Archive number: 1638
Date interviewed: 25 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Marianne, remember how I asked you before to do the summary of your – Marianne, remember before I asked you to try and provide us a summary of your earliest memory to today, can you do that for us?
Yes, Mat [interviewer], yes. I was born in England in Wimbledon in May 1932 and spent the first few years of my life
there. My father had been transferred from Holland for his firm. We then went back to Holland to live. Lived near Harlem. My sister was born in Holland. We then moved to The Hague where we lived until the outbreak of war and escaped from Holland the day it was invaded – that was my mother, my sister and I –
on a refugee boat from Rotterdam. My father put us on board. We went across to England, my mother the three of us, quite a story. And when my father put us on the boat he asked my mother to take us to Scotland where we had family friends, very good family friends – I’m not quite sure which – and that he would then somehow get out and join us across the [English] Channel
and that Scotland would remain neutral. And my mother, when she got to London, being my mother, decided that she wanted to somehow get to Australia. And her parents were already here and had lived here since the 1920s and she had been to Australia. So she got us on the last voyage of the Orontes, the three of us, and before the Orontes was converted to a troopship.
And somehow we arrived in Sydney – that’s another story – and my father ultimately joined us here. Number three story, if you wish, and grew up in Sydney. Australia. which I loved dearly and am now an Australian of strong European background.
And just walk us through briefly your life after the war?
war. All right. After the war grew up in Sydney. Went to business college there, in one of the better ones in Sydney, the old school. Started my career there in the Dutch Shipping Company in the days of, the heady days of wool in Sydney. Went through to secretarial, admin [administration]. Met a Dutchman, fell in love with him,
got married went over to Orange with him, was married there. Lived in Dubbo. Back to Sydney when my son was born. He was born in Sydney while I was living in Dubbo. We went back to Sydney, more workings in Sydney, my life continued… Where did I go from Sydney? I’ve done quite a few things you see, that’s the problem.
Let me think now. My career continued, that’s right, remarried was transferred to my firm up to Darwin, another position I had that was with the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]. Ultimately went to Kuala Lumpur and Penang, where I worked and lived for two years. Back to Australia, Canberra,
back to Sydney, retired in Coffs Harbour.
What year did you retire in?
That’s great, that’s got the summary over with so now we’re going to go back and discuss in a lot more detail all this background. I’d first like to start off asking you if there were any older relatives of yours – fathers, grandfathers, etc., who served in previous wars?
my mother’s father served in the Boer War and the First World War. He was English, of Irish background, as was my grandmother, his wife.
Do you remember that man?
Oh very well. Remarkable.
Did he have any stories to tell about his war experiences?
He had lots of stories to tell. I grew up with the stories of his sailing experiences, which unfortunately were not
documented. That side of the family were not great historians or ones for leaving records you know, so it was a situation of… We grew up with tales of where he had sailed to and wonderful parrots he’d seen, and we worked out he must’ve been to South America at some stage, and heaven knows when, but what I do know is that he promised his mother he would never go to sea
while she was alive. The moment she died, and I understand he was around 14 years of age, he ran away to sea. Now what he did I don’t know, but I do know when I saw my grandparents’ wedding certificate his occupation was listed as chief steward, so there was something well and truly there. And he had the traditional anchor tattooed on his wrist there, which in those days indicated, you know, he had been a
seaman. Shortish, stocky, very strong man. How old he was when he went to the Boer War I don’t know, but I think that… Oh, you may know this. Was it 18 – 19, 18…? Oh, he would’ve been a young man. perhaps 20s I worked out, I’ve got it somewhere written down. And then he met my grandmother and married my grandmother – another remarkable person, but mm. And then
the Boer War, then he came back, he fought in the First World War, was discharged. And things in England were very bad after the First World War for the average person and he and my grandmother had quite a struggle with my mother and the family. They did go across to Canada and the second – my mother was the eldest and the first brother was born in Canada where they must’ve undergone quite something from what I can gather. Came back
to the UK [United Kingdom] – I don’t have the dates – and then ultimately migrated to Australia, 1924 from memory. My mother, at that stage, came with them and one of the brothers, another one followed later I think. So that’s basically his story in a nutshell.
Was he in the navy in the First World War?
No, no, no, armed forces, army as far as I know. It was because he used to talk about the
trenches and he had terrible, terrible back trouble. I mean as a child I can remember him having to lie prone on the floor in the lounge room sometimes when the back played up, and I have a photo of him with ambulance corps and I think he was involved, something along those lines, yeah.
Where did they migrate to in Australia?
To Sydney, Bondi. They had a
semi-detached type house they moved into. That’s where my mother fell in love with Australia. In those days see, the 20s, you’ve got to think back to that era, and they were in Glenair Avenue in Bondi, if you know Bondi, and in those days, if you know what it’s like now you’d be able to relate to it of course, like I do. I mean my misspent youth, a lot of it was on Bondi, but in those days my mother used to say that the sand dunes went almost up to their houses, if you can visualise that,
and it was a complete open expanse, you know. And, yes, so that’s where they were and my mother loved all that. She stayed with them I think for some four years. But I’m digressing, you asked about my grandfather.
No, we can move on now because this is the beginning of your connection with Australia, obviously?
Well yes it was, yes.
So they came in 1920…?
’24 I think, 1924 Mat, I almost sure the date’s right.
And how did she progress from there?
she worked in Sydney for a period there. She had worked in the original Mark Foys for a while. Her cousins, remarkable women again, who had come out with them lived in a house near them in Glenair Avenue, beautiful young girls then. One of them worked at government at some stage, I know no more than that. But the eldest one went to live on Lord Howe Island, so my mother had all that background of that era, very much so.
And she in 1928 travelled back to London on her own. She was a Londoner at heart, loved London, never forgot it. I mean she died in Australia, really a Londoner at heart, and went back there to strike out on her own, which was a pretty big thing to do. She went by boat of course, that was the only way you could go then.
How old was she at that stage?
She was born
1904, so 28 makes her what? 4 from 28, about 24, doesn’t it? She took a job and had a small flat, she met my father in London at that period not long after and had a flat in Berkeley Square, I know that much. And she worked at Selfridges and that’s where she met my father.
What was your father doing there?
Well he’d come over, he was in
London for the family firm from Holland. My grandfather started one of the biggest family firms there, Vroom en Dreesman [department stores], known as the famous V & D, and he was over there assigned to I think it Morleast Store in those days. I’d have to check on that for you, but where he was starting his training. And he had come into Selfridges – Well
it started with his brother, eldest in the firm, who was over from Holland and he’d gone into Self… My uncle had gone into Selfridges and had started talking to this girl there you see, and a bit of story attached there I think but I’ll never know the complete truth. Anyway, the next day Uncle Ben came back with his brother, my father, and said, “I want you to meet my brother.” And my mother was a
very attractive women, mm, very attractive, and I think she liked him and she set her cap at him and that’s it.
What was the family business?
Retailing, retailing, a big retailing firm, my father had started, my grandfather had started it in Arnhem at the turn of the century, and with my grandmother they had some bumpy patches and then the
Vrooms and the Dreesmans came into it with them, so it was Berentzen, Vrooms and Dreesmans, that was the basis of it. And the firm expanded and the Berentzens, my father was one of nine, and the boys, the men, were taken in time into the firm and became directors. Had an uncle who was a director of the Vrooms and Dreesman firm in Amsterdam. My father when we left Holland was in The Hague, as I think I said earlier. And
they all came through or most of them came through with their training. There was a younger one, a younger brother who didn’t want the family business and he went into hotel business in the north of Holland. That was another story, but a big family and…
What sort of goods were they retailing?
Fashion, more like… My father was in the fashion side of it, but he did his textiles course in Anntraday [?] in Holland as a
boy, a youth, a young man. It was everything really, not so much like our chain stores, it hadn’t come into that, but I was mostly aware of the fashion side of it through my family. So in those days how it actually started yes probably, mostly, clothes, but it was a big retailing firm. It’s still there, Vroom and Dreesman operate very well.
what was your father’s role in London then?
Training with Morley’s and with the associate firms in the UK that my grandfather was associated with to get the training of running that type of business for when he went back to Holland where he took up his posting with Vroom and Dreesman in the Hague, you see before the war. But he also had travelled extensively
in Europe. He spoke four languages fluently: French, Dutch, English, German, four. And I mean he was part of that incredible era in Europe prior to the war when, well he had a great life then of course. And at that stage my grandfather had built it right up from the turn of the century, but you know they were
living comfortably and it was an incredible era in history – a fascinating era to my way of thinking in many ways. He was travelling to France, travelling to Hungary, Germany, you know, he knew Europe.
So how did the romance proceed between your mother and this rich, suave foreigner?
His family were not so happy about the fact when they fell in love and I’m sure they fell in love that he should marry an English lady. And they went through quite some bumpy patches. Ultimately they overcame them. I know one of my
uncles, my father’s favourite brother, the one who is the director of Vroom and Dreesman in Amsterdam, told me when I went back on my visit in 1972 that he went back across the Channel five times to try to talk them out of getting married. Five times! And anyway they did marry and had a wedding in my father’s family home in Arnhem on the Vel ba Vecht [?], that’s where the family home was, and still stands to my knowledge. And
it was a family wedding and that’s what happened, yeah.
Was the problem that was English or she was a shop worker?
A bit of both, Mat. She was English and they had I think in their hearts, certainly perhaps my grandparents had hoped for a Dutch or one of his own kind. She was a shop worker – you were quite right.
She came from a different type of family, if we put it that way, a different sort of family altogether. And she was an extremely independent woman for her own age – for that age – terribly independent. And so all those things combined, mm.
Was it usual in Holland to have weddings at home?
Yes, yes, I don’t think that was unusual from what I can gather. I think that was, and
particularly for them, they were a well-known family and they were a very respected family, and in a way that was expected you know.
Okay, where did they move to after that?
Well as I say they went to live – was it Harlton… Harlem, I think I have it. My sister was born
in Harlem. I’m pretty sure I have that right. And they lived near there. It was rather isolated and my mother found living in Holland at first very difficult because she’d come from the heart of London. She was a London girl and the London she grew up with, the London of the town criers, that she loved so much, you know, Covent Gardens, she found it very, very quiet. I don’t know quite how she
adjusted to that. I know she had quite a lot of nerves trouble. Then my father was transferred to The Hague and life was slightly different there. It was a bigger; it was a city. And I think she adapted more to that. And she didn’t travel with him on his business trips. Although there’s a wonderful story of… She did go a couple of times to Berlin – pre war, obviously – and I always remember her talking about the incredible times in
Berlin and the German officers that used to come in when the build-up to the pre-war situation. Magnificent uniforms – they were known for that. Their superb uniforms, their well-cut attire, how they behaved. She used to talk about their duelling scars that they had on their faces. You know that university duelling that used to go on? A wonderful story about a
nightclub they were at and Marlene Dietrich was there and apparently she took a shine to my father. I know no more than that, but she was bedecked in her magnificent emeralds that she was well known for and she got up and came across to the table. And my mother would’ve behaved in her own way and handled it, I’m sure, very much to my mother’s style. But
Marlene quietly went back later on. But it’s an incredible story if you can visualise it, you know, coming across, descending with her emeralds and everything, you know, mm. But that’s the sort of era and the world they lived in.
And how did you come to be born in Britain?
Well because, oh yes, I’ve missed a thread there, you’re quite right, I’m sorry. Because they were married and went across to London to finish his
training at the stores there then they came back to Harlem and then The Hague, that’s the course it went. And then from The Hague we escaped and came out of Holland – my mother, sister and I.
So how much time did you spend in England as baby?
I think it was about two years.
So you have no real memory of that time?
No, I think I was about two. I think I was about… Maybe not
quite. Yes, round about that, yes.
What are you earliest memories then of Holland?
I can remember sitting on a school bench. I had just started school there – I have a photo of it actually – when I left Holland, I can remember that. I can remember
some of the flashes, excuse me, of the escape from Holland. It’s vague, Mat, a lot of that, it’s vague.
So what do you remember of the escape as a seven-year-old?
As a seven-year-old? Well, my mother has documented it in a… Typed, she
dictated it to somebody who typed it for her and I think that happened on the ship coming out from England, a journalist or someone she’d met and she mentioned some things in that that I can remember. One part is my father – we were in the back – my sister and I were in the back of the car and told to crouch down. I can remember that he had a DeSoto car – I think it was grey – and I can remember at times that feeling
and seeing that – the seats above me, that’s vague, but I can remember it and there’s one part she writes about how the planes were overhead and my father was worried that we would be well and truly hit because he was trying to get us from The Hague to Rotterdam. And she mentions how he swerved the car, swung it round, almost turned us over to get us under a tree away from the… out of view a bit. And I can remember some of that.
It’s vague. You know they say one blots out the things in one’s memory that perhaps you don’t want to remember or that are too painful or too difficult. I think sometimes that’s true, but I can remember that. There’s a vague shadow of that you know, over towards the tree. It’s odd, but yeah.
Have you any memories of what emotions were around you at that time
from your parents?
Oh tremendous emotion, yes I know that much, and I sometimes think now that I’m older a lot of that does return at times in different way. Yes tremendous emotion. I remember that. And particularly when my father got us to Rotterdam and I still have in my – a picture I do have – I was very close to my father, I was fond of my father and
I remember, you know how they wore those trench coats in that era. I can see him in that coat and I can see the hat. Now I’m almost sure he was wearing his hat – he wore his hat a lot. I have a photo of that. And yes that does… And when I went back in the ’70s on my own – I had been back before with family, but I went on my own to try and relive a lot of that and see those
parts – I was very conscious of that image, yes. I was well what, about seven, yes. Eight.
Do you recall any sense of fear from your parents or…?
My parents? Yes perhaps, perhaps I do. When we got to London in my mother. I can remember Slatridge then
I remember going to church with her in a church. She made four English friends, she stayed with English friends when she got over there and I remember going to a church with her and she took us inside, my sister and I, she said, “Now we must say some prayers.” We’re Catholic. My father was a big Catholic family and my mother became Catholic to marry him. That was another thing my grandparents were against. She was not a Catholic. And
I remember her taking us to the church and, fear yes, I can remember her grasping our hands, that comes to mind, yes.
What do you recall then of those that leaving of Holland from Rotterdam?
Mostly… I suppose confusion perhaps more than anything. If you ask me now, confusion
I think Matt, yes. I have press clippings. We made the British press when we arrived and there’s a photograph of my mother and I, a couple there in the front pages. Churchill’s time of course, obviously, and looking at my mother’s face in those photos I can see what she had gone through – a most incredible pain on her face. My face is a sort of a
blank, slightly blank look, which yes… The confusion I suppose, because see my sister’s nearly three years younger than I and a lot of this she doesn’t remember much at all in that regard. Neither do I, but it’s there in the subconscious somewhere, I expect.
How did you get from Rotterdam to England?
The last boat, or the refugee
boat that my father had got us to. The captain was taking refugees, particularly British subjects, who wanted to get out fleeing from the Germans. My parents had picked up, or my father had gone to pick up, another British couple who lived near us in The Hague and stowed them in the car with the luggage or something, and he got us to – this is all in my mother’s documented wordage too – and he
got us to the… But my mothers was a very determined person. She kept pushing on about what she felt she had to do and she felt she had to get us out. And they got through the red tape and got to the captain and my father apparently pleaded with the captain to still get us on board, and finally it was agreed. And he came back and
told my mother yes, they would take us. And my mother had thought you know she had this thing about seafaring men had big hearts – now that would go back to her father’s time you see – and he agreed to take us and we went on board and my father apparently stayed with us till the afternoon. I can’t remember any of that. Then my mother was on her own with us. And then she
writes quite clearly about how the captain – who must’ve been an incredible man – they were flying over, they had dropped bombs, they thought they would get us getting through the Hook of Holland [ferry port] across… And we were in life jackets apparently, and they would’ve been those old-fashioned Mae West type ones. You know the sort? And she does write that, “My
children were very, very good. They were so quiet although there was terrible sound going on everywhere and things were happening.” And she writes –t his is before they got on the boat – how one of the men said, “Did you see that?” And she said, “No I was talking to my children.” And then afterwards she said, “I’m pleased I didn’t see it,” because a plane had gone past and the petrol tank had exploded and the side of the plane had fallen
out. And they were like skeletons. They were sitting there they’d all be incinerated you see. So this was going on all around us I mean, plus we’d been through the bombings and the dropping of the parachutes driving across from The Hague and the boat itself, the captain of the boat, had at one stage doused the lights to try and keep us away and it… We were all huddled in midships.
My mother had taken us to a cabin at one stage to pray because she says in her typed writing that she thought, “It was better than my girls went quietly down in the water than anything else to happen.” Anyway the
captain, brave man, incredibly got us through and he got us out of it and he dodged it across the Channel. She writes at the end, “Bravo captain, Bravo captain. We didn’t even get the chance to thank you,” you know. so there you are.
According to your mother’s account, do you know the name of the ship?
No Matt, I do not.
I’ve thought of how to try, that’s one thing I haven’t managed to track through. I’ve got an awful lot of records and dates and information, a tremendous amount of stuff. As you said earlier, it’s like a little museum, but I believe it was a Batavia Line boat. The Batavia Line were the cross-Channel steamers of that era and I believe it was a Batavia Line. I know no more than that.
Why did your father remain behind?
Because he was Dutch and
my mother was of English birth. She had, and I think I’m correct in this, because she married a Dutchman she had acquired Dutch nationality, but she still had her British nationality and she had felt that because she was British she should get out of Holland with the girls, you know. They had seen it coming you see, they’d known, or my father had because in 1939 he had
applied for a landing permit for himself, wife and two children to come to Australia, because as I said my mother’s parents were here. But that, through bureaucratic delays, bungling, you name it, was too long delayed and that all came to the fore some years later when my father finally arrived here. And the way he came
to Australia through governmental sources which ended up with an open file on my father, which is still an open file, would you believe it, down in Canberra – I have copies of all that. But I’m sorry. That question? You said how did my father…?
I said why did he remain behind?
Why did he remain, because he was Dutch and the captain wouldn’t take him, so that was the tragedy of that.
And my mother… We said goodbye to him with Rotterdam in flames behind him. And he said he was going back to the house in The Hague. I think, I haven’t got it noted down, I think he made that. I think he did it because I have some things from that family home, particularly a statue of Our Lady, a Leadame which is a family treasure that my father gave to his family who were left behind, who looked after certain things while he made his escape to get to
And you said that according to your mother’s account they’d seen German paratroops and so on on their drive across?
Oh yeah, yeah, all dropping and trying to and… Yes, apparently. I mean if I could read you part of that it would make more sense, but that’s the story that we certainly know of from our childhood we’ve grown up with it. Oh yeah, they were… Holland was definitely… They were there, mm.
And obviously from documentation you know your family had already planned to get out of Holland?
Yes ’39 that started. I have that on file, in his file from official governmental letter, yes.
What other family did you leave behind in Holland then?
All my father’s family. His mother, father, brothers, sisters. They all, with the
exception of an uncle and the husband of an aunt, managed to get through the war there and went through the whole lot. The uncle died. He was in the underground during the war and in fact he died oddly and sadly enough while we were there in 1948 after the war, when we went back to see them, of kidney
problems. He had eaten tulip bulbs during the war. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that, but some of them did, not realising then that they were highly poisonous, and that had some effect obviously on him. And he was the one who did not join the family firm, but he… My grandfather helped him into a hotel in Inervailder which is right in the north of Holland on the lakes. Beautiful place. We saw the hotel when we were there. And yes, his health gave out and
he died. And the other, the uncle, was shot by the Germans on a train in Holland. I don’t know a lot about that, but that happened there. He I think was of German background the uncle, but then our family had German background. My grandfather was born in Germany, my father’s father, and I’ve traced a lot of that back. It’s even further north. Originally the Berentzen name goes further north I think, Prussian I think, or something like that.
So now your mother has arrived with you and your sister, what port did you arrive at?
No sorry, in England? From Holland?
Oh, London, I’m not a 100% sure on that one where the boat took us to. Heavens above! Where would the cross-Channel steamers have gone? I’d have to check on that.
And what did she do with you guys when you arrived in England?
contact with these friends of hers and my father’s – a couple called, of all things, Arthur and Dorothy London. They were wonderful people apparently, great friends of theirs from their time in England. And they took us in and we stayed with them. And she then set about making all her contacts with the business people. Morleys and Bentors was another firm that my mother and father had, through my father’s family, had great big
connections with. They were great bit chain stores, oh not chain stores, but you know, fashion houses and stores. And she went to ask them for help. She got some help from them. She managed to get some clothes, some money advanced – the letters are in my file. And with the guarantee that she would or that the money would be ultimately settled somehow, they decided to help her.
She decided then that she wouldn’t go to Scotland and that she would aim for Sydney where her parents were.
Why was Scotland on the cards?
Because of this connection. It was either family or very good friends. I think it was family of my mother’s who lived there who had helped them a lot when my parents had first met and who they were quite close to. And because my father had originally,
when he said goodbye at Rotterdam, said, “Take the girls to Scotland to this person. Stay there and I will be able to reach you. I will get out of Holland somehow and I’ll come over and join you in Scotland. Scotland will remain neutral,” which it did, but I mean she decided not. Now somehow she tried or she did contact the Red Cross and she kept them informed that she was going to try and get to Australia,
because that trail my father picked up somehow and that’s what ultimately enabled him to know where we were so that he could make his escape from Holland to join us in Australia. But she decided then that she would get to Australia and wouldn’t do what he’d said and go to Scotland. So she got herself, us a passage on the Orontes through
I think, obviously some sort of contacts and help she had there. And I mean she knew her people. She was quite a positive person. And we were on board that together. Now my mother had one bunk and my sister and I shared the bottom bunk. I remember that; I have quite definite memories of that. And we sailed from Southampton not long after arriving from Holland. The dates I could
tell you if you’re interested.
