Another year…

HappyNewYearSo, there we are… another year gone! While I would have liked getting more of the family site built, it now has just over 400 items, at least enough to see where it’s heading…

I really enjoyed scanning in some terrific Christmas / New Year cards from Han Hoogenkamp recently, he was one of Dad’s colleagues back in Holland at the Navy (see earlier item). They’re all hand-made (more on Han’s page) and a wonderful memory of the man, who I remember very well. He taught Dad to play the organ, was a valuable colleague at the Hydrographic Office and kept in touch for many years after we left for Australia.

August Update

Joh. C. CoomansAfter some distractions in the first half of the year and a terrific holiday in Europe, I’m back working on the website. As I’ve given myself 10 years to build it, what’s six months off occasionally?

There are now pages for around two hundred family members (most of them pretty basic) and over 250 photos and other items of interest.

Some of the recent enhancements:

  • A new category – “Other Items” for things I couldn’t fit in elsewhere, like newspaper clippings and memorial booklets.
  • An illustration for the front page – yes, it’s Dad/Jo Coomans, the inspiration for this site ( “what to do what all that stuff he left behind?”). He’ll also show up as the icon for the site.
  • My first translated letters. I can’t see how I can translate more than a few representative ones, but I’ll try.

I’d love some feedback/critique of the site. Here are a few things which I don’t like and will look towards changing:

  • While the miniature photos on a personal page are Ok, even if a bit small, documents end up looking all the same. I think I will end up adding titles below the document miniatures.
  • For some people, the sheer number of items will end up ovewhelming (ie when I upload hundreds of Dad’s artworks). Not sure how to solve it yet, I might have to group the items.
  • Similarly, for some events there are lots of photos, threatening to ‘flood’ pages, for example I uploaded our wedding album. What I ended up doing is only link selective photos to Joy’s and my personal pages. You would need to go to the year (1971) to see the other photos.

Lots more things to consider, but that’s enough for now. I look forward to feedback / suggestions / critiques. Fire away in the comments or email me at

A family history project

Tiny part of the room…

When Dad vacated the family home in mid 2014, we found a rich treasure of artwork, letters, documents, photographs and other “artifacts of life” in his “Rommelkamer”[junk room]. Not to mention the skull in the bedroom cupboard…

I ended up with a lot of the “treasure”, photographing his paintings and drawings and doing my best to preserve anything valuable or of historical interest.

That still left the question of what to do with it all? Was there a way of preserving it as a digital collection and exposing  it to others?

fpIt might also be interesting to document some of the history of our family in moving from one continent and society to another. Underlying the contents of Dad’s room was a story which would be interesting to develop…

So I’ve been experimenting (fiddling) with a way to tell the story for the past few months. In a subsequent post, there will be an opportunity to document some of the design decisions which were made along the way. For the moment, you can have a look at its beginnings at

And feel free to comment, criticise and/or question the project.

Jo Coomans and Adrie Kooij

You might ask, for example, why there are so few of the family’s ‘assets’ on that site just yet. That’s because it seemed logical to start with “a framework” formed by the family tree before adding the ‘assets’. There are some examples already how that might work, though.

I have given myself ten years to get this into a reasonable shape, so use your imagination when browsing and feel free to assist! Oh, and before I close this off, I’m focused mainly on people and events in the already distant past but will respect any feedback and /or requests for privacy.

Meanwhile, follow along!


Goodbye, Dad

21Our dad, Jo Coomans passed away on 30 January 2015 and we buried him on 6th February.

Goodbye Dad, Rest in Peace.

For those who couldn’t attend, here are some captured moments of the day.

Harry produced an excellent booklet [772 kB] and an Audio Visual presentation [111 MB], which was shown at the end of the Service.

Jonathon took photos during the day (slideshow, hi-res [51MB] or lo-res,  [2.6 MB]). Individual photos below (click to show larger version).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Hydrografie 1947-1967

Hydrogafie staff - what's with the ties?
Hydrografie staff – what’s with the ties?

In 1947, Jo was employed by the “Bureau Hydrografie” at the Badhuiskade in Scheveningen (for all intents and purposes a suburb of The Hague). His job was as a draftsman, creating and correcting Navy Hydrographic Charts.

With colleague Ad Schenk(?)
With colleague Ad Schenk(?)

While he was unhappy at the Bureau towards to end of his employment (one reason to migrate to Australia), it’s clear that he enjoyed the camaraderie of colleagues and made friendships which lasted many years beyond his departure. He corresponded with one of them, Han Hoogenkamp until that colleague’s death more than 20 years later.

I was lucky to visit “the Bureau” a few times as a teenager and well remember the long room (tekenkamer), which faced the park so they would enjoy natural light.

North Sea chart from 1950’s

Nowadays, charts are produced by computer (and printed copies are increasingly rarely used). In those days charts were drawn by hand, carefully constructed from coordinates and soundings. It was a trade steeped in traditions going back hundreds of years. Early charts of Australia (New Holland) and Indonesia (Durch East Indies) were made by Dad’s predecessors in the 1600’s. It’s probably true that, working as a civilian for the Navy, some of its history and traditions proved stifling for a free spirit with artistic rather than bureaucratic ambitions.

Apart from drafting, his tasks were to supervise printing of the charts by a printer, Marchant-Paap-Stroker (MPS) in The Hague. He would spend days there in a Quality Control role during print runs. The photo on the left is from Dept of Defense webpage showing him supervising the printing of charts. By the way, that page is wrong on the location. There were never any printing presses at the “Bureau”, but they were printed under contract by MPS.

(Self) Portraits

a171-self-portraitI’m slowly cataloguing Dad’s creative output, initially his paintings and drawings. Among them are some surprises. This self-portrait is different from most that he has done. A great likeness, from an unusual technique.

a81-johcoomansAnother surprise is to see some work by others among Dad’s “collection”.  Herman Mees was a well regarded artist who taught at the Academy in Rotterdam. At that time (1942), he was the head teacher there. Here is his entry in Wikipedia. His portrait of Dad is a little gem.

[as usual, click to enlarge images]


leede1944I’ve been sorting and archiving Dad’s artwork after capturing most of it digitally in December. While I was familiar with most of the works, it’s nice to discover  drawings and paintings with which I wasn’t  familiar. For example this sketch of the Leede (“tuindorp” in Rotterdam), done in 1944. It shows that confident hand and “eye” for which he should be remembered.

Leede2014Out of curiosity, I looked up the location on Google. The church tower is hidden by the leaves of the tree, but it’s pretty much the same 70 years later.

{click the images for larger versions]

Johannus Opus 225 Organ

Looking for a good home.

Opus225-1Yes, we’re looking for a good home for this organ from the famous Dutch maker of church organs, Johannus. Originally bought by an enthusiastic organist for his private use in 1989, this organ is Opus225-2still in a fine condition and would suit a small church or organ enthusiast. Finished in solid oak with bench, it presents really well.

When purchased, the Australian list price for this organ was A$12,186. We’re keen to find a good home for the fine example of an electronic organ. We will let it go for a small amount, well below its real value, to a buyer who appreciates its value. Call Marius on (0411) 248 617 to register your interest, request further information or an inspection on site in Penrith, NSW.

Download the Johannus Opus225 Brochure and Opus 225 User Manual.

[Later: we’ve found a good home for it at Rochford Place, Ropes Crossing.]

Johannes Calvijnschool

Simon 1959

While the focus here is on our parents, Jo and Adri, it’s inