By Susanne Ruijs

Family photo before departing the Netherlands

I arrived with my family in Australia in July 1980. Our family consisted of my husband Hein and me and our four children Eva (12), Saskia (11), Thomas (9) and Christine (6). Hein had been offered a position as lecturer in Hospitality at the then Agricultural College in Gatton, Queensland which became later the University of Queensland.

We came from New Zealand where we had been emigrated to in 1978 from the Netherlands. Not that we did not like New Zealand, but the opportunity to obtain a permanent position in Australia with, what we call ‘fixed hours’ became quite attractive.  

Hein and I both grew up in the hospitality world, my parents, and grandparents both owned and operated a typical family hotel in Valkenburg, a tourist mecca since travel became the ‘in’ thing at the end of the 19th century. My father learned his trade, besides at home, by working in the different classes and styles of hotels in and outside the Netherlands before settling in Valkenburg.

The hotel in Zeist    
The hotel in Valkenburg

Hein was part of a family business grown from the traditional lunch/tearoom to the selling of rooms to the elite visiting what was then called the “Stichtse Lust Warande” or better known as Zeist.

I was born in the middle of WWII at Nijmegen, a place where my parents had moved to, after the hotel my father was working in Amsterdam was confiscated by the occupants of the country. He was able to obtain a job during that time in distributing ration coupons and was able to ‘keep’ some apart to distribute to the underground organisation. I do not remember much about the war, only that we were evacuated to the “Heilige Landstichting’ in Groesbeek, and later to Tilburg as our house was partly damaged from nearby bombing.

Oranje Hotel Roermond

After the war my family moved to Roermond where my father managed a hotel and sometime later, we moved to Valkenburg to his family business.

Hein and I met at the hotel in Zeist.  We married 18 months later. He became the manager of the business, and I oversaw the patisserie and coffee shop. Soon children followed, and we were a happy family. Due to the busy positions we both had, we employed a nanny for the  children, but by the time number four was born, no nannies were available and   counting on grandparents and or aunties and uncles was not always possible. The three oldest ones went to school or kindergarten, but for the youngest one we found a place in an orphanage in Utrecht where we took her to every day.

The ‘Koffiehoek’ 

I do not know if everybody realises that running a business, that is open to the public seven days a week twenty-four hours, takes quite a bit from you physically and mentally. Even though you are not always working hard, you are always involved. That created for us an urge to find something that we could enjoy with our whole family. Emigrating was one of the options, starting somewhere new, something exciting and challenging.

We were looking at going to America, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia. At the end we decided for New Zealand. All options were thoroughly investigated, America was not for us, too much violence and race problems, that also cut out South Africa. Canada was neither favourable due to its climate and proximity to the USA. So only New Zealand and Australia were left. The choice fell on New Zealand as Australia had too many nasty creepy crawly creatures.         

When we arrived in New Zealand we stayed at a motel and were able to enrol the three oldest children in a school with a special program for non english speaking immigrant children. They were there for only 2 weeks, but it helped them settling in into their next school. Hein obtained a job for Lyon Brewery and was working through their program, in other words, starting from the bottom and working your way through all the departments.

I stayed home and tried to be as much as possible self-sustainable. Our garden had many different fruits I had never seen or heard of. I made delicious jams of those and my knowledge or skill of making Dutch pastries gave the children something they remembered from home. One night a Dutch born gentleman came to our house to discuss insurances. We offered him a coffee and of course some Dutch pastries. He was surprised to see those and asked if he could have one for his wife, as she was also Dutch, and had not tasted those for years. I gave him a few in a bag and did not think of it anymore. At nine o’clock the doorbell rang, and a gentleman introduced himself. He told us that he owned a delicatesse shop in Auckland and would like to buy those pastries for his shop. We were very surprised to hear his story as the insurance person did not say that he was going to take those pastries to his friend with the shop.

