by Maree Kowenhoven
Before I can tell you how I came into the Manning Valley, I have to tell you a little about my earlier life, because that has everything to do with it.
I was a skinny, sickly little girl born in Holland of a mother who did not have much education because she had to work on her father's strawberry farm. A father who milked his cows in the stable every afternoon at 4 o’clock and at 4 o’clock in the morning. Day in day out. She also worked on a dairy farm.
The stable was usually very warm, but it was sometimes very cold outside. One day he caught a cold. He had to go to work because there was no one to replace him. That cold was neglected and turned into TB, at that time a deadly disease. It took him nine months to die. He was thirty five years old. I was three years old. I had a bigger brother, an older sister and a younger sister.
There was no support for my family. How my very proud mother did it I don't know. We did get some vouchers but we were very, very poor and all of us looked the part. Because of that nobody helped us. I grew very weak and hardly ever went to school. My mother was very worried.
In those days and specially in the little village Where we lived, the doctor,
the policeman and the principal of the school were very important persons. So my mother had a talk with the doctor and it was decided that I was going to live with a very rich family in the village. All their children were grown up.
I still remember going there the first time, and thinking if they eat carrots I am not going to eat. The worst thing anybody could do to me was make me eat carrots. I was a very determined little seven year old girl. You could not believe it, the first food I was offered was carrots and I simply refused to eat them. But they were very nice people. I was allowed to eat what I wanted to eat and while I still did not eat very much I gradually began to grow stronger.
Now I was a very privileged child. I sat in church in the front. The poor people sat at the back in seats without backs. But the poor people did not have to pay. In school I sat in the first row. I was left handed but no one was allowed to write with their left hand.The nuns used to tie my left hand on my back. When I told them at home that stopped very quickly
The war came and we hardly ever went to school any more. The school buildings were occupied by German soldiers. When we did go to school we had to learn German. Even as a child I felt the atmosphere. Everybody was afraid. There was hardly any food for us and this lasted for five long years. When the Germans left it got back to normal very gradually.
At school they discovered that I was a bright child. At that time in my village nobody went to a higher education, not even rich people. But my adopted family wanted me to do so. When I left school at seventeen I got a position with the Council as a social worker.
I went back to live with my own family. The older people in the village remembered me as a member of a poor family and now I was in authority. It was hard for me, and for other people also. They had to ask me for help. I could not do anything other than work, I could not walk in the street. I could not be a member of any club. I worked very close with the police.
If I wanted to live a normal life I had to go to another village, but do you think I could go by myself? No way. I had to have a police escort. I was living in a glass cage. And it was not easy.
Then one day in 1956 Willem turned up. He had left Holland in 1952 to build a house in Australia and had come back to see his family and friends. He came to look me up too. Mother did not know what to think of it. He was not her type. He took his jacket off when he arrived in our house. Mother did not like that. There were rules and regulations in my family and taking the jacket off was not one of them. However he kept coming to my house and after a couple of months he asked me to come with him to Australia. I was tempted. But it was not easy. I was now the breadwinner at home.
However it was a way out for me. I made the decision to go …. a decision I have regretted many times since. I made sure my mother was provided for. Circumstances were different then.
Willem already had a house in Cabramatta and I saw many unhappy migrants in difficult circumstances. It was not easy to make friends. There was a lot of jealousy. In 1969 Willem said 'I go and when I find something I will be back'. He came back a week later and said 'I have found the perfect spot. In Forster.' Willem drove there by car with our son Terry. I went by train with our other children Rene and Ronald.
We left Forster and came to live in Taree when our son Ronald died on the Forster bridge in 1976. Terry and Susan are still living here. Rene met a Dutch girl here and went back to live in Holland.
When I see the many hotels, motels, arcades and homes that Willem has built over the years I think we have made our mark in the Manning Valley.