Was it weeks or months after you arrived?
Oh good heavens no! It was only weeks. It was a very short period and we got out. Now the ship… It was a remarkable voyage because there we have another captain, his name I can tell you, his name was Captain Fox. I have the passenger lists that has our names clearly on it and I’m almost sure
we came via Cape Town. That is not recorded, but I have a memory of Tabletop Mountain. Now I’ve seen tables, we all have, Tabletop Mountains in documentaries and films, but the memory is not from a film I can remember looking across. The reason was, and I’m sure this was it, I know we dodged submarines, U-boats [Unterseeboots – German submarines] all the way out and the captain had to zigzag. And Suez would’ve come into from my
memory too you see, he probably would’ve had to go via Cape Town, would he not, I think without checking on that. So I do know it was quite a harrowing trip because of the U-boats until we were out of their zone. I can remember going on deck and seeing the wonderful phosphorous and the flying fish. The swimming pool
was an art in itself, I can remember that very clearly. They’d rigged up a huge, or they had a massive wooden square structure on the aft deck and filled with a huge canvas – I can see it as I speak – a huge canvas filling. And then the sailors had roped this all around and that was
filled with salt water and we could climb and hop in there. So we did have a swimming pool on deck. Nothing like the modern ones, but I’m sure it was a lot more fun. And…
Interviewee: Marianne Berentzen Archive ID 1638 Tape 02
Were you aware that you were escaping? Did you realise the gravity of the situation when you left England?
When we left England if I think about it yes, I do believe, yes, I would’ve then been aware of it because I can remember some anxiety in my mother, on the ship, very much, and things one remembers like clutching your hands and things like that you know.
Yes I would’ve been aware of that. And an interesting thing I have just remembered, I sleep-walked. One of the sailors found me on deck in the middle of the night once or twice and took me straight, you know, back to mother. And said, “She was sleep walking.” And that is disturbance as we know, or can be. And that I remember my mother telling me that
years later too, when we talked about it. She said, “You were sleep walking on deck.” And what woke me up apparently was the coldness of the deck, and that’s when one of the officers or somebody found me, and so I must’ve been aware of it all. I expect my mother protected us from a lot of it because a lot of the things I didn’t perhaps hear till later, like one of the things was my mother had a huge pat of her jewellery stolen. When she left
The Hague she grabbed what she could in the house, what money there was in the house and jewellery, and she sewed a lot of it into her underwear. And she talks about this in her notes and she also says that she – very emotional about it – and she said even thinking about the big bowl of tulips like mine here today, that they had only been picked in the fields you know a little while beforehand. But
the jewellery which she had taken was in the hold, in luggage in the hold. They’d managed to get some luggage and the few things we’d gone with, had left with, had all gone into the luggage. Now they jemmied that open. Now how they knew she had it, or why or whether they were just scavengers, and that’s probably what it was, going through these poor people’s stuff, but they stole some of that jewellery and she ended up with what she had on her
hands. On her, you know. So I do… I was not aware of it at the time but I remember her talking about it after. See she went through all of those things and a lot of that would probably have reacted on us. But she was a person who kept very much her things to herself too, and she handled it differently. See these notes I speak of she dictated to somebody on board at the time. Now I have a memory of that when she told me about
because I remember on deck, and you know how liners in those days were different? I mean now they’re floating hotels, but then they were really ships. And I have this memory. I can see the deck and I can see a little table with one of those old-fashioned typewriters. And it’s all typed and my mother didn’t type. And I know she had a friend on board. There were so many refugees and people fleeing, you know on board. But she… I remember there was talk of a
journalist and talk of an actor who subsequently came to Sydney and they were friends, so something like that was all typed out. And I mean she was aware of all this and asked him to do it, no doubt, while it was still fresh in her mind.
You were describing the swimming pool on the back deck of the ship. Can you continue that description?
Well I can very clearly see it, as I said earlier,
as I speak. Tall, it was how high – see when you’re eight years old it’s awfully hard. It was taller than me cause I remember the sailors had to help us up the ladder or something to get into it. And then centre was just… It was this canvas it would’ve been. It wouldn’t have been plastic in those days. Centre bit, that was into the square pit
of it and all lashed to the wooden structure. And then we got in and swum in it. And the sun at that time, I can see it coming across because I’m very much an elements person and I’m also a little bit of an adventuress, shall we say, and I do remember I went in – I remember that much. It was just… And it was up against the railings. I can see the railings behind it the back
of it. And we were standing here, yeah. And it was on that aft part of the deck because I can see the decking and the corking in between.
Did many people swim in it?
I think so, yes. I think the children… See there were a lot of children on board too, Kirsty [interviewer], and I’ve always been one… I do communicate fairly well with people and I do know I made friends with a few of them there. I remember that. And
I remember going to movies on board. They had movies on board in the big dining room and I can remember sitting there with my mother and my sister, cause she was a fair bit younger than me. But one movie particularly I remember, and I remember seeing it there, it was an actor called Sabu [Selar Shaik Sabu] and the movie was the Elephant Boy from memory. I think it was called the Elephant… He was the Elephant Boy. No it was a Rudyard Kipling one I think [it was a 1937 adaptation of his The Jungle Book]. But Sabu was the actor and
whenever that is written up in historical things I think I remember seeing that on the Orontes. And the room was dark and it was in the dining room because they’d moved all the tables back, and I remember the darkness and the movies came up and of course it was wonderful. It took our minds off everything too, of course, you know. And we went in there and children… And the cabins – they were small. I remember it was quite small and as I say, my sister and I shared a bunk. We probably had feet to feet you know. Yeah, we did. I remember that. And
mother was in the top one.
Do you remember any storms while you were on the ship? Rough weather?
I can remember high seas. I can very well remember high seas and the ocean like that, which I like anyway because I am a sailor. Yes I do remember that and I can clearly remember being taken up over to the rails one
night, it would’ve been my mother I’m sure, watching the phosphorous. That was incredible. You know, the phosphorous off the waves? And oh there was one conversation, I remember somebody saying, “Oh, we hit a whale.” Yes that’s in mind, I can remember that, I can’t remember seeing it or anything like that, but you know as a child it’s different, isn’t it? Memories come and go so quickly.
Do you remember
playing any games to pass the time with the other kids?
Games, let me think for a minute. We had books, yeah my mother had books and she probably would have got them from the barber shop. There was a barber’s shop on board. We had books, I’ve always been a book person anyway. Yes, we did have books. My sister and I would sit with books. Games in particularly – oh snap, that’s right, there was a card game, snap, and I have a feeling they were all these little figures
from a Walt Disney movie. Yes they were, I’m almost sure that we played snapped with. That rings a bell. Tiddlywinks was one, cause that went on when we came back – when we finally arrived in Sydney. Really, compared to the things that children play now with it was incredibly basic you know, those sorts of entertainment things. But I can’t remember a lot of… There was no problems or
nastiness or anything like that. No, no major things. But it was a fairly long voyage. It was about six weeks in those days. So it doesn’t… I mean in Cape Town, I’m not sure we couldn’t go ashore. Positive, I’m almost positive we came through Cape Town.
Do you remember anywhere else that you may have stopped on the way?
No, I can’t tell you Kirsty, I can’t tell you.
The only thing… I suppose I could find that out. I must do that one day, go down to post office and see if they have any more back records in there to find exactly if there is anything on the Orontes because, being war time, I have a feeling we may not have stopped much because all they wanted to do was get out of range of the U-boats, I know that. And I know he zigzagged. I remember that was well known to avoid them. And no more that my mother has said, and she didn’t document anything more on that, no.
What about arriving in Australia? Tell us your first memory of that?
I can remember that very well. I can remember that clearly. We came in through the [Sydney] Heads and my mother took us up on deck and the bow of the ship. I can see it. We must’ve been near the bow, yeah, it would’ve been. And that’s when my love affair with Sydney started actually, diamonds on the water. Yeah I can remember that
very clearly. She took us up there and we… Yes, it was not a completely clear day. There were shafts of light across the [Sydney] Harbour, I’m always aware of that. I love the water and these diamonds on the water, yeah and we came in down the Harbour and we would have, well whether it was Walsh Bay or Darling Harbour I cannot swear because I don’t know, but I think
I think it may have been Walsh Bay. That’s easy enough to find out. I should do that because most of those ships went to set berths then. And we came in and the boat pulled up, yes, and the gangway… I can remember looking down that gangway. And we got to the gangway and Aussie soldiers were there in their khakis and you know the uniform of that era of the Second World War and that wonderful slouch hat, which we all
love. And I remember one of them picking me up and saying, “You’re safe now.” I do remember that. I do remember that. Real Aussie, you know.
Where did you go when you first arrived?
Oh well that was bit of a story too. My granny and grandpa were there to meet us. Now they had retired. They were living as retired couple in a little weatherboard house at Engadine outside of
Sydney. I don’t know if you know Engadine. It’s now become an enormous place, but then it was an incredible little place of dirt roads and you know quiet little houses. And they had come to meet us and they were there. Now they had arranged a taxi to take us to Engadine where you know we would be with them in their house, that’s the three of us. And I know that we got into the
taxi and my mother – cause Engadine’s a fair way out of Sydney and my mother couldn’t handle the bush because she had this – she had incredible phobias from what she’d been through. Now they remained with her, while we grew up with that, most of our youth actually, sometimes hard to live with.
What phobias were they?
This particular one was associated definitely with the war and the experience. She had this thing that Germans
were going to jump out of the bush at her, you see. And I do know she said to my grandfather, “No, no, no, I have to get back to Sydney. I have to get back in with people,” and had to come back. God knows how they managed to pay for it all, but my grandparents probably did somehow. And we spent our first night in a hotel at the top of Kings Cross where it is, is still there. It’s… You know how Kings Cross has now
all changed? But we were in virtually in one room from memory. I think my grandfather went back to the house and my granny, my mother and sister and I spent our night there right at the top of the [Kings] Cross, which was an incredible place in that era anyway. And then ultimately I have no idea what happened the next day or what after that, but I have the memory of being in that one room because I remember granny being there with us. I
can see her in the room. And then… I don’t know after that whether we went back the next day or something to Engadine. I don’t think we did because we ended up in flats in Elizabeth Bay. And then the bones of it my mother managed to use the jewellery she had left as a security with a bank manager there, and started a small business in Darlinghurst Road in a gown shop, a remarkable little gown and jewellery… And we
had a flat in Elizabeth Bay. Now I know that all happened so the mechanical workings of it and that it is recorded. I know she didn’t have much money and all that. I’ve got all that information. yeah. so that’s how she somehow got going before my father arrived.
Tell us about your mum’s gown
Right, mother’s… She opened it… You’ll have to visualise that era, which was 1940, of the war with Americans and you know interesting people. It wasn’t anything like it is now around there and it was very cosmopolitan. Europeans all over the place. Some of the Sydney art scene you know it was an incredibly interesting place. And now she
bought this little gown shop and it was called Patches and it had a neon sign outside hung up with little patches on it and the word Patches. And it was almost on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Macleay Street on the left-hand side going down. I think there’s a food shop or something there now, just like the El
Alamein Fountain is there now. Well the little shop was just there and she did well with it, extremely well, because she catered to that type of population. And she had very good taste and she had lovely gowns in there, and she also had some jewellery. And the thing that was very popular at the time was what was called Barbola work. People of that era
will remember. It was hand made with a sort of, I don’t know what they made it from, a type of, I honestly don’t know, it wasn’t clay or anything, but they were… Everybody wanted Barbola earrings and things, so you know the soldiers would come in and spend money on their girlfriends and so on, and it was that sort of an atmosphere. It was exciting. I can remember that as a child. It was interesting. And I was always interested in people and
watching and observing anyway, so it was part of that part of my youth, but she’d managed to get us a flat in Ithaca Road, I don’t know if you know Ithaca Road in Elizabeth Bay, on the right-hand side in this block which was right behind the Elizabeth Bay Park. This wonderful old Mansion Boomerangs there which you’ve probably heard a lot about. And then there’s the park and you go up Ithaca Road and then there’s these
flats. The flats are still there. I’ve been and had a look at them. And that’s where we were. And she also managed to get us into school at Elizabeth Bay, which was an incredible feat actually. And then by the time my father finally arrived here she had all this under way and yet it was all going on.
What did she sell in the gown shop?
jewellery, it was a small... it was little, you’d call it a boutique now. It was quite small and at the back was a little section with a curtain where you could sit and where, you know, she would have a cup of coffee or something when she stopped. And when we were all at school we would go up and wait there for her to finish before we went home you see. Because when my father arrived we moved out of that flat and then we had a small flat for a period
in Greenaugh Avenue just around the corner off Macleay Street in a block which was then called ‘Texas’. Of course playing to the Yanks [Americans]. It’s now called ‘Tara’. Still there a huge block and it was virtually a bed sitting room. We all lived in that with the bed bunks and the little kitchenette and the living and eating area there as you walked into it., but it had been... It was brand new. We had one of the first flats in it, they managed to get a small flat
in it and that’s where we lived for a period. I can remember that well because there were Americans everywhere, there were parties in the flats and I made friends with a girl who was living in the flat and we’d sort of walk up and observe all this... You learnt quite a bit of life, sometimes quite quickly.
What do you mean by that?
Seeing how they lived and the fun of their world and the
fragility of it all. Tremendous fragility, live for the moment because we don’t know what’s going to happen. And the girlfriends and their guys, and the Americans in their beautiful uniforms, and I’m jumping in time a wee bit now. But also the problem there was a lot of rivalry between
the Yanks and Aussies because the Australians used to miss out a bit. I mean the Yanks sometimes pinched their girls and that. And there were fights, you know, it went on – we all know that. And of course the Australians I think, I think I’m correct in this, they were not anywhere near as well paid as the Americans. And I mean the Americans had a bit of money and the show and, you know, you saw a bit of that. And then the girls and their fashions and very high stilt
shoes, I always remember that a lot.
What else did they wear?
What were the clothes like? A lot of them wore little tight-fitting jackets and tight skirts. The fashions of that era were very different to the loose-fitting easy things we wear now. Everything was more formal, much more formal, gloves, bags, hats often, yeah hats. I mean if you went to the Australia Hotel
oh very dressed up, you had to be just right, you know. It was all much more formal, Kirsty, yeah much more formal.
And tell us about the Americans in the Cross [Kings Cross]. What do you remember about them?
I remember seeing them, they were very friendly, wonderfully friendly, very good as… With children they were, you know, they’d talk to you very freely and easily. They seemed to enjoy... They were happy, they were quite happy.
They would come into the shop and the ones that I can remember in those days that I did see there were yeah, they were very friendly. The girls were happy with them they had fun, but a lot of easy come, easy go attitude, feeling and attitude. It was an era of… What can I say? An era of excitement
it was, you were constantly feeling. I remember stuff was exciting. Things were happening, things were going on. The refugees in the Cross, the coffee shops. There was much talk in different sorts of languages. The shops were starting to cater for more interesting things and… When we first arrived, I mean we were oddities because, you know, we were from Holland. People wanted to know what
it was like there and do they still wear clogs everywhere? It was that sort of thing. Interest, great interest in us. And my mother had us dressed in outfits we escaped in, it was a grey coat, they were identical outfits. I never liked being dressed identically but that’s the way it was. Beautifully made in this grey worsted material. And she’d had us made somehow way back
kilts in, they were properly made in Scottish style. And as you probably know, when you make a kilt it takes yards and yards of material because they have to fall correctly so they swing when you walk, you see. And this was the Black Watch tartan we had. And she had two identical Black Watch tartan kilts and she put us in those. And then we had little hats, these little sort of caps to match that went with the same material as the coats.
And people were incredibly intrigued by all of this because it was different, I guess. It was different. And they’d ask about it, you know. I always remember those kilts. I still have my kilt pin actually. But, yeah, the difference. And we were... Our cooking was... when later on when we got older was different, and of course Australian, then was devon and sausages and
oh, heavens above, all the basics that hadn’t… We hadn’t arrived yet at what the shops and delicatessens have now. I mean it was nothing like that, nothing at all. And they thought we were strange. I always remember my father trying to cook sausages, that’s the memory I have. Mother was at the shop and we were in this little flat I told you about in Greenaugh Avenue and he had to cook us lunch, and he was going to cook sausages and gravy and he’d run into trouble because he wasn’t sure how to cook
the sausages. And he was standing there at the stove and I remember feeling so sorry for him and I thought, “Oh dear,” you know. And he said, “Now what do we do here? Do you know?” I said, “No Pa, I think we do blah blah,” and I was trying to sort of help how I could, and somehow he got the sausages and the mashed potatoes and gravy together, but it was foreign to him, you know, it was something he didn’t know anything much about at all. We did it all and we had our lunch, but the vision of him, I can see him against the light and I remember feeling so sorry.
I thought, “Oh dear, I can’t help you,” you know. Funny memory, isn’t it? Yeah.
What was your English like?
Quite good because we were brought up bilingually. We spoke English and we spoke Dutch. I still do speak Dutch. I’m not fluent but I can make myself understood and I’ve kept that up. And in my youth in the home as we were growing up in Sydney, when, you know, later years
and certainly in Melbourne, we lived in Melbourne for a period, we... My father had a ruling that we spoke Dutch at the dinner table. And I didn’t like this. I hated this because I wanted to be like my friends and my mates and I didn’t want to. This business was making me a bit odd. And of course I realise why and now I’m very proud of it and I’m not a bit like that at all, I’m extremely proud of it. But in those days I was a child and you see it differently
then of course, you see.
Before your father arrived you must’ve had a bit of time to yourselves while your mother was working in the shop, what did you do after school?
Oh yes, well we did. I can remember she had made friends, and I think was before my father arrived, with a wonderful lady called Pauline Lyon – she became Aunty Pauline. She lived in a flat in Elizabeth Bay Road and I remember her taking us to movies.
And I think this was just before or just after my father, I know it would’ve been just before, and I remember her taking us to one movie particularly at Double Bay at the picture theatre there, and it was Diana Durban. Have you heard of Diana Durban? She was an actress of that era and a beautiful voice. And a 100 Men and a Girl or something it was called. Crazy title, isn’t it? But it was with the symphony orchestra. She sang with the Symphony Orchestra, you see. Yes I can remember going to Double
Bay with her she did things like that. We also had a girl who looked after us in the flat in Elizabeth Bay when we were in the flat there in the cul-de-sac, but I think this was after my father arrived, however, not sure, think so. And her name was Miss Lloyd and she was of Irish background and she made incredible mashed potatoes. And my mother said, “Oh the Irish can always cook potatoes,” you know, and
anyway we get her to make mashed potatoes, but she also took us to movies. At the State Theatre, the marvellous old State Theatre. Going there to see a Nelson Eddy movie. So I grew up very much in that era. But then that era, as you probably know, it was movies. There was no television. Radio, movies, and that was a very big part. So I grew up loving that side of the world, you know, those things in the world like the movies, the actors a bit unreal a little bit
unreal at parts, but then later on that changed because that’s what we were all doing even as teenagers. I mean you all went to your Saturday movie or whatever and it became part of it.
What about the coffee shops in Kings Cross, can you describe them?
Yes, isn’t that hard to describe them, but they were… Everybody smoked in that era of course. My father was a heavy smoker of cigarettes, his family were big cigar smokers, but you’d go in and
there was lots of... I can remember cigarette smoke everywhere. And there was a Carl’s Restaurant at the Cross and they were also all over Sydney. They were a chain of restaurants that as we were growing up were very, very popular. You’d go there for your special treats from school and if you passed your exams you’d take friends and your parents would take you out for a lunch or for afternoon tea – made beautiful caramel cake and chocolate cake, beautiful. Now there was one of those
at the Cross where we used to go. There was... You asked for coffee shops, but there were all sorts of shops down Darlinghurst Road. Henry Wolf was the butcher who had a marvellous butcher shop, if you go up Darlinghurst… Like mother’s shop was here on the bottom near El Alamein Fountain now, and you went towards the main section of the Cross on the left-hand side, Henry Wolf’s enormous butchery. The trams
ran up that section. I mean they’ve all long gone. So we went by tram everywhere up along that section and down William Street. And Henry Wolf’s, people would come for miles to get their meat at Henry Wolf. Now mother used to buy our meat there. And I remember going in the shop with her – it was big and very impressive – and I remember in later years her saying, “I didn’t have much money, but I’d buy a couple of chops for you two and I wouldn’t have chops that night,” you see it was like that. Then
there was Bert’s Milk Bar, I think that was still, yes that was there. Milk Bars. Was it Woolworths [supermarket]? I think it was the Woolworths store in those days that was still there, coffee shops down from there, coffee shops on the other side. They were smallish, people would cram in talk abut the war, I remember all that, coffee. The Europeans loved coffee, a lot of them, as you know.
It was very cosmopolitan, Kirsty, yeah.
What nationality of people ran these places?
