“I was born in 1957, in the small Dutch town of Culemborg, located along the River Rijn. I am the youngest of six, an unexpected child. I have five brothers, who are all a lot older. One of them has since passed away. My parents were Catholic. Mum was 43 when she had me, a huge scandal at the time! Before she passed away five years ago, she once said, ‘If I lived today I wouldn’t have listened to the Catholic church. I’ve had used contraceptives, and I wouldn’t have six kids, but I do love you all very much!’
I did all the things Dutch boys do in Holland. I went fishing every week and got into trouble. I would go ice skating when there’s ice and swam in the lake in summer. I had piano lessons when I was six. Dad was a handyman, and had fixed up a piano he had purchased. There wasn’t a lot of money to go around with six kids.
I went to a Catholic primary and Dutch Reformed high school in Culemborg. The high school had a very narrow view of the world then. By the time I completed high school, I was sick of education. When summer came around, I went to Spain and Morocco and did lots of travelling. I did odd jobs and travelled.
I studied Arabic, but just before the exams came around, I went to Morocco to “study” and while there I decided to drop out. That kind of university environment just didn’t do it for me.
Up until then, I had always been playing music. I played the piano until I was 12, as my teacher of seven years had passed away suddenly. I was more upset at the teacher’s death than not having a teacher. I always dabbled in music and would try to improvise music that I heard. My piano was always near me, and I bought a flute when I was 18. When I arrived in Australia, I bought myself a saxophone.
Winter in Holland was wet, grey and cold, and once I was old enough, I got away every winter. One year, I met a Melburnian in Morocco, and we became friends. Along the way, we lost touch, but ran into each other again six months later in Amsterdam. He invited me to Australia. I went to the immigration department, obtained a tourist visa, and arrived in Melbourne. It was 1980.
My tourist visa was valid for only three months. I kept extending it. At the end of one year, I was told to go. I enjoyed living in Australia, and decided to apply for a residency. The first time, I was refused. By that time, I had already been in Melbourne for almost two-and-a-half years. I decided to seek some legal aid, and argued that my life was already embedded in Melbourne.
A few months later, I obtained my Australian residency. I was 25 then.
The first thing I did after this was return to Holland. I hadn’t been home in three years, and I couldn’t leave Australia as that would have voided my residency application. I was living in Fitzroy then, and was working at Potts Bakery, one of the first woodfired oven sourdough bakeries in Melbourne. After one-and-a-half years, I travelled around the world with my first wife, Carol.
When we returned, we decided to move to Sydney. Carol was making clothing then, and we started a leather jacket making business in Paddington Market. The shopping strip is no longer there. The business was successful for seven years. During this time, we had our first unplanned twins in NSW.
I believed the kids were conceived in the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. My ex-wife and I were travelling in Bolivia then, and we were at this witches’ market, and she sold us a fertility and a get rich quick charm. The first one worked, not to sure about the second one.
The twins were born prematurely at 48 weeks. One of them was a still-born, but Jerome survived. Shortly after the birth, we moved from Sydney to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.
We were still doing leather clothing then, and occasionally I jammed at home for fun. We had another son, Tori, three years later.
40 years ago, Australian-made products were everywhere. It was thriving. A lot of clothes, shoes and cars were made here. However, the tariffs were coming down and cheaper imports were killing my business. I saw what was coming. I was paying Australian wages to my staff, and the writing was on the wall. We decided to sell up and move back to Melbourne.
Around that time, Carol and I separated. Thereafter, I was on sickness benefits for a while as I had injured my back badly while throwing kids around the swimming pool.
In 1995, I moved to Yarraville. Why? It was cheap, and close to the city. My kids went to Albert Park Primary School, and I couldn’t afford Port Melbourne. It was already expensive then. I thought it was impossible to find a place to rent, until I looked across the bridge and found a two-bedroom house in Yarraville, asking $120 a week.
Yarraville was working class then. People were just starting to move here as it was cheap. Now people move to Sunshine. The Sun Theatre building was a dump and there was a huge op shop. Being a single parent with 2 young boys they always used to give me discounts (!!). Thank the goddess for op shops. There was a deli, a cobbler, a couple of Greek cafes where people would play cards and Greek restaurants. The first trendy coffee shop that opened, was where Java is now.
A friend asked me if I wanted to teach his son piano. I had 24 years of playing experience and no teaching experience, but I decided to give it a go. I didn’t mind the idea of music teaching, it was fun, I liked working with kids, they have so much energy and are always ready to try something new. Teenagers, on the other hand, are a bit trickier to inspire! Within a year, I had 15 students coming to my house for lessons.
