About six months ago, I started writing for the Dutch Courier, a monthly newspaper for the Dutch community in Australia and New Zealand. When I was working on Mt. Hotham, I met Paul Englisch, whose mother is Dutch. Here is their story:
Dinner Plain is about 10km from Mt. Hotham. It is the only so-called free hold land
within the borders of the Alpine National Park. This means the houses and land within the
town are private property. About 70 people live in Dinner Plain throughout the year – out
of the total of around 100 on the entire mountain. One of those people is Paul Englisch.
He is the only fully licensed real estate agent who lives on the mountain.
He is certain there is no better place to live either – except for maybe Thailand. He has
visited and skid at all the ski resorts in Victoria and New South Wales; Dinner Plain and
Hotham are the best. In summer it is not nearly as hot as in Melbourne, but it is sunny and
quiet and you have time.
“I basically come into work everyday and wear thongs, t-shirt and shorts,” says Paul. “I
don’t know any real estate agent in Australia who can do that. But I can do it here. People
look at me when they first see me and say ‘Oh are you the real estate agent? Why aren’t
you wearing a suit?’ Because I don’t want to, I don’t have to.”
Paul’s mother Maria turned sixteen on the boat from the Netherlands to Australia. Her
father was Jewish during World War II. On the way to the concentration camp he escaped.
He jumped from the train and he found his way home. He was hidden under the house
until the war was over and they could leave the country.
“Her parents didn’t speak very good English, so they took Mum – who was okay – with
them to translate. One day they were with the salesman in the furniture shop and they
wanted to buy a queen size bed. And you know what that’s called in Dutch?” He looks at
me expectantly. “A ledikant.” We laugh.
“And then they were applying for credit or something,” he goes on, “and they asked for
his occupation. Opa was a vakman (tradesman). So this guy was like ‘What’s going on?
What’s he saying to his daughter? Is he swearing?’ But then Mum explained that those are
just the words in Dutch. So that was all solved and then he asked for their name… Kok.
So after all that, it was Kok. They couldn’t believe it! But Kok is a common name in
Holland, like Smith.”
“She (Paul’s mother) is Dutch. She’s still got a Dutch passport. And she’s here on a visa!”
When she went to Paul’s wedding in Thailand earlier this year she needed to apply for a
visa to get back in the country where she has lived in for the last 65 years or so. Paul
rings her on the phone so I can have a chat with her.
“I don’t feel Australian,” she says, “and I’m not. I’m Dutch.” She has a very strong, but
endearing Dutch accent – even after 65 years in Australia. That is one of the reasons she
never became Australia. She says, “for 65 years people asked me ‘why don’t you go back
where you came from?'” But she can’t. She went back twice to stay for good, but she has
children and grandchildren to be with. She missed them. If they came with her, she would
be in the Netherlands tomorrow.
Paul was raised by his mother and her parents. So he feels Dutch. “It’s hard to put it into a
percentage. I would have to say 50/50.” His grandparents took him to the kaartenclub and
he loves Dutch food. “Kroketjes, speculaas, mmm…” I asked him if he likes drop as well –
the real test of Dutchness. “Yes,” he says, “definitely!” What about his wife? “Ying
doesn’t like anything that isn’t Thai.” So she doesn’t discriminate against Dutch food, per
se. She has found something she likes, however: Hawaiian pizza. “With a bit of chile on
top.” Of course.
He also thinks his Dutchness shows in his behaviour. “Dutch people are a bit more
worldly and have more attention to detail.”
He met Ying in Thailand, the other country he loves. He enjoys the culture and their
patience. “Australia has such an anal, oppressive system.” He found the Thai people still
have common courtesy and respect towards each other. There are so many people and
there is so much business, infrastructure and traffic, but they all get along so much better
than we do. Paul believes that probably comes down to Thai culture and the fact they are
buddhists. “The thing is Buddha was a normal person. He wasn’t some god with magical
powers.” We agree that all people want and need the same thing in the end: love, respect
and a hot meal.
“Anything that makes you happy, makes you live longer. Have a TimTam.” He pushes the
box of the so very Australian – the other 50 percent – chocolate cookies to me. “You
already have a smile on your face, but this will make you feel even better.”