Oh you ask me that, now that’s hard to say. I’d have to look up the history books on that. The coffee shops that I remember… Yeah, I can’t actually answer that, it was probably, whether they were Austra… There was a chocolate shop, I remember that was there from way back, and they were
European so I think they were probably pre-war Europeans out here. I think at a guess there because the Cross changed, as you know, so terribly much from the ’40s through to the ’60s ’70s and then on to what now. And the drug scene started. So its gone through these stages. But there were no drugs then, it was nothing like that, and it was just a different feeling everywhere. They
certainly opened up avenues for the European. They catered much more in those years. They started aiming their business at the European. The influence as the refugees came in in the war and the Americans, of course. The Americans were big spenders, huge spenders. Incredible spenders. I mean they were known for that.
Were there any places around the area that were out of bounds to you that you weren’t allowed to go to?
We were always told now, you know, the old thing – don’t talk to strangers, don’t do this, and don’t go here. And my mother was fairly strict, however, I know in the days when we were living in the flat that was in the cul-de-sac in Elizabeth Bay
I had friends in all these little blocks of flats because they were like us – a lot of them had migrated or whatever it was or come out because of the war. And it’s a smallish park there in the centre, delightful spot, it’s still beautiful and the school we ended up at, Kincoppal [now Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart], is just in that section of it. And then opposite were all these flats, and a lot of those buildings are still there, so I’d chat on and then I’d go into their flats
and get talking and their mother’s would take us under their wings. But then mother would always say, “Where have you been?” you see. And this would go on, so it was pretty strictly controlled. And she would get to know the parent or the parents and we’d sometimes go for tea and that. I had a friend, a particular friend, she’s still a dear friend in what is still there Adearum Hall, massive building, and she had a flat or she and her parents had a flat up higher than we were on this little block there
and we’d wave to each other across the balcony. But I cannot remember ever being completely forbidden. And I was one of those people that did tend to explore a lot. Some of things that I guess I did in those days which are nothing now, but I’d want to see this street or I’d want to go down and talk to somebody, I’d just go if mother was busy with cleaning up or something. But there wasn’t much danger. You could do it then. I mean we could sit in the park all morning, which we
often did. I mean there was one little girl called Gillian Old, she’s a good friend of mine, and we would sit there and play in that park in the centre and there were no problems because the flats were nearby and there didn’t seem to be that feeling now where you’ve got to watch everything the children do. It was much more open. In fact a free existence. I think the wonderful freedom of Sydney in my early youth and my teenage years was something extremely special. It was
very Australian and very wonderful. It was really. I mean the first... Actually I’ve jumped here now. I have missed a very important part because when we very first arrived we didn’t first go to Elizabeth Bay, we went to Bondi, and this has just brought it back. We went to stay for a short period at the Astra Hotel at Bondi and our first Christmas was spent at Bondi on Bondi Beach. My first, I do remember now I’ve jumped,
I’m sorry if I… But that’s what’s happened there. And Astra was full of refugees, full of them. And we all got together and that is where you ask about things out of bounds, there were things out of bounds – we weren’t allowed to go to people’s rooms there, we had to be careful, my mother wanted to know who we were with, I do remember that. Now we weren’t there that long because whatever they were
charging my mother couldn’t afford it, and she would’ve headed to Bondi because of Bondi Beach and her association with it in the 1924 era when she first came here and her parents were living in Glenair Avenue. And the Astra… And we moved from the Astra across the road, and I don’t believe it’s there any more, to a hotel right on the point above the Bondi Baths. So we looked out on Bondi Beach from the window
down on the baths across up to North Bondi. And that view is still special in my head because as I speak I can see it out that window and that’s beautiful. The baths, I love the Bondi old baths. I hate the fact that they’ve remodelled them. And Bondi Beach was free and open. That’s what reminded me was the free and open life - it was just so magnificent. And we just... That’s where it all started – my love with the surf and my love with the Australian way of life
and that has never left me. And I mean my teenage, a lot of my misspent youth and teenage years was on Bondi Beach, believe me. So it’s all part of that. Yeah, lovely memories those actually. But that first Christmas, I remember going down… I remember mother waking us up. It was a small room and she’d somehow got together some stockings and there books in it, again books came into it, I remember she had books in the bottom of the stockings, yes,
had us reading books. So we were down on Bondi... I certainly remember being with... It was a boy and girl from memory, certainly a little boy, yes. He tried to shatter my belief in Santa Claus. That’s right, because I said, “Oh, it’s Santa Claus, it’s Christmas and Santa Clause has been.” “Oh there’s no such person,” I remember this little horror saying that, that’s there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, yeah.
Do you remember where the other refugees came from?
A lot of English, I think they were English, but mostly European. I have to think hard now… She hasn’t documented this, you see, unfortunately, and I know we were there, but were there English, not much Dutch from memory. See the Dutch people, as you probably know, have integrated into Australian society much more rapidly
and much more freely than a lot of the other nationalities that they don’t... There’s no ghettos. There’s no... They just get here get on with it and go and get their worlds together, you know. And they’re not a cliquey, so much a cliquey thing, you know. They’re very forward-thinking people, the Dutch, actually. But there weren’t that many Dutch there as refugees, I don’t think. I know there were English people because I remember
mother making friends with English people, and I know in the Elizabeth Bay days she made friends with a Dutch Indonesian lady, that’s right now. She would’ve come down from... That would’ve been the Japanese situation up north, part of that, but certainly there was a sprinkling. I grew up very opened minded, very… Dealing with most situations
and most people. We weren’t at all contained or kept to ourselves.
What was your treatment like by the staff in the hotel and the Australians? What was your contact like?
Oh interest, great interest, they were always interested to hear and how did you get out here? And you’d tell them the Orontes of course, Australia was still very much an island unto itself and the war hadn’t touched us until Japan came into the war
and we were... We were very... And even then, I mean all through the war, the bombing of Darwin was terrible, but I mean basically Australia had none of the agonies that so many of the other countries have had to go through and so we were a bit of an oddity. But they were very helpful. There was never opposition. I never had any feeling of resentment or
nastiness. However, having said that, in later years the refugee ‘reffo’ word came into existence, which you’ve probably heard of. That’s one word I won’t have said in my presence, ‘reffo’. I hate it because it’s, it was sometimes said, it could be said in a derogatory manner, it could be. And my father had sort of sometimes difficulties when he was
first starting his business with overcoming the Dutch image a lot. I think a lot of people mistake – well they do, they say Dutch are arrogant. It’s proud – they are an extremely proud race. And so it’s something that the integration with the Australian way of life for a person in later life, like he was 40 when he arrived here or a bit more, it’s hard. But
growing up in it as a child as we did, you automatically meld with it because with children there are no barriers, there are very few, very few differences because, as you probably know, it’s all part of the play and the fun together. And they want to learn and you learn from each other, so you grow up and I guess a lot of that is what’s happening in Australia today. But in some areas, but, you know, it’s different for a child to an
adult and my mother did always say that and I think now on it she’s right. She said, “Yes, you have to get there and grow up as part of the country and be part of its culture as a child if you’re going to make it,” and…
Interviewee: Marianne Berentzen Archive ID 1638 Tape 03
What arrangements were made for your education in Sydney?
In Sydney, Matt, when we arrived, before my father arrived my mother had wanted us to go to the Sacre Coeur nuns because my cousins in Holland had been to them. It’s an incredible organisation it was of nuns. They came out and settled in Sydney. They’re part of an organisation
that’s quite unusual, but in the time of Napoleon they were still allowed by Napoleon to teach because he believed in education, although as you probably know in history, he was very much down on it when he got into power. So that’s the story of the Sacre Coeur nuns. Anyway they were in the original Kincoppal at Elizabeth Bay and they also had a sister school at Rose Bay. She wanted us to go to the original one at Elizabeth Bay. She went to Cardinal Gilroy
and said, “What do you think I should do?” because her financial means were not there. He said, “Go and see the Reverend Mother at Kincoppal, she may well help you.” My mother did that, having talked with him, and they took us free of charge until my father came and it was a remarkable experience. Magnificent school – it’s no longer there, sadly. It was the original Hughes family home, and you know of the Hughes’s, I’m sure. And that’s
the family that comes through from Robert Hughes, etc., etc. And it was right on the point. And we were privileged to go to school. I do say privileged. I always still feel I was very lucky to have had as my beginning at that point because there was no high rise and the school... The old original building that was the Hughes family home was occupied by the nuns with the stables and all
that was still there. I mean not the horses and all that, but I mean they converted that and the school building as built next to it. And my classroom certainly when I sat for my Intermediate Certificate, it just looked straight up the Harbour to the Heads and it was just so special. And my love affair with Sydney just went on and on. We had a rock pool at the bottom and that’s where the school got its name from, Kincoppal which in Norse means ‘horse’s head’ shaped like that. And on certain high days
and holidays we were taken down. We were allowed to… High tide, always king tides and high tides you swam in the rock pool and you had your special days. And it was… So yes, so that’s what we had. And we were there well and truly by the time my father arrived.
We’ll just talk about the school a little more, what do you remember of the school regime and the discipline and the lessons?
remember quite a lot and I’m very grateful for it. The nun’s were most gentle ladies. They were remarkable women. They still wore their habits and they had a very special type of dress in those days. Certainly there was discipline, but I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had discipline in my life in all the things I’ve had to handle. It was a very controlled
discipline, it was education. We were taught on a level that to be one’s self more than anything is how I found it and to explore things and your avenues. I’m very grateful to one particular Irish nun who, completely to her I must say, yes, I learnt very much to be myself. She was a remarkable little independent Irish woman.
And those years were very happy. Now we had our education at Kincoppal broken. We were there at first, then the school was evacuated during the war years to Bundanoon and the Americans took over the building. We, my sister and I, went down with the school to Bundanoon, but I was very, very homesick and unhappy there. And I can remember being there and being so, I felt so lost. That’s something I will remember well.
One of the nun’s there, the kindest, kindest nun she was. She would come in at night and she would let me read at night when I shouldn’t have been doing anything to just try and make me feel happier and you know. But anyway my parents took us back from there. In the end they came down and got us back and in the interim my father had… I’m trying to work out the pattern for you here, but he was transferred to Melbourne for the work he was doing at the time. We went to Melbourne, then came
back. And in Melbourne we went to school at their sister school, Sacre Coeur, in Burke Road. When he came back from Melbourne we had a period where we went to school at Manly in Queenscliff, my barefoot days, and that was another experience, and ultimately they wanted us back in Kincoppal. We wanted to get back there and we went back to Kincoppal in Elizabeth Bay. And that is, of course the period long before that was all sold, and the nuns merged with Rose Bay. But
the original Kincoppal was a remarkable time. There’s high rise units there, as you probably know, now.
What do you remember of the lessons and the subjects that you had at school?
I had to learn? Well it was a private school, as you know, not that that makes any difference, but there was certain things which we… French, I did Latin, English,
History, Art – which I loved very much. And I progressed fairly well with it, History all the things, Geography we hand then. Religion came into it of course, but it wasn’t... I never found my religion a heavy thing. I never have all through my life. I’ve never had a problem with my religion, but that’s probably me and the way I am. Yes, it was basically those things. Sport,
tennis, I used to love a good game of tennis and my father was a top tennis player so that helped a bit. We were encouraged to swim as I said there, but not competitively like some these days, but I didn’t need that. I progressed my own way with my surfing and swimming. What else can I tell you? Sport. Certainly things of the mind.
Were you a good student?
Fairly good, a bit rebellious.
What did you perform best in?
History, English and Art, and went as far as the Intermediate Certificate. One of those people who would swot like fury, you know, a week or so beforehand and manage all right and think, “Oh, thank God that’s over,” you know, but got there. And went into 4th Year as it was then. And my parents then had decided to go back to
Europe to Holland to see the family after the war, to see how they were and how they survived, so I was taken out of school at 4th Year, my sister and I, and we went back for our trip. But that’s the stage… I did not do my Leaving Certificate, which now I regret, yes.
You said you were a bit rebellious, how did that manifest?
Oh rebellious, independent, how did it manifest?
Never have been one to greatly love – What’s the word? – restrictions, I suppose. Restrictions perhaps. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t badly so it was... It’s just my nature, I think. I like to work things out for myself, Matt.
Can you recall ever getting into trouble at school?
Not at Kincoppal particularly. They were fairly strict. You had to conform to certain… You
couldn’t… Well here’s an interesting point, you were lined up when you had to go out to get the bus to go home, or however you were going home, you were lined up and you had to wear your gloves and your hat and, you know, it was very much as it was in those days. Now I look back on it I’m not sorry that it was like that, but I’m a traditionalist so, you know, it comes into that way a bit, not that I’d go out in hats and gloves now, but, you know. What I mean, it’s part of... It was automatic. We were there and you took it as being so.
Sometimes you’d rebel against it and think, “Oh, thank goodness. I’ll be so pleased when I’m out of school, the old bitch,” you know. But the world’s a different place when you get out, isn’t it?
What was the uniform?
Pale blue. People used to like it, actually. It was pale dress, cotton, it had to be starched. And as, when I was older, I remember Sunday nights, cause it was a weekly boarding school and we went to weekly boarding there which was another thing, you see. I didn’t like boarding school, but that’s what they decided
they would do. They did have day pupils, but we went to weekly boarding and you’d be at home thinking, “Ooh,” pit in your stomach, you know, ‘Ohh, school again tomorrow, boarding again, oh dear better get…” So you’d be up in the kitchen or wherever the ironing board was up and you’d be dampening your uniform down and ironing it like fury to get the pleats right down the front and all that. Pale blue, Panama hat, pure Panama hat with pale blue,
you know, band. Pale blue underside from memory, I think it was. Stockings, lisle, and being girls we were a bit aware of that, didn’t like that so much at times, but that’s the way it was. And yes and fairly… But it wasn’t an unattractive uniform. I didn’t mind that so much, but by golly I will remember in those days when it was ironing and, “Have you done your uniforms, girls?” mother would say. “Oh yes.” Off we go.
And what was life like in the boarding house?
Well, we had dormitories of course and it was an interesting experience insofar as I always say during the period I boarded, and I boarded in Melbourne too, which was more full board... full-time boarding there, it tends to make you insular, in my opinion. You become self sufficient, very self sufficient. I found that anyway. You rely on your own
resources and your own way. But I would not, well I didn’t ever want my son to go to boarding school, but that was a personal thing. And I wasn’t desperately unhappy, but that’s what I found about it. There weren’t any ‘nasties’. I can’t say I ever with those nuns had any bad experiences in that regard. The dormitories were... The whole school was magnificently kept. And when we first went
there, and this I can remember, and this is when my mother first put us there, somehow we had, I don’t know if she brought them with her, she probably did in our luggage. My sister and I both had camelhair dressing gowns. The nuns were intrigued by this, but I can see us in these camelhair dressing gowns. They had two, the nuns who did the work the sisters, as they were called, who
were responsible for the cooking and the cleaning and the running and the coordination of the school. And then there were teaching nuns. So you had the two sections side by side and it was quite remarkable how it all gelled. It was another era, but that’s how it worked for them. The floors were wooden polished, magnificently kept always. And the teaching nuns had these very soft little shoes, very soft leather.
And one in particular, I can see her now, she used to go, “Tut tut tut tut tut.” And you wouldn’t know she was there and she went like the dickens down these shiny corridors, you know. We had to form ranks, we had no talking in the ranks. “Marianne Berentzen, will you stop talking in the ranks please?” You know, my dear friend at that time, who was a lifelong friend until she died, we had fun as we grew up; we had fun. And we had fun after school and we had fun in the milk bar days and we had fun, but it was yeah…
Weren’t to go to any of those places in your uniform of course, that was strict. Had to be careful in lots of… Yeah.
How many girls were in a boarding dormitory?
Oh, Matt, I can’t tell you exactly. They were little alcoves and they were on the top of that building that they built, I think. And we did look up the Harbour I think from memory as I think back. And the alcoves had curtains all round them and the bed, little stand beside
it and a chair, I’m pretty sure we had a chair and that was about it. And you’d get up and then when you were sort of under control the curtains were pulled back with a sash, and that’s how, you know, with these little alcoves a bit like you see in movies because they’ve researched all that when you see the old movies like the ones I speak of. Yeah, that was all exactly right and they... One of the nuns would sleep at the other end of that dormitory. But lights out, and that was it.
I mean it was pretty straightforward. I can’t say there was any… Boys’ schools, some say, are different. I don’t know.
What did you get to eat?
A big dining room and big pots and these nuns had prepared it all. Cauliflower, it used to always be soggy. Oh, I don’t know, sometimes things didn’t gel. Big refectory table and prayer was said
and then we ate, and it was all once again fairly strictly controlled. What did we get to eat? I’ve got to think back hard now. No such thing as a roast dinner from memory, no, it was nothing like that. It was awfully basic affair. Potatoes would come out in the big pots and then there was a girl who was in charge of the table, I think that’s how it worked, and then she’d help serve it out, yes… No it was... I
have no bad memories again. It was all very basic stuff, Matt, I… It wasn’t anything, on feast days, high days and feast days it was great, then we’d have special food and we’d look forward to that and we’d be allowed to go for our trips down in the grounds and down in the various spots. Down to the rock pool or whatever it was. But it was a certain way you were brought up and that’s the way it was and that’s what my parents wanted. And I’ve travelled quite a few paths since
then, but the basis of it, I’ve never been sorry I had.
I know you were quite young at the beginning of the war, but through those years what contact with boys were you allowed?
I knew you were going to ask that of course. Fairly strict, extremely strict in that respect. My parents were quite strict. They had certain ideas.
They had certain ideas and I had grown up in a pretty free Australia, and if you go to my teenage years now I was used to the Aussie approach and the Aussie freedom of life and to me a lot of the Aussie guys were mates, they were friends and maybe brothers of friends or people you met. And I never, I communicate, I never had any problems. It was just like that. If you went surfing you met up down there, “Hi,
are you after a wave?” or something. Or you’d come back, yeah it was fun. So, but they were strict. They policed it all very strongly actually, my father particularly because he was basically of an autocratic type background. The nuns also were strict. You were watched and, you know, you didn’t sort of get out of line. And once you left that front gate you were carrying the uniform until you got home and you just respect and don’t do
it, you know, what’s the word, don’t let it down. Which is fair enough. And it was like that and of course as time went by we got to meet people. We had parties, the friends had parties and I was privy to some wonderful get-togethers in the evenings, and through that met friends of friends and brothers and it was a pretty good life in that regard.
My father always insisted on picking up anything we went to, picking up after a do or get-together. And I can still see, the poor darling, he had a Holden, one of the first Holdens of the, well not so long of the line at Stack & Company near the Cross there. LH102, was the number plate, and my golly that LH102 would be waiting somewhere around
to make sure they’d pick you up or something. But yes they were fun. Then came the thing, we made our debut. In those days you made your debut, which I made at the Town Hall in Sydney. It was an incredible occasion, I will say that, and from then on life changed somewhat because I went to business college and started work. I didn’t go back to school, you see, after the trip in ’48. My father had wanted me to go back. He said, “I’ll pay for you at university. Do your
Arts and get on with it,” and mmm… I did not want, I wanted to strike out and then my mother said, “Oh well,” and the typewriter was hung around my neck and that was that. Of course now I… Yes I… However one cannot look at life like that. One kicks on and makes something of it.
Going back to the early period when you were at Kincoppal you said you could see the Harbour out of the windows, how was the Harbour then different from today?
Oh so basic and uncomplicated. You could sometimes look up that Harbour and not see a ship there. And there was no high-rise of course, and red roofed houses as you can imagine I’m sure. The bays and inlets, what you could see often were unspoiled in any shape or form, and my wonderful diamonds on the waters were usually there. And the… You’d look… The Intermediate Certificate…
One of... This particular classroom I speak of we’d sit there and were very privileged because there were only 13 of us in the class sat the year. I think it was 13 that sat the year for Intermediate Certificate. Some of my friends may correct me, but I think it was 13. And the windows they were sash windows, yes I’m sure they were sash, and you could look and you’d look straight across Darling Point through to where Rose Bay is and straight out to the Heads. And then if a liner was coming in of course it was a huge,
huge thing. And in those days the Waratah tug... I saw an entry in the paper the other day that the oldest little Waratah tug has been chuffing around , is still chuffing around. Anyway, they’d go out and meet them, get the pilot ship from Watson’s Bay and bring it into the wharves or wherever they were going. But it was a big event. And you’d be told, “Don’t look out the windows, girls,” cause naturally because, you know, you wanted to see what was going on. And then when we went on our trip
in ’48 and we sailed out on the Orontes after she had been reconverted from a troopship to a passenger liner again. See we had the last voyage out with my mother. She was still then a passenger liner, then she became a troopship, then my mother got us on the Orontes going back in ’48 on the first one after the war. And the girls all knew we were going, of course, and they were there, you know, hanging out the windows. You
know, “There goes Marianne! There goes Marianne on the Orontes.” I mean I knew they were waving, but what I’m saying it was a big event that ship was, going up the Harbour. Now of course it’s full of them.
At what point did the school evacuate to Bundanoon?
Oh it would be early ’40s. It would be the period, now somewhere here I do have it there with me…
Bundanoon… Early ’40s… Very early ’40s. And I should’ve looked that date up for you.
Was it perhaps in…
Yes it was very early…
after the Japanese entered the war?
Oh yes, oh goodness yes…
So you’re looking at ’42?
Yes, I’m… Just realised that… Here we go… ‘’48.
