Text and Images: Hans Schlosser and Elisabeth Anderson
Hans and Annie Schlosser grew up in Limburg, a province in the south eastern tip of The Netherlands. Their home town was Heerlen, an ancient city near the German border, where thousands of relics dug up over the years are evidence of its Roman occupation more than 2000 years ago.
For half a decade of their formative years they lived under the German occupation of World War II, with food shortages and daily restrictions a way of life. Hans was aged 16 when his country was liberated. Their eventual decision to emigrate would be a direct consequence of the War.
Their region was a coal mining district and the collieries provided a range of employment for the locals. Hans at first worked as a store clerk, then in the Production Department which recorded the daily output of coal and later in the Labour Reserve Department. These experiences would stand him in good stead after they had made their home in South Australia.
Annie and Hans first met during their High School years. They became engaged in January 1951 and were married in 1953. But in the aftermath of the War the fear of another World War and of a Russian invasion remained real and ultimately the couple and their two young children, Ellen and Paul, joined the exodus for other countries. The Schlosser family chose Australia and sailed on the MS Sibajak on 1st February 1958. They docked in Port Melbourne on 18th March.
Hans and Annie would retain vivid memories of their arrival day. “We travelled all night by train, on the Overland from Melbourne to Adelaide. To sit upright in a train for twelve hours is not the most comfortable way of travelling. We were not offered anything to eat or drink, nor had we been advised to take some refreshments with us on the train. We had absolutely no idea,” Hans would later recall in his memoir.
“Early in the morning I took some photos through the Overland window of the countryside gliding past and of the train when there was a decent curve in the railway track. What a dry country this time of the year! It did not look too inviting. Everything looked so dry and dead and I asked myself: ‘where will we finish up?’ We arrived at Ambleside railway station near Balhannah at approximately 8am. Our group consisted of about 30 men, women and children. After offloading our luggage onto the platform where we assembled, Henk, our co-ordinator, took a headcount. Yes we were all present.
“A bus was waiting for us. It was a very old green Bedford, driven by Mrs. Graeber, the wife of the owner of the bus company in Lobethal. By the time people and luggage were crammed in, we were all very subdued. However the father of Henk started to cheer us up a little by telling a few jokes. We all needed a little cheering up, particularly watching Mrs. Graeber’s driving ability of that old bus. It was a little nervy. We had never seen a woman bus driver before. She was swinging her arms around, turning that large steering wheel from left to right, and from right to left, to keep the vehicle on the undulating road through the hills. That bus has now been retired to the Birdwood Motor Museum and is on permanent display.
“We drove straight into the Woodside Migrant Camp. This was part of the large Army Barracks. We all got out of the bus at the entrance of the camp next to the storeroom and had our first glimpse of our new environment. I am sorry to say it was not very impressive. We saw nothing but Nissan huts around us – half round corrugated galvanised iron on the outside and with ten gyprock rooms in each hut. It was already getting hot and we were waiting for instructions.
“We were given, by the storeman, our bits and pieces for our rooms. Four horse blankets each, a couple of grey looking sheets and pillowcases, all stamped with the large black stamp ‘Property of the Australian Immigration Department’.
“We were each given a pressed aluminium serving tray with our stainless steel spoons, knives and forks and other eating utensils. Then they told us to take the stuff to our allocated hut and walk up the hill to the canteen to have our breakfast.
“Nobody to help us with our luggage, no carts or wheel barrows to assist us, nor to give us instructions where exactly our hut was…..
“Our family was allocated two small bare rooms of approximately 3×3 metres, not very much room for two adults and two children. Nothing on the timber jarrah floors, nothing on the walls. A three quarter inch sheet of gyprock separated us from our neighbours. There was a 60 watt light globe in the ceiling.
“Our bed was a galvanised iron frame with harmonica chicken wire as the base. On top of that lay the same black-stamped very thin zebra striped mattress. It looked like a gate of a cattle yard and made the same squeaking noise also when you turned around or sat on it. The children had a cot each. What had we started? When was the first ship back to Holland? We were very unhappy and felt deceived – nobody to turn to, nobody to ask for advice or give us courage”. But in time they did encounter such people as the Schlosser story gradually unfolded.
After initially working in the local market gardens and orchards, Hans obtained permanent work with a local carpenter, learning much about the building trade in the process.
In November 1958 the Schlosser family was invited to be special guests of the ABC for its first telecast of the annual Christmas Pageant in Adelaide. “We were extremely privileged to have been chosen to participate in this important event” Hans later recalled. They were transported from Woodside to the city in a chauffeur-driven black limousine. Upon their arrival they walked past the floats lined up on South Terrace, shook hands with the clowns and chatted with the participants. They watched the pageant from the balcony on John Martin’s building in Rundle Street and later visited Father Christmas in the Magic Cave. An extra thrill for the family was that, unbeknown to them, the event was later seen on TV world news by their family back in The Netherlands.
In April/May 1959 they finally left the Woodside Immigration Centre to move into a rental home in Stirling. The family would call Stirling home from this time on. Throughout the ups and downs of their first years in Australia the Schlossers would find hands of friendship in their search for further accommodation and employment and eventually became part of the local community.
Due to severe back pain caused by the manual labour of the past year, Hans was unable to continue his work in the building trade. Then, after some anxious times without an income but with endeavours from the local Good Neighbour Council, he obtained work at the Philips factory in Hendon. Soon he became their Production Planner. Philips having its origin in The Netherlands, Hans was pleased to find that plans, drawings, parts lists and other documentation were in his native language!
Socially meanwhile the family participated in activities organised by the Good Neighbour Council and Hans happily accepted an invitation to join its committee. He served as secretary for three years. He also joined the Stirling Bowling Club, became its secretary and in later years qualified as an umpire.
Ensuing jobs would find Hans in further positions aligned with his administrative skills. These included fourteen years with Seppelts in Adelaide and Victoria. After ten years as their Production Co-ordinator in Adelaide Hans took over Area Administration in Great Western near the Grampians and he and Annie remained in Victoria for five busy years. As part of his duties Hans met many celebrities and VIPs at Seppelts, including the then Prime Minister and his wife, Malcolm and Tammy Frazer, and his position also required him to join organisations within the local community and the State.
Upon returning to Stirling to be closer to their growing family, Hans worked with Santos and then WorkCover before retiring in 1990. He joined the Stirling Probus Club where he would meet with other retired professional and business people and he served as its President in 1998.
Hans and Annie also enjoyed two visits back to Europe. In 2002 they settled in the Seven Oaks Retirement Village.
Hans died on 3rd December 2009, aged 80. His resting place is in the David Whibley Memorial Garden in Strathalbyn Road.
Source: “Living in Two Different Continents – From The Netherlands – Europe to Australia” by Hans Schlӧsser 2007.
Do you have memories of the Schlosser Family, the Woodside Immigration Centre or even Graeber’s Bus Service ?
Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.