My parents were “super-people” and Christian champions in the eyes of many of the people they worked with.
In my previous blog I wrote about the main conditions and grievances which moved many Dutch and other Europeans to migrate to “new world” countries like Australia after World War 2.
My parents were among the first Dutch people to migrate to Oz for none of these reasons, but motivated purely by their commitment to God (as they knew and trusted God through Jesus Christ) and by their concern for people, especially the thousands of young adults and families who were migrating.
During their overly long courtship and early marriage, Dad and Mum had been seriously interested in working with the Christian Church somewhere in Indonesia. One of Dad’s family had done good work there, and immediately after the end of the War a close university mate-become-colleague had started many years of good service in Jakarta.
Mum’s initial wish had been to study medicine but a childhood injury resulted in her suffering frequent migraine headaches, which soon forced her to abandon her studies. When she met my father they decided that devoting their lives to Christian service together might be a fitting way forward. It certainly became that.
However, the dream of working in Indonesia never eventuated: in my previous blog I mentioned that the relationship between the Netherlands and their lucrative colony among the Spice Islands was unexpectedly disrupted immediately after the Japanese surrender.
Then, instead of Indonesia, Australia beckoned, though not so much the continent which Pedro Fernandez de Quiros dedicated as “the Land of the Holy Spirit” when he discovered it in 1606.
Rather, the Migration Committee of the Dutch Reformed (Protestant) Churches, the “Christelijke Emigratie Centrale” (“CEC” 1938-1991) recruited and commissioned my parents to migrate to Sydney to open work with Dutch Reformed migrants arriving there.At this point a little Dutch social history would be interesting as well as useful.
Starting in the late 19th Century and continuing strongly through the first half of the 20th Century, the Dutch structured their public life along political and religious lines. The model was called “Verzuiling” – “pillarization”: the pillars consisted of the most influential streams of Dutch society at the time: Catholic, Liberal/General, Protestant, and Socialist. Each stream or pillar consisted of a political party, professional, employee and employer bodies, schools and universities, a religious grouping (“denominations”) – or no religious position, the media, and even sporting and other interest clubs. The current version of this national social structure still applies in the Netherlands today, and nations such as Lebanon are organised in a similar way.
End of backgrounding.
My parents became the first midwives-parents-teachers-and-pastors to the Dutch Reformed migration “pillar” in Eastern Australia. It must be said that this was not what had been planned or wanted. The Dutch Churches, the CEC and Dutch church leaders like my parents hoped that their migrant community would be able to fit in with an existing Church community in Australia, hopefully the Presbyterian Church. Why this did not happen is another story.
To cut a long story short here, it was agreed to start a new network of Christian churches, and the Dutch Christian ideal of constructing a pillar extending distinctively Christian values into primary to tertiary education, into politics and into areas of community care has been pursued with both significant and patchy success despite the fact that this “pillar” never included many more than 10,000 people.
During the early 1950’s our family home was from time to time a reception centre for Dutch arrivals, and Mum often had to care for needy or distressed settlers in addition to her own children. Dad’s parish initially extended from Brisbane to the Victorian border and west to the Australian “outback”. He tried to meet every Dutch migrant ship arriving in Sydney, and every weekend he would travel between 150 and 500 km to conduct two and often three Christian worship meetings throughout the Greater Sydney region, Wollongong and Newcastle.
The work and the church groups grew like topsy during the 1950s. When my parents decided in 1961 that it was time to “move on” after ten years of demanding and stressful though rewarding service, the New South Wales region counted almost a dozen independent churches and 6 or 7 full-time pastors.
I can say with deep gratitude and justified pride that I have never met a Dutch migrant who knew my parents and saw their dedication and care, who didn’t think and speak about them with the greatest affection and respect.