Wednesday, 24 October 2012



 A few years ago my brother-in-law, Wim Ruiterkamp from Vorden, sent me an excerpt from De Stentor, a regional newspaper in the province Gelderland.  This newspaper wanted 'Greetings from emigrants' and Wim suggested I'd write something about our experiences.  The result was that De Stentor published an article about our family and the effects of emigrating .

 I have attached the above article as I know that my blog is read in The Netherlands.  It is easy to use the translation facility although the result is often not quite the way the article was written. I did enjoy writing this little bit of memoir although it was challenging to keep to the number of words required.

After living 52 years in the same country, the same city, the same suburb I can only say that I love Dunedin.  But I still remember the first years when so many issues came together producing the effects of home sickness.

On m.s. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, May 1960

 Write about settling in a new country?  Which aspects to use?  Language, housing, home sickness, work place, new friends?  Here are a few very random thoughts:

Language :   Together with German and French languages we had studied English for five years at high school.  After high school I had also worked as an au pair in London.  Yet, after arriving in Dunedin it was hard getting used to this 'other' language, many words and nuances being very different from the formal foreign language we had learnt. 

Housing :  In May 1960 I wrote in my diary: 'With the overnight ferry 'Maori' we cross to Lyttleton and from there we have an unforgettable journey by train to Dunedin.  Flat land, valleys, mountains covered with snow, so much to see.  Little huts in remote places. I say to Bart that we might end up in a similar hut that night.  In Dunedin eight people from the Opoho Presbyterian Church are waiting for us on the platform and Dick van Barneveld, an elder in the church, takes us to our first home in Dunedin.'

How lucky we were.

  We had left Holland at a time of housing shortage. What a thrill it was to rent a four-bedroomed house for just the two of us.  To be able to close the door on a room with 'stuff' that needed sorting but never was!  Together we danced in the hall!

  Early 1961 we rented a 100-year-old wooden house with three bedrooms where wallpaper on scrim walls moved during stormy times.  This house had its own character, a loo outside didn't bother us, and we made it our home, and were proud to show newly-made friends our painting and wallpapering skills.  We stayed there until February 1966 when we bought our first home.

Homesick  :  Oh, yes, I was homesick, don't mind admitting it.  It is a long time ago now but I still remember wanting to talk to someone, for someone to acknowledge that homesickness was a reality I had to learn to live with.  Letters from home helped, and my letters to our large families became 'newspapers' according to my sisters.  A real blessing was to have access to such a fantastic library (I mention libraries in a previous blog) and I read and read and read those first years and still do.

Workplace  :  Bart started work at the Dunedin Botanic Garden the day after our arrival in May 1960 and six months later he got a job at the Otago Catchment Board which later became the Otago Regional Council.  I started work at the laundries in the North East Valley and soon learnt another way of speaking English.  The girls in the office enjoyed teaching me their skills and I'd come home at night, spouting new words and Bart telling me that it was better not to use these words in 'proper' conversation.  After six months I applied for and did get the job as secretary at the Wool Research of New Zealand, and stayed in this job until shortly before our first baby was due.

Friends  :  We were lucky to meet older Dutch immigrants who took us under their wings, ready to help settle.  When I started work I made other friends, extending our circle, and gradually the warm rippling effect of friendship became wider.  I have an old recipe book, totally chaotic.  If I want a certain recipe I have to browse through lots of loose papers.  I don't want to change this because every time I look for a recipe I see handwritten recipes given to me by friends who are no longer here.   Elvis Presley is not the only one who sings that 'Memories are made of this'!

Back to the Dutch article:  In this article I mention that occasionally I'm aware of having one leg here in New Zealand and the other leg in the Holland of my past.  Leading a double life?  Not really.  These are also feelings of reality, of having my life being geographically and emotionally divided.   In the beginning it was hard not to mention the past, we'd come here to make a new life so we were told to only think ahead.  Soon I learned to put a cover on my 21 years of living in the northern hemisphere.   But times have changed, we have become more cosmopolitan, people travel more and I just love watching Asian students walking together in town, laughing, having fun and talking to each other in their native language.   I still cannot do this, whenever Bart and I are in town we use the English language.  Old habits??

Below is the first chapter of my nearly completed novel The Orange Garden.  I hope to put it out as an e-book before too long.

"On the morning Anna and Roland climb into the waiting car. Neighbours huddled in winter-coats pulled over pyjamas, slippers on their feet, have come to say goodbye to the girl they’ve known since she was born. The gears of the Mercedes crunch as the car begins to move into the distance, red tail-lights glowing in the dark.