So it would be… Bundanoon, here we are, between the period. yes ’40… ’41 to about ’42ish from memory. I mean, you know, my friends would know it exactly and I have it in my old school magazines somewhere, but it was certainly… Oh no, when did Amer... when did Japan come into the war?
Yeah well that makes... That’s right. Then that makes sense, doesn’t it?
So that’s when the Americans... And the nuns, it was a remarkable experience for them because they got it all together and we were evacuated to Bundanoon to a guesthouse there and they set us all up in the school. Did a wonderful job, actually, when I think about it now. And they ran the old…
Sorry about that,
tell us about the move to Bundanoon again, sorry?
About to Bundanoon, the nuns did a remarkable job. They got us all together. They evacuated the school. We went down... They had a guesthouse at Bundanoon which became our school down there then, and because there was no manpower and help was not readily available they did a lot of that work themselves on the land and running the place and growing things. And there’s some terrific old movies in the
school, still there I’m sure, amongst the archives of them doing all that. And yes that’s where we were for a period. Now I became, I know I was terribly homesick. My sister, who was younger, I don’t think she felt it quite so badly. I think she’s said that since. Anyway, we didn’t stay... I can’t tell you exactly how long we stayed, but my parents took us back to Sydney then and then in the interim… I was trying to work it out for you earlier, but my
father had of course arrived and had taken a job with which abbreviated N.I.G.E.O. Netherlands East... Netherlands Indies Government Export Organisation. And I’m almost sure at that period he started in Sydney then he was transferred to Melbourne and we went down to school there during the period they were there. And we were put to school, the Sacre Coeur School in Burke Road Melbourne before he came back
Were you in Sydney the night the Harbour was attacked?
Yes, we were, I’m sure we were. I’m sure we were. I think… Now were we already living back in... Matt, I can’t remember it vividly, and yet I think we were in Watson’s Bay then. We were already back in Watson’s Bay, were we not? What was
the date of the attack? Don’t know. No I’m not quite sure. I haven’t got it… I know we were, I know that... I well remember the boom gates across the Heads, you know, for the subs [submarines] and I remember the... I remember the subs... I believe we were in Watson’s Bay already at that... Because whenever you went across by ferry… Or were we living at Manly because I remember the... I think we were at Manly. Look I would have to check it for you.
Manly, where we lived, it was great fun to get on the ferry. We loved the ferry, always have. And I know going across that stretch of the Heads, I would be saying to my sister, “Oh could be one out there, watch for it, watch for it, watch for it,” because of that worry of the Japanese situation, but then they had that security situation… Oh,
isn’t that annoying? I can’t tell you that a 100% unless that was why we were in Melbourne and then we came back and went to Manly. But then the gates would... That security thing would’ve been along for... Would’ve been there for quite some time I’m almost sure. I remember the subs and I remember the situation of the subs being got, yeah, I do. In fact I only had an article out about it the other day in my files somewhere. I have got it.
As a girl of that age,
what did you know about the war that was going on in Europe and then Asia?
Yeah, in Holland while they were still under occupation of course we knew precious little, and on reflection now I think back how my father must’ve felt it because he was a man who kept a lot inside. My mother was a different make-up altogether. And he would’ve have been extremely
worried about that. We used to be told look, I hope the family, I wonder how they are, but very, very little was fed back about Holland. Japan was a different story when... Of course we were more involved with that because of the New Guinea situation, I can well remember that, and the war up there and our guys and how wonderfully it, you know, it was held back
and the history of that. And I remember reading about that and I was allowed... I wasn’t allowed to read the paper, we were told we were a bit too young, but I’d get hold of a copy and read bits and stuff like that and you’d pick it up and I was aware of it, of course, also through friends who had, you know, relatives involved in it. So the Japanese war was much more close to us and much more aware of it and the posters, you know, the Japanese posters
that you’d see when you’d go on the trains everywhere. With a, you know, sort of caricature Japanese face and thing. It was really very much imprinted in our minds that side of it. I will say that we were very aware of it. And, you grew up with that sort of slight feeling of apprehension about it all yeah, yeah. VE [Victory in Europe]... VP [Victory in the Pacific] Day… VP Day I remember because I went to town with my
grandfather and I’m sure it was VP Day August… Yeah it was VP Day because my mother hadn’t wanted me to go with him and he said he’d take me into town. I said, “I want to go, I want to go, I want to go.” Anyway I went and I remember Martin Place was the most incredible sensation. People milling everywhere, everybody happy, everybody, you know, just happy. Streamers,
people kissing people, hugging. I guess maybe we were on holidays with them at Engadine. I don’t know how I came to be there, but whatever we were doing I went with him that day because as an old, you know, soldier himself he decided he’d go to town and be a part of it. And he took me and I remember it was that wonderful dancing man which you would know was Frank McAlary and I was at school with the McAlary family, with his sisters,
and that just completely says it all, that incredible picture, it was like that, mm.
Whilst the war was on, what do you recall of the spirit that was in Sydney amongst the people there? What were their emotions, what was the atmosphere?
It could be very tense, I can remember everybody was always talking about oh the Japanese, the Japanese, “I hope our boys hold them.” “What’s going to happen?” you know. They were
on to the papers, the radio – the radio was the big thing because there was no television. The first time I ever saw television was in 1948 when we stayed in a hotel in London on our trip back. And it was radio and I’ve always been a radio freak, literally. And my parents always had it on and it was of course always the ABC. My father was an ABC follower so you listened to all the
bulletins. It was Richard Dimbley in those days, wasn’t it? And you just waited for the news… Yeah, that’s what we were, you grew up with it all round you, Matt, you really did. You were very conscious of it because we felt ourselves very vulnerable. And then the bombing of Darwin of course was the big thing. The war in Europe was more remote. We knew we had family there and we’d be, “Oh, think of…
Say a prayer for the family,” you know. But it was more remote. This was the one that was on our doorstep almost.
Being a fan of the Sydney Harbour, what warlike activity did you see on the Harbour as far as ships and traffic?
Oh lots, I loved it. I so loved it. In the days when we were at Elizabeth Bay you grew up walking down there to the wharf with it just literally there. So I went to school there,
I just fell in love with all that, or I had already the day I sailed in. As time went on we moved to the places I told you. I spent time living in Queenscliff and Manly when we went to school there for a period before we returned to Kincoppal, they were my barefoot days, but that’s not right on the Harbour. But that was special in another way, the surfing, all that came into
my world very much then. Then back we went to the eastern suburbs and we lived in Double Bay for a period, which was also on the water. But it wasn’t the Double Bay of today. It was once again a cosmopolitan European type Double Bay. Trams went through it. It was not, it had a different feeling altogether to what is pretty well Double Bay now. And then we moved out to Watson’s Bay and Diamond Bay after
that. But Watson’s Bay we had a flat on top of a duplex there. But that too was quite unspoiled then really because it was still, I mean it was just past the fishing, excuse me, village stage, but it was very, very basic and we would take the dog down to, you know, where Doyles is and all around there now. But I mean you’d scuff through the sand, you’d swim when you felt like it, you’d go down to the baths there. They were
contained, you know, the wooden baths. I think they’re still the same there. And nobody ever worried. You’d walk up to The Gap and back around and it was back to that freedom, and of course there were nowhere near so many people.
Could you see military vessels on the Harbour?
Yes you could, you could when they happened. Now I think the Queen Mary from memory came out somewhere at this stage, but I might have that wrong. We always, because we could see the
water from the flat we had when we lived at Watson’s Bay and you’d look down to the bay itself and the captain of the Captain Cook, the pilot steamer, lived next door to us in a wonderful old stone house next door. And his daughter became a friend of mine and you’d know when the pilot vessel was going out, you could see it all happening. And you’d go out and, “Oh yes, the pilot’s on board,” and off he’d go and he’d be taking the ship if necessary down the Harbour and there was a lot of traffic. I mean
a lot of it is containerisation and now, sadly. Sydney is going to I think stop being a working harbour, which I find sad. But…
What did you notice being at the Kings Cross? Did you notice anything down towards Woolloomooloo there of what was going on at the naval base?
A bit young for that at that time, I think. Woolloomooloo itself is a fascinating place. I’ve always liked Woolloomooloo. We used to call that section the Burma Road. You probably know that, do you? Ah… My
father, when he was driving, when he was driving to his own business, which he ultimately started in Sydney and when I had started working in Sydney we’d go by car with him, or I certainly would. Yes my sister did too when she started work. He used to always drive from Watson’s Bay straight down then he’d cut through up the back of that section... The Cross has all changed now. He’d cut through at Rushcutters Bay, turn through there and then go down the back and down that
road around Woolloomooloo where all the wharves are. And that was known as the Burma Road in those days. And we’d say, “Oh, here we go we’re down the Burma Road.” The oldies would remember that I’m sure. And he’d cut through to his office you see. But we were all aware of the ships, and yes the navy and whatever was going on there. I mean it was part of your life because you were with it every day and all day, you know. It was just part of you –
it’s in you. I started sailing. I loved sailing, still do, but I don’t go now. I had friends who had VJs [Vaucluse Junior] and when I could manage it I would get on those with them. Swam at Neilson Park a lot which was very... When I wasn’t at Bondi. Which was very calm and quiet then and the nets there were the fun because they never quite reached the bottom, and as you probably know the tides come in from the Heads and all the
sand’s underneath. The whole thing changes and quite often you could dive down from the pontoon, zoink, and under the net and up on the other side. And if it was little J [Junior] there or somebody you knew, say you know, “Do you want,” you know, “a bit of spin?” you’d go for a wee while, but that was part of the freedom you know. I mean people don’t know that and they’d say, “Sharks, sharks, sharks,” but you know. Those days are gone though.
And how did your mother’s business fare?
Right, to go back to
the Kings Cross one, she ultimately sold that… I think fairly well, I can’t tell you that a 100%. I think she was all right there. Then in the interim my father had taken his position with NIGEO. When he first came out here he tried to get a job with David Jones, I don’t think he succeeded, and that was through family contacts in that sphere, and then he went to Melbourne. Now when we were transferred to Melbourne
she started another business there in Punt Road. That was an antique business. She got her antiques or antiquarian licence and started her antique business and did quite well I think from that, and we had flats there where we were living in Marne Street, and I’ve forgotten the name of the other street, but not far from there. It was also an interesting life. I mean Melbourne was nice then, it was
quite cosmopolitan and Melbourne always has been great more fashion conscious and things like that. I know we enjoyed that side of it very much, my mother did. So, that was that business. And then when we came back to Sydney, she for a period, this was after the Manly... She didn’t have any businesses there during that period, but she did go into
a small shop at Edgecliff. It was a library when she went into it, but she got rid of the books and turned it into a small fashion shop again and didn’t do quite so well there. And then went to a shop in Rose Bay, right in the centre of Rose Bay, and that was in the Jack Davies days, and Jack Davies’ wife, Diana I think was her name, had a shop opposite my mother and she started another fashion shop there which she called ‘Marnita’ that’s half my name Marianne and half my sister’s
Nita, Benita. And that one I think she did all right with. In the meantime my father had started his own importing and exporting business which did not... Towards the end the tariffs were a huge problem for him and he had a lot of ups and downs with that. And she kept that business going, then went to Watson’s Bay when we were there and bought into, or I don’t know if she rented or bought in I’m not sure now, what was the old post office at Vaucluse.
May well be there still, no I don’t think it is, and had another small gift shop type place there. So that’s what she did there, but that did not do quite so well from memory. And yes, so she carried on with those businesses, yeah.
And what shops do you remember going shopping at as a child then?
Mm, corner shops, I loved them. Loved them, loved them, corner shops and people who talked to you and happy butchers’ shops and
grocers’ shops and well I’ve mentioned Henry Wolf way back, the butcher at the Cross, so in that era at Elizabeth Bay, that section if you go down Elizabeth Bay Road and down that hill and straight down to the cul-de-sac, and if you’re going down there on the right-hand side was a whole section of little shops. One of them was a grocer’s shop and I remember Mr Brandon, “Hello girls,” and you’d come in and, you know, weigh up the sugar and weigh up the flour if you wanted, the whole bit, but I liked it. I thought
it was great fun. There was a butcher’s shop next to him too, it was the old sort ‘choo, choo, choo’, “Hello,” and talk and chat and, you know, great.
What do you remember of rationing in the war?
Yeah, we had rationing and coupons and I know we had to be careful. Butter particularly I know was a bit of a thing with us because we all loved our butter and we cook a lot in butter, the Dutch, as you might know and that was always a bit tricky.
I remember that, but oh I mean Australia was untouched in that regard. We still we did all right and I mean with all the butter we ate my cholesterol is not high and I don’t know… Anyway, that’s another story we won’t get into that. So…
Interviewee: Marianne Berentzen Archive ID 1638 Tape 04
You mentioned briefly the boom gates at the Heads of the Harbour, can you tell me about those?
Yeah, Kirsty, as I said, we used to call them boom gates. It was a net, I think I’m correct, strung across to catch them if they were to attack again, the subs you see. The subs that attacked Sydney Harbour were mini subs and they said
they were from a mother ship supposedly. I haven’t gone further into that, but people in authority would know. That was not so far away. So at that stage they were saying, “There could be more of this. There is going to be more of this,” so this net was strung across and that was supposed to protect us and stop any further infiltration. That’s how, that’s what it was, yeah.
What could you see of the net from the sea?
I don’t think you could actually see it, I think from
memory it was a bit below the surface., but I do well remember going across the ferry and that is why I think, what I said earlier, we were already living in Manly or Queenscliff at that period because we were always back and forwards on the ferries, which we loved. And on very rough weather there’s nothing better than to pitch and toss and then the old trusty ferries always kept going then – they were different to what they are now. They were sailed out from Scotland originally, one particular one, and the engineers proud of their wonderful engine rooms, you know, shiny and glistening below, and off you went.
But you’d get on board and then you’d get to North Head and as I said, I’ve always been a bit of stirrer, “Here we go, here we go Benny, it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, I can see it, I can see it,” and she’d, “Oh stop it, stop it,” you know. But that was the story, but it was adventure, and of course as children the complete horror or danger of what could happen would elude you a bit anyway, you know, you…
And what about the Japanese
posters that were around, the propaganda posters, do you remember any of them?
Yeah they were propaganda. As I spoke with Mat I was trying to think of what they said. I remember the caricature and it was a Japanese face sort of all… Sort of, you know, with the little cap on, mm… But what it said won’t come. I’m sure to have it in one of my clip arts somewhere, but it was, yes.
I’m going to talk to you about your father.
His journey out to Australia, can you tell us what you know about that?
It was an incredible one. I cannot decide which would’ve been, yes I can as I speak, I think his would’ve been the more traumatic and harder, mm. Having put us on the boat from Rotterdam he somehow got back to The Hague, I’m sure he got back to that house that we left because I have this most wonderful statue
that was a Leadame statue of Our Lady which they had in their lounge room and that, together with some other things his family looked after somehow until after the war. So I’m almost sure that was part of that, so he got back to the house I think and then he decided he would try when he found out from the Red Cross what was happening. And it went via the Red Cross a lot of this I know, that he would try and reach us in Australia,
as I said, having known that we hadn’t gone to Scotland as he had originally wanted us to. He went to his tailor in Amsterdam. My father was always, he was a gentleman of the old school and was meticulously dressed and very, very fussy about his appearance. He always wore beautifully hand tailored suits when he was on business or going, you know, to other countries, like to
Germany or something for his buying. And he went to his tailor in Amsterdam and he had him tailor him whatever it was, false pockets, right, and the family helped him and they helped him with some money. Some of them had bought some of the things from our family home in The Hague and gave him money for it and whatever it was they helped him that way. Now he had to get out of Holland, which was occupied. He went, and a lot of this information I have got
from what he has told to authorities that’s in this open file, which I have a copy of, but he went to a man in The Hague in a high position who had been... He was German and in employ of the Germans, but he was subject to bribery and whatever it was, the family firm and I think it would’ve been my grandfather or whoever helped my father
and paid this man some money to try and get him his papers. Through a lot of…problems that happened. He flew to Berlin, yeah, and from Berlin managed to get to Munich then down the exact... If you’ll bear with me a minute, that is here. I can give you, I did jot that down, give me one second…
Father… He escaped from Holland… He escaped from Holland okay, under German occupation as we know. He went via Berlin from Munich to Lyon, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Havana, New York, to Sydney, Australia.
He arrived in the Mariposa on the 13th June 1941, which is a year or so after we did. But he... In that section before he got on the Mariposa he travelled according to this diary on the, I think you pronounce it the Marquez de Conchillas, it looks like ex-Bilboa [Spanish port] via various ports to New York. Now this I think from working out as best I can, I have
retyped his diary so that it’s easier to read, it must’ve been the cattle boat he spoke of. He used to talk about he got out on... He didn’t talk much, very, very little, but he used to speak of a cattle boat and reading the bits I can in between that diary, some of that speaks of things he endured. And then he would’ve boarded the Mariposa in San Francisco for Sydney you see. But he ran out of money, he was holed up in Madrid.
It’s the most harrowing part, really. He lived on nothing half the time, oranges, he was waiting on money to be... As, you know, Spain was neutral, he lived on money that was to be telegraphed through, excuse me, from contacts or his family or somebody he knew. He had another contact in Spain. That Dutch consulate, they didn’t help him much. It’s the most remarkable story of determination really, Dutch determination and perseverance. It truly is. And
the end of it, that last few pages or just before it all comes into place for him and he can get away, you can read the despair in his writing part of it. It’s... He’ll never see his dear little family again, and almost it’s... It’s really awfully moving. And during that period he had to keep himself and his mind busy. He goes to a bull fight and he says how terrible that is, it’s not a sport.
Then he loved sport and he went to soccer and that kept him going. He’d walked Madrid, he said he knew every street in Madrid because he didn’t have the money to do more, you know, go from one cheaper sport to the other to keep the expenses down. The whole fit things into a remarkable story. And then finally he’s on this boat. Now he meets up on that with somebody who had helped him or meets through a contact,
media contact I think it is without looking it up immediately. And this man was to... They were going to advance money. There was a German background there and somewhere along the line this was picked up so that when he finally arrived in Sydney this had gone through all this red tape and stuff and he was... They had him under surveillance. So my father was an alien until he was completely cleared for the first
two years or so he was in Sydney and he had to report to the police, which was utterly degrading for him because he had to check, you see, and it was at Rose Bay police station, for a period when we lived out there. Finally, that... Reading through this incredible file, it is bureaucracy, red tape, bungling, a remarkable story that he’s got over. So he arrived on the
Mariposa here and that’s an awfully brief summation of what the whole story is because the whole story of what he endured was really something. Now he when he was holed up in Madrid he had with him... When my father left home he’d taken a little leather, tiny little leather wallet and there was three photos in it of my mother, my sister and myself to keep him occupied. He was a very good artist, he drew
well, he loved the finer things in life. He’d grown up in a home, he played the cello he, you know, he was a gentleman like that. And he had occupied himself by drawing from these little photos, little weenie photos that size of my mother, my sister and I. I still have the one of my mother and myself. My sister has hers, I expect. But beautifully done just
enlarged, you know, beautifully done with pencil and signed with Madrid on it. And he carried that little wallet with him all the time. My mother when she left had done the same, she had a little wallet with a photo of him in it. Yes, so that’s how he did it and somehow kept himself sane during that period when he was trying to get away.
How did he travel across America?
By this... To the best... By this boat, he got this Marquez
de Conchillas ex-Bilbao now, you know, he… I can’t… Because he never talked about it much I haven’t got it documented. You see when we were younger, oh the war, you’re always talking about the war you see because as children and little ones you go forward and you’re with friends and you’re in Australia and it’s a new world and you don’t realise the import of it, you know. Now I do.
So in those days it wasn’t… We didn’t keep a complete record of... His diary speaks of his experience on this boat. Now that boat got him to New York and then from New York he came through on the Mariposa and he had somehow got money, had been... He says he was waiting for money to be telegraphed through the Dutch consulate. Somebody
in the end helped him. This man who was a media photographer or something had helped him. He met people along the way that he communicated with, but not a lot and it was an extremely remarkable story, but it’s one that you have to pore over and one that you have to really think about, I found.
Okay, so what was it like when he arrived in
Australia for you?
I can remember the first day or the next day he... We were in this flat with my mother at that time in Ithaca Road which I told you about, but prior to that she’d got us to the stage she had, you know, she got us at the school, we were already at the school at Kincoppal and we’d also been sick, we’d both gone down with whooping cough. Can you imagine that in a small flat, having to handle that.
