Growing up, this Booragul artist would sit mesmerised as her Dad told stories of his homeland and life in Holland during World War Two. It seemed so far removed from her life and more like her favourite television show Hogan’s Heroes.
In July 2011, Kim van Koeverden set out on a six-week European tour that included a 16-day trip to Holland to retrace her Dad’s Dutch life.
“It was a monumental life-changing experience, other than having my children; there has been nothing bigger in my life. Dad had passed away, so it was incredibly emotional and intense, but I loved every minute of it.”
Kim had been planning the Holland journey most of her life. She carried a notebook that listed the names of relatives she wished to meet, the places to stay, and things to do.
Her father Cornelius was one of 16 children, so her extended family was large. When she arrived in Holland, she was met at the airport by a football team of aunts, uncles and cousins.
“They welcomed me with open arms as if we had never been apart, then took me straight to a party in my honour.”
At the gathering, they asked Kim about her itinerary, and she handed over the notebook. By the night’s end, each entry had a ‘tour guide’ name against it.
“On top of my list was to stay at Dad’s childhood home and meet as many relatives as possible and hear their stories.”
Con had grown up on a dairy farm in Buurmalsen and lived in a heritage homestead with a thatched roof that people from all over the world came to paint and still do.
“I slept in Dad’s room and relived his life through family members’ memories. I also cycled through the dairy countryside, along the canals and past old windmills. It was magical.”
During WWII, the family home was taken over by German soldiers, who used it as a stopover on their way to the front. Con’s elderly parents stayed in the home with three daughters who lived in the attic. Some of the boys had gone to fight, and the remaining children were sent to work in camps. However, Con being a baker, was spared and remained in Holland as an essential services worker. He ended up being recruited by the Dutch resistance.
“Dad would tell me about being a spy with a bow-tie camera and hiding a gun in a bible.”
While staying with the family, Kim went to a museum dedicated to the resistance, and there was Con’s photo and the intelligence equipment he had described.
“It was all real and not a Hogan’s Heroes fantasy – I felt very proud.”
She has many memories from this trip, and it has only cemented a wish to go and live in Holland for a year. Kim has already started her next bucket-list item, which is lessons in learning conversational Dutch.
It will join her other ticks that include a biplane ride; owning a vintage car; scuba diving with sharks in Vanuatu; and visiting Arnhem land where she bought an original artwork. She still has plenty to do: travel to India; a solo art exhibition; creating a large public interactive kinetic sculpture, and writing her father’s story.
“Dad was my hero. I needed to go and see where he had lived and find my roots. I am so glad I did, as it made me feel whole by filling in the gaps of who I am. I felt a connection with my Dutch family and built loving relationships that will last my lifetime.”