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Beilharz Kurt

In this article, Kurt recalls the time he spent as a nineteen year old in Rowville. 

The Beilharz family arrived here in late 1946 when they were contracted to milk the dairy herd of Mr Jack Gearon whose property extended south of Wellington Road on both sides of Gearons Lane. They had spent the previous five years at the large internment camp at Tatura in northern Victoria and on their release had decided to remain in Australia. The Beilharz family had come from Palestine where they had lived for generations. Kurt’s great grandfather, Christian Beilharz, had left Germany in 1869 to be part of a Christian group, the Temple Society, who were establishing communities in Palestine. Over the years the communities flourished and Kurt grew up in the thriving settlement of Wilhelma.

However, on the day that World War 2 broke out, the British authorities that ruled Palestine at that time had a barbed wire fence erected around the settlement. In 1941, as the German army under General Rommel advanced, the Templers were taken into custody and then put aboard the Queen Elizabeth to be transported to Australia. Kurt was 14 at the time. He remembers the great liner dropping anchor in Sydney by the Harbour Bridge and being taken ashore at Darling Harbour by ferry. From there, the internees travelled by train to Rushworth and then by buses and trucks to Tatura.

Life in the camp was well organised by the inmates themselves with clubs and school for the children and craft, music and trade groups for the adults. Kurt was taught black-smithing, carpentry and how to mend shoes. He recalled helping to saw the heavy wooden frames of the beds provided in the camp to obtain timber with which to make chairs and tables. In time he became the meat cook for his compound and one of his tasks was to save the lard and dripping in tins to send back via the Red Cross to relatives in Germany.

Kurt’s story below tells of the family’s fourteen months in Rowville and their subsequent purchase of a farm in Bangholme.

Following the end of the war, the Temple Society of Victoria was established in Malvern. At the youth club there, Kurt met once again a girl he had known briefly in Palestine. Her name was Hilda Katz. Hilda’s family had been members of a Templer settlement near Haifa in Palestine. In 1948 Jewish insurgents attacked the settlement and the British moved the Templers to Cyprus. In the following year they were given the choice of repatriation to Germany or migration to Kenya or Australia. Like most of the others, the Katz family decided that Australia was the best option.

Kurt and Hilda were married in Melbourne in 1954 and have been blessed with three children, Tony, Anita and Alfred and seven grand-children. They live in retirement in Bayswater not far from Wilhelma Avenue, a street named after the settlement in Palestine where they had met as youngsters many years ago.

Here is Kurt’s story!

Some months ago I learned that you are keen to hear from people who once lived in Rowville. My family arrived from Palestine and was interned at Tatura from August 1941 until the end of 1946. My father and two brothers started to milk cows in Rowville for Mr Jack Gearon in October of that year and my youngest brother, mother and myself joined them on November 5th (which was Melbourne Cup Day). We lived in the house that is still there on the left going up from Wellington Road into Gearons Lane. I remember Mary Gearon, who was about my age, picking us up together with one of my brothers at Spencer Street Station and taking the suburban train to Dandenong.

Once there was a calf that must have been several days old and brother Fred just managed to grab its hind leg as it tried to slip through a dilapidated fence. He had to quickly put a rope on its leg then throw me the other end and get on his own pony before the Jersey bull got to him, as it was not to be trusted. About two thirds of the way home we had to release the calf because it had tired itself out struggling all the time. While having our meal, I saw the calf rather friskily head away and the mother following it. I ran over a rough paddock trying to catch it. I don’t remember how we succeeded in catching it but we did!

Gearons ran a few lambs, ‘killers’ as they are called. My uncle offered to slaughter one when the need arose. We received the offal because they didn’t want it. When my uncle left, I offered because I had watched him. Ted watched but told me I had to pull the lamb’s head over my knee. That turned out to be dangerous because with the lamb struggling I cut my knee. I bandaged it and finished my job and then Mary took me to a doctor in Dandenong. The doctor put five stitches right on top of my knee cap.

After milking, we had to hand strip the cows as the machines didn’t get all of the milk out. The boss didn’t replace me, so I had to squat on one leg with the other outstretched as I stripped dry more than seventy cows.

Three of us worked for Mr Gearon for ten pounds per week with firewood, milk and eggs thrown in. They gave us a good start in this country and I am grateful to Mr Gearon for taking us on. I don’t know what the conditions of our contract were, other than we had to give a month’s notice when we wanted to leave, but Mr Gearon risked a lot, not having known us beforehand.

There was a spring carnival staged at Heany Park and Pat Gearon and I decided to participate in a swimming contest. At the far end of the lake there were still a lot of weeds from the previous winter. Pat and I were put on a handicap and we were the last to enter the water, at the count of twelve. I came second and Pat had overtaken a few swimmers as well. I had not been handicapped before and didn’t understand how the man in charge could know how good we were!

Our shopping was done on market days in Dandenong. We had to walk the two kilometres to Stud Road to catch the bus. At the corner stood the little Post Office run by Miss Bergin (after whom Bergin’s Road is named). We bought two second hand push bikes and we rode them to Dandenong, Bentleigh, Glen Waverley and once to the pictures in Bayswater.

Ted Gearon played the saxophone and electric guitar and Mary the piano and together they played at dances, with someone (not related) who played the drums. They also had an American jazz trumpet and because I had learned to play a brass instrument, they offered it to me and encouraged me to play with them. I was not familiar with dance music at the time and I’m afraid my contribution was rather lacking, but they invited us to come along and we piled into the car to go to Pakenham, Beaconsfield Upper or Tooradin. I’m sure there were seven or eight of us sitting on one another’s laps. When we left Rowville I was allowed to keep the trumpet by paying one pound for it. I still have it today.

Mary helped me improve my English and told me early on that anybody that cared could pronounce my surname. From today’s view that doesn’t seem so extraordinary, but this was in 1947 and we were advised to tell anybody that asked that we were Scandinavian.

My mother’s brother and family came to live with us early in the piece and for a couple of months I worked with my uncle during the week, at Lapins ‘Sunbeam’ poultry farm on Mountain Highway, Bayswater. On Friday night we took the train to Ferntree Gully and bus to Rowville. During the week we lived in a tent in the backyard of a house in Pine Street which a friend of ours later bought. I suffered a lot of asthma and it was decided that I should stay with my family and my brother Helmut took my place in Bayswater.

My father and I started to look for a small farm of our own. We looked from Dixons Creek in the north to Carrum Downs and Tooradin in the south and settled for a 26 acre farm at Bangholme. My brother Edmund and I took over the new place. Edmund had a job at a small poultry farm just south of Gearon’s property with an elderly couple by the name of Makeham, who allowed him to practise on their piano. Dad had to give a month’s notice and the people in Bangholme stayed on for a short time to show us the ropes. After fourteen months we severed our ties with Rowville and celebrated Christmas at our own place.

In 1957 or 58, working for a builder from Dandenong, I was involved in the first urban subdivision in Rowville. I own a Morgan’s street directory, 45th edition, which shows the first three subdivisions. McKay, the builder and Norris the estate agent sub-divided the land bought from the Raymonds, hence McKay Road and Norris Road. Later, as a sub-contractor, I built a house on Second Avenue in the Stamford Park Estate and one in Carrara Road near Police Road. Now living in Bayswater, it all comes back again.
By Bryan Power and Kurt Beilharz

First published in the May and June 1999 editions of the Rowville-Lysterfield Community News.

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