Vertrek is a lively, wide-ranging social biography about fifteen postwar Australian-Dutch families, taking central stage is the Paulusse family. Candidly narrated by Kees Paulusse, the son of Dutch immigrants to Melbourne in the early sixties, this chronicles the family’s adventure and his own perceptions and experience. Vertrek begins on November 9, 1961, when his family sails Australia bound on the iconic Dutch colonial liner Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.
This fast-paced and intriguing social biography resonates with the indomitable spirits of postwar Dutch immigrants. This vivid chronicle details the lives of fifteen divers Dutch families whom Kees befriended when he became a postman at Portarlington, a fishing village where his dad, Piet Paulusse, and other Dutch families operated scallop fishing boats. Every day, frustrated and homesick, young Dutch women waited in anticipation at their front gate letter box for “therapy” talks to “Kees, de Postbode” (Keith, the Postie).
This biography is a story full of Joie de vivre—the joy of living; it’s contagious, uplifting, and even humorous. The easygoing manner of Australians was a great equalizer to our somewhat driven Dutch nature; no worries and a fair go resonated with “everything will be all right.”
The resourceful, tolerant, artistic, and freethinking Paulusses quickly formed friendships with native-born Australians. Aussies resonated with links of Dutch historical strands that made up the Australian identity, begun in 1606, when the Dutch discovered, mapped, and named the world’s fifth continent New Holland. The mythological retired Australian Gallipoli soldiers called Anzacs also wanted to make friends with this young Dutch postie, who talked like the Belgians, whom they met at Ypres and Passchendeale.
Arriving in at the “Migrant Assimilation Camp,” the Paulusses’ were urged to drop their native language, cultural norms, and values. Culture shocks were relentless for this liberal Protestant Dutch family whose values clashed with a monoculture conservative Angloceltic society that was years behind in attitude and sophistication. Living in a transit Caravan Park, the family came face to face with human rights abuses. Confronted with the White Australia Policy, inequality of women, nonrecognition of Aborigines, the stealing of babies from unmarried mothers, and the stolen generation of Australian aborigines, all were “awareness incubators” for the family’s later involvement in social justice.
This biography begins in the effervescent cultural cauldron of the counterculture movements. Not only did the pill change sex from procreation to recreation but completely changed the mores of conservative Australia. Despite the antiwar movement’s popularity, the Australian government was about to conscript eighteen-year-old Dutch boys to fight in the killing fields of Vietnam. As of old, the Dutch revolted, tens of thousands started a new exodus of Vertrek back to Nederland.