Fifty years . . .

We’ll take a break from travel blogs to mark an important anniversay for me . . .

A recent Good Weekend article on a fellow countryman, the opinion (and opiniated) media writer and spruiker Andrew Bolt, surprised me with the number of life-formative and heritage-related influences that he and I have in common.  Those who know me and Andrew won’t be surprised there have been and are some rather significant differences between us also.

He and I both struggled as Dutch migrant children to put down our roots in the new world of Australia: Andrew because his migrant and school teacher father was posted to many remote towns around South Australia, I because my migrant preacher father’s state-wide work and care for new settlers meant that we (his family) never really integrated with our local community.  I struggled to connect with all of the circles to which I belonged: my street, my local school, my church community, and my kith and kin on the other side of the world.  Yet my parents’ busy open house and wide-ranging work connections gave me many memories (some treasured, some rather forgotten) that many might envy.  It was all both enriching and unsettling.

After ten years of living in a Sydney suburb, my parents decided enough was enough and accepted an invitation to come and work in Kingston in Tasmania, the only Dutch community ever established in Australia.  We made the move 50 years ago as I write, on 23rd November 1961.

Great excitement amid my gloom about leaving my Sydney world - my first flight 50 years ago

I’m in Sydney again as I write, and the day is as wet as it was 50 years ago.  This then 16 year old came to love and know most of the aircraft that flew low over his school on their approach to Sydney Airport, and I remember my first flight: the first hop to Melbourne was in Trans Australia Airlines’ second Lockheed Electra, John Eyre (VH TLB).  The second hop over Bass Strait to Hobart was less memorable in one of the many TAA Viscounts.

As our household removal had to follow by sea, our family was divided and billeted out among our new church’s families.  But what a change: our family members and in fact almost all the church’s homes were within walking distance in Kingston which was then just a country town.  In Sydney my best friend lived two train trips of almost 2 hours away – followed by a 30 minute walk from the station!

Although I had grown up in Sydney, had many formative and treasured memories there, have lived there longer (in two periods) than anywhere else, and still find it is overall my favourite city, Kingston in just five years became my heart’s and spiritual home.

  • My family functioned as a family there, with dad working locally, all of us siblings forming lifelong friendships, and three of the five of us finding our mate (and lasting marriage) there.
  • My age as a later teenager meant that the influences of those five Tasmanian years were in many ways deeper and more significant than those of my 10 years in Sydney.  My faith, social and academic formation was greatest in those years, and I believe it was mostly wholesome.
  • The Kingston church being a community church, although still ethnically migrant-Dutch, functioned as an extension of our home, giving me a valuable model of how a healthy faith community can function.  When I occasionally visit there, I feel I am among friends and am “home” despite the great changes inevitable over 50 years.
  • My family at home in Kingston - in our Sunday best in 1964. So formal in those times!

    Kingston became a natural but also a safe context in which to make life commitments to the Christian faith, my best friend for 48 years (43 of them in marriage), my lifelong work, and my personal passions.  It was in Tassie that I learnt to love the bush, attended my one and only demonstration, and made almost all of my lifelong friendships.

  • The success of the move taught me I could find happiness and God’s blessing almost anywhere.  My parents often found the task of empowering their five children too much, and my wife will never forget the look on my and my brother’s faces when we were marched into the Kingston church for the first time, but the tears have turned to warm sunshine.

Kingston today is no longer a country town: it has become the centre of Hobart’s fastest growing region.  During the past 50 years its Dutch component has grown hugely in number and influence, though not in statistical terms.  One of the strengths of the Christian Reformed brand of Christian faith is its integration of faith, ethics, and service – and the goodness of this has become ever more obvious in Kingston.

I’m deeply grateful for what this has meant for me, am proud of the part my family played in its development, and have found it a valuable model to encourage myself and others in whatever situation.

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