Anyway I remember her, I can see us in the lounge room of the flat because I remember her saying now, “Tell Pa what’s happened. Tell him about the school,” and I remember saying, “We’re at Kincoppal,” and he was delighted with that, I remember that. And the excitement of having him there yes some of that I remember. I can remember and then of course things fade. Now I can’t
tell you immediately what happened, where... We would’ve gone from Ithaca Road, I’m pretty sure, to Greenaugh Avenue and then mother kept the business going. Yes, that’s how it worked. He would’ve been at that period trying to get his position with David Jones, which I don’t think ever eventuated, and then he ultimately approached the Netherlands Indies Government Export Organisation and they took him, I think in a type of helpful advisory capacity, I think that’s how it went, and then he went to Melbourne with them. But having him there was,
oh yeah, I mean it was wonderful, but he was a fairly strict father and I had differences with him, but looking back on it the differences were... A lot of it was because he did not… As a Dutchman he found it hard to come to terms with the Australian way of life as we were growing up. Like our barefoot life, to me heavenly, wonderful, look at me now, but oh no, he’d say in Dutch, “Kint [child], Kint, Kint,”
you know, “I’ve got money to buy you shoes, child, child, child, put shoes on your feet. I’ve got money I can buy you shoes.” You know, you know what I mean? A different approach so and it was... He’d come from a home that was very, very… Of a very different ilk… And of the old school. So that was hard and that caused as we were growing up conflict in that regard. And the other differences
I think over time perhaps personally between my mother and he in some regards about various things. So there were various differences, yes, but I never... I always got on with my father, I understood him and I understand him very much more now. I used to with him to tennis matches at White City. He was a top tennis player in his youth and he loved tennis and I’d go to all the White City matches in my youth. The days of John Bromich, Jimmy Payles,
Talbert, heavens you name, all the big names, we never missed one, never missed one in White City, then in Rushcutters Bay.
And he wasn’t delighted about being in Australia?
He was, I can remember him being extremely interested in what made Australia tick. He loved... He’d go down to the beach and he’d
stand on the beach and look and I can remember him saying to me, “Oh, those boys out there on the boards.” He found it incredibly interesting and in those days, like my son’s a top swimmer and surfer, but the boards are different now as you probably know. In those days they were the long boards like the ones originally when surfing was brought out here from Duke Kahanamoko, I can never say his name properly, but the boards were bigger and a lot of the boys I knew had more skis, you know, I’ve been out on surf skis, great
fun. But they were different boards. They were these massive boards that they used to carry and he couldn’t get over this surfing. He found it incredibly interesting. He loved a lot of the way Australia operated and had trouble coming to terms with it. Now I went on a trip with him on my own, just the two of us, by car when he got his Holden, from Sydney to Melbourne, and my memory of that was quite tremendous. He loved the
open countryside side of it. We stayed at, I remember a little hotel, it might’ve been Albury, with white tablecloths, you know, the traditional Aussie country pub, great. My mother wouldn’t go with him, I remember that. I can’t tell you what year it was. And she was very contained a lot of it. She kept saying, “My phobia!” She couldn’t get into lifts, she didn’t want to travel far afield, she didn’t want to explore.
Now it may have been part of the health thing, probably, a lot of it kicking back on her. Also her nature I think. So in that way he was restricted a lot and he couldn’t... You know, but a lot of the Australian way of life he found... He didn’t like pub life, not at all. Didn’t like the pubs because he grew up in an atmosphere of home drinking. They had what they called the Borrell Hour that friends would come from 5 to each others homes and sit
round and discuss the business of the day with their drinks and their Dutch Bols Gin and their savouries their wives would make. And then came the dinner time they would automatically go back to their own homes and you would go on with the evening. you know. Aussie pubs he found... Didn’t like that at all. So there was a lot of Australian way of life he could not take to. He nonetheless he had his business and he did well
until as I say the tariffs and restrictions hit the business and he did die in Australia a loyal Dutchman actually.
What do you mean by a loyal Dutchman?
In his heart he was… I think he remained in his heart true to the Dutch way of life from the things on occasions he would say to me. He took Australia as a really interesting place in many ways and he
would adopt some of its ways and some of its cultures. He realised that it certainly had been good to us in some ways, but I don’t know more than that because he’s never told me. I can only guess, but I think... I thought yes, I think as a Dutchman. He had the chance to go back there after the war because he was asked at some stage. My mother I don’t think... I’m not sure if it was her,
one of them did not want to go and then he said he wouldn’t go. But then he was also a very proud man who would not have accepted anything perhaps... At that stage he said, “Oh, the girls are at school here,” and, you know, he wouldn’t have gone back for anything. No, he was basically very Dutch European at heart.
He wanted you to go to Scotland, not Australia.
What did he have to say about that when he saw you all again?
I don’t... Cannot remember him... I tell you what, he has never ever said that to any of us. I discovered that through a family, cousin of my mother’s, one of the Lord Howe Island branch of her family. Wonderful old lady who she was my mother’s second, second cousin yes I think, no her cousin, my second cousin. Incredible lady. And she and I were very close. We were very, very good
friends. And we talked about the family history and she filled me in on quite a little bit of the background she knew when they first came to Australia, and she’s the person who enlightened me on that. This was years after my parents had died and she said, “Well of course your father had asked your mother to go to Scotland.” No, it wasn’t after my parents had died, it was after my father had died. And I said, “Oh.” And she filled me in on that and it
was my mother who… I mentioned this once to my mother. I said, “But you were supposed to take us to Scotland,” and she said, “Who told you that? Vi?,” and I said, “Oh.” So, my father never ever… He was like that. He kept so much in his heart. He would not…
And we’ve spoken a bit about both of your parents, what about your sister? What was your relationship like with her?
Oh an interesting one in many ways. She was younger than I, nearly three years.
And she and I... It was... She’s very different to me of course as is with families, but you can’t miss the family resemblance and she’s... It was always in our youth, “Look after your little sister,” and, “Take care…” To which the best of my ability I would do. And we grew up sort of going most places together and doing things. And then of course because I was older when parties
came we drifted apart a bit. She did marry a Dutchman herself in... He died not long ago. They had three children. And he was a friend of my son’s father and that’s how it all went about there. But she’s living in Sydney now and still is, part time. She’s had a business. Had a business of her own in Katoomba with her husband when he was
alive and worked very hard and yeah. But we see life differently in some ways. But we’re in touch, you know, with the family. We don’t live in each other’s pockets or anything like that, but I see her when I go to Sydney and she’s been up to Coffs [Harbour] and that’s how it is, mm.
Okay, now you returned to Holland in
1948. Tell us about that. You were older. You would’ve remembered more of the journey? How did you get there?
1948, my and I believe it was my grandfather and they had all been through the war there I think he contacted my father. He said he would help with the trip out if they could come back because my father was his mother’s favourite son. So you can imagine what she went through all through the years in Holland with the German occupation not knowing half the time whether he was here or how, until he got
here, and how he was faring because there was precious little communication. So they did go, or they decided to go, and my mother booked the or they booked, I expect they did it together I should think, but they... We travelled over on the Orontes, the first voyage of the Orontes after she was converted back again to a passenger liner after the war. And that was great fun because I was old enough
to have myself a terrific time whenever I could have it. I had finished 4th Year at school and my sister was, as I say, was a bit younger. So the four of us went across to London. We were in London for a short period, then across to Holland where it was wonderful. We saw the family after the war – most incredible time.
Tell us about that?
And meeting people that, you know, I could really not... I’d only heard about. And
then back to London. My father flew back because of his business and my mother and sister and I came back from London ultimately on the maiden voyage of the Orcades in December ’48, January ’49.
Okay, so what was it like to see your paternal grandparents again?
Wonderful, I was quite proud of them. I remember I was quite young. I was only, oh, how old was I in 1948? I was born in 1932, anyway.
16–17. He is or was the most incredible gentleman of the old school. I have the most wonderful drawing of him that one of my cousins gave me by a Dutch artist. Strong man, very strong man, very definite. So was my grandmother, both. She was a big lady; they were both big people.
I do remember feeling the strength in both of them, different type of strength, but yes, I remember that. I do remember that well now actually that I mention it. And… Definite… Cause they were quite elderly by then.
What did they tell you about how they’d gone during the war?
Well they didn’t talk a great deal because they were quite elderly by then. And without looking it up, they died
not all that long after we got back and they died within quite a short space of each other. They were devoted. They had nine children, as I said. And they didn’t talk a lot. And I was only… See I was in my teens so I was terribly interested in absorbing what I could with my cousins and listening to them and having fun too. We were out, we were like with my uncle in Amsterdam. We stayed…
And my cousins would say, “Oh the war years were difficult,” And, “We were bicycling and we had to be careful of the Germans.” And I have to be honest, they certainly were very definite about their feelings about the Germans in no uncertain terms. But it was more than anything a feeling of they were free. And we were enjoying seeing my father’s country for the first time, sort of thing, and they were taking us everywhere
and doing things and just absorbing the atmosphere of Holland more than anything, yeah. That’s how I look back on that period. And from one family to the other, they were a very close-knit family in many ways and yet, like in all big families, or many big families, there was a lot of rivalry and a lot differences, so one felt slighted if you didn’t get to the other one and one wanted to entertain you doing this and the other wanted to entertain you doing... So you were whisked around this period with awful lot going on.
I understand one of your uncles died during the war?
Yeah, Uncle George.
What happened to him?
Well he died while... Yeah, no, it was... Yes... An uncle died. He was married, the one I speak of now, if that’s the same one you’re asking about, was married to a sister of my father’s. Now he was shot on a train during the war. My cousins told me that, one of my cousins.
I know no more than that it happened. And it left my aunt in quite a precarious situation, but she... He was as far as... I think I’m correct... There was some more German background there, whether it was something to do with that I don’t know because I haven’t got the records on it. That’s right, he was shot and she was left on her own then, and oddly enough went to live in a hotel in
Amsterdam very near the Van Gogh Museum which was 1700 or something hotel. And you know how they have their hotel, they gone down steps below? You’ve probably seen it. Below footpath level and then its straight up the side. It’s not semi detached, but they’re small buildings and you go up the steps and it’s all in a small containment area. Anyway she lived there in a room, which I didn’t know until years later. In ’72 when I went back to Holland KLM [Dutch airline] I said, “Book me
into a hotel somewhere near the central because I don’t want to stay with family. I’ll be independent.” They booked me into that very same hotel without me knowing – a strange world, isn’t it? And when my uncle came to pick me up he said, “My goodness, how did you get here?” I said, “KLM booked me.” “This was where Aunt Mary was,” anyway.
What happened to the big family home during the war that your parents were married in?
Yes Mariella the house was called. It was on the Vel ba Vecht
in Arnhem and a beautiful old home which I have photos off. And the family. That was my grandfather’s family home and the family all lived there. And when the Germans occupied Holland they took over the home. Somehow my grandparents had managed to find a small house outside of Arnhem. I know no more than that. And they took it over either as
headquarters or offices the Germans for their use anyway. I have seen photos of the house of course so I know how it worked, but oddly enough going back right in time, I can remember going there when my Dutch grandma and grandfather were still there, and it must’ve been for a family wedding because I remember them dressing me in this beaut little pretty dress and I was going to the church. It must’ve
been an aunty’s wedding or something. And I remember my grandmother giving me a little present. Yeah, I remember that. So see that’s back before 1940. Anyway, polished floors, Persian rugs and big open French doors that led out on to the steps below. I have a photo of my parents at their wedding on those steps. And they took it over and somewhat abused the house, I think, from what I know.
What do you know about that?
I know they... I know one of them... It’s a well-known story in the family that my eldest uncle, my father’s eldest brother, went there. Whether he was called there or he went there to see them or for some reason he went to the old family home and horrifically found them slaughtering a cow on the parquet floor in the lounge room. Yes I know, I know it’s incredible.
What do you know about your grandparents relocating?
Were they shifted out or did they move before the Nazis got there? Do you know about their treatment?
Oh well I know that in 1939 my father had applied through the authorities for a landing permit for us, that’s himself, mother and I and my sister in Australia, and that would of course have been for two reasons. They had seen the war coming.
I know that they and my mother being of English background I know and she did often say that in our youth, “Oh we had to get out of Holland, you know, the English they’d... We’d have been in concentration camps.” He applied for that permit in ’39 so, but that... Nothing was... Bureaucracy. Nothing happened you see and nothing came through. That’s in this open file; it’s mentioned in that.
So we were there in 1940 when the Germans invaded in The Hague because nothing else had developed.
What about your grandparents in the house in Arnhem? Were they in the house when the Germans invaded?
The finer points of that I don’t know. They may well have been. In fact my cousin in Holland would know that. I’m hoping maybe to go for a trip in the next x number of months. If I do, it’s one of the things I shall ask. She’ll
know more about that. Yes, I can’t tell you that. I don’t know. I know they went to a smaller house somewhere not far outside of Arnhem afterwards for the war years.
Did they return to the family home?
No, no not ever. After the Germans left it was taken over by the Dutch government and when I was there in 1972, I have a photo of it contrast to the other one, it became Dutch government offices. It could well still be standing. It was
an incredible building and they were using it for government office. And at that period in ’72, one of my cousins, who has since died, who’s like me very interested in family background and history, she said, “Oh I’ll take you over and show you the house,” and I said, “Yes I want to.” And that’s when I took the photo. And she at that period was trying to somehow get hold of the original front door, wonderful old wooden door for
her home. I never found out if she did it, but she was hoping to do that so that she could have it as part of her grandfather’s old original home. No doubt there was some form of compensation paid out. I believe there was something like that and I know from my youth I can remember talk about, “Oh, somebody did us out of this or did us out of that.” But because we were so far and so remote perhaps a lot of it didn’t filter through till later. I don’t know.
I know there was dissention in the family. My mother used to say that because of what happened in certain areas there. But no doubt, I mean money wouldn’t make up for that anyway, would it, for what happened?
What did your aunts and uncles in Holland tell you about treatment by the Germans during the war?
From what I can gather they kept fairly quiet. They kept to themselves. I don’t think they…
I think they just went quietly about their business. I know it wasn’t easy. I know from my Amsterdam cousins it was anything but easy. My other cousin from Arnhem from whom I would’ve got a lot more information has since died. I know it wasn’t easy, the rationing. Well Holland itself, the Dutch, they were very brave people. They underwent the most huge depravations a lot of them
but they just tried to survive as far as I know. And I think my uncle in Amsterdam continued to work in the store. He was allowed to do that I think. But there was... It’s interesting because that came out in this file when I read through it. There was something to do with this man who was paid money in The Hague when my father got
out, the German man under their control. He had made some statement that there were certain directors of the Vroom and Dreesman firm who were headed for the concentration camp because the name was... Something to do with the name or because the Berne... It was something to with the German aspect of it... I don’t know quite what the story... Oh because
I think because we were Catholics came into it. We’re not Jewish at all, but it was Catholics and that was mentioned. I would have to look that letter up. But there was some talk of that and it didn’t happen, fortunately, they weren’t taken. So how that was overcome I don’t know, but he is supposed to have said that. And they had a policy. They preferred – as was the case often in those days – they preferred to employ Catholics. I mean I’m not one way or the other, but that’s how it was
I think in the old days a bit, so that may have come into it with the Germans I think. I think it did.
Where around Holland did you travel when you went there in ’48?
In ’48, mostly in Arnhem. We went to Amsterdam of course. I just love Amsterdam. I think it’s the most terrific city, or it was when I was last there. We did not go back to see the original home in The
Hague then, no we did not. I don’t know why my parents didn’t do that. Rotterdam, I had an aunty there who was still alive then and that’s mostly it. We spent a lot of time in Arnhem with my grandparents and with my father’s eldest brother there who was living there. We stayed with them, or near them. And also to Ineralder [?] in the north where this other uncle of
mine had… He was into a very lovely hotel right on the lakes there and he did die while we were there. He had been in the Dutch underground during the war and he had kidney trouble and he died there, mm, so we had the funeral.
How long all up were you in Holland?
Not long, Kirsty, not long. ’48. We went in August ’48.
The trip would’ve been roughly six weeks on the Orontes. We arrived in London and it was heading for the fogs, the pea-soupers were around there, and then came back in December January. So what’s that? August, September, October, November, December, January. We were gone about five months or so, not quite.
Tell us about your uncle’s funeral that you attended?
Uncle George. It was an incredible experience. It was…
You see it in movies if you think of Doctor Zhivago and that sort of thing. We travelled in this coach with horses and the plumes and all the most incredible trappings, and my grandparents of course they were in front of us I think. I don’t know how it worked in the carriage, but I remember I was with my cousins and one of my cousins from Arnhem, he was... Cousin George was the naughtiest shocker all the way, all through his life, his life is…
He’s died since, regrettably. And he was always making jokes and said, “Look at Omah and Opah [grandma and grandpa], look at Omah and Opah,” and you’d see them of course, “Ya ya ya ya,” like children, or younger people as we were. You’d think they were bobbing around and my grandmother’s hat with the bobbles on it, you know, it was from another era. It was another era, Kirsty, it was... I remember the horses and the carriage that very vividly in my mind and the old-fashioned feeling about it all... The traditional… The
traditional… I didn’t mind it. I liked it. But it was very serious. Very serious and very, you know, from another world. But that’s how it was then.
Where was he buried?
Well it must’ve been Inervailder now you ask me because we didn’t travel that far. And you see Arnhem is, I think my, excuse me, geography’s correct is further north, so it couldn’t have been far from there that they buried him. I can’t tell you exactly. I never found that
out.. But the lakes were incredible. I remember we had to go across. I’ve got some photos of my mother and I on a boat, on a little sort of, it wasn’t a motorboat, it was I think a rowing boat or something. And the fens, it’s like fens and marches you know. Eerie. But I love all that, I love all that North Sea stuff. I love it.
We’ll stop there.
Interviewee: Marianne Berentzen Archive ID 1638 Tape 05
We finished the last tape up with your trip to Holland in ’48. I just wanted to ask you a couple more questions about that. Can you remember seeing the effects of war upon Arnhem?
My family took me to the war cemetery there. It was very, very moving, extremely moving and it’s an effect, but it’s an after effect I suppose, but yes I did.
And I remember my family telling me how he Dutch were looking after the graves there specifically because what they had been through and what they had been liberated from, mm, very much so.
What sort of financial or asset damage had you family suffered through the German occupation?
To my knowledge my uncle in Amsterdam and his family
had managed to survive in the house that they had always occupied. My grandparents were moved from the family home – that I know because they had to get out when the Germans took it over. And I recall when I saw them we went to a smallish house outside of Arnhem, the exact position I can’t tell you. And they had been moved to that and they were in a small, comfortable house where they were now as I said earlier, quite elderly.
The rest of my father’s family I can’t tell you exactly because I was so young, and I mean my cousins would remember, but I haven’t got records of that because we didn’t keep them.
Did they tell you any stories of life under the German occupation?
Well that it was certainly hard and I had a lot of information at the time from my cousins in Amsterdam. The one, the eldest one who
told me a lot has since died, but she in no uncertain terms made it quite clear that it had been extremely difficult, that the deprivations, that they were on their bicycles all the time, that wherever they went they had to be careful because they didn’t know if something was going to happen or somebody was going to get them or take them in. And they would’ve been young at that time, see she was my age about. Her parents were obviously under a lot of pressure
and she certainly made it very clear about her feelings about the Germans. She resented very, very much what they had to go through to the point even where she wouldn’t – anything German she would steer right away from. My father, this has brought back a memory that I remember in my youth, he would not hear German
spoken although he himself spoke it fluently, out here that is, I remember my mother saying something, “Oh, your father won’t have German within sights.” That I can remember, yes. So I suppose this is carried through because of what we’ve all been through obviously and it comes down to that. See our growing up here didn’t suffer those depravations and I didn’t
find it to that extreme, however were I to or something else and other things that have happened in my life, I can feel just as strongly about things that affect me or hurt me or cause that terrible emotional distress, so I can understand it well.
When you went back to Holland I think you were about 16 years old?
Yes, roughly about 16.
What was your level of interest in the war
Level of interest was because of what my family, my mother and father had told us, my sister and I, because it was family, purely and simply. I’m very much that sort of a way and because history came into it too, with me. I’m very interested in history so it was a combination of all of that. My own interest, my
feelings for my cousins when I met, with whom I found I got on very, very well. We had that common family bond. It was great, at that age, you know. It was all there, it’s still there after all these years. If I go back this year it’ll be there a 100% again with those who are left. Which is wonderful I think, you know, for me anyway.
What did Dutch people know about Australia?
Very little. I was amazed actually. A couple of…
Yeah you ask that come to mind a couple of things, I had had them ask me, you know, “What happens out there? It’s such a big country.” I tried to explain it to the best of my ability and of course I got a little bit wicked and particularly this cousin George, the naughty one, I said, “Well I’ll tell you George, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you.” He said, “What was it?” I said, “Well we live, you know, where we live there are pubs and there are hotels and the men
ride their horses through the city and the tie their horses up at the hitching post you know.” “Oh…” They didn’t really – I was joking. We laughed like dickens, you know, when it all came out afterwards. But they didn’t realise; they just did not know a lot. It was purely not really a great educational on their list – we were remote.
Can you try not to play with the notes too much there because it’ll sound strange on the microphone.
I’m sorry, they’re gone.
And when you were a child in Sydney, what did Australian people know of Holland?
Well reciprocally not a huge amount because when I arrived here I think I may’ve said earlier, I mean they were saying things like, “Oh, do they all still wear clogs in Holland?” “You see windmills everywhere.” The traditional passed on things that we know about the little Dutch boy and the little Dutch girl and those was
basically from my youth, from my early days at school, most of what they knew. And I know when I first went to Kincoppal it was very much that way. Now they weren’t at all being sarcastic or they weren’t those sort of girls, they were genuinely wondering what it was all about. And they would say things like, “Well tell us.” So we’d try and explain, you know. It was different when we got back there and I’d seen it and after my friends
and I’d caught up again and a lot of it. And they’d come home for meals or something or if my friends were with my friends. All my friends particularly liked my father. They got on very well with him. They thought he was gorgeous and, “Oh, Mr Berentzen, now what’s this like in Holland?” And, “Tell me about that…” And he would quietly tell them something about it, you know. And they’d, “Yes, yes.” So it was passed on that way a lot. My closest circle
of friends they... It just wasn’t... And we grew up in English history, English background. I mean Australia was very different then. English-Irish background whatever, but Queen and Country and it was different.
