Amsterdam, Holland on 25 April 1951
Sydney on 30 April 1951
Hotel in Kings Cross, Sydney and live-in nanny before own home in Springwood, Blue Mountains, NSW
Nanny for family in Vaucluse, Sydney
Laundry worker for Bucklands Hospital near Springwood, Blue Mountains; secretary at Westmead Hospital, Sydney
I was born 13 February 1928. My maiden name was Cornelia Johanna van Worcum and my married name is Connie Baker. My husband’s name was Martin Baker.
I lived in Hilversum in Holland, which is between Amsterdam and Utrecht.
My mother had already adopted eight children and when she married my father, I was her first born at 42. Her last ones were twins and they were born when she was 46. I can still remember being at the kindergarten and telling my teacher that my mother had twins and she took me to a patisserie and bought me a little cake and I had never seen cakes like it.
You know, there was nothing [in Holland during World War Two]. We used to go by bike to buy food from farmers but we didn’t have tyres because the Germans took them. There was thin timber in the wheels so you can imagine how hard it was to ride and sometimes you were lucky to get a litre of milk.
At night, we went to bed early because we had no light. In the later years, I can remember studying by a bowl with oil and a little wick in it. But then we would run out of it and we would go to bed and open the curtain if we knew there was a moon to get a bit of light.
We had identification cards, which had your fingerprint and your photo. If the Germans checked you on the road and you didn’t have it, well, you had no chance, they picked you up. Nearly every man between the ages of 16 to 60 was picked up and sent to Germany to work in the factories.
I knew this guy who used to listen to the radio from England with a crystal set. He used to type out the news and I would get the copies and we would deliver them. Once I put the bundle on the table [inside my house] and my father heard a truck stop. There was no traffic in those days, and he was so frightened, he picked up the whole bundle and threw them in the fire. I probably didn’t realise what I was doing and the risk I took. It was not so much the Germans but the SS who were the ones to fear.
This oil painting was always hanging in the lounge room at home and when my parents passed away, my sister remembered that I loved it so much and made sure I got it. There were a lot of beautiful oil paintings [in the house] but they were too big to send to me. I would have loved them.
I was a leader for the cubs after the war and that’s how I met my boyfriend. To do the cub leader course we camped in the north of Holland and [slept] in stables. It was in the summer when the cows were out [in the fields]. He was in the scouts and they did all the deliveries for us. He used to send me cards.
My boyfriend decided to come to Australia because he was American by birth and he spent a lot of time underground during the war because he did not have identity papers. His parents came back to Holland, from America, and opened a shop. But, after the war, they wanted to go back to America but were not successful. He decided to leave Holland so he chose Australia.
He left in 1950 with one suitcase and his bike. My father wanted him to be a whole year [in Australia] to prove himself and then I could follow. I wanted to come to Australia to be with my boyfriend but I was apprehensive about a new start in a new country. I was also leaving behind a good job and I didn’t know what would be there for me in Australia.
Anyway, I booked a ship for a year after my boyfriend left but the Immigration Department offered me a plane sooner because they wanted to speed up the [process]. So, I paid the same amount to come by plane, which was a thousand guilders. I left on 25 April 1951, when I was 23. I still have the ticket, no. 875350 charter no 5984; I flew out from Schiphol airport on KLM.
It took five days and it had only 60 passengers. We stayed overnight in three places Karachi, Calcutta and Singapore and refuelled in Damascus and Darwin and then we went [to Sydney].
I travelled by myself. I had two suitcases – I still have one – with my clothes and the rest. My father gave me two blankets. The Red Cross apparently donated them because you couldn’t buy anything in those days. I also got a double sheet and can remember my mother standing in the queue for that after the war – you would get one sheet at a time. My father also filled two crates with my belongings. I also brought with me this tablecloth made during the war in the 1940s. Sugar in those days came in cotton bags so when one was empty I must have asked for it – there was nothing to buy so I embroidered it and made a tablecloth out of it.
When I landed in Sydney, 30th April 1951, my boyfriend met me and I stayed in a hotel in Kings Cross. I was there for five nights and every morning I missed breakfast because I slept in. I knew some of the language but not well enough that I could ask them at the hotel, “Can you wake me in the morning for breakfast?” I sat in Rushcutters Bay in the park all day and did some embroidery and then my boyfriend, who was working during the day, would pick me up later. I was so frightened I would get lost. I had very little money to spend as I could only out bring £50.
At first, being in Australia was very overwhelming. I was so frightened by the Catalinas (sea planes) landing in Rose Bay. The sound of them reminded me so much of home during the war; the planes from England would fly over Holland, fully loaded with bombs, drop them on Germany then return to England sounding much lighter after dropping their load.