Through my sons in Albert Park Primary School, I noticed there were other music education businesses more interested in making money than quality teaching and continuity. They produced glossy brochures, but they had a high music teacher turnover. I approached the principal and told her I thought I could do better. I knew I was going to stick around, and not go away.
Around the same time, beautiful Beulah came into my life! She auditioned to sing in my band and after she climbed through my kitchen window to grab a beer after work (I wasn’t home yet), I knew she was the one for me! Very soon we had a baby daughter, Mira, together.
Albert Park school decided let me have a go, and by the end of the year, I had 40 students. I was teaching piano and wind instruments. One day, I thought wouldn’t it fun to have a guitar and singing teachers involved?
I had a band going, “Jadida” (means “New” in Arabic). Rohan, the band’s drummer ended up teaching drums, Phil the oud (Arabic/Turkish lute) player taught guitar, and Beulah helped me run the program and taught singing. We had the students participate in CD recordings and concerts with them performing in bands. They loved it, and so did we. We weren’t doing it for the money, we wanted the kids to experience what playing music together was like.
Teaching in a school is easy as all the kids are there. No complicated arrangements with parents to organise rehearsals! I think playing music together is really important. It inspires students to practise and it’s fun.
After 6 or 7 years a new principal came along at Albert Park Primary School, he thought music lessons disturbed maths and English classes and successfully got rid of us,. The parents and School Council objections were ignored. It upset a lot of people!
Carolyn Withers, the assistant principal at Kingsville Primary School (KPS) had a son at Albert Park and was impressed with the music program (I got her son to perform “Hound Dog”!) and she gave me a chance to speak with the KPS school council. By then I had a good concept of how to run a successful program and the Council school gave me an opportunity to start a music program in 2002.
We had 50 students enrolling in the first few terms. The school was a lot smaller then and had only about 300 children.
The concept just grew, and Beulah and I put our performing arts background to good use. Beulah is also a qualified teacher, and I’m more of an organically grown music teacher.
I discovered I am really good with special needs students, such as kids with disabilities, ADHD and learning difficulties. There was a boy in Albert Park Primary School who was always getting into trouble and would always be sitting outside the Principal’s office. I used to walk past him and wondered why he’s sitting there. I spoke with the Principal and was told he always challenged people and got under their skin.
I brought him into my music class and taught him keyboard. I refused to let him push my buttons, and he really got into it. ACDC was his favourite. I am sure music has done him some good, as he settled a bit more in school.
The music program in KPS lasted for 10 years. In the early years, the principal would ask me for brochures to hand out at prep orientation nights to advertise the school had a music program. 10 years later she had changed her mind, maybe she didn’t want the school population to get any larger (lol). I can laugh about it now, but it sure upset the school community and us a great deal again. A repeat of the Albert Park story!
In 2008 Yarraville West teacher Donna Walker had 2 daughters in the program at Kingsville PS and she approached me to start a music program in YWPS. For a few years, I coordinated 2 school programs at the same time. I didn’t enjoy this as much since it involved more management and less time teaching.
Over nearly 20 years of music programs, I’ve seen a lot of my teachers come and go, but I’m proud to have had a lot of them stick around for many years, local Leah Waterworth (The Rebelles) is a champ and has worked with me for nearly 15 years now!
We have always given underprivileged kids free or discounted music lessons and paid the teacher on the parents’ behalf. We found opportunities for our students to perform in community events, including bands, art shows and the Yarraville Festival.
While the music programs were going on, I always found time to perform and record with bands. In Melbourne the first one was Musiki Manjaro, we played Congolese style soukous dance music. The most famous one is Afro Mandinko, where I play high energy and funky African beats. We performed at WOMAD in Adelaide and many other festivals. At the moment, I play with Jadida and recently with Ousmane Sonko and the Kairo Family Band. No gigs due to the pandemic. Many musicians and artists are doing it tough! The band Jadida is my baby. Over the years we’ve performed at lots of festivals and events. We recorded 4 albums, with this year’s “Some Place New” album released on vinyl and of course, online. The artwork showcases my late brother’s painting and the album is my tribute to him. I spent hours of my childhood and young adulthood listening to his record collection with him and his musical taste has strongly influenced mine. We also released our first music video “A Stronger Stance” before lockdown hit. Our launch was sold out! It was an amazing night.
As hobbies I like music, espresso coffee, cooking (“Daaad, what’s for dinner?”). I bake all our own bread, love gardening, going to the movies, music, building websites, shopping at farmers’ markets, bush walks, taking our puppy Leila for a run, but most of all hanging out with my wife beautiful Beulah! My favourite café in Yarraville is Feedback café. They’ve got great coffee & food. I like the new café Mabu Mabu too.
You can check out our musical activities or purchase an album (vinyl/download card) on our website or social media platforms!”
Yarraville Music program website