My earliest memories

My earliest memory – or perhaps it is a memory of a memory – is of being in the sick room of the migrant ship Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. I am told that this was on the Bay of Biscay off the western coast of France, an area noted for its rough seas. I was not yet three years old and I remember the colour of the wall of the sick room. Why anyone would paint wall of a sick room on a ship green is beyond me, but that’s what it was. The only problem I had was nothing more than simple mal de mer – seasickness. That will come up again later …

At sea on the migrant ship Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. My mum in the centre with my eldest sister on left and me on the right. The boy to the left of the picture is not related to us … just happened to be there. Source: Private collection
My dad holding me at sea on the migrant ship ‘Johan van Oldenbarneveldt’. Source: Private collection
The migrant ship ‘Johan van Oldenbarneveldt‘. Source: Wikipedia

We disembarked at Fremantle and were welcomed by the local church. Our luggage didn’t disembark, though. Someone sent it through to Armidale NSW, rather than Armadale WA! It took six weeks before we had our stuff.

We lived for a time in an old farmhouse in Third Avenue in Kelmscott in Western Australia. Kelmscott was an outer suburb on the southern side of Perth, the capital.

Our first house in Kelmscott was an old farmhouse. The family is sitting under the tree out the front. Source: Private collection
Me, my brother J, and my sister G, posing for a photo near the chimney of our first house in Kelmscott. Source: Private collection
Climbing is what kids do. We did! All three of us at the top of the trellis at the end of the verandah. Source: Private collection

The house had a verandah at the front and a corrugated tin roof. There was a driveway on the right which was unsealed and sandy, and to the right of that was a disused windmill and a tank on a stand. Next to the windmill was an old well with sleepers over the top. This well was one of the few places we were never to go. But an inquisitive three year old and his older 4 year old sister found it just a bit too interesting …

Under the sleepers was a ladder and ladders are meant for climbing down! So we did. The bottom of the well was dry and sandy. We played there happily for quite a while, while frantic parents were trying to find us. We couldn’t understand what they were all so excited about when they did! But it was made very clear to me that I was never to do that again, and I never did.

The next house across from our place was owned by the den Hollander family. He was a painter and his house reflected the nature of the man. It was an interesting house full of interesting bits and pieces. He used to keep a number of his paintings on the walls of his home. As I remember some of them were paintings of nudes. The style of the house was different than the other houses around – all angles and windows and painted white. Although we only meet them from time to time we still regard that family as friends more than fifty years later.

Between the two houses was the remains of an old car under a gum tree. It was a big black car with a huge, long bonnet. Thinking back on it in later years I think it was a Buick straight eight. But it had doors and a steering wheel and leather seats and lots of spiders. What more could a boy want? I spent hours driving that car! After more than fifty years it’s still a clear memory.

© Copyright Willem Schultink