Ali Geeraerts

Hendrikus (Henk) Hoonhout and Alida Johanna Maria Geeraerts (Ali) are brother and sister.  They both live in Prins Willem Alexander Village in Birkdale, Brisbane Queensland, albeit in separate accommodation.  Ali is a widow and lives in a low-care unit, she is 99.  Henk, who never married, lives in an independent unit and is 92.

Ali is the older of the two, born in August 1922 in Amsterdam.  Henk was born seven years later, in October 1929, also in Amsterdam.  Their parents were Wilhelmus Hermanus Hoonhout from Amstelveen, and Cornelia Hendrika Pijnacker who was born in Pijnacker. The family had a total of seven kids, two girls and 5 boys.  Six of them came to Australia.

When Ali was ten, and Henk three years old, their mother died at the age of 40, as the youngest child was only six months old.  Father Willem worked for Heineken making deliveries with the famous Clydesdale horses pulling his cart.  All the children were placed in an orphanage where they stayed about five years. 

In 1951 Henk, then aged 21, migrated to Australia together with his older brother Theo.  They decided to go because the Australian government advertised plenty of jobs and a nice climate.  The Dutch economy after World War II was having a housing shortage, job shortage, poor infrastructure and lots of other shortages. 

Henk Hoonhout

Ali and Henk both attended primary school in Amsterdam, Ali then went to a domestic training school (huishoudschool) in Amsterdam and soon was contributing to family income by working as a seamstress.  Seven years later Henk attended a trade school for two years, learning welding and construction drawing.  After that he worked for a few years in a variety of jobs in Netherlands before deciding to migrate to Australia.

The boys sailed on the “Grote Beer”, which at the time was a liberty ship, still equipped with bunkbeds in dormitories.  Henk remembers they had to pay Dfl 1100 each for this trip.  The subsidised arrangement got introduced later that year. 

Upon arrival in Queensland, Theo and Henk went to live with a Dutch family in Wooloowin. They had known the family in Netherlands and stayed with them for two years. Then they had to move because the family decided to leave for America. 

Theo went to live with another Dutch family on the Northside of Brisbane (who they had also known in Netherlands), but Henk moved in with an Australian family, which helped to improve his English.  He also liked the big breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages or steak that they served. 

Theo had started a barber shop, and after about a year moved out of the Dutch family’s home when he married an Australian girl.  Unfortunately, Theo died in a traffic accident soon after he got married.  Henk left the Australian family and moved in with the Dutch one where Theo had lived. 

Back home, brothers Bas and Gerard and sister Annie Hoonhout decided to follow Henk and Theo a few years after them.  And in 1957, Ali also arrived in Australia sailing on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.  They all came on the subsidised scheme. 

Ali went to live with their sister Annie, who was taking in boarders.  One of those boarders was a Dutchman called Harry Geeraerts, who came from Hoensbroek (Limburg).  Harry was an electrician, and worked in construction together with two of Annie’s brothers. 

Ali and Harry fell in love, and were married the same year.  They moved into a house on the Gold Coast, but after many years there they moved back to Brisbane again.  They didn’t have children, and Ali worked as a dressmaker.  Harry continued working as an electrician and they did well enough to travel quite a bit. 

Meanwhile Henk, who had started work in Brisbane as a labourer, found a job where he could use his welding training.  Here he was employed as a welder and boilermaker, which he did until he retired. 

Henk later moved to board for about five years with another Dutch family in Petrie Terrace, but when they were expecting a baby, he moved out, into a flat in a Queenslander in a retirement village owned by the Churches of Christ in Moray Street, New Farm.  He lived there for about 14 years.  While still working, Henk, who had a heavy vehicle license, started driving a mini bus on weekends, as a volunteer for a charity. 

After they retired, Ali and Harry moved into an independent unit in the PWA village, which they knew about from all the Dutch contacts.  A number of years later, when he was about 78, Henk also moved into the village. 

When Ali and Harry were already living in the PWA village, a bus was donated to the village, but they had no bus driver.  Annie suggested that they ask Henk, who was retired by now, but still living in New Farm.  Henk agreed to drive the bus on special occasions such as parties at the Dutch Club in Richlands, and soon took on driving the residents’ bus for the regular shopping trips. 

After Henk had moved into PWA village, he continued driving the bus for the shopping trips and special occasions, until he had to give up his bus driver’s license because of his age.  He is now 92 and still drives his car. 

Both Ali and Henk continued using the Dutch language a lot as their jobs did not require them to read or write English and they socialised a lot with their local relatives and other Dutch friends.  They also liked visiting the Dutch club and its shop, where they were buying Dutch foods such as herring, liquorice, cookies, rookwurst, chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), and other goodies. 

Neither of them is sorry to have left Netherlands.  They each have visited relatives back home a few times, and travelled to other countries in Europe, as well as to the USA, and Canada.  Ali and Harry even went on cruises in the Pacific. 

Both Henk and Ali are very happy to be living in PWA village.  Their youngest brother, Gerard, lives in the Gold Coast with his wife. He is now 89, has two children and also grandkids, and visits the village sometimes, like for Henk’s recent birthday.  All other close relatives are dead now.

Harry, Ali’s husband died four years ago, and now Ali and Henk meet for coffee in the PWA café a few times per week.  They both said they had missed good coffee when they first settled in Australia, but that has improved a lot since. 

Things that they found peculiar at first were the houses on poles (Queenslanders), and toilets outside the homes (outhouses).  They hated having to take an umbrella and still getting wet feet when visiting a toilet during the wet season.  Fortunately, modern houses in Queensland all have indoor toilets now.

From the beginning both Ali and Henk loved the feeling of space and freedom, the pace of life, and no crime; people used to leave their homes unlocked a lot.  Both still love living in Queensland and both feel that their migration has been a success.

Marianne Pietersen (October 2021)

Ali at her 100th birthday


Ali Geeraerts turned 100 in August 2022 (and had a family party for the event). She died 10 months later, 7 June 2023.