My first job in Australia was with a Vaucluse family as a nanny because I wanted to learn about children. He was an actor and she was a doctor. She always said on weekends, “You can go now,” but my boyfriend and I didn’t know where to go. We’d just roam the streets; there were no pictures and we didn’t have any money either. We realised that we weren’t getting anywhere so I gave notice and she was quite annoyed because I only lasted six weeks, but it felt like six years. She was so nasty she said, “I should have made you sign a contract”.
We got married on 3 July 1951. I have the photo we had taken in front of the GPO in Sydney after being married. We hopped on the train to Springwood [in the Blue Mountains] and I can remember telling everybody [on the train] that we’d just got married.
We went to Springwood because my husband could get work there and we also knew another Dutch family there who we could share a house with. We just had a room and a bed in it and not enough blankets. I cooked the dinner on a kerosene heater. I had a pressure cooker then and that’s how we cooked the meals.
My husband applied at the railway [for work]. We had to leave that place after six weeks and went to live quite out of town in Springwood. A lady had a room for us but she was an old bitch; she would fill the bath so that I did not take too much water!
My husband went to work that night and he had an accident and so the police came to the door and told me. I had to give permission to have some fingers amputated. He was working in an area with the railway that he really didn’t have experience for. On the first night he was working on train engines and had to get down in a pit to work on them. When the engine came up over the pit everyone in the pit jumped down, as he did, but he still had his hand on the train track and the train just ran right over it.
We moved again but stayed in Springwood. It was just a closed-in verandah and we had one room with our luggage in it – we called it Buckingham Palace. But what we didn’t realise was that there were so many moths that the blankets were eaten and my coat, my winter coat, was all eaten.
Our bath had a chip heater so we had to get timber together to heat water. I was so excited when we got a little cane table and two chairs. I raced home when it was being delivered. I can still remember putting a bunch of flowers on top.
I went to work at Bucklands Convalescent Hospital. There was a lovely lady there and she took to me somehow, so we were friends forever. I worked with her in the laundry doing heavy washing in a copper but we were always laughing.
We had no facilities to do washing at our house so I used to sneak it with me [to work] but then Matron would come in, Matron Doherty, and she would have some washing to dry — and we were so frightened that she would see our underwear; Oh, we nearly had heart attacks but she never saw it.
We moved then to Wentworthville [in western Sydney]. We were in such a hurry to get a home built so we applied for a loan and even though my husband had a job in the railway we couldn’t get the loan. Then a Mr Honeyset, a local real estate agent, went guarantor for us, so that’s how we got a loan for half a house. We bought this block and materials were still fairly scarce. The house was built in six weeks, I think. It was built out of fibro.
My husband was still working with the railways and I wasn’t working. I had one boy (Gary). Then we had another one (Paul). When he was born the nurses realised he was jaundiced. He survived. Then believe it or not I had another one – Michael. I can’t remember much about the birth and I didn’t hold him straight after. There was a lady next to me and believe it or not, we are still in touch after 48 years. Michael did survive though.
We were so desperate to build on more and then we got permission [for a loan]. I said to my husband, “If we have permission, I will put a flag out”. So, I got this stick and I put a duster on it. He came home on the bike and could see for miles that we had the loan. And I remember him bursting out crying, he was so relieved. We put a bathroom in and three bedrooms and when it was all finished the builder just made a hole in the wall [to connect] the other side.
We stayed in Wentworthville for 19 years. I always wanted to move but we could not afford to.
My brother-in-law brought this Delft plate out with him. It used to hang in the lounge room in Holland in the area above the windows. This was another thing for me from my parents when they passed away.
We were looking for a house [in 1976] and we found one in Lindfield, Sydney, built by an Austrian. It was all timber and the steps were chiselled out into the rocks. We had to take out another loan to pay for it. So, I got a job at Westmead Hospital as a medical secretary and my parents’ inheritance helped to pay for it too.
Unfortunately for me, it was not a happy time. We sold Lindfield and lucky we did, because it got burnt down in the bushfires around 1989.
After I was divorced, I came to live here [in the Hunter] in 1989. My son had seen this place where I now live and he told me about it but he didn’t want to influence me. I got photos of when it was half-built. But, yes, Paul, my son in Sydney put my luggage in a truck and my other son Gary was here in Newcastle to receive it and so I moved.
I joined the Probus (retirees’ association), the View club and the Lions club here. I used to mind the grandchildren for years and in the meantime I went back to school and did French, English, German and History at Belmont High School. I [was] the only ‘oldie’. [One day] at exam time a lady told me I couldn’t come in; she thought I was running after my child.
People have always said I should write [my life] experiences down because it was so interesting. It was a hard life though. My sister always said I had a very spartan life and the children [were one of the highlights]. I have accepted [my life in Australia]. I am busy and I am happy. What can you do?
I was naturalised as an Australian citizen on 25 September 1958.