 Anna takes Roland's arm, squeezes it tight against her breast. She turns slightly to look through the back window of the car. Other cars are waiting on the village square and they speed behind them, following through the flat landscape, through the little villages with the narrow streets and across the newly built bridges spanning the wide rivers. As they reach Amsterdam, Anna stares through the window at houses; rows and rows of houses. The straight streets, the lights, people riding bikes on their way to work.

 At the end of the day those people will return to their homes.

 Inside the car it is warm, but the dampness of the streets seems to filter into Anna’s body, the cold clinging around her as snow covers a mountain after a heavy winter storm. The coldness; the damp and the fear. The fear of leaving.

 But there’s excitement too, moving cautiously at first, slowly building and heating the marrow of her bones; already her fear of the journey ahead is dissolving. Roland shouts, ‘I can see the ship.’

 Anna's fingers touch the large gold clasp of the three-strand necklace of coral beads her mother fastened around her neck when she turned 18. Her mother's voice, 'This necklace belonged to my grandmother. It will keep you strong and protect you from ill-health. You must wear it.'

 Roland puts an arm around Anna’s thin shoulders, tightens his grip. ‘We’ll make it.’ She smiles up at him. They stand close together for those last moments; Anna, Roland and their sisters and brother milling awkwardly together. They have never done such a thing before, never said goodbye not knowing if and when they will see each other again.

 And ahead of them is the ship. The Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Anna keeps glancing towards it, checking that it is not moving. Soaring above them are the giant chimneys, yellow at the base with a black band at the top. The portholes are like multiple dark eyes and Anna can smell the salty seawater. She clutches Roland's hand, ‘Look at the lifeboats on the top deck of the ship. At least if the ship sinks we can get away.' Roland squeezes her hand, 'You and your imagination.'

But the memories are still with Anna. Bombs. Droning aeroplanes. Hiding in a cellar. Danger is always around. There is a man standing, now, at the gangplank and people begin to move forward giving him their tickets. There is desperation in Ada's voice as she cries out, ‘I’ll miss you, Anna. I’ll miss you so much.’  There are hugs, kisses and tears. Roland's brother, Jaap says, 'You must write. Every week, promise?'

 Write soon.

 High up on the top deck Anna and Roland look down at the small figures below waiting close to the railings. Waving. Waving and calling, Goede reis, tot ziens.’  Bon voyage. Farewell. We’ll meet again.

 Roland has his arms around Anna’s shoulders, ‘It’s really happening. Our new life. I’ll work hard, Anna. I’ll make a go of this.’ ‘We'll do it together,’ Anna says.

 Roland walks to the bow of the ship, his long legs confidently swinging. She remembers a freezing night, remembers those long legs. She'd decided to go to the skating rink and, circling the large, frozen area by herself, she heard her name called out. ‘Anna. You’re back! How are you?’

 A tall young man in a green anorak skated towards her. Roland. Turning her feet inward, she braked. He shook her hand. ‘How was London? You look so different.’ They skated, talking till the rink closed. Slowly they biked towards the village where Anna lived. As they reached her house Roland touched her arm, ‘Come with me to the film tomorrow night?’ ‘Why not?’ Anna had said, already composing a letter to Lucy in her mind. ‘He's lovely. You won’t believe how he’s changed since we left school. He's so thoughtful. He asked if your fall on the ice had left any scars. He’s not too shy. He's good-looking. He’s taking me to the film. O la la. He even kissed me.'

 Lucy, her best friend since the first day at school. Already Lucy has become a memory. Already home has become the place where things happened in the past. Roland walks towards her on the deck. A wide grin on his face. Anna opens her arms, 'I love you.'

 Our family is on the quay. Tomorrow I won’t see them. Neither tomorrow nor next month. Not next year. Their faces and bodies will become only images to be remembered as they are now in future years. They will return to me like flashes in a silent film.

 She remembers the visit to her aunt. Remembers Tante Clara's fearful expression as she clutched Anna's arm, ‘But do you really want to go so far away? What sort of a country is it where you’re going? Are there really more sheep than people? Do they have streets there? Is it safe, Anna? Will you be safe?’

 Is this how it will be? And is this really what she wants? What has she done? Will she ever see her mother again? If she and Roland have children will they ever meet their grandparents? How will we be able to afford to make the journey home?

 Goede reis, tot ziens."

