A life less ordinary


"We left on a ship to music and drums.”

Maria Slaghaise says with just two years to go until she hits the big 100, her globetrotting days are over, exchanging her Dutch roots and South African adventures for a life in Brisbane.

  • Autumn 2020
  • Members

"I'm originally from Holland. We left in 1958, on October 18, by ship; the Southern Cross, from Rotterdam.

“There was not much work in Holland; the Germans had bombed a lot of places and we thought it would be better to move. It was a bit traumatic, leaving your parents and everyone else behind. Difficult. But they always said, ‘you must live your own life’, and that’s what we did.”

After World War II the Netherlands government encouraged emigration as a means of relieving housing shortages and addressing significant economic challenges. For Maria and her husband, it was to be no easy solution.

“We arrived in Adelaide and spent four years there, working for a big company, AV Jennings. We moved with them to Melbourne for nearly five years and then to Fremantle to build swimming pools."

“My husband was a builder, but at that point we ran out of work here. When his foreman, who was also Dutch, said ‘when the work is finished, are you going back to Holland?’, my husband said ‘are you crazy? We left on a ship to music and drums, do you think we’re going to go back and say ‘we didn’t make it’? No way’. So, in the ’70s, we went to South Africa."

There, she says, they lived the best years of their lives.

"People think I’ve had an interesting life, but I think not much of it. It all just happens. I’ll tell you one thing, it hasn’t been easy."

"I really did like South Africa, it was a really lovely country. We lived in Johannesburg and I worked actually in an aged care facility, like I’m in now, as well as in a hospital, in a bookshop—the biggest on the continent, seven floors high—and even in a university.”

Sadly, the '80s changed everything for Maria when her husband died in his sleep from a heart attack.

“It was 1983. There I was in a foreign country without him. That was not easy. I knew I would never marry again; I had one great love and that’s what sits in my heart."

“I came back here because we had promised each other that if anything happened to either of us, we would bring the family back together in Australia. When he died, my eldest son was at university here, my eldest daughter had moved back too, and the two youngest ones were with me in South Africa. I waited four years in hopes the youngest children would come with me—they were in their 20s at the time—but of course it never happened and I couldn’t force them. So, I gave them three months’ notice and left to join my eldest two children here, as I'd promised my husband. The family is allover the place now; here, South Africa and the UK. But they must live their own lives, just as we did.”

Now back in Brisbane, Maria says, “at the moment, here feels like the best place to be."

“People think I’ve had an interesting life, but I think not much of it. It all just happens. I’ll tell you one thing, it hasn't been easy. Leaving loved ones behind—first my parents and then my children—has been really hard. Really, really hard. So that's enough for me now. I’m 98 and in a seniors’ home, I’ve made some friends and my daughter and son visit me sometimes."


“People think I’ve had an interesting life, but I think not much of it. It all just happens. I’ll tell you one thing, it hasn't been easy. Leaving loved ones behind—first my parents and then my children—has been really hard. Really, really hard. So that's enough for me now. I’m 98 and in a seniors’ home, I’ve made some friends and my daughter and son visit me sometimes."

“People tell me I should write a book about my life,” Maria laughs, “but with breakfast at 8 o’clock, tea time at half-nine, lunch, 3 o’clock tea time, dinner and 8 o’clock Milo, who has the time?"


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