Migrant Voices – Bill Doller

Doller Ct Tatura

After military service in the then Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Bill Doller and his newly wed wife Gerrie emigrated from Holland to Australia. He first went to Bathurst where he was picking asparagus for Edgell, before moving to the Goulburn Valley.


Memory lane goes back 80 years for me, 54 of those are in Australia. Why did I come to Australia? It would be a long story. During the depression, many other Dutch people went to America and there were many success stories in the papers.

Pioneering “got in my blood” as they say. My Father was a carpenter and spent many years unemployed, and when he worked he worked 18 hours a day however we still went hungry to school. Our Uncles and Aunties were farmers or dairy farmers so in the school holidays we went from one to another for a good feed of bread with butter and cheese or bacon and eggs, at home we were likely to get the smell of it.

When the war broke out on the 5th May 1940, I was just 14 and had just left school; I was working on a farm because I wanted to get plenty to eat. I also suffered from fits, if one was coming on I would have to have something to eat, like and apple, carrot or turnip which I always had in my pocket. I grew out of the problem and became very strong.

I was the second eldest of nine children, two brothers and six sisters. We are all still alive. In the depression and in the war years we helped and looked after the younger children as mum was sick and dad was not home. My sisters are dear to me, as in the 54 years in Australia; I have never been forgotten at my birthday and Christmas. Hitler changed the unemployment situation, so my father was notified to go to France as a carpenter under Hitler’s program. My eldest brother pleaded not to go to Germany; instead, he was there all the war years. My father was successful and after the war he got a job at a near by jail, when he retired he had a good pension.

When the war was over, I was 20 and got an army call to do my conscript service. My strength was proved to me when I was given a 1st class medical. On the 1st of May 1946 I was trained to be an anti aircraft gunner, and on the 16th of October 1946 I was on the Indrapoura troop carrier to Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies). This was going to be for only one year, and I took it as a holiday paid by the Government. It turned out to be for 3 years, many were killed; many took their own lives due to depression. Many lost his girlfriend, mother or father. I also left a girlfriend behind, which I had dated in the army training camp. We had some things in common, and when I talked about immigration, she liked the idea. She waited three years in the Indies. We had no planes to shoot at so we were given special jobs. First, I was in charge of 20 Japanese prisoners of war of Tangjong Priok, loading and unloading boats this work went on about six weeks as the prisoners went home.

To make my story short, my last job in the army was on the transport. I was not a driver; I was in charge of the loads and the Coolies. This was a corporal’s job; I flatly refused stripes, as I wanted to get out of the Army. With this job, I mixed with people and got in contact with a group to go to Dutch New Guinea. I always had migration on my mind. We had a Captain for a guest speaker one night and he said that Australia was maybe the country to be. He apparently lived in Australia during the war years, but he did not paint a very rosy picture.

He spoke of Australia going the same way as America. However, a weird country with very low rainfall and in harvest time the wheat farmers would dump their wheat in the corners of paddocks as it did not rain. For fuel they pulled roots of trees out of the ground, this was a strange practice for me. With all this, I had a lot to think about.

We were also offered to go to Australia from Indonesia with money in the pocket. It was tempting but I decided to go home first to get married and attempt to be a farmer. I went to the Noord Dost Polder, land claimed from the sea, very soon I liked the idea. We had to go back to school, that is night school, for an Agricultural Diploma and bookkeeping diploma, on top of that you had to have so much money in the bank. This would years of hard work and I still was not sure if I would get what I wanted. That wasn’t all, while we were in Indonesia, the Dutch collaborators gained amnesty in the years and where ever you went to work one of these collaborators was the boss and had all the good jobs. Then one night we got in a riot, we were out numbered and kicked out.

I made my mind up quick, I was going to Australia, in the mean time I learned a lot about Australia, and Gerrie my newly wed wife, agreed. So, I took a train to the War Department in Den Haag (The Hague) and put in a claim for compensation for the three years loss and a free trip to Australia. This compensation was not new, it was around in the Government while we were in Indonesia. This was a battle and I was not going to give up. Then we expected the first baby, we wanted to wait for that, the baby was born on 16th March 1951. After that, more trips to Den Haag, I kept the pressure on and finally I got what I wanted. On top of that, the Department offered us to fly. I found it very scary as we never flew before but it was to good to miss.

We got on the plane on the 26th October 1951; it was five days flying, three hotel stops, the first in Nicosia, Cyprus, the second in Bombay, India and the third in Manilla, Philippines with about 40 people on board, as I remember we also made a couple on landings for fuel but I cant remember where. From Manilla, we flew to Darwin and landed near a big shed that had a six-foot fan near the door, we did not go to far away from it, as the weather was hot. We had our first meal in Australia, and then we flew nearly all night to Sydney, seeing many bushfires as we flew over the countryside, on the 2nd November 1951.

After that we where transported to Bathurst where I had my first job picking Asparagus for Edgell. From Bathurst we went to Jerilderie in southern New South Wales, that place had me worried, not a blade off green grass to be seen and it was all dry sandy hills, four months we were there, from Jerilderie I rang the Dutch Embassy.

Successfully, we did get the job in Kialla from 18 other applicants. 1952-1956 was the wettest years on record, so much for the driest country in the world, bags of wheat just with ears above water. We still had no money, Gerrie never complained, he was happy with his 1936 Plymouth, which made us more poor. Then we share farmed for 12 years in Gillieston near Kyabram, from there we saved a little money and were lucky to buy 26 acres near Tatura, where we still live.

In the mean time we had four more boys and one girl. We milked thirty cows, I drove for Tatura Milk, and we soon paid for the farm. Gerrie also worked for some years at Rosella tomato factory. We then attempted to have a reunion, Gerrie went first in 1976 and I in 1980, and it was our dad’s 80th birthday in the mean time. I had two sisters and a younger brother who all migrated to the United States. My younger sister married an American and she then sponsored her other sister and younger brother in the USA. So I planned to got to America first and see if I mist out of something. My brother in New York State, not far from West Point Military Academy, told me he had six foot of snow behind the doors and a sister in Michigan said that tornadoes were very frightening.

We then went all together from America to Holland (Friesland). We left Holland in 1951, I also said you might never see us again. I was sure not going to fly again five days with a converted bomber. After coming home again, we decided to build a new house after white ants ate the old house out. As I said my father was a builder and as a boy, I watched his doings, trained me to lay bricks, on piggeries and dairies. But when it came to build the house, I knew I had to do better, double brick, upper concrete floor, cellar, front and back balcony and a masard roof. There are plenty of these types of houses in Holland and the USA. After that, we decided to develop the 26 acres so we did, 14 houses with a court called Doller Court, Tatura. We are comfortable retirees now and happy new Australians.

Doller Court, Tatura

Source: Suitcase Full of Dreams (Reproduced with permission)

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