The delivery van of our products 

I started making those pastries for him and very soon we were doing business with several coffeeshops and delicatesses. Hein soon quit his job and we found an empty shop suitable to change it into a bakery. One third of the premises was shop and two thirds was bakery. As we needed a lot of equipment, we were able to find several pieces second hand. One day walking through Takapuna, we saw a large stainless-steel sink and counter at the back of a bakery. I went into the shop and asked if we could buy it. The owner was very curious what we were going to do with it and when explained, he offered us to have several essential pieces of equipment needed to operate a bakery on loan till we were able to buy those for ourselves. Within a short time, we were making several specific Dutch pastries and were sending those all-over New Zealand. We were able to employ a lady to assist with the packaging and soon we were asked to employ a recently arrived immigrant who was a baker by profession.

After a short while Hein was approached to apply for a job as a lecturer in Australia. We had never thought of moving again, however the newly arrived baker wanted to buy our business and in fact we were on the point of needing a larger premises due to the heavy demand. After many discussions we decided to make the move with the insurance that we always could go back to New Zealand. So at the end of June 1980, we arrived in Australia. Children were enrolled in schools, our accommodation was organised by the College, a house on the campus, with tennis courts in front of the house, a 50-meter swimming pool, a gymnasium with trampolines, cricket field, a heaven for the children.

Hein started teaching and it worked well for him. I got involved in local volunteer jobs, like tuck shop, catering for the races etc. Soon I was asked to teach Adult Education in cooking, like basic, experienced, and international. Quite fun to do and I was able to use the training kitchen of the hospitality section of the college.  Then I was asked to start teaching in hospitality for TAFE in Brisbane. This was something completely different. They gave me the opportunity to obtain my qualification in teaching and I stayed with TAFE for 17 years.

During my time at TAFE I was asked to conduct some training courses at some of the islands owned in those days by Australian Airlines. Great Keppel, Brampton, Dunk, Bedara and Lizard were all on the program. From there the next step was to assist in the opening of some of the Sheraton Hotels overseas. My first trip was to Surabaya on Java, Indonesia. This one followed by the hotel in Yogyakarta and 2 hotels in Jakarta and one in China.

Official welcome of team
Classroom with newspaper on windows
  Visiting Indonesian teachers

After having finished with TAFE, I continued to work privately by training supervisors and assessing hotels. Countries I worked in were PNG, Thailand, Brunei and quite a few more trips to Indonesia.

We had moved from the campus when our children had finished high school. We found a place in the hills around Marburg with great views almost 360°. It made life for me easier as the round trip for me was daily 180km, now it was only 120. We were living in a typical ‘Queenslander’ with verandas all around and where the afternoon breeze would cool the house down. It was also the place where we experienced the creepy crawly creatures, we were so afraid of when we emigrated.  Carpet snakes were regular visitors around the house. Some even found a home in our ceiling. Soon we discovered that carpet snakes would keep other snakes away and were happy with a meal of mice or rats. We even were known at some stage as the house with the snakes.

By the time I retired from TAFE and did some work privately, I was asked to become a member of the voluntary board of an Aged Care facility in the area. It was a facility owned by the community and soon I took on the job as volunteer coordinator plus I was also asked to become the secretary of the board. I had opportunity to organise a special awards night for all the volunteers who had been involved with the facility for many years and was able to engage the then governor of Queensland Mrs Quentin Bryce. A few years later I was able to engage her again, this time as Governor of Australia to open up the new wing of the facility.

Display of photos of the area
Members meeting

I always have been interested in history and my own family ancestry, so it was not too difficult to convince me to become a member of the local history group, the Rosewood Scrub Historical Society. The history of the area is quite unique as it was an area difficult to develop, due to its very dense vegetation of trees, scrubs and vines. Most of the settlers of the area were of German descent. My interest went so far that I decided to research the history of the largest township in the Scrub, namely Rosewood. A book with its story was the result. Currently I am researching the history of the main mansion of the district, Woodlands and very soon a book with its history will be published.

We live now for ten years in Brisbane. I am still commuting regularly to Marburg to preside meetings and to attend open days. I often think back at what would have happened if we had not come to Australia. I am sure that we would have made it there, however I am convinced that we would not have had the same opportunities we had here. Our little family of six, leaving the Netherlands, looking for excitement, opportunities and in particular happiness, have found it here. Our little family of six consists now of 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren and one on the way plus all their partners. Who would have believed that?

February 2023