Why Australia?


Today, in a conversation, the question arose, why did we come to Australia? When was the seed planted in my mind?

Ostensibly we came to Australia to have a better future  for us and the children. We could have chosen Canada or the United States instead and could have tried our luck there.  But why Australia? It is the furthest away from Germany and the chances of ever coming back seemed remote at the time.

I have no idea when, in my childhood, I became aware of the continent  called Australia. But it struck me, that the whole continent was one country, that is, one nation where the people are having all this landmass to themselves. . It was almost as big as Europe which contained so many countries. Throughout history, Europe suffered  numerous wars among its nations.

Probably Australia entered my consciousness when I heard that our two pet budgerigars’ homeland was Australia. Then Christmas 1948 or 49 my mother gave me a book for a present. The story of the book was set in Australia at the  birthplace of  European settlement, Botany Bay. The events of the story happened in about 1946 when a group of boys living at  Ramsgate Beach tried to steal an old  cargo ship that was anchored in the middle of Botany Bay with only an old Polish migrant living on it.  He was supposed to keep it in good nick in case the owner wanted to use it again. It was always under steam.

Botany Bay 1788, Charles Gore. The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Botany Bay 1788, Charles Gore. The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

The boys were roughly my age and I liked their freedom with which they pursued their adventure.

I don’t know the title of the book anymore,  nor do I know who the author was. I’m in contact with the library of the Municipality of Rockdale, but so far nobody knows anything about the book.

Around the same  time, two Australien films were shown in German cinemas. They were “The Overlanders” and “Bush Chrismas“. Both films were very popular in Germany and both were starring Chips Rafferty in the main roles. He was an iconic Australian actor. The big, wide country promised a freedom undreamed of for me living in a big city.

Chips Rafferty, picture from Wikipedia

Chips Rafferty, picture from Wikipedia

A few years later I decided to inquire about migrating to Australia. In Berlin, there was no embassy and all inquiries and applications were handled by a Military Comission at the Olympic stadium. When I arrived there with a friend, we found the Commission was closed due to a public holiday. It must have been their Labour Holiday in October. It was a Monday and I learned, that Australians like to have their public holidays on a Monday. This  gives them a long weekend every time. It was just another reason to migrate to this dream country.

A couple of months later I tried again and got as far as applying for an assisted passage. I could not have paid for the full passage at the time. I needed the permission of the government employment agency, and they knocked me back as I had a trade that was highly in demand after the war. I was a bricklayer and they wanted me to rebuild Berlin.

What that knockback did, was for me to change careers. Bricklaying was not for me. A few career changes later and living in Düsseldorf with a wife and a toddler, I saw by then an ad in the local paper. We thought it was directly speaking to us since it said  “Australia needs You!”. There was no need to convince Uta. We both wanted to go, especially since we still had no apartment of our own and a second child was on its way. We applied and  after going through all the procedures we were accepted and the Germans were happy for us to leave: It meant one family less on the waiting list for an apartment.

Today, when we drive along Grand Parade, on the Western side of Botany Bay, I look across Lady Robinsons Beach and think of the book and the story I read as a twelve-year-old and wonder whether my mother planted the seed of migrating to Australia in my mind.

"Montereybch" by J Bar - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Montereybch.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montereybch.jpg#/media/File:Montereybch.jpg

“Monterey Beach” by J Bar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Montereybch.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

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17 thoughts on “Why Australia?

  1. You have led an interesting life Peter. Some step to travel to a faraway land with small children. Actually, I contemplated Australia myself in my youth, but I chickened out. I was a marketing apprentice and my English wasn’t all that good. And in those days (early 1970ties) they predominantly were interested in craftsmen. Wonder what life would have looked like, had I taken the step 😉

    • Thanks for commenting, Dan. When we arrived here my English wasn’t that hot. We met many Danish people in Australia, they all spoke an excellent English

  2. Great story Peter and glad to have caught up with you. We had the grandchildren for a few days, so pancakes and frying bacon took over. I don’t remember why my parents decided on Australia. My mother had some friends that used to live opposite us in Rotterdam and they had migrated to Australia some five years earlier. They wrote glowing reports back to us about Australia. At one stage South Africa and Canada was mentioned. I am glad they did not go to South Africa, even though I believe it is a beautiful country. Many went to Canada but I suppose Australia had a much warmer appeal.

    • Thank you, Gerard. South Africa was never on our radar. The father-in-law wanted us to go there. It was out of the question we did not want to get involved with Apartheid. We had friends who went there from Australia. In the end, they were afraid and went back to Germany.

      People who got a visa to migrate to the US thought they won the lottery. I’m not so sure.

  3. It’s interesting to ask the question about why you came to Oz….and interesting to ask why we stayed! Funny both my parents were poms thru and thru and a testament to the ‘whinging pom’ so much easier for them than people who came from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds their ‘hardship’ was so minimal. They always felt tricked but interestingly never chose to return to live in the UK. My mother was heard by me to complain over my mobile answering service…”I dont know why we ever came to this bloody country in the first place, even the phones don’t work!

    • Thank you, sedwith, for your comment. We all have various reasons for coming, staying or returning. It suited us to be in a not so perfect country. The world of the “real” Germans can not so easily be applied to others. The “Greek Crises” is a perfect example of that.

      I met so many English people in Australia and the ones that had been to Germany (often as soldiers during the occupation), were full of praise for Germany. They must have seen an element there that is missing in their homeland. Your mother would have loved it because the phones are working there.

  4. As an Australian born child with grandparents from another country I always wondered what went through the minds of a would be immigrant and what made them choose Australia over other destinations like the U S!( I had a chuckle about the bit about the winning the lottery!!! ) so I greatly appreciated your post and is a window into how Australia is seen by others. As for the winging poms…..some people are never happy and they often have extremely high expectations. I have known some immigrant ‘poms’ like this who want Australia to be the end of their problems but just like the old country. They are constantly comparing it negatively to their homeland, when there are pros and cons anywhere you go . Part of the reason one immigrates is to experience something different, isn’t it?

    • Sure, part of the reason is the sense of adventure, the longing for new shores. mankind as a whole has that yearning for new worlds in outer space. Reaching Pluto, only days ago, created such a stir for that reason.

      Indeed, coming to Australia was very much like coming to a new world or even planet. Gerard Oosterman has written about his experience of coming to Australia and it was very much our own experience.

      But what was evident from the start was the friendliness of most Australians. This might change now as the Abbott government has made immigration a “Border Security” issue. Threats, real or imagined, are being milked for all it’s worth.

      http://www.smh.com.au/national/rightwing-extremism-equal-to-muslim-radicalisation-academics-and-police-20150716-giduqp.html

      • Abbot’s Australia is an awful state of affairs. It is disgusting that democratically elected politicians are getting away with this. I imagine it is more worrying for those who lived through WWII in Europe as they see similarities. As an avid student of history I have also noted this insidious decline in civil powers. We must take advantage of opportunities to make lazy complacent Australians aware. The “she’ll be right” attitude is not helpful, but neither am I advocating panic. Apparently more people are dying from right wing extremists than muslim extremists. Thanks for the link, I will check it out.

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