Monday, 15 October 2012


Across the Valley

"A certain hill or mountain can offer a deep emotional focus to a person's life or to a family or community." (Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, 1992)

We count ourselves fortunate to live opposite a 'certain hill'.  Opening the curtains each morning means the start of such a focus.   Each morning the view is different whatever season or weather is displayed outside.  Each season brings its defined highlights.  When the children were young we'd all go for walks to the top of Flagstaff.  Over the years our sons Foster and Ray did take many long hikes, including the Pineapple Track.

Spring 2012

In spring my eyes go beyond the blossom-covered apple trees outside our living room window to Pine Hill, a hill suburb of Dunedin, then on to Flagstaff with its growth of manuka, totara and other native trees as well as paddocks dotted with sheep.

Plum tree blossoms with bare apple tree branches.
A punga (tree fern) in foreground.

Towards the summit any forest vegetation stops and dry tussock plants take over. I should also mention that there is a valley between Pine Hill and Flagstaff. The northern motorway winds its way towards Waitati and ultimately to Christchurch (approx 360 km from Dunedin).

 A few days ago we woke up to a sprinkling of snow on top of Flagstaff. In spring the hill sides are covered with bright yellow gorse, so beautiful to look at but so destructive with its rampant growth. Scottish settlers brought it to New Zealand, hoping it would help make them feel less homesick but the climate here is most encouraging to plant growth and a lot of work is involved in clearing this beautiful 'weed'. Oh, yes, I know that feeling so well and indulge in it occasionally by buying bunches of tulips at the Farmers Market.   Getting up early on a clear summer morning is always a treat. I sit on the balcony and have my camera ready. Often there's a haze but every now and then the sun defines a certain cluster with manuka trees on the hill. Being able from this distance to see 'through' the tall slender trunks makes that part of the slope mysterious. I think of the night life that will be there, possums, weasels, wild cats that thoughtlessly have been abandoned.

Long white cloud

 I love watching the long white cloud (Aotearoa) making its way from Mt Cargill to the west. Sometimes this cloud hangs between the two hills and sometimes it's edging close to the summit of Flagstaff. I remember how in the early sixties top dresser planes were active over those hills. Miriam would be in the pram (the Plunket nurse said that fresh air was good for her) while I hung the washing, listening to the zooming of busy-bee planes in the distance. This was a companionable sound but it often made me think of the threatening drones of planes over our village in the east of Holland during the war years.

Early morning sun hits Flagstaff

 When Miriam isn't watching television she does her Word Find puzzles at the dining room table. Since she came back home to live after the stroke I've tried to bring the outside to her mind by pointing out cloud formations, different colours of clouds depending on the weather and the different times the sun reaches the top of Flagstaff after rising above Signal Hill (visible from the other side of our house). So, in the middle of winter, while I'm rushing in the kitchen getting breakfast, I hear her voice, 'Mum, the SUN.' Around the shortest day it's just before 8.30 a.m. From then on we watch the lengthening of the days by the time we see the dark pink shine on top of the hill. From our living room we see, on the shortest day, the sun disappearing behind an area of Flagstaff at 4.20 pm, often preceded by the most amazing sunsets. Then it's time to light a candle, go to the kitchen and start preparing dinner.

Late sun, Mount Cargill on right.

I took the following photo in June 1999 from our balcony, shortly before our 40th wedding anniversary and just before we travelled to Europe for the last time.

Sunset over Flagstaff, June 1999

Weeks later the sun hits the hill top from a higher point in the sky and we can see more clearly the gap between Pine Hill and Flagstaff. Each time I look at the hills across the North East Valley an emotion demands attention. The beauty of defining sun rays, the chilliness of snow, the demanding yellow of gorse. I cannot ignore these views. And when occasionally I have a 'down' day I quietly lift my eyes onto those hills and know that I will be comforted.

The seasons have a way of running parallel to our emotions. Winter blues, spring and autumn storms, peaceful summer evenings. For me those hills are an inspiration for accepting whatever the day brings.  That 'certain hill' has been and still is a memory and a focus for all of us.

Thursday, 4 October 2012



While staying with friends in Cromwell (September post 'Respite Care') I was inspired to write a poem.  Well, here it is, as well as another photo of snow in Central Otago.  I love the shadows of clouds on hills.   Ever since I was a child I see all kinds of things in clouds - animals, faces and flowers - and watching the reflection of the shadow of clouds on hills gives everything another dimension. 


Last night's snow on Central Otago hills
Cheryl Moana Marie roaring
into the spring morning.

No sun-drenched shore but a shearing shed
on a Cromwell farm
men guide blades
while women
strong as amazons
lift fleeces warm from sheep
weather-worn side up
finest merino plucked at the edges
the body-clean white wool spread out.

