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Life Experiences – Potential Compost for a Creative Life

John Van de Graaff (2019)

Kumpulan (Orang)  (Gathering of people)                                                                        
7&8 November 2009, in Buderim, Qld.                                                                                        
This Kumpulan was organised by the management team in Queensland producing the ‘Bambu’ booklet.   This bi-monthly booklet, published in English/Dutch/Indonesian and Petjo (a type of pidgin Dutch/Indonesian), has stories of interest for anyone with an Indonesian connection.                                                                                                               
Editor/Distributor: Andreas Flach Ph 07 5477 0104/,au

A recognition in those faces, wrinkled brown and white, a kindredness with the still gaze, like those in the old photos on display of a bygone era, of tempo doeloe(
[1]), expressing  ‘kassian die oude tijd’, a kind of sweet underlying sorrow or puzzlement for something lost, a longing for something ill-defined, knowing it is out of reach, words long forgotten skip out of songs,  ‘terang boelan, boeroeng kakatoea’, out of casual remarks by me, by Dutch comedienne Wieteke, words often understood only by initiates  in whose memory cells sounds and smells of a bygone era have been indelibly printed and easily triggered by a whiff of smoke,  a casual remark, a tune, a taste. 

I felt absorbed in that rich sea of emotions, with flashes of smells, sounds and sights of memorable pre-and post-war childhood moments on Java.
  I also reflected on what must have been the momentous impact for my parents of having to leave what had always been home for them.  After trying to rebuild a life in Holland, they decided, two years later, to migrate to Australia, with five children and the sixth on the way.

My wife’s parents also migrated from Holland in a crowded ship, with their eight children and the ninth on the way.

Thinking about that migrant experience, I recalled Julian Short’s words that,
‘As human beings we have only two primary emotional needs: we need Belonging and we need Territory’ (‘An Intelligent Life’, Random House, Aus 2005)

Obviously the belonging starts with the country of birth, with family members, and clubs, schools, etc.
  All these and one’s home have to be replaced in the new country.  A traumatic experience for all, and especially so for the adults, as children learn language and adapt to the culture more easily.   I think that many men also faced a significant challenge in coping with non-acceptance of qualifications and loss of status.  It was a challenge my parents dealt with successfully, in what they eventually felt to be ‘The Lucky Country’, their new home.

‘Kassian “die oude tijd”’, (feeling sorry that the old times are gone) requires skipping over disturbing memories of war and displacement.
  However, nostalgia is part of the rich mix of life experiences, which is potential compost for those with curiosity, for a creative life, for being open to incidents and co-incidences that lead to new insights.   Against the backdrop of a vague bitter-sweet longing the restless soul may seek an outlet, such as researching, writing, painting, acting, etc. to give expression to this restlessness and through this perhaps gain solace, acceptance that the present, the Now, can be joyful, fulfilling.     

Blessed the Gene, or ancestral thread connecting us to creative spirits in the past, or that lucky encounter revealing unexpected talents within ourselves, that inspire us to fill life’s later years with continuing curiosity and the ability to express insights, reminiscences or practise new-found skills.
   More than ever before, opportunities for all these abound in our culture.

‘Terima kasih atas “die oude tijd”’, (thanks for those old times) would be a more appropriate sentiment for those who manage to focus on the positive aspects of their life experiences.  Experiences gained by design or forced on one, whether good or bad, short or long, with parcels of good memories to be treasured, relived and savoured in later years, and the bad ones not forgotten but relegated to a fading background.

This extra ‘richness in experiences’ gained on life’s path is what Don Juan, in Carlos Castaneda’s book ‘The teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui way of knowledge’, looks for:
  “For me there is only the travelling on paths that have a heart.  There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length.  And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly.”

Recording Life Experiences

Giving expression to the positive aspects of her life experiences is what my mother bequeathed to her descendants, in the form of many written accounts, paintings, drawings and sculpture.
  She also wrote about her family of origin.  All of this material is for me an invaluable source of information, as I have only a very hazy recollection of early life experiences. 

It is a rare gift, I discovered, when talking about it with others in my advanced age group.
  Their parents passed away without leaving records, apart from photos, which are not very informative without some added information.   Ancestral records can now be accessed relatively easily, but they do not necessarily impart the type of information my mother left her offspring.

My older cousin in Melbourne performed a great service to the family with his extensive work on ancestral records.
  Over the years I have been jotting down experiences and am now in the process of combining them chronologically.   It started off as a record for our son and his family’s benefit, but I realise that of course it has significant benefits for me as well.   It is a means of revisiting, re-living and re-assessing those experiences, whether they be good or bad.  Because our son is fully involved with a young family and his career, I expect that my writing might be of interest only when he finds the time and inclination in retirement.

My wife, with her phenomenal memory, has also been writing about her experiences, and it is her recollections of her family in Holland, prior to migration, that has been of great interest to her younger siblings, the youngest having been born in Australia.
   She has also been creating wonderful, illustrated stories for our grandchildren.

We value our multi-cultural and linguistic background in a country which has, over the years, increasingly accepted and welcomed this diversity.
  But ‘use it or lose it’ applies to language as well, and my attempts at upgrading my proficiency in the Indonesian language were unsuccessful, due to lack of use.  But my interest and love for this country of more than 260 million on Australia’s doorstep, with enormous potential and significance for Australia, remains. 

I visited Indonesia with our son, twenty years ago, for the first time since my birth family had to leave it in 1949.
  During our travels there I experienced the effect of this country’s state ideology, which is called ‘Pancasila’, enshrining tolerance, pluralism and national unity.  An old Indonesian man even started conversing in the Dutch language with me.  With the largest Muslim population in the world, this tolerant society accepts Protestants, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists as part of the multi-cultural mix. 

A small minority of fanatical extremists distort the impression of Muslims, which has, perversely, done more damage to Islam than any other mis-informed viewpoint.
  Such extremists do not define the vast majority of citizens in any country, which is applicable to white supremacist extremists in Australia and elsewhere.    

In reviewing our life experiences, I want to quote from Anita Moorjani’s amazing experience in her book ‘
Dying to be me, my journey from cancer to near death to true healing’, p69.  “My experience was like a single thread woven through the huge and complexly colourful images of an infinite tapestry.  All the other threads and colours represented my relationships, including every life I’d touched. 

There were threads representing my mother, my father, my brother, my husband, and every other person who’d ever come into my life, whether they related to me in a positive or negative way.
  Every single encounter was woven together to create the fabric that was the sum of my life up to this point.  I may have been only one thread, yet I was integral to the overall finished picture.”

[1] Tempo Doeloe – literally ‘in former times/in olden days, (approx 1880-1920) refers to a period of increasing welfare and recognition that the duty of the Dutch colonial power is to further the well-being of the indigenous population.  Also a time before increasing unrest caused by the activities of nationalist Indonesian demands, led by Sukarno, and later the invasion by the Japanese.