That was the end of my experience in that car until I bought my own car.

Chris was the more outgoing of us two and often arranged to team up with others for an evening of fun. Innocent in those days, talking, coffee and music was the norm. Chris was often able to persuade visiting artists to come over to our place before or after their opera, ballet, music or other entertainment debut. He had a good collection of classical records (no discs in those days) and these were always an attraction. Those days were stimulating and sowed the seeds for my interest in varied musical composers and their music. Chris and I split up. Having become interested in Noeleen and needing the extra time to study for my accountancy exams we spend less and less time together, not long thereafter he found his girl.

In 1953 I went into full board with Ada Bowers, her husband had died and her only son George was in his final year of study for a Master ate in Education at Massey University as well as having his own family to look after and felt that the right boarder would give his mother company and security. Not that she needed the money having been well enough provided for by her husband.

I had a wonderful time there and developed a fine relationship with Ada, George and their grand mother over 90, a very tiny thing, somewhat ailing but very active and with a mentally razor sharp mind. According to Ada she only slept a couple of hours each night, reading or wandering around the house trying to find anything of interest to do. She used to watch my movements like a hawk and when it got around 1.00 am, my usual study finishing time, pounced to nail me down for the day's discussion on current and political affairs. Being to busy to be up to date with current affairs or political events she took great delight in informing me and have our discussion. A year later (1954) Ada started to ail a bit and having a boarder was a bit of a burden then, as I had been wanting a change of residence, by then dating Noeleen, I took the bull by the horn to look for alternative board. This time I boarded with a widow with two girls, the older of the two a sister at the Palmerston Nth Hospital. I was not much company for her as she had hoped although the main reason she took in a boarder was for the money. If I was not at work I retired to my room to study and any spare time I spend with Noeleen thus saw them only at meal times. I smoked heavily then and she used to complain about that, she had a point there, the bedroom was like a smokehouse. Her meals were always great and her speciality was liver, bacon and mashed potatoes. I think that she had her mind set on marrying of her older daughter to me, failing that the younger one, and our relationship became a lot cooler when she found out that I was seeing Noeleen.

I applied for my first clerical job with Jaquard Hosiery Mills in their material store which I was allowed to reorganize for them. Not long after that I applied for an accountancy job at Massey Agricultural College before it became a full University. As my English was still not all that good I was diffident about working in a clerical environment. My new boss, the Head Accountant for the college, however had no such qualms defending his appointment to his staff that my lack of communication skills would enable me to put my head down and not be distracted by unnecessary chatter of which there was to much in the office, and anyway my English would improve soon enough which it did.

The work there was varied and interesting as was the university community. The accounting was for the large number of grands, research activities, Sheep, Pig and Dairy farms and many workshop Departments all operating on separate budgets or grants, which the professors in charge thereof took little notice off either grossly over spending or ignoring the grant altogether.

They had a large salary roll and complicated wage accounting system, almost no week passed without yet another awards change or back pay relating to the many different awards. One of the interesting jobs was the reading of the bulk electricity meter for the whole university, then the reading of the sub meters and subsequently costing out of the individual meter bills. We used a Sunstrand Bookkeeping machine, mechanically automated with a programmed metal plate with steel studs. With the chief accountant we plotted many a program change which had to be translated in yet another alteration to the machine, usually the interchangeable program plates, fortunately we could have all this done in one of the mechanical workshops, this being way beyond the makers intention for the equipment.

We used to see sheep running around in the adjacent paddocks with large canvas patches covering part of their side. The research scientists had cut a large hole in their side in order to observe and take samples of the fermentation process, at times we saw them with their arms up to their shoulders feeling and handling their organs, patient beasts those sheep were, just standing there.

It was here at Massey I first met Noeleen, she worked in the Registrar's Office, managed the main switchboard, did reception work for the Registrar and general accounting work. It took some time before the prodding of the matchmakers succeeded for us to take an interest in each other but eventually we got around to decide to plan to get married.

In the meantime I lashed out and bought a car, a large old Ford of 1930+ vintage in which I had the odd trip or two to Wellington, Wanganui and Foxton or Parapanui beach. Not using the car very often when I did take it to the Palmerston Shopping center which was not very far away more often than not I walked home and a day or two later realizing that the car was not sitting outside realizing that is was unlikely that the car had been stolen and was probably sitting somewhere in the square. As usually it took me while to discover where I had left it. If it was not for Margaret's prompting at times no-wa-days I would be, as, if not more, absent minded than I was then. I carried out all needed car repairs and maintenance, cars of that vintage being that more simple than they are now. Thus having replaced brake linings, king pins, universal joints, undertaking valve grinds, re-ringing the pistons and a good go at dealing with the starter motor and generator but ending up replacing these parts with second hand ones.

Having bought the large old Ford I took the Holden's for a ride around town on a few occasions and the older of the two girls to Paraparumu Beach once but I was not really interested in her.

Sometime in 1955 I replaced the Ford with a six cylinder Vauxhall, then a Ford Prefect on Noeleen's prompting which I sold later to put a deposit on our Castlecliff house when getting married.

We had been discussing for some time when to get married and I started the ball rolling with applying for a salary review but despite the support from my immediate boss to move me to the next salary grade I received only a minor salary increase. This caused me apply for another job which was in Wanganui with the Western Building Society.

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