The team in unison
their bodies in rhythm
moving, turning, lifting, shifting
classing, biffing, throwing into bins to
match the white thin-fleeced strands.

Outside bales are stacked up for foreign shores
while sheep wait.

October 2012

This time we were waiting ...

Since I have my mind on animals, I'd like to share one more photo of a cheeky tui during winter time.  The white bowl (sorry, Janice!) has since been replaced by a beautiful $2 pottery bowl I found in a second-hand shop.  While Miriam does her Word Find puzzles at the dining room table she loves to watch tui and bellbirds as well as silvereyes competing for drops of sugar water.

Winter 2010

Today's entry is called Shearing and Sharing so I'd like to share one of my short stories which appeared in Sport 17, Spring 1996 .  I'll never forget the excitement I felt when the letter arrived saying it had been accepted.  I suppose it had that feeling of freedom of having found acceptance of my writing which I'd always wanted to do but thought I never could.

Free-flying tui and bellbirds, we look forward to your return next autumn.

Monday, 1 October 2012


Miriam's Daffodils

I recently asked Graeme McKinstry at McK Design to make cards of one of Miriam's paintings.   They have turned out well. 'Daffodils' is a screen print she painted in 1990 and it is such a joyous and colourful painting where daffodils dance and glance round corners.  Where pink and green reflect the spring colours.  I'm still grateful to Ed Higbee to have taken professional photos of the paintings we used in The Madonna in the Suitcase.

An earlier version of Daffodils

This version is in The Madonna in the Suitcase: Daffodils - p.88

 I love spring time, the abundance of colours in our garden, along the streets and in parks. I tried to read in the garden the other day but my eyes were totally captivated by colours and perfume, trilliums deep-red as well as creamy white, camellia bushes with soft flowers, and the bright red rhododendron.  Deep-blue gentians in a tufa pot, one tiny plant given to me more than fifteen years ago by an elderly neighbour.

Mrs Evans' gentians

 And the birds: in winter we had silver eyes, tui and bell birds drinking sugar water on our balcony. Now blackbirds try to build nests, screeching when a cat appears.

Tui in autumn.

 Talking about reading: We are lucky here in Dunedin to have several libraries. The Dunedin Public Library with its amazingly helpful staff and fantastic selection of books, art work, dvds, cds. And, of course there is the Book Bus going to suburbs.  There are the University of Otago libraries (I only go to the Central Library) and then there's the Knox College Library, where Miriam did some voluntary work before she had the stroke. She sorted out cards, stuck labels on books and did photocopying. The staff at the time loved her company and she was made to feel very welcome there.

 As I'm writing this I am reminded of my childhood. I grew up in a small village in the eastern part of Holland, a rural area where small farms dotted the surrounding countryside. Not only farms but only seven km away you could (and still can) take a bike tour of eight castles in the area near Vorden.*  The grandparents of one of my classmates had a castle there and Henk organised for the class to play in the grounds.  Some things we never forget.

 I can't forget either that  we played in the fields after school, in autumn picking cold raw turnips that were grown for cattle fodder. In summer we swam in the river Berkel, and in winter we skated there. But books played a big part in my life and as a child going to our local library was a 'weekly counting-the-sleeps' time. After the war the door of the room were the books were stored opened only once a week on a Friday night from 6-7 pm. It was difficult to choose from all those treasures because we were allowed to take only TWO books out for the week. Clutching them to my chest I went home, skipping with joy, and later started to read, finishing both books usually by midnight. In my family only newspapers were read and whenever I was reading I was often told: go and do something useful rather than waste time by reading! We can't change what happened but I still remember with fondness taking the children to the Children's Library, going up the stairs in Stuart Street. We never worried when there was a rainy days during the school holidays when as a family we'd all sit and read. We've had to accept many advances in modern communication but there's nothing like browsing in a library. Says she, having just put 'The Madonna in the Suitcase' on Amazon! Yes, it's now available for a Kindle or any other such device.

* My sister Lydia and her husband Wim now live in Vorden, another attractive village in a rural area.  It's thanks to Lydia's love and constancy that I am kept informed about exciting musical and other events being shown on European television.  Thanks heaps, Sis!!   Even after living 52 years in New Zealand, I haven't forgotten how beautiful Holland is.

I thought I'll close this blog with another painting by Miriam which was made into cards as well.  She made these dancing flowers for Foster and Frances when they were living in Brisbane in the early nineties.

Dancing Flowers, p. 103