Joe Van den Driest
I did it my way
I can’t tell you everything that happened in the war, the bombing and blowing up and some of my mates were killed standing in a paddock on a mine and stuff like that. I never got over that. When the English army came in they said ‘that boy is undernourished’, and they said ‘he can go to Scotland’. We went by boat on the North Sea. It was still full of mines. Minesweeper at the front and back of the ship. I was there for one year. I didn’t miss my family. It was all new for me, I was only young. I was having fun and Scotland was beautiful. At the station when we arrived, there was a lot of people there and they all had their arms overloaded with blankets and rugs and every boy got a rug. All different colours. I didn’t know that they were made in Australia. They were so good those people. We all used to get chocolates. I’d never seen chocolate before. We were all given one block. I ate it one week, and another week and then I thought ‘gee whiz, my parents don’t have nothing like that’. I took chocolate home to my parents. It wasn’t easy. When we were packing up to go home they checked our cases. They found about 20 odd blocks of chocolate in my case and thought it was stolen. I didn’t steal it; I’d saved it up. What they did, when they realised, they gave us some more! There were about 40 blocks. My parents had never even seen chocolates. Thought it was beautiful. My mother thought ‘oh these chocolates, we’ll give them to the whole village’.
My wife was an Australian girl. I found her when I was 18 and I migrated here. I had a war behind me, I had nothing. My family didn’t want me to go because I was by myself. My family were very religious, and I wasn’t. I was the youngest of the family. I wasn’t allowed to go out to a boxing club, or go out with the girls, and I could only go out with Protestant girls and I didn’t like that. Why? Why? People are just people.
Valerie, my girl, we were talking about rugs and I said I got a beautiful one and I told her about it. She couldn’t believe it. I drew it for her with all the colours. And she said ‘that was mine’. Unbelievable. She said ‘I made those at my school in Sydney when I was in grade 3 or something like that. All the kids were asked to make them, bring wool from home and they sent the whole big bundle to England, and it was for children who had nothing’. I said ‘yeah, I got one of them’. When my mother died the family was cleaning up and must have tossed the blanket out. But my wife made me one exactly the same. I’ve still got it. It’s on my bed now.
Even now I’m getting older, and I think all the trouble I had with religion. It’s amazing because I see people here and I play the mouth organ for them. I played in Holland when I was very young. I play the normal music but the last 5 songs, I play Christian songs, and some of those older ladies, always in their bed, they can’t get out and talk, and some of those ladies started smiling to me and their tongue was going because they couldn’t sing but I knew they were Christians. You don’t ask people what they are for their religion, but I could tell. All people, when they believe in God, are Christians. You don’t have to be Catholic. You don’t have to be Protestant. Because together they are Christians. The churches, they stuffed it up. They battle the Catholics against the Protestants.
When I look back, Australia has been so good for me. And so beautiful.
Joe is a confident, bold, happy man living at the Kingscliff Feros Care Village. His wife and family made a special bound book of his memoirs, full of interviews and photos from his long, interesting life. He is incredibly proud of the wealthy life he built from scratch being a ‘New Australian’, his wife (now passed), and 5 children. He is incredibly proud to be an Australian.