And did people in Holland still wear clogs at that time?
Well the farmers do as you probably
know and they did, some of them, but I mean you didn’t see them madly shuffling around in clogs like they thought they did. And in 1948 yes, we saw quite a bit of it when we went to the north of Holland there outside of the town. And, of course in Maarssen and Volendam and that yeah, but it wasn’t markedly so at all I mean. And now when I last went back there it was more or less a tourist thing than anything
now of course, isn’t it? I mean you get outside, the farmers yeah, clogs are wonderful, I’ve got my pair here. I mean I don’t use them now, but my son’s got a pair for fun and, you know, they’re great to slosh around with if you really have to. They’re tops.
And were there windmills?
Oh yes, windmills.
So the Australian impression was quite correct?
Yes, you’re right of course.
When you had that interaction with your cousins after the war, how do you think your
childhood had differed from them? And I know that, you know, the war was in the way for them, but just in cultural differences?
Right, culturally it was... There was not much of a gap because having gone to the school I did where the background was all encompassing, I learnt music, I’d studied piano for some time and even went to ‘Con’ in Sydney, would you believe.
And I loved music and I still do most dearly, and I leaned towards classical and always did. We used to go to the concerts at the town hall, all the things father would take us to. So I’d had a background and an education that fitted in extremely well with theirs and we knew what we were both talking about if we talked. And they were that way inclined too you see, Matt, so it worked well. Perhaps literary
wise it was slightly different because I had gone through under the English literature and Shakespeare and all that which, they all knew about and they had studied, but we more so. History, more English inclined, and Australian history when I was at school was just coming in. We were taught it. A lot of my friends in other schools weren’t, but we were and I was always interested in it. I’m very interested in Australia and its background so we had that in
common and our likes were very similar, so there wasn’t a great deal of difference culturally, no
I want to just dial back the clock a bit to when you first moved into Kings Cross. You mentioned that the American soldiers came to your mother’s shop. What sort of things were they trying to buy?
Oh, as I remember mostly the jewellery, I do recall that, the presents for their girlfriends, yes.
The gowns she had were there obviously I mean... See we weren’t there a huge amount, but on the occasions when I was there, yes I do remember the jewellery being a thing and the gowns, see she would’ve have sold that to the girlfriends, perhaps they came back later to buy them. I mean it was like that, you know, you wouldn’t know exactly, but certainly the jewellery and I know I do remember her saying too, “Oh, the
Yanks came in and they were great to talk to and they were so nice, you know, well they had this charm that...” That certainly could get across and I mean it was war time and people were looking for something different. It was a world... Exciting feeling about it in many ways. I grew up with a feeling of excitement a lot.
What kind of clientele was your mother trying to service?
who were there and anybody who had the amount of money that she... I can’t tell you comparably what she used to ask in those days, but anybody really who was a customer, interested and she was good at selling in coming to her shop and her business. But certainly the war had brought many people to Sydney and to the Cross, which was full of life
that I know.
If you can just imagine yourself standing outside that shop and try and pretend you are a camera, what sort of people can you see in the street?
Much more cultured people than perhaps certainly you’d see now in many ways. People… If you were to ask me now as an older person
the type of face, I’d say yes they must’ve been much more European, they were. There were the Aussies of course, and like I know Dame Mary Gilmour she had I think in that era, yes she did, had a flat in Darlinghurst Road and it was just up not far from where mother’s business was. And see Australia’s artistic life then
was very interesting up there too. So you mixed with the Bohemian type of person as well. You had a lot of that, very Bohemian type of attitudes. I remember our family dentist who had his surgery in the Winter Garden, which is still there the block as you walk further up Kings Cross, towards Kings Cross, he was in the centre, that section further on was the Kings Cross picture theatre and then you came to the main part
where the trams used to go down William Street, and if you sat in his chair and I can remember in my early teens I expect doing a filling and look straight across to the flats on the other side you see, yes, a few little sights as the ladies of the night awoke and pushed back the curtains. I mean it was like that all the time, but fine. My mother used to always say, “Well the prostitutes have great big hearts.” Now how or why she said that I have no idea
but I remember her saying that.
What level of vice was there?
Mmm… I can’t actually remember so much about the vice because I was so young, you see. You’re talking now about when I first, you’re not talking abut the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s are you?
No, I’m talking about when you first lived there as a child. Were you aware that there was a vice element to Kings Cross?
Not greatly. I can’t remember that coming into it hugely. Yes,
now wait a minute, yeah wait minute, or would that have been... No, that would’ve been in that early ’40s... We’re back to Tilley Divine and the sly grog a bit, and that’s right Tilley Divine and Kate Lee and the back streets of Woolloomooloo. Yes, that’s right, all that stuff was going on. Very interesting actually I found it even then. I thought, “This is,” you know, “another side of Sydney.” The seamier side they used to say, but yes that was going on.
Can you tell us about that?
I can. You brought Tilley Divine to mind because when we went back on the Orontes in 1948, Tilley Divine was a passenger on board and she used to sit in the lounge wherever it was, she was playing cards and she was very friendly. We had a pianist on board, Beno Mozaovitch, very well-known pianist who was obviously travelling back again – he had given a concert in Sydney – and she became friendly with him
obviously, or may have known him before, who knows? But I shall always remember each of her fingers were covered in these huge diamond rings as she sat there. That was something I remember well. And yet we would go to mass on perhaps Sunday mornings in the... Where did they have it? I think in the lounge they held the mass from memory, but she’d be there on her little predeo, you know.
And there she was – Tilley Divine.
And what was she known for around Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo?
Well as I recall it, well I’ve got some of these wonderful old history books on Sydney and she’s all in there, but I think, I think it was… I think it was… It was Kate Lee was more sly grog, but I don’t know if Tilley was so much into the sly grog, may have been prostitution, may have been, but I’d have to look that up a 100%. But it was
fascinating. I mean Sydney’s got incredible stories of... Well going right back to its founding, hasn’t it? I mean it’s marvellous, the tank steam, and it’s all round that.
Going back to that point where I had you standing outside the shop and looking out into the crowd, what about uniforms and so forth, what would you see?
Yes, a lot of uniforms coming and going, American and Aussie, American and Aussie, incredible feeling that coming and going, coming and going. And I think I said earlier, there
was a lot of rivalry between the Americans and the Australians. I mean that’s a well-known fact. And of course the Australian nature was such too, much more immediately outspoken, and off they’d go and perhaps also rile the Americans, but yes uniforms coming and going. Women in uniform, that was always interesting. The women always looked very, very smart. The WRANS [Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service], very smart – they always looked great.
It was a cross-section of everything it really was, so one grew up in that... And see being in flats, and they were closely packed flats, you saw so much. It was a kaleidoscope, that’s the best way to describe it because all these comings and goings, it may have been going in the flat next door or it may have been underneath or above. You’d walk out on to the landing or go down in the lift.
In those days they didn’t have pollution laws like they do now and these flats had these enormous incinerators, and on each floor there was a big metal bin drawer. You’d pull it back and then you’d go and tip your garbage down it and it would all be incinerated below and ‘shzwit’. Well people would collect there, you’d talk to someone there who was completely different, you’d learn about their lives or what they were up to, so you were learning the whole time
and absorbing. And being a person who enjoyed that, for me it was life, life going on around me all the time. Well it was all the time I lived in Sydney, well it still is when I go down there. It hasn’t changed, people don’t change anyway.
Did you ever witness trouble between Aussies and Americans?
Yes, yes, I can recall... I can recall and this was when, you know, mother always kept a pretty eagle eye on us if we went for a walk or
something or if she came with us, and we were walking through the Cross and, you know, say, “Come over here children, come over here girls,” and you’d look across to the next corner and of course fisticuffs would be on or something. Oh yes, I’ve seen that up there in my youth I have, yes.
Did that frighten you as a girl?
Not particularly. I wasn’t terribly scared. I mean I wasn’t involved in it. It didn’t worry me, I mean, you know, you knew it was part of life and, “Oh dear, what’s going on?” and, “What a shame.” And then we’d walk on,
you know. It was not a terribly... It wasn’t... I didn’t want to get involve with it. But I mean it was a shame that it was happening, you know, it was just part of life as far as I was concerned.
At what point did you move to Melbourne?
1943-ish I think, without double checking, because farther was transferred there and then I think it was ’43, ’44, we were at school, down there at boarding school, and during that period my
mother had her business there in Punt Road the antique shop and yes it would’ve been ’43, ’44.
And what did you think of Melbourne?
I enjoyed it. I mean to me, I haven’t been there for quite a while. It’s very, it was too then, a much more sedate place than Sydney. I mean I’ve always, I mean I push my barrow for Sydney wherever I go because Sydney can
be tawdry, she’s got so much in her favour, but it’s a beaut city. But Melbourne’s more serious, more reserved, you have to sort of, you know, look at differently. But there’s a lot of culture, a tremendous amount of culture, and the fashions were great and the shops. And I remember going into Hilliers, the wonderful Hilliers. You’ve heard of Hilliers? Probably in the middle of the city and we’d be taken there for treats, wonderful chocolate sundaes, and things after school. And
we’d go to the movies there and go and have a treat afterwards. Saw a wonderful Bob Hope movie there with my father, all that sort of thing, but once being a bit younger it was not as an adult would see it, but I thought Melbourne was yes, good.
Do you recall a difference in the wartime activity between Sydney and Melbourne?
Melbourne to me was nowhere near as bustling or as busy or as exciting as Sydney.
I never found it so. I did go back years later for a period and never found it so exciting in that era as Sydney was. Really when I think back on it, I kept saying, “When are we going back to Sydney? I want to get back to my friends in Sydney. I want to get back to Sydney,” you know, mm, it was a different world. Yes, and not as much perhaps… Not so hugely affected by the war as perhaps Sydney was.
How did you settle into school down there?
All right, but I did not like full-time boarding school. I’m back to the boarding school bit again. But I found it rather hard to handle and I had some really good friends. At one stage actually I did run away for a weekend. I came back. I went to friends who had a house down at Mount Martha outside of… Yes, and tootled down there for the weekend, but that all got sorted out. It wasn’t a really great thing to do
but I just didn’t like the aloneness of it all, you know, you were left weekends and that and that was a bit hard.
What sort of repercussions did that little excursion have?
Oh you ask me, Matt, I can’t remember. I wasn’t expelled or anything like that. I think from memory they talked to me and I know my parents did. It was for a day or a day and a half I got out and went down to my friend and then came back again,
but I think probably her parents I think from memory of course rang them and told them I was all right, you know, it wasn’t... it was mmm… a little episode.
What do you recall of your father’s moods and attitudes during the war as far as the war went?
I know he was greatly interested in it. I do remember him following and trying to find out what was happening in Holland, but his feelings perhaps towards... I think my mother and he were both extremely interested in it and my mother of course never forgot the fact that she was English, and the [London] Blitz and that period of the war
played havoc with her because her London was being bombed badly. My father knew the occupation was there so he would not have heard a lot, but as far as the Germans were concerned I’m quite certain that both of them, my mother even more so, but she probably talked about it more, but my father at times I think, yes, I do think he sometimes resented what
had happened to them both. My mother would very often say, “Oh if it hadn’t been for the Germans. If it hadn’t been for the Germans. If it hadn’t been for the Germans.” You know, that she had to lose her home, walk out of her home, all that, go through that what she said she had. My father would’ve felt it the same way in many ways, but he found that sometimes hard to live with, I think.
Do you think it created tension in their relationship?
Mm, I think it did at times, yes, I do. I do, I think it did create
stress at times I’m sure.
And then after Melbourne, when did you go back to Sydney again?
Yeah, Matt, ’43, ’40. Maybe the end of ’44, ’45. And then I’d have to check dates, but I think from there we went straight back to Kincoppal. I think the Manly little bit where I was at school in Queensland. Queenscliff was before we went to Melbourne because we weren’t long at school in Queenscliff. It was a
wonderful sort of little – What’s the word? – sojourn more or less being near the beach like that because I was never out of the surf. But that was, I think that was before. And then we came back and went back to Kincoppal where I stayed until 4th Year when we went overseas in ’48.
How would you compare Manly between then and now?
Oh golly it’s awfully different, isn’t it? I still go over there at times. To
me it has lost all that wonderful back to the openness, the freedom, the carefree the..., you know, how the slogan ‘Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care’? Well it was like that. And the ferries would pull up... if... where the ferry came in… The Harbour’s here and the ferry came. There was the original aquarium and oh as kids we thought it was wonderful to go to that aquarium because you were
really on top of all those sharks and all these fish. I mean the one that’s there is terrific, but it’s very modern. And so it was so Australian, basic, it was great. And I mean the ferries would come in, there was none of this containment all along, the guys would hop off before the ferry had berthed. If it was a business ferry they were off on the wharf and gone before you could say, “Jack Robinson,” you know. It was free. Gangway was then slipped on and everybody trundled off.
The young fellows would be diving for pennies off the edge of the wharf at Manly and they’d wait there and then people would throw pennies to the guys and it was a dare of, “You going?” “Yes, I’ll go,” and they’d dare each other to go down and dive. And the water was so clear then too. And you’d hang on and you’d say, “Oh quick quick, quick a shark might come, quick, quick, quick.” I mean they’d just get the pennies in the mouth, swim off, tootle home, nothing ever happened. But Australia has grown.
It’s a shame that that has gone so much in the restrictions that are now placed on our lives in so many ways. I mean I’m an older generation so I wouldn’t be diving for pennies or doing anything, but in that era they were my generation doing it. And there was no question of, “You’re not allowed to do that, don’t do that,” and you’d say, “Ferry’s coming through, oh yes watch the prop [propeller], get out.” Of course they did, they knew what they were doing. Nothing ever happened. I mean it was... And people now they’d jump on me from a great height,
saying, “How could you say that’s all right?” I say, “Easily, because it was all right.” They’ve done the same in Coffs Harbour, the jetty jumping. I’ve got a photo of the young guys there in my bathroom doing it, and all the, you know, came down at great height, “Stop, stop. This conversation is…” Oh the youth I grew up with, oh…. I’m pleased I had it; it was great.
The little school that you went to at Queenscliff was it a State school?
No it was... It was
Catholic nuns, it was Stella Marists, Stella Marists and nuns, maybe Sisters of Charity, and I’m not a 100% sure on that. If it was Charity they did not have a great deal of charity, but that’s another little story.
Why don’t you tell it?
Oh no, no, no, no, they were different, a different ilk a different make up and a different... My music teacher was a very hard lady, but then they had lives to cope with that for heaven’s sake.
I mean some of them terrible I should imagine, and so there’s two sides to every story but…
It was a more repressive school than…
Mm, more repressive and they were women of a different sort. Yeah, it was a different kettle of fish there so I... I wasn’t desperately unhappy, but I personally was pleased when, you know, the decision was made to send us back to Elizabeth
Bay and that’s what happened.
What sort of things would you do either by yourselves or with your parents for a treat in Sydney?
Go to Taronga Zoo, which was great then of course. Now its all now been remodelled and of course a 100%... . The ride on the elephant was the huge thing of course. Mmm… Over to Manly was always the big expedition, picnics, and my grandma and grandpa’d come down from Engadine once a year and have a flat
right on the front on the beach, you know, near the Hotel Pacific. I don’t know if that’s there any more. That was another great spot. And we’d go over there with them and picnics. My mother’s cousin, the one from Lord Howe [Island], before she retired on Lord Howe with her sister who had been there since the ’30s she was married, well he was a war veteran, Chum, died
after the war. She went to see him in Braithwaite for years before he died, but they lived at Balgowlah and her son’s my second cousin. Lindsay was in the Manly Surf Club and it was the days when the boys all wore blue speedos [swimming suits] and Lindsay and I got on very well. And if I were to pack a hamper and we’d walk down from their house in Condamine Street, if you happen to know Manly, Balgowlah, to…
Oh it’s the nudist beach now… Forty Baskets, and you’d have Forty Baskets all to yourself, it was absolutely wonderful. So we’d, you know, pop the hamper down and Lindsay would shimmy into the water and off we’d go. Uhmm… What more could one ask for, you tell me? What a way to grow up. And I mean Forty Baskets, I can remember in the days when I used to sail from McMahons Point, well Lavender Bay,
we’d sail there. The yacht would pull into Forty Baskets and then we’d sail, at that stage they had a permit to sail down the coast, sail down to Botany Bay, see all the sharks up on the hoists with the Aborigines and sail back again you know. Very free, isn’t it?
Can you tell us again in more detail about that day when everybody celebrated the end of the war?
Oh when I was with my grandfather?
Oh I thought I had sort of covered it
all, I’ll try. People everywhere, uniforms everywhere as we said earlier about their uniforms. Women out of their mind with their men. Hugging them, kissing them… Martin Place, chockers [full], absolutely chockers.
How did you come to arrive at Martin Place?
Well I don’t know why my grandfather was in Martin Place, but I think he must’ve... Maybe he was heading over to my mother,
to us, to the house, I honestly don’t know. He might’ve got off the train and come through because I can’t remember more of that day, but that picture in Martin Place with him I do remember. And he was... See he was ex-war so maybe he was... Maybe we met my mother and he went on to met someone, I just don’t know. But that I do... And I know my mother was as I said earlier not at all keen that I should go with him and she said, “Oh no, Marianne shouldn’t be going with you.” And I said, “Yes I’m going.
I want to go.” And it was an incredible feeling of joyousness and there was nothing bad about it. No... I can’t as a child, as I was then in my early teens, remember anything nasty or anything bad. It was just sheer happiness, mm, and that when you see those newsreel footages and those stills from the era is exactly how I remember it in my head, exactly. Well obviously
I mean they were taken then, but I mean, you know, what I’m saying. I felt I could feel it.
You didn’t find anything, being a convent girl, anything shocking about the male-female interaction that was going on?
Not at all, I’ve never been like that. Good God no! What on earth for? We are as we are because we are, and thank God we are. Oh no, Matt, no.
And where did you watch all this from? Whereabouts in Martin Place? Because you must have not been very tall.
I remember walking... I was with him down
George Street and I remember being with him as we passed, you know, if you come straight down Martin Place and you turn left into George, well over there it probably was at that time, but there was a David Jones store there that’s long gone, but it was probably well there, but that’s where we were in that section that end of the GPO [General Post Office]. And of course the old GPO was still then, the wonderful old GPO. They’ve now unfortunately, in my opinion, yes sadly, but uhmm…
That’s where we stood, where we were. And I remember it wasn’t long, but I remember that feeling. Yes, it’s something very special that actually.
Describe what sound you could hear?
Noise, just joyous sounds, if you ask me now. Whoa I’ve got to really try…
Was there music or singing or…?
Music? No I can’t remember music, but shouting, talking, pushing, not pushing past us – “Hello! Isn’t this good?” “Terrific.”
There was streamers, I remember streamers waving around... Oh isn’t this lovely news, it was just a feeling... Of course one being young is very impressionable too. I mean much more than we might be now because we’ve seen most of it but, then, mm… It really did have an... Well as you can see that’s the memory... I can’t tell you how, what or where we were going, but that’s what happened.
Do you recall after the liberation of Holland and the
end of the war in Europe your father being any different?
My father, after 1948 the trip then when we came back and that was some three years after the liberation was it... We... No it wasn’t that long... Yes it was... I think, VP day was after VE, wasn’t it? Yes. He came back to Australia and
he was extremely pressured with his business from then on or not long after that. He had help from an old school friend from his student days who was helping with agencies for his importing and exporting. He was a very, very heavy smoker; that got worse in a way. In the war years he used to roll his own and there’s a story in his diary of how he managed to get ‘smoky dust’ as they called it in… It was given out to people in Spain
who was the sort of the dregs of the tobacco if they were smokers, he was always a smoker, but his health started to deteriorate. It was pressures I’m sure, I think part of it was what he’d been through, part of it he had worries and personal things came into it, yes. So all in all to answer your question, yes, there was a change and he did meet this school friend of his, did
take him on a trip. He went back, he went back to Holland on his own for a trip and he... This school friend came out to Australia and they went on a trip up to Queensland together. He took him on a trip a sort of rejuvenating type business thing I think. They both went, which I think did him a power of good at that time. But, yes it gradually, it gradually got a little bit harder for him and that went on
because it didn’t change, the business side of it didn’t get better for him. It got quite seriously quite worse and he... In the meantime had, my life had changed somewhat. And then he sadly had a heart attack in his car driving to his office in town. His office was in Liverpool Street and the car stopped at the lights and didn’t take off and the man in the car behind found
him and that’s what happened. So it was sudden, which was perhaps good for him, but that’s not so good for the people who it happens to, his family.
When was that?
’67 I think, without looking it up. He was comparatively quite young because he was born in 1900 so, you know, it should not have been so early. He was a tall, very lean man, never put on weight and looked after himself in that regard, but the
smoking, and he did have some heart problem which had been found, so.
Just stop it for a sec. Do you ever recall any troopships coming home back into Sydney Harbour?
Yes, yes, but what… Yes I do, I do remember the... Now I mentioned the Queen Mary earlier. I have a feeling she came into Sydney during this period, I do
because we were very conscious of all that always being on the water and living near it and being part of it, you know. I think so, Matt, but the picture doesn’t readily come to... I mean what I may have seen the pictures in my head may have been in a documentary or something, I don’t know, but I have feeling that she did. Was it the Queen Mary they couldn’t get under the Harbour Bridge? Now I’m not sure on that. Well, I don’t know, I don’t know.
