MY PERSONAL AUSTRALIA DAY DATE
My personal Australia Day is March 13, as it was a balmy day 35 years ago in 1982 when my German partner Brigitte and I arrived in Sydney for the biggest adventure of our life. A big contrast from the snow storm we had at our departure a day earlier at Nuremberg airport.
Soon we rented a sixth floor apartment with two large balconies at Bondi Junction and overlooked the stunning harbour, Opera House and Harbour Bridge, as well as the beaches.
The culture shock impact was reduced when we attended two months of language and culture classes at the Blackfriar school together with people from all over the world. We became friends with people from Iran, Austria, Indonesia, etc.
What stood out most for me in our new country was the multiculturalism, and of course the great blue sky and gorgeous weather.
My job as a infill photographer at the Sydney Morning Herald during the Brisbane Commonwealth Games was cancelled because there was a recession, so I ended up working as a kitchenhand and cook at a posh yacht club and waiter at a golf club.
Even work was all about multiculturalism. In the Rose Bay yacht club the manager was Dutch, the catering manager Czechoslovakian, the chef from Wales, the cooks French, while at the Chatswood golf club I worked for an Austrian chef and German manager.
After a year though I started as a freelance photographer working for designers, the Housing Commission of NSW and Rugby League Week magazine. Multiculturalism supported me again with an Iranian friend getting me the work at the Housing Commission while a designer who had migrated from Prague also gave me some assignments.
I was introduced to fish&chips, pies, cricket and cask wine and while test matches were boring I quite liked one day cricket. Now after 35 years in Australia you can’t get me away from the TV during a test match and Boxing Day is sacred for that. And of course I love Aussie Rules!
In September 1985 we decided to move to Perth and start all over again. We crossed the country in our old Honda Civic and bought our very first property, a small brand new villa in Como, on our first weekend in the west.
We registered our photography business and started showing my portfolio, with mainly B&W press photos, as I had been working for newspapers, magazines and press agencies in Germany. Soon we got our first assignments; a shoot at Blina near Derby for an oil company, the State Energy Commission liked my work and so did designers, advertising agencies, architects, the mining and tourism industries, Fremantle Ports, and government departments.
I became the official photographer for the Legislative Council and the the Governor of WA Gordon Reid for some years and through that the official photographer during the visit of HRH Princess Ann and travelled with her to the Kimberley and Pilbarra. A photo album with my photos of that visit was presented to HRH by then Premier Brian Burke on her last day here.
Life was so good that we soon bought a beautiful Californian bungalow in Swanbourne that we later extended. We bought the house from well-known artist Ashley Jones and his wife Nina and decided to keep their tradition of an open house on Friday evenings, and we ended up getting to know a lot of people fast that way.
In the late 80s my partner wanted to open an art gallery and Artplace in the Old Theatre Lane in Claremont became our new adventure and a great success for Brigitte, but after 20 years of living together we decided in the early 90s to split up and I moved to Fremantle.
Although I had a great life while living in the Netherlands for 20 years and in Germany for 13, Fremantle is the love of my life, so I soon became involved with community groups, the Walyalup Reconciliation Group, Fremantle Society, Roundhouse volunteer guides, etc. and was awarded Fremantle Citizen of the Year 2012 by the WA Premier.
I love Fremantle because it is full of interesting, quirky, caring and creative people from all over the world, and because of the stunning historic West End. There is not a day that I don’t drive onto the South Mole to look at the harbour and Indian Ocean and my favourite West End cafes know that I drink double espressos.
My respect for Aboriginal culture and people started early when I met Michelle, an Injibandi woman, at the Japingka Gallery. We became good friends and I one of the babysitters for her sons Simon and Reuben. I have always felt at home with our indigenous people and on my spiritual 58,000 km, eight-month trip criss crossing Australia in the mid 1990s I often connected with them as they showed me their land and told me their stories without ever treating me as someone responsible for their plight.
Multiculturalism is something I embrace and like, even in my love life, with lovers from Germany, Canada, Australia, Serbia and Sri Lanka. The one thing I absolutely can’t tolerate is racism because I believe that most people from all cultures and religions are good people.
Through my involvement with markets I became friends with many of the Muslim stall holders. All decent, hard-working family people who don’t pose a threat to anyone.
Adapting to my new country was often challenging but it helps that I am interested in just about everything, and having an open mind and a love for people. I handed back my Dutch passport in 1985 when I became Australian and never have regretted it.
Australia is not the best country on earth, no country is, but it is a bloody good one and I am so happy and grateful I made the brave decision to migrate here. It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life!
I’ll be enjoying Australia Day at the Roundhouse talking to people from all over the world telling them about the fascinating history of Fremantle.