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A number of years ago, my father was interviewed for the Jewish Migrant Oral History Project. Thankfully, I have a copy of the interview, and I will be publishing excerpts from it in his memory.
Interviewer: How though did you settle into this Jewish migrant community here in Perth?
Dad: After that episode with the boarding house – one room – things dramatically improved. The committee handling it couldn’t do enough to make up for what had occurred. One of them bullied her relation who at that time had a luxury car, and he drove my parents – and sometimes I was included – around outside Perth to find a suitable location for my father’s practice. My father had been brought out with that permit because they wanted qualified veterinarians. Anyway, we went as far as York and the people my father met, the dinkum Aussies, were very friendly and most helpful. They told my father – mainly through my mother because her English was close to perfect (and my father was partly deaf from the war, and hadn’t learned English at school) – that it was all a matter of money.
We gradually narrowed the field back to the city. Through friends my parents had made – both Jewish and non-Jewish – we came to this practice in Stirling Street run by a Canadian who had come out here. It was pretty rough compared to what my father had left in Germany. But the Canadian was very eager to sell because war was coming, everybody with eyes could see it, and he wanted to go back home. The Canadian got on very well with my father, they talked the same language, he was a proper veterinary surgeon and he showed my father a few tricks which a private veterinary surgeon practicing in the city knew or had to know, and which my father hadn’t learned while he was practicing in country Germany. He had come straight from university and from an abattoir to a large animal practice, and now we had small animals included in the city practice. Anyway, through the help of the Breckler family who guaranteed a loan, my father bought the practice.
The practice was at 74 Stirling Street and consisted of a very rough area which had been stables for horses in the days where horses were used for transport. The front was a very old house which had been condemned. We couldn’t move into the house after the sale because it needed urgent repairs. We moved into a one bedroom unit, in Pier Street, within walking distance. It was the next street parallel to Stirling Street. And we had friendly neighbours. One was an Irishman, and he took to me. My parents were busy in Stirling Street, and he would take me fishing down Barrack Street at night and tell me stories how he and his crowd in Ireland fought the Black and Tans before they came out here. He was especially good to me. And there were others like him.
My parents were occupied trying to improve the practice aesthetically with practically no financial resources. They bought the practice but they were renting the house from a landlord. The landlord was also especially nice, and she immediately became friends with my mother and helped my mother as far as advice as to how to go about repairs and how things are done in Australia. And out of the blue appeared a gentleman by the name of Smith, who was at a loose end. He’d studied engineering up to third year, had to toss it in, and had no money. Then he earned some money and went into medicine. He got to third year, ran out of money and got married and now his wife was earning. They lived in quite a nice unit down at Mount Street. Well, he went to work for my father as assistant or yardman. When war broke out, he was a reserve officer and went into the army.
All this had happened with mainly non-Jewish people. It was only when my parents were settled – working that is – that it was time to mix. Out of the blue we got an invitation in 1939 for “First night of the Jewish New Year and family” from Harry Cohen and his wife Bessie. Bessie is a relation of my wife. From then onwards word got around and another family – the Adler family – became one of my parents best friends. Then it boiled down to the practice, and our first clients were a few Jewish families who had a cat or a dog. We could see they were doing it to help us and the same with a few non-Jewish families who we’d run into.
Stirling Street and Pier Street was a very tough area. We didn’t know it but later on Eric Cooke (a Western Australian serial killer and burglar who was later hung -ed.) lived there with his family almost directly behind us. But they stuck together. Way down the street there was the ice man and he had a truck. Then on the corner of Stirling and James Street, two Greek brothers opened a steak house. But it was a communal meeting place as far as most of the people from around Stirling Street went, and we got to know one another.
Money was the main reason why people were reasonably close in those days. They needed one another. For example, in summer which was very hot due to the tin roofs and badly built places, everything was left open. I mentioned who lived behind us without us knowing it, and there were others around, but nothing bad happened.