What were your thoughts and feeling about being told you were going to go back to Holland for a holiday?
Oh terrific, I was thrilled to bits and my school friends were, “Ohh you lucky thing. Oh isn’t it great?” and I said, “Oh yes... ” Oh and it was quite a thing in those... in that era and I mean the trip itself was tremendous fun because there were a lot of English people on board doing exactly what we were doing – going back
home. And some with, you know, with relatives, you know, and older people. And there were also some expat [expatriate] Aussies because it was a a time when a lot of the Australians... You know, Australia was slow in recognising their own in many ways and the story in those years was and for quite some time after, you had to go overseas to prove yourself if you were going to, you know, make a name for yourself in
the arts or music whatever it was, and there was a lot of those sort of people on board. I remember there was a family of entertainers the Curman Brothers and they put on concerts. Who else did we have on board?
I have to stop you there because the tape….
Interviewee: Marianne Berentzen Archive ID 1638 Tape 06
Marianne can you continue that story about who was on board the Orontes on your return to Holland?
Yes, Kirsty, I have to think. Well I’ve told you about Tilley Divine.
Would you give us some more details about her?
Well she was just a well-known character in Sydney, the history of that era in any of the books, I have a book on it all, The Wild Women of
Sydney and she’s well and truly in that, but I mean I’d have to refresh my mind to tell you more, but certainly she and Kate Lee were tremendous sort of rivals as I recall, and as I said earlier I think Kate Lee was the one with the sly grogging and I think, and I would not wish in any way to malign her, but I think Tilley may have been more on the side with the girls. That may be
wrong, but nonetheless she was well known. And the vice squad, you know, the history of Sydney then when you read it was so interesting because they all knew each other and it’s all wheels within wheels in so many ways and yes, she was quite a characters. She was, when I think back, a big woman I think. She had blonde hair I think. I think she had blonde hair, I’m almost sure.
And why she was going back on that voyage of the Orontes I don’t know, but that’s what she was doing and she was a lot of times in the company of this Beno Mozaovitch. I remember that well.
What sort of clothes did she wear?
Oh what was she wearing? Look, I would be guessing to try and work that out for you. Whatever it was it would’ve been clothes of that era, but what does stay in my mind as I said was the jewellery, the incredible jewellery.
Was she a performer?
No, no, no no, no, oh no, she wasn’t a performer. She lived in Woolloomooloo and she had one of those small houses there that at that time you’d say, “That’s Tilley Divine’s house.” You know. And she was well known amongst the fraternity who were into that so-called seamier side of Sydney life. I mean people of that era will know of Tilley Divine and know
of Kate Lee and people I speak of, you know. She was originally English, that’s what it’d be why she was on that Orontes. She was originally English, that’s right, so maybe she decided after the war to go back to family, I don’t know. I can’t tell you more than that.
And who else was aboard the Orontes?
Well the Curman Brothers come to mind, they were theatrical people…
Who else? There were actors, other actors on board, possibly names that now would jump out at me if I heard them, but at that time I can’t think exactly think. But what does come to mind on the return voyage when we came back on the maiden voyage of the Orcades which was in... We left in December of that year, ’48, and it arrived back in Sydney January ’49. On
board was Peter Dawson. You know of Peter Dawson I expect. Wonderful Australian and he was an incredible man. He gave concerts on board. I remember hearing him singing cause I’m a great lover of his, I’ve got my old 78s of him still. Also on board was the Right Honourable Robert Menzies and his daughter Heather, and Heather was in our group when we all had our... You know, you form up
with friends and cliques and you all go swimming together in the pool or you’d all go down and, you know, have fun in the playroom or the salon or something, and then when you went ashore at the ports you’d join in with the groups. She didn’t come ashore with us at ports, but she was in our group, in my group as friends. Another person on board on that, that’s the Orcades I speak of, was Bill Hudson, the famous timber Bill Hudson, you know, the Bill Hudson of that era.
He used to love that swimming pool. I can still see him on the edge of the rail, he’d get on the rail and he’d ‘phew’ into the pool over the top, you know, one of this. But it was, yes, it was an interesting trip back, that one.
Where did you stop on the way?
Now the Orcades, I’ve got to put my mind back. England, we went through the Suez [Canal], because the Suez had just been through all that
crisis and it was open, Port Said, which in that time I found incredibly interesting and fascinating. I’ve been back to Egypt since then. Port Said was wonderful. And we went to the famous Seamanartz Store where people went. Had this wonderful Turkish coffee that your spoon stood up straight in. All the naughty Arabs along the way. You know… Yes it was, and all the
little boats, the moment the liner or as soon as the liner pulled up they were waiting. The small boats with the locals, with the traders, would pull up and you’d all be hanging out portholes yelling at them. And some of them would be bartering for this and some of them would be bartering for something else. The portholes were wide open, you know, the portholes were always open in port then. See travelling by liners was so different. You won’t catch me on one of these big floating hotels, no way, this was great
stuff. I had a cabin, because my mother sister and I were on the Orcades. My father had flown back for business. And I had a cabin below the deck my mother was on with my sister, and I shared it with a girl, she may have been early 20s, and it was what they called a ‘bibby cabin’ and you walked into it and the two bunks were there and then there was a little wash basin and from there was a
little sort of almost alley way part that went straight to the porthole. So the porthole was open and you’d get... And in fair weather the stewards always opened it and you’d get all this wonderful fresh sea air in on you. Rough weather of course, closed up. But in port, as I was just saying, they’re open. So you hang out the portholes and you don’t miss a thing; it was wonderful. These people talking, jostling, yelling, the locals. People screaming because they’d been taken down, “Oh that’s not the right price what…”
And of course they’re as quick as flash and they’d miss out and… Yes it was really something.
What were your impressions of Robert Menzies?
Oh an incredible gentleman, incredible gentleman. Loved his family, loved his family. I had his autograph. I had a marvellous autograph book I have since sold that to a collector, but
I’ve had autographs going back to the ’40s. I’ve always collected them. And his was one and Heather’s and Peter Dawson and people like that. No he was a remarkable, I found him a very... On board when we saw him and he was there a very peaceful gentlemen, mm. Very much in the old school, yeah. And his daughter, she was good company when she was with us, great company. Great company. I lost touch after. We didn’t keep in
touch or anything, but I do well remember her and, yes, she was good company.
How much freedom did you have when you got off at the ports?
Not a great deal because my mother was keeping eyes on all this you see. And when we got off at Colombo, which was a marvellous place, and I had been asked if I would like to go ashore with a cadet purser on board
with whom I had formed a friendship, and he was absolutely... I thought he was gorgeous. And we used to meet and swim at crack of dawn at the pool, particularly I remember as we went through the Suez Canal – it was quite an experience. That was the first time I ever heard the… Allahu Akbah, you know, the Islamic call to prayer, you know, across the... I can
remember in the [Suez] Canal as it floated across because you had the sand on both sides then the sun rising and then this, you know, the voice coming across of the Islamic call, mmm…
What was your first impression of that? What was it like to witness that?
To hear it? Exotic, exotic, very exotic…
Yes at that stage I would’ve said exotic, at that stage of my life yes.
Okay, now we’re going back again to Kings Cross when you first moved here.
Did you ever noticeably go without when you were there? Were you aware of…?
As children when we were living there? No… I remember
we had a lot of mashed potatoes, as I said earlier, which we loved anyway. Sausages, too, which we loved as children, chops on occasions which mother said, “Oh well I’ll buy you two a chop,” and she perhaps would have something else. Well I have no idea how she managed then. I mean mother perhaps went without with things at times I would think because until they were established and my father came out, ultimately it would’ve been very hard for her. I can’t remember
a massive thing of ever feeling terribly gone without, no, no. But we were always brought up with a, what would one say a… Well to quote one of her expressions, “We also knew how many beans made five,” and you didn’t waste money and you didn’t waste anything and,
you know, you made it all work for you. So if you went without a little bit of something else, well so what? Something else would work out. But you don’t go over the top. So I suppose that came into anyway from way back.
Do you remember any strange smells from Kings Cross?
In the flats oh yes a lot, in the flats
because of the different the cooking aromas. And I do remember that, and that’s always been so when people are in close proximity of course because they cook all sorts of things, and sometimes it would be stale cabbage, you asked me, but I do remember that, yes because the flats were as I said earlier very close. And you’d know if somebody was cooking fish, and my mother loved smoked haddock,
very English, and I can always remember if we had that at any stage that was all through the place for ages. The intermingling of the different, the different I suppose nationalities yes, yes and the different people there because it was a broad spectrum, Kirsty, it was a broad spectrum.
did you take on any extra household responsibilities being the eldest daughter, particularly when your dad came out?
Yes I did have a fair few extra… The eldest, I was always aware, well aware of being the eldest. I must admit, yes.
How did that manifest itself?
I jolly well don’t know. I suppose its responsibility on one’s shoulders for sure.
What extra things did you have to do?
And one would always, well always, “Take care of your little sister,” that
is very strong in my mind. And then when mother had her businesses, well it was virtually a case of helping immediately you came home to get the dinner on, and to do that, and help with the dishes afterwards, and weekends clean the flat or whatever, help in the garden. Like I remember in the time we were living in the Queenscliff, you know, “You have to help with the gardening,” and on Saturday morning, “Do all that before you can go do for your surf.” So you were in a
situation where you were expected certainly to do your bit, yes.
Did your mother make any of the things that she sold in the shop?
No, I can’t remember her making any of them. She would’ve had contacts from the lady she bought it from because the woman she bought it from as I can recall had it as a gown shop and she no doubt... She knew her way around a lot in that sort of world, too, so.
And probably from her background and she had as I said lived in Sydney back in the late ’20s, certainly it was a long while prior to the ’40s, but she wasn’t completely strange to Sydney. And I don’t know, she didn’t to my... No, she didn’t ever make any of the clothes. I can’t remember her sitting down and making them at home, put it that way. But I know she did alterations.
I remember her fitting things on people. I do remember that. And, you know, that was part of it. I often remember she was looking for good dressmakers, that came into it somewhere, so she must’ve had contacts.
Okay, and did you have any contact with the prostitutes at all? And what do you remember of them?
Only seeing who you... You know, it’s a funny thing about that. People say so and so’s a prostitute and she’s this and that. I mean how does one tell? How do
you know? How in heaven’s name do you know? I mean the ladies of the night are, you know, it’s their own world. We weren’t as children of course allowed out at night or anything like that, so there was no way of knowing that, but, you know, as far as the military personnel were concerned it may have been their girlfriends. And apparently
in the era they did have girlfriends. I mean in the flats sometimes a friend’d say to you, “Oh that lady blah blah blah,” and you think, “But how would she know?” I mean you don’t actually know unless you see anything, so had I actually seen with my own eyes that a prostitute was operating? No, I have not.
How did you learn about sex when you were…
What a question to ask me!
Were you taught anything at school, though, if you knew this was happening…
Were there any explanations
Kirsty, you’re speaking of educationally, no it was not a subject that came up in our educational system I think from memory, I remember some of my friends saying that before they left school they had been taken in to the Mistress of Studies’ office or something and had been given little talks. I didn’t have any of that because
I didn’t go through to the Leaving or to the later school. But as far as I was concerned, it just all came naturally. I read a lot. I had a very, very dear friend who – we became friends when she had migrated for very similar reasons to my family and we became friends at eight years of age in Elizabeth Bay and we maintained our friendship until she died some years ago, sadly, from cancer.
She and I were terrific confidantes. She was of European background, obviously, and we talked the same language, liked the same things. And she eventually married, so did I, then we lost touch, then we got together again when I returned to Sydney. All our lives we were like that. She was more than a sister to me. Now she and I used to have fun of course going to parties when we were there, and we’d talk about things and, you know, we had contact with the boys and
so your life goes on. But it all just comes naturally, you know. I found it was no… No, I didn’t go through any massive hurdles over it. Not really, no I didn’t, I didn’t. And as far as boyfriends were concerned I was asked out by, you know, quite a few of the boys from various schools and that to their whatever it was, parties or get-togethers
What kind of school parties did you have then?
Some of them there was quite a bit of drinking, but you knew the guys who got too stuck into alcohol for you. And you just thought, “Now watch that. Don’t get in the car with him. Don’t get yourself in a spot,” sort of thing. So you just didn’t get involved when it was too much, if you felt it was too much. The dresses... The parties were formal, more formal and
actually on reflection it was great fun. I tell you what did happen a lot, and it’s an art that now has really died, we used to flirt a lot, you know the word flirt? We did, we did flirt a lot and that was part of the fun, all part of the fun. It was great fun. And there was a place called the Pickwick Club in Sydney where – I didn’t ever have a party there, but quite a few of my friends did – and it was a very
nice well-known spot there for 21sts and that sort of thing.
Where was it?
Oh, I have a feeling it was somewhere near Bligh Street, I think, I think, yes I think it was or Pitt, no Bligh I think. And, you know, it was all… You went in your best dress, which was long, and you got really dressed up. And if your boyfriend came to pick you up
or if you were asked out they would very often appear with a corsage for your dress or a box of chocolates to pick you up. It was just like that. And then my parents would have to know how we were getting home and, you know, what was going to happen whether, you know, home by a certain time.
Do you remember the time?
Oh’d be 11ish
sometimes yes from memory 11ish.
Did you ever drink at these parties?
From memory no, no not really. A lot of punch, we sometimes had big punchbowls, served punch, a lot of punch was served. Not a lot of alcohol at those sort of parties. There were the school parties and the personal parties that people had in their homes, that would sometimes get out of hand with more alcohol. That would be more and, you know, I mean
I don’t think people change. They used to have sometimes alcohol in the boot or something like that you see. but it wasn’t, I can’t say I ever got involved in anything really majorly disastrous, fortunately, in anything like that. When I started work is when I first sorted of got more with people who were drinking and we went to, like I started with a Dutch Shipping Company in Sydney, the
KPM it was then, and wonderful incredible shipboard parties so you’d start to have a drink at those. So that’s where it was, you know, more free, but at school it wasn’t a massive situation, no. And a lot of them you weren’t even allowed to have alcohol at the parties you see; the parents didn’t want it. It was like that.
Now when you got back from
your trip to Holland and came back to Australia, what did you do then? Were you back at school?
No, my father wanted me to go back, but I didn’t want to.
So what did you do then?
I should’ve perhaps, but how do we know? I wouldn’t have had the experiences if I had. So then I said I didn’t want to get my Leaving Certificate. My mother then said, “Oh well, business college.” So I was put at Miss Hailes, the then notorious, wasn’t notorious
but very well known Miss Hailes Business College in Market, in Margaret Street, in Kembla Buildings in Margaret Street in the heart of the city, and I did my full business course there. Business, you know, bookkeeping, the full bit, and then came the thing, “Well what are you going to do now, Marianne?” Of course I’d always wanted to follow my art career and I wasn’t allowed to, “No, no, no, you’d better get yourself a position and get a job.” And so
I went into Miss Hailes’s office, and of course in those days getting a job was no problem at all because she said, “Oh well, I have a list here of people you can go to for interviews.” And I had already decided I wanted to go back to the UK and work here and see Europe, and there was a position going at the KPM it was then, still the
Dutch Shipping Company. It subsequently became a firm called Royal Interocean Lines. And I applied and got that job and started there, and it was very interesting. It was in the customs and provedoring section as secretary to the man who ran that section. And that’s where I started, right in the heart of George Street, 255A. The spot is still there but the building is now occupied by a
massive huge complex, the name of which eludes me… Anyway they used to have a huge big ship in the window. It was a wonderful old building, all wooden structured in front, and next door was Leo Buring’s wine cellar that went down, the Leo Buring Wines. And they used to have wonderful wine tastings and we’d tippy-toe in next door and go to their wine tasting and then come back in again. But it was an extremely
interesting time because wool was king in Sydney then and the ships were going out of Sydney loaded to the gunnels, and all the wool buyers were part of the world, so I grew into that world very easily.
How old were you when you started working there?
Oh, Kirsty, I was about 18 I think roughly. About 18, yeah, round about that. And
we had to order all, would you believe we were turning ships around in port in a day, which is fast… incredibly unusual, but we did. There was myself and another girl who became a very good friend of mine and a young guy who ran the customs section. And the man who ran it, we were under his jurisdiction. Our desks were all jammed together, I mean it was
just such fun. And I mean and there was none of this business, “You can’t say that, that’s sexist,” or all that for goodness sake. No, we were just all fun together.. And if somebody said something, well if you didn’t like, you know, you handled it, if you knew how to handle it, and if you did like it you laughed like heck. I mean it was as free as anything. There was no... And we worked. I mean when the ships were in port you had to really get on to the manifests and we had massive big typewriters, old Stott and Underwood’s that size, that
you had to get the manifests into with about, oh goodness knows how many tissue-like carbon copies that all had to be correct through properly if you made a mistake on it, because those copies were distributed on the wharves and to… See shipping was so different then. It was all loaded on the, you know, the hoists and the cranes and the slings and unloaded the same way and the manifests were all distributed around. So it was, you know, it was a very interesting world. And
so to turn them around in port so quickly you had to get your ship’s stores on board very, very swiftly, too. And they were Dutch ships, they handled the Dutch ships, the Holland Australia Line Kirk Boats. In time they also handled all the migrant ships that came out at that period with migrants after the war.
Were you involved with that?
Yes, yes quite a bit.
What did you do there?
The same thing,
I always maintained the same position at the firm while I was there, but I came into contact because our little section where we were was right in the bottom ground floor in the centre of the building when people came in that swinging door. If there was some at the counter you’d go and attend to them. The passenger people were there in their little section, but you’d talk to people and the migrants who would come in and, you know, I’ve had them coming in saying, “Oh…”
They’d only walked off the ship perhaps half an hour ago. “Oh get me back. I want to go straight home again.” You know, things like that, remarkable things. I used to get a bit cross and say, “Well give it a chance. Give our country a chance. Go and have a look at it.” You know…
Did you have many people arranging to go back?
Well a lot of them couldn’t because they had come out under bond, you see, and if they were assisted passages quite a lot of them had to work
a bond out. And they would go to the migrant camps, you’ve probably heard of them. Some of them were quite notorious because they said they were harsh, but then a lot of them had come out not used to Australian conditions, too. So it was, in my book, a bit both ways. Bonegilla was one. Bonegilla. And I don’t know. I think on the whole… See they were refugees
they were displaced persons, DPs we used to call them, DPs.
Where were they mostly from?
A lot of Poles from memory, quite a lot of Dutch. Yugoslavs, there were Yugoslavs. English were still coming out. Yes, English were still coming out. And I’m trying to think as I speak when the White Australia policy
ended because that came into my youth, the White Australia policy. But these were all European migrants you see from that part of the world, and the boats were coming out full.
And you managed the receiving of the ships?
I didn’t no, no, We had a... There were the freight department, the men who met
the ships, and they would go down and be part of that. I was purely in the ordering of the ship’s stores, so. But I dealt with the crews quite often and the man I worked with was happy to let me do it, which was great. They would come in, the officers or the engineers, the captains, and if they wanted something special in the provedoring line you got to know your contacts around town and
the businesses and in those days where now... You know where Wynyard Station is? If you up from George Street, not the George Street entrance, the York Street entrance, all those streets there, down there towards Sussex were full of provedoring type people, also down at Circular Quay. And you got to know and I would just take the orders you know, ring up,
order them, type the orders out on the little forms we had and then personally hot-footed all over Sydney to deliver them so that, you know, you’d get them on time. And you’d deal with the people direct and they got to know me and I knew them, and some of them got very good orders out of it, you know.
What kind of things for example would you have to go and get?
Oh I mentioned engineering, the engineers,
oh it’s a long while ago, but they would want certain items that for their engineering and they would write it down and then I would ring up. In one case there was a firm called Broomfields and Stan King was the incredible man I dealt with there, and I’d ring Stan up and I’d say, “Stan, look, he’s ask for…” And he’d say, “Oh, I know what you mean.” And there was one day he said, “I’ll come down, I’ll come down, I’ll come down to you and pick up the order.” “All right, Stan.” So shortly he’d whistle down and then
one day one of the masters asked for a ‘bastard file’ and I’d never heard of a bastard file and I thought. “What is this?” So I rang Stan up, I said, “Stan, I don’t think this is right.” He said, “Don’t you worry. It is quite right. I will fix it for you.”
What did you wear to work in those days?
Oh we had... I was always dressed... I was always aware of my appearance, dressed quite smartly for that fashion for that era. Gloves often. I was talking about that the other day to a friend of mine.
Often gloves, sometimes a hat if we were going out specially at times or at night or anything. Cotton dresses. There were wonderful cottons you used to be able to get – Horrox. Horrox’s cottons. And each spring the new styles would come out in the shops, particularly David Jones, on the racks or somewhere like and you’d fly up in your lunch hour and you’d have a look and say, “Oh, I’ll get that one. I’ll get that one.” Or, “I’ll
get that and that one.” And sometime put it on lay-by and yeah, you’d have two or three of those and white shoes, bag to match and all that.
Tell us about meeting your first husband?
