Mosman Voices - oral histories online

Julie Kerner

Interviewed by Eve Klein on 7 February 2001

Eve Klein. What brought you to Mosman?

Julie Kerner. We met a gentleman on our passage from England to here. He was a Swiss Consul, and he gathered up all the young couples with their children at the top deck and gave us a little account of what life in Australia is like and what the suburbs are like, and what he suggested would be the best place for us to start our living in Australia.

Eve Klein. What did he base his attitude on? Why did he recommend this area?

Julie Kerner. He used to live in Mosman, so he could recommend it, and he suggested that we should rent a large house and join up with another family who had children about the same age as I had – I had a daughter of two years at that time – and rent an old house, which were available, quite a lot in Mosman because it was just before the war.

Eve Klein. Which year was it?

Julie Kerner. 1939. Lots of houses were vacant because the people went from here, more into the center of Australia, they didn’t want to live on the coast. So that was possible and we found a house in Awaba Street.

Eve Klein. At that stage how was your English?

Julie Kerner. School English.

Eve Klein. Could you get by?

Julie Kerner. Oh yes.

Eve Klein. Your husband was doing what at that time?

Julie Kerner. He had nothing. He didn’t do anything. But as you talk could I speak English – yes – I had a very strong accent and I haven’t lost it, but imagine a Scotsman and he had a very strong accent and I thought he arrived just at that time as well. I asked him how long he’d been here, and he said – 70 years.

Eve Klein. Where had the ship actually come from?

Julie Kerner. We boarded it in Southhampton, but it was a Dutch ship, The Aluron (sp) and of course there were lots of migrants like ours, who were called refugees because we were feeling Nazi Germany.

Eve Klein. When you arrived in Australia what quantity of possessions and so on did you have?

Julie Kerner. We had clothing.

Eve Klein. You didn’t have furniture?

Julie Kerner. No, but luckily we did get our furniture almost nine months after we arrived here, and that was very lucky because we got quite a lot of furniture, which was handy for us.

Eve Klein. So you knew you were coming to Sydney and what did you expect?

Julie Kerner. No, we actually had our ticket to Melbourne, but the ship came to Sydney first and we fell in love with Sydney – the harbour and the climate and just Sydney. We just loved it from the minute we got here, and we didn’t ever go to Melbourne again.

Eve Klein. You had the option of getting off in Sydney. Did anyone help you with your accommodation and organizing yourself?

Julie Kerner. The Society of Friends were very, very helpful. They helped us with accommodation; they visited us often and they helped us an awful lot, and they helped my little daughter a lot too.

Eve Klein. In which way?

Julie Kerner. Well they took her to the meetings and they took her out on Sundays to little picnics. They were very kind to children.

Eve Klein. So where was your first home that you settled in here?

Julie Kerner. The very first place that we spent in Sydney was at Kings Cross, and it was the hottest day for 41 years.

Eve Klein. Which month was that?

Julie Kerner. It was so hot, it was January. We arrived on January 6th, 1939, and it was unbelievable. Whatever you touched was so hot – anything metal just about stuck to your skin. My little daughter didn’t know what was happening and she kept on saying that she wanted to go home. She didn’t like this terrible heat, and of course there was no way we could do anything about it. And then we very soon we looked in Mosman to find something, and we found an empty house in Awaba Street, near Military Road at the top of the hill.

Eve Klein. And you rented that. How many rooms did you have at that time? How big was the rental?

Julie Kerner. It was a big house, an old family home and we joined with another family who had two daughters. We had one bedroom and they had two bedrooms and we shared the rest of the house.

Eve Klein. How did you manage financially and with the neighbours and so on?

Julie Kerner. The neighbours were very helpful and friendly. Financially – well we had to have a certain amount of money in the bank, otherwise we wouldn’t have been allowed into Australia, so we lived on that. My husband couldn’t find a position at all because it was fairly soon after the Depression and lots of Australians were out of work. So he had no chance of getting anything. Luckily, because I was a milliner, I could start straight away and I found a job in the city first, and then in Mosman.