Most boys like things – starting with toys of things rather than toys of people and animals. My grandsons are big on Lego, cars and trains whilst my granddaughters on dressing up and have dolls and mascot doglets and penguins on their beds.
So it is that the earliest toy I can remember (although I’m sure there were earlier ones) was a rather basic two-dimensional model in three-ply timber of the Dutch passenger liner Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (usually known by its initials “JvO” for obvious reasons), which I lovingly drew up and then shaped with a fretsaw about the age of 9. The JvO was not just our family’s migrant ship – it was our home for a total of 19 weeks.
Being less than 6 years old, I remember little of my first voyage on that ship in 1951, even though because of an arson attempt we took 7 weeks to reach Sydney from Amsterdam. In 1957 our family spent another 12 weeks on the venerable JvO when Dad was granted special leave by the Netherlands Government. The voyage to Holland was extended by having to call at three Javanese ports to pick up people returning “home” after Indonesia’s independence, and then at Cape Town and the Canary Islands because the Suez Canal was closed. The return trip was more a conventional 5 week adventure via Port Said and Aden. I still have many rich memories of these two very different sea voyages.
Our family stayed in the Netherlands for almost 5 months in 1957, and that also was a rich time. For the first time really, we children got to feel what it was like to be Dutch: much, much more than a foreign name, being a poor migrant child, and speaking with an unusual Anglo accent. We got to know our extended family and something of our country-of-birth, its culture and history, albeit as youngsters. I was also drawn into the then current popularity in Holland of building scale cardboard models of many Dutch ships. Aussie lads assembled cardboard models of the Queen Mary and the 1951 Oronsay, Dutch lads built their own Nieuw Amsterdam (1938 built) and Willem Ruys. During those 5 months my brother and I built about 10 model ships when we weren’t doing our NSW Correspondence School lessons or being taken out for wonderful treats by one of our uncles and aunts. Before we left Holland a second time I was able to give my grandparents a self-made model of the JvO, this one 60 cms long and 3-dimensional.
What I have written will tell you that I don’t find it hard to work with technical drawings and basic construction. No surprise really as my mother did some beautiful freehand drawings and two of dad’s brothers were an engineer and an architect.
There was at least another powerful stimulus to my love of ships. My father used to visit many of the Dutch migrant ships as they arrived in Sydney Harbour during the 1950s. Several times he took my brother and me along for the adventure of a lifetime We were up at 5 am, took a 10 mile drive through dark streets to a jetty where we and a group of other officials boarded a Stannard Brothers motor launch. This then chugged along for some 20 minutes to somewhere off Watson’s Bay where we had to transfer to the incoming ship. I remember the towering hull, the unsteady accommodation ladder, and arriving at the main deck. Then, whilst Dad got to work locating and interviewing the church-sponsored migrant arrivals on his list, my brother and I went exploring the ship.
After our family’s 1957 stay in the Netherlands, my grandparents were good enough to keep sending me the latest interesting new Veritas publications. I have only recently discovered how popular these were during the 1950s and ‘60s. With my generation now having more time, money and nostalgic feelings, a Dutchman called Wim van der Meer has been republishing many of the Veritas ship model kits. He has also commissioned and published a growing list of far more detailed ship model kits in cardboard. He has also commissioned a growing list of far more detailed ship model kits in cardboard. These include seven of the best known and most loved Dutch migrant and passenger ships: the Groote Beer trio of Victory ships, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, Oranje, Sibajak and Willem Ruys.
Although the links in the previous paragraph are to websites in the Dutch language, there may be a translation facility available, and the second (Scaldis) link will give the reader a good idea of the excellence of these models.
More about this at a later date.