When and why did your parents move to Australia? 
I grew up during war. Dad was a soldier; my mom raised me. I arrived in Australia at the age of 14 with my family, parents and brothers, in 1956. When we arrived, we didn’t speak a single word English. My aunt had lived in Melbourne for eighteen months and was able to help us out a little bit. She picked us up from Port Melbourne and took us to Surrey Hills with the tram. We lived in different places the first few years. We first shared a house with my aunt, then we shared a very small place with the family and then moved again. Our Dutch migrant network was central in finding suitable housing and building our social network. 

My parents always listened to the music shows on television. We didn’t watch the shows or news because we didn’t understand the language.

What does Dutch identity and culture mean to you?
I didn’t do anything with the Dutch community for about 20 years. I had nothing to do with the Dutch. When I became an accounted I became involved in the community and got to do the Dutch community newspaper. And then my interest grew and I was going to more and more functions. At that stage I would have been single and picked it up. 

I have had three wives but no one speaks Dutch. I did date Dutch ladies, but that didn’t work. When I was married with an Australian, no way she was going to sing in Dutch. She didn’t want to sit there and watch. I have time now to invest in that.

In 2016 in visited to Holland. I have a memory of the houses and I have photos of my old family house. The street and shops have changed, but the house we lived in is still here. I also visited my primary school, my grandma lived in between school. I am not a good writer so we didn’t really keep in touch. The family doesn’t keep in touch much. No news is good news. I felt at home in Rotterdam, right away! I grew up in Hilversum.

John and Suzanne dressed in orange at the Zing! sing-along community event, September 2019 in Monbulk, Victoria.

I got to have something that is missing, because I keep looking for it. It must be my background. It is more a feeling than that I really feel it. It is all the Dutch community does. I don’t go often, the town or the harbour, my body changes. In Holland it is all about the harbour and the boats. I had no idea. I am here and happy but there is something missing and I cannot identify what it is. 

Can you tell us a bit about the Zing! choir?
I sing in three choirs, Zing! and two other community ones. I joined the first one seven years ago. When I was in primary school I was told I was not good at singing, I internalised that and I always avoided singing. My wife wanted to sing, so we joined. She really encouraged me, but she didn’t want to sing in a Dutch choir. When we separated one year ago, I suddenly had this ‘freedom’ to go. My two concerts with Zing! were the Tulip Tesselaars and Munbulk were my first concerts with Zing!.

I found them on Facebook. I ignored them for a while; I didn’t want to do it. But I accepted it. 

Zing! takes me back to my roots. That is what is within me, that is what I feel.