Meeting him? Oh well, he was taking out my... A friend of his was taking out my sister and he had migrated himself to Australia on an
assisted passage which his uncle had helped him with, and he had gone down to work out his bond at the Yallourn Open Cut Mines. And he came up for a holiday in Sydney and my sister’s friend said, “Oh you’ll have to meet him. He’s a friend of mine.” And I met him and our first date was a blind date actually, of course, to Luna Park. So there you are. That’s what happened. And we got together and…
And that was not popular with your parents?
No, there were problems because my mother had other ideas for me I think in that regard, and he also had to make his way and I think in her way she was not so keen that that should be like that, you see.
So did you go to London to work as you initially planned?
I did not make it. Because the money I had saved up, which
I was going to spend on a passage and get myself settled over there, because he and I... Well we fell in love. We got together and we wanted to get married, and the family were not so keen on all that. And then I left home and then I came back home again to home for a period, and then ultimately he was transferred to Orange for the job he had started with... It was GJ Coles at the time. And
I had then left home and he went up to Orange and I went up too and found myself accommodation there, and applied for and got a job as personal secretary to one Alan Ridley, an incredible man who was running 2GZ at the time in Orange, which was the radio station. I believe it’s still there. Great, I really enjoyed that job. They were just branching
into television and starting and they were planning my office and all that business. So I was Alan Ridley’s secretary for the period I was in Orange. We got married in Orange. And he was mayor of Orange at the time too, so it was an interesting time.
What was your wedding like?
Oh, good fun. We’d rented this little or part of a house with a little, with an old man – he wasn’t little – old man
in Orange in Lord’s Place. And my sister and her then husband, no I don’t think they were married yet, she subsequently married him, that’s the friend who I told you about and old friends from Sydney, from my… Old friends came up by train and we booked them all in where they wanted to at various hotels. No, it didn’t work that way. We said, “We shall book ourselves in at the Royal Hotel at Orange.”
So we booked ourselves in at the Royal Hotel and then we said, “Now you folks,” the old man who owned the house said, “I’ll go away while you’re getting married and you can have house,” which was a nice thing to do. So all our friends took over the house and worked that all out. I did all the reception. I had wonderful help from Holly Folds who was running the old Standard Hotel there at the time, and she cooked all the chickens for me in her massive oven. And we got married
and then had the reception in the house and then we tootled off in the little car on which the money that I was going to go to England had gone. I’d bought the little car, a little Renault. And into the Royal Hotel and that was it, all great fun, uncomplicated fun. It was a long weekend in January.
How long did you stay in Orange for?
About two years, Kirsty, about two years roughly.
And then what?
he was doing quite well with Coles actually, he was up at the top store then. There were two stores there then and he… But he’d met somebody in Shell and this man was district manager with Shell and he liked John and he had an idea that he’d be good in the Shell company, so he offered him a position as a Shell rep [representative] out at Dubbo. And he took it and we went out there.
How did you handle the country life being… really
loving the city?
Orange, I loved it. There was a lot going on there and we made a lot of good friends. There was always something happening. Dubbo I was not happy with greatly. No I found it hard to handle, extremely hot and perishingly cold in winter and remote after the city. Yes, you’re quite right. I found it really quite a culture shock. And we were there also a bit more than two years from memory, and my son was born while we were living there. I came down to Sydney to have him – he was born in Sydney –
but we were living in Dubbo at the time and then ultimately moved back to Sydney and my son’s father then continued with Shell and subsequently left Shell and joined Lend Lease, so it’s sort of been a…
Okay, just back briefly to your work you did in Sydney before you met your husband and went away, what were the street scenes like
around Circular Quay in those days?
Oh good fun, good fun.
What was going on?
A lot, it was you see a lot of the buildings that you now see there of course weren’t there. It was much, for want of a better word, lower rise, you didn’t have it. Opposite where our building where I was working was a little restaurant called the Tulips. It was – anybody of that era would know the Tulips – it was run by a Dutchman who had been a chief steward on one of the Dutch ships and his wife, incredible
people, and you went downstairs to it. It was almost, and the old Bilderson Building was just almost next to it and they catered particularly to the Dutch community. And my father used to loved going there and so I carried it on, so of course you’d go to places like that which are so… It was intimate and lovely and you’d get to know those people. Restaurants were small and cosy. Eating was much, much
more contained and compact. There was none of this huge food halls or anything like that. It was not like that. The streets were full of business people that end of town. Wool buyers, shipping people, seamen off the ships, officers sometimes. And further down from where our office was you’d go across down George Street and you’d come to where the Regent Hotel is now.
Well in there were a whole lot of provedoring type shops, included in that was the wonderful Andronicus where they all began, George Andronicus and all those, and they had a little tiny shop with a clock on it, I always remember it, and you’d go in if you were running down to get an order to one of the provedores down there and you’d dive in and have a coffee in that dear little shop and dive back up again. It was bustle, mm.
Were there many women walking around?
Oh yes, well
I walked all over Sydney and it wasn’t until years later that I realised why Thorpie, as we used to call the man who was in charge of our section, he’d say, “Now Marianne, you’re going up to Gollan and Company?” or something and I say, “Yes, yes, yes, that’s where I’m going,” and he’d say, “Oh well, all right. And you’re going so and so,” and I’d say, “Yes, JT Collis,” – they were down near the Pyrmont Bridge where they did all the fresh food and vegetables and stuff – and I’d say, “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll go and see them down there.” “And where else?” And I said, “Blah blah blah.” He said, “Yes, now all right, well you shouldn’t be
all that long,” and I say, “Oh…,” you know, and I’d charge off. But of course why he was doing it was to make sure that he knew where I was and that I was going to be okay and at least he could follow my footsteps a bit, you know. Fair enough.
Should anything happen?
Yeah. Yes, yes.
Did anything happen in those days?
No, wolf whistles. They were fun.
Interviewee: Marianne Berentzen Archive ID 1638 Tape 07
Marianne, what do you recall of the Vietnam War as a civilian?
A lot of antagonism, a huge amount of antagonism and resentment, simmering resentment and definitely outspoken resentment, both, both and very, very
strong feelings one way or the other, mostly against.
Are you prepared to say where you stood?
Oh I personally, I personally, it wasn’t our war, if I can put it that way. Yeah, I mean Australia all through history we fought wars and we have been very
fortunate to have ourselves reasonably unscathed apart from the wonderful people we’ve lost, but heaven’s sake, you know, yes. Then if we’re going to get into politics and the other side of it that’s another story and I don’t know about that.
You worked in the ABC from about 1972 onwards, how was it working in news and current affairs at a time
when that Vietnam War was still going?
Extremely interesting, very, very interesting and very, very challenging. The ABC was a challenging place anyway in those days, and the work I was involved with certainly was, and it was split second precision and TDT [This Day Tonight- program] as it was known or the stage of night was very, very controversial in some ways, mm,
because it sort of struck out in areas that hadn’t been touched before and it was a landmark.
What sort of editorial crises and decisions do you recall ever overhearing or talking about?
I think there were many editorial crises and decisions.
Particularly in regard to the Vietnam War?
expect... The ABC always adhered to its policy and it had a very set policy, and you come down to the decision of the executive producer, as you’d probably know, as to what is to air and what is not, and it rests with that person as to how it is presented. Whether it’s presented in true direct fashion and
whether or not, and whether people are given the chance to perhaps form their own opinion.
Who are some of the journalists you recall and correspondents who were reporting from the Vietnam War, even though Australia wasn’t involved at that time?
Ah, well now, from the Vietnam War. I worked with Pat Burgess, I don’t know if that name rings a bell with you, an incredible man, very much a journalist of the old school. I still have
Pat’s journalistic ethics he gave me. He had covered Vietnam. I remember well he was very, very definite and we were quite good friends we got quite well, Pat and I, and yes he comes to mind. But once again he was bound by editorial policy and
ABC policy, of course.
What sort of quality coverage do you think the ABC gave of that time?
That’s a very leading question.
Let me say what ‘quality’ of coverage.
As I recall I found it all pretty well straight down the line
in my opinion, but of course as you would know one has to, you know, sometimes you can say, “Bias is in the eyes of the beholder.” I mean I remember well when we had controversial subjects to air and we would take the calls after the programs and the main switchboard would be lit up like a Christmas tree. And
my friend who was in charge of all that he would ring up and say, “Can you come down? We need you.” So down I’d go and we’d all be on, you know, the switchboard answering the calls. And it’s incredible when you talk to the public like that, first hand, how people perceive things and how they interpret things, so you’re in a situation that’s got to be very carefully handled.
What was some of the
opinions of the public in regard to the ABC’s coverage of the Vietnam War?
Direct questions, I’ve had both when I’ve been at the end of the phone. People who… But then I’ve found that with most of the days I worked with it. We had incredibly strong opposition to one particular view and yet the same thing somebody would ring up about and say, “I wholeheartedly agreed with
something.” So it’s very hard. However, if you went through these people and took a complete survey of it, I don’t know. We didn’t actually; I never had time. All one could think of was to speak with these people to answer the calls when they came in after a particular segment or a program and to listen to them.
Did you ever speak with any correspondents who had spent time in Vietnam?
Only, I remember Pat Burgess well
and he comes to mind particularly. As I speak I’m trying to think of who else may have covered that. No, Mike Carleton was Indonesia, I don’t, oh no, he may have well gone to Vietnam, I’m not sure on that. I would have to think again. Don’t know, not quite sure there. But apart from Pat’s coverage, yes. But you see you come to a situation, I mean, editorially it’s the vital
thing. And after all, the person making those decisions about what goes to air that night and how it goes to air is the one of course who carries the onus.
How do you feel seeing some of those correspondents you knew in their younger days, multi-million dollar columnists?
Great. I never miss reading the credits of any of the documentaries
or the programs and still some of the names come up. You know, I wouldn’t miss Mike’s column, I read him every Saturday. Peter Luck was with us, remarkable person again, terrific brain. He was a Rhodes Scholar from memory, I think. Paul Murphy was one. Regrettably don’t hear much of Paul now. Tony Joyce, who sadly died, of course was with us. Oh they all, there’s a whole
kaleidoscope of them, Matt. I know Carolyn Jones. I know, I knew, I worked with Carolyn on Four Corners, but she was originally a TDT reporter. She was not in TDT when I was there, but she is herself a tremendous person and very well respected in her world. What other names come to mind? I’ve got a whole book full of them in my room.
So many of them came. You see it was a sort of training ground too because if they wanted to work in other programs or take on something else they would come and get the basics of it and learn with us or pick a lot up, and then if it was felt they could stay and contribute and the executive producer was happy with that situation well then they would carry on. But mostly they would want to do other things or they would move on to other fields, or a lot went
commercial. Now George Negus was with us, and well and truly. He, yes, like all of us, we were a lot younger. But they were incredible times.
Given the controversies over the last couple of years, how do you think the ABC compares in coverage of Australia at war from the time you were there until, let’s say, the last Iraq conflict, when there was some accusations of bias?
Australians at war,
like are you talking about the current conflict?
For example, do you think there’s been a change in the way the ABC has devoted its resources to covering conflict?
As an observer, and purely as an observer, I think some of the reports that are coming over are excellent. In fact I personally would say what they’re doing there
in that regard is tremendous because it’s a very specialised job, the ones who go over to those war zones and covers from there. It’s only certain type of people can do it. And, from what I can see, and purely as an observer, I’ve been out of it a long, long while now, quite a while, that yes, most of it, I think, that’s coming across is extremely well done. That’s the only way I could put it.
But then I’m a very loyal person too. But yes, I can, yes. I’ll pick holes. There’s holes. But no, I found a lot of it’s great.
Let’s cut to your involvement with the Australian defence forces in Malaysia. Can you give us the background on that?
Yes, I married a man when I was working in Darwin – I met a man when I was married – and he was with the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]. He’s
a legal officer. And we formed a friendship and he was subsequently transferred to Penang and he asked me to join him. I took long service leave and joined him up there and we did ultimately get married. We wanted to get married on Australian soil, but couldn’t do so because we couldn’t get a Herc [Hercules aircraft] back at the time. You know, we had Herc trips and that, but there wasn’t one going or something. So anyway we decided
what we would do is get married in the Australian High Commission, which was the nearest we could come to Australia to... at Kuala Lumpur, mm.
Prior to your being married, how did the defence forces view your relationship?
Oh an interesting one, I would say they were pretty… Well perhaps I was regarded as somewhat of a scarlet woman.
But then the Muslims thought of me a bit as a scarlet woman, too. Not that worried me a bit, but it was a wee bit that way, mm.
What was the social scene amongst those Australian officers and their partners who had been posted to Malaysia?
a part of their... The whole community was somewhat very tightly controlled and very much within circles of... You moved within their circles Butterworth was... Well the officers all knew each other, of course. The wives did, they got together if… They sort of thought to play tennis together, do all those things. And, you know, meet socially. The mess dinners were
certainly interesting experiences and really, yes, quite something. I enjoyed those when we went. But we didn’t live on base. We didn’t live on base.
Why did you choose not to live on base?
Neither of us wanted it. We preferred to live independently. When I’d first gone up there we had a house right in the, well in the local quarter ,at a place called Tung Chon Whunga
and he used to go across on the bus each day that went over to near Penang, to Butterworth. And the house, it was rented from a Chinese woman. It was completely… Security in every room, you know, you had a key to get you in the grille of the front door and all that.
It was very much like that and it was quite an experience there. That went on for a while. But the house was… The woman who owned it… Certainly the electrical wiring was most suss [suspicious]. It was quite an experience actually at time. But ultimately we tried and did get an RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]
unit in a block of units right on the Straits in Penang, which was a complex there.
Can you describe some of these mess dinners that you attended?
Well… long dresses, looking as best as you could. The men looking great in their uniforms and beautifully,
you know, immaculately put together. Great food, conversation on all subjects, wine, dancing. More of the old style when I was there of living perhaps
than anything else. The port bottles passed round, you know, all that.
How did you feel about that somewhat old fashioned and traditional life?
Well I’m a traditionalist so that side of it I did quite enjoy and yes, I had fun there. I did have fun there, Matt, but
the political side of it and the ins and outs I would try and not get too involved in.
How would you describe the relationship between the Australian personnel there and the local people?
It was… Well when we were there by the time it came time for us to go, my own feeling at that period was
that they would be quite happy to see us move on. I ended up, I didn’t sort of join in a lot of the social side with the women I was the offered the position of secretary to the head of the RAAF School at Penang and I took it and enjoyed it for the period. It was quite an experience in many ways.
The school there, which had been built or put together by Australians, we employed Australian teachers for the RAAF personnel and their families, were brought up from Australia. That was then at that stage then handed over, or about to be handed over, back to them and they were only too happy I think for that to happen. It was a very interesting
experience. I mean I can recall two Malaysian officers coming up the stairs to my office when the principal was over at Butterworth on a particular day and marching up and saying, “Oh, you know, we take, now we take over. This is our school,” and I said, “No, no, no,” and it was a bit like that .
What was the relationship like amongst the officers’ wives?
Some of them made really good friends of each other. I had a couple there that I was very friendly with. Some of them it became... It wasn’t particularly... Some of it wasn’t particularly my sort of world, but then I was working so that suited me, just well because although it was extremely tiring at times and certainly demanding, it was better for me
and I certainly learnt a lot more that way, I found, from the general run of things. What was the relationship like? I mean cordially, hospitable, friendly amongst them, a lot of gossip, yes.
What strains do you think that sort of posting put on a relationship?
It could put a lot of strains on a relationship overseas
and once again it yes, a good relationship in such a situation would certainly be important and helpful. I mean in such areas and in such circles that you move in and the wives are often privy to things that are highly confidential or that are part of movements or whatever it
is, and the men get involved in a different form of life in a way, and yes it can put a lot of pressure on a relationship.
Was boredom a problem amongst the wives?
I think it could be amongst some of them yes, my observations going back a bit yes. I think some of them were bored. A lot of them spent their time, you know, there were wonderful things to be bought. And
I mean we spent a lot of our time travelling all over Asia. We saw the most incredible things and travelled as much as we could in our spare time, so did some of the others, some of them didn’t. It seemed to be buying what they could, you know, to take back home and things like that. The Hercs would often come back loaded with a massive amount of stuff, a huge amount of stuff. Okay, that’s their privilege they’re allowed to do that, but that was their sort of outlet in some ways and what they wanted to do for the period
they were there. Drinking, a fair bit of drinking I guess, yes. And, as I say, because I was working I found it easier in many ways. See I ran my own place completely. I had an amah for a while and she became – a wonderful little Indian girl – and she became a good friend of mine as well. But I don’t take too easily to this mistress-help situation.
I tend to treat people more as equals. And she became friendly. We were happy to have it that way. In fact she cooked the most marvellous chilli crab, oh, absolutely ruined us with it. And my son, when he came up and when we moved into the block of flats right on the Straits there, she would not come near us there. One, because it had a lift, and the second reason was because
it had been used, that building had been used by the Japanese and there was talk of torture there and things so she was not going to go near it. So I lost touch with her. But while I had her she would come and cook for me if I asked her for a special dinner or things like that, or come and help with some of the housework. But some of the other women took it as a matter of course and they were... It was part and parcel of it, perhaps a wee bit sometime I think these people were...
Because some of them were more naive or a bit behind the eight ball in that regard. I mean I would always pay for anything. I would convert the money as closely as possible to a fair thing in perhaps our currency then take a bit off allowing, you know, whatever it was and it always worked out well. I had my little trishaw drivers who knew me when I’d been shopping. I did all my own shopping. They’d pick me up and take me back to the flat.
And we had an agreement on how much to pay and some of it was not quite fair in many regards, but then again it’s reciprocal because you had to be on your guard the whole time because they, too, are out to make money and you have to know. The thing is to find that fine line and to not leave them with a feeling that you are overpowering and you are exploiting at time, but it’s a very… It’s an interesting point, that
Now what was it like being married into the Canberra defence establishment?
Oh of a similar situation that I’ve outlined. Of a similar one, confining…
Sorry we’ll start again, Canberra, what was the defence establishment like in Canberra?
One would have to say
obviously very controlled. In many ways a similar sort of atmosphere and feeling to what I experienced at Butterworth, but of course it was home and it was Canberra and it was Australia. The dinners yes, and we had our friends in the service who we would get together with for meals out or at each others homes and that,
and on the whole it was quite an experience of another world because high security came into a lot of it. And it was tight at times, yes.
How do you feel about the way that Anzac Day in Australia has become such a huge celebration or commemoration?
I think it should be.
I find Anzac Day the most emotive day. In fact I experienced an Anzac Day in Penang and we went to the service. It was doubly moving of course because it was there, it wasn’t at home, and even then one’s pride and one’s feelings come to the fore, and in my opinion
so should it be. I think it’s very important. It’s a tradition we’ve all grown up with. I mean go back to not only the noble ANZACs [Australia and New Zealand Army Corps], but even if you wish before that, the Australian spirit, and in history all through the true Australian attitude is what we should all be awfully proud of and never forget and passed on. I
mean it’s certainly passed on to my son. And I mean of course the Australian is a person who will very often, and certainly the people I grew up with, will hide their light under a bush, so to speak. And it’s not until chips are down or until it’s on it all happens, and then people know what they’ve got.
The obstinate decision of your mother to go to Australia rather than Scotland when
you fled Holland, what do you think that has given you out of life compared to if you’d stayed in Holland or gone elsewhere?
Obstinate, interesting you use that word obstinate. I suppose one would say under the old-fashioned interpretation of obstinate, it was obstinacy perhaps peppered with fear and concern for her children. I’m sure that came into it. And a certain…
Yes… What has it given me? … It’s given me some wonderful friends here; it’s given me a country I love very much. It’s given me… It’s given me my son. My family…
If it’s… What else has it given to me? Those are vital things to me, friends, family, friends… A way of life that, thank God, we still have and I hope we can hold. That was one of the first things I think I said when I set foot in Darwin again when we were transferred back to go to Canberra, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful,” you know, “that we’re here and the blue
skies…” That wonderful, I always refer to the blue as the ‘Streeton blues’ [Sir Arthur Streeton, painter of Australian landscapes] from the paintings, that heavenly blue you long for when you are overseas or you are somewhere else or wherever you are. It’s given us all that which is – I’m not only speaking idealistically. It’s there, we’ve got it so as we set foot. I remember saying, “Oh, isn’t it heavenly? I hope we can hold… How long can we hold it? I hope to God it’s always ours.” You know, I mean
it’s probably a bit serious, but that’s how I feel about it.
Holland and Australia had quite different histories during World War II, how do you think the two countries have fared since the war?
Right, I think Holland has fared well, although politically I’m not a 100% up on a lot because I’m a bit remote from it here, but I shall know more if I get back
over there at the end of the year. I understand that their social system and their social… You know, for older people, is excellent, but they tell me that is also on the way down somewhat as indeed here. I mean we all know the superannuation story and what’s changing and I mean for younger people and that who have to face their future it’s going to be a lot extra
for them to handle. So how have they fared? The parallels are hard because they’re such different countries. Here, I think we have fared better in many of the things of say someone of my generation compared to perhaps over there. But then what do we look for? I mean I very much miss the culture of Europe, which is still different, and the preservation and the history of
Europe which is not here because Australia, we’re a new country; we have a different situation. But what we have here is pretty good and, you know. Have we fared, has one fared better than the other, Matt? In different ways they’ve both done, I suppose, quite the best they can. Where would I rather live? I think, even
with my deep love of things European, I’d probably rather live in Australia.