at Kingsley Fairbridge Farm School 1945-1946

By Ernst Kollmann

 

November 1945. Immediately after the Japanese occupation and amidst the roaring “Bersiap” period, many Dutch families in the former Dutch East Indies were evacuated from Java to Australia. During the voyage there was the opportunity to choose a location: Either Perth in Western Australia or Melbourne in Victoria.

 

After arrival we were housed in hotels, boarding houses or with guest families in nearby locations, all with the intention to regain health and strength after the ordeals during the Japanese occupation.

 

The time spent in the various concentration camps definitely left deep marks on the victims and in the beginning the “Dutchies” in Australia were clearly recognized because of their tiny bodies, abominable clothing, their smallness in relation to their age and some of them for their awful concentration camp manners.

 

These bad manners, especially ‘grabbing everything you could lay your hands on’ (particularly on all sorts of food) soon got them into conflict with their Australian hosts.

 

Among others, these camp manners were the reason to bring these children together and house them at Kingsley Fairbridge Farm School, which at that time was an institute for educating and schooling British migrant boys and girls.

 

The buildings were situated in Pinjarra, some 60 Kilometres south of Perth and they offered the opportunity to house the children and in addition there was the possibility for them to attend the very urgent needed re-education and schooling.

 

A combined Australian-Dutch management team was established: Mr and Mrs Kollmann for the Dutch inhabitants and Mr and Mrs Grant for the Australians. Elderly Dutch couples and some parents of the children were invited and engaged as teachers and attendants and I still remember the names of some of them: Mr and Mrs van den Bosch, Mrs Rodrigo, Mrs Versteegh, Mrs van Es, Mr Rombach, and Mr and Mrs Uljé.

 

Some Australian nurses were added to the school staff: Miss Moate, Miss Warburton and Miss Jackson and somewhat later two additional “cottage mothers” Australian Miss Ella Bone and Dutch Miss Nora Lumkeman, both in their early twenties, to take care of the very young ones and to assist in the sport lessons.

 

There was a combined dining-and party room where meals were taken and table manners were introduced again under the strict supervision of the Dutch attendants. We lived and slept in cottages, and had our school lessons in a small school building consisting of two classrooms although it must be said that many lessons were given in the open. There also were sports-grounds and even a swimming pool; that is, part of the river in which a dam had been built served as a pool in which many leeches were waiting for us! And of course there was the farm where Mr. Goulder was in charge!

 

As already said, there were British migrant boys and girls at Fairbridge who also took their school lessons there. I remember most of them being older girls, while the Dutch children were aged between seven and fourteen and because of the war, most of them had had no basic schooling at all or maybe just for a few years, so teachers were in a big hurry to make up for the arrears.

 

Of course the objective of all activities was at one hand to reach a physical recovery (by means of good nourishment, sports and repose), and on the other hand to try to eliminate the huge lack of schooling as quickly as possible.

 

Day programme was based on these objectives:

 

In the morning there were the school lessons and immediately after lunch there was the compulsory sleeping hour, by the children experienced as a nuisance, while later in the afternoon there were sports and games. (swimming, kasti, soccer, hockey, etc.)

 

Sometimes in weekends the children’s parents paid a visit, or excursions were organized such as bushwalks (watching kangaroos!), or a trip to the shore (Mandurah), or to the “King Karrie woods” at Pemberton.

 

Beside the well-known lessons as Dutch, arithmetic, history etc. there also were the English lessons given by Mr Kirkpatrick who only could speak English to us.

 

So even nowadays, everybody who attended his lessons at that time, still remembers his way of teaching with all sorts of gestures and the help of his hands and feet. (“This is your hand and that is your foot”) However it must be admitted that later on, when visiting high school in Holland, these English lessons appeared to be most useful, although not all our teachers then were amused by our Australian accent.

 

For the majority of us, our stay at Fairbridge was an unforgettable experience. It was a period during which, unperceived, normal life and discipline took hold of us again!

 

And beside school there also was time for lessons in free expression such as acting, dance and music, all of it on a voluntary basis. Who does not remember the shows with song and dance in magnificent costumes performed for our parents during their visits?

 

Highlights were also the daily distribution of letters and parcels, the extra food, particularly the “sweetened condensed milk” which was consumed with great eagerness, and the weekly allowance of some pocket money.

 

The stay of the Dutch children at Fairbridge Farm School lasted for about 10 months and was eventually terminated by the definite repatriation of most families to the Netherlands.

 

But all of us who had the privilege to regain health and normal life again after the hectic concentration camp experiences and the “Bersiap” period immediately afterwards, will always remember his or her stay in Australia with great satisfaction and thankfulness.

 

In the Netherlands we have a reunion each year. Not an official association. The members today of the reunion are:

Ernst Kollmann

Adri Geerligs

Donald Schotel

Paul van Es

Beatrix van Es

Marianne Fentener van Vlissingen (Gleichman)

Conny André de la Porte (Gleichman)

Eduard Lumkeman

Nora Acatos (Lumkeman)

Els Moeliker-Duyser

Antoinette Naborn-van der Koogh

Anneke Slik (Jongste)

Winnie de Vries

Willem Plink

 

In the Museum at Fairbridge Village there is more about our time at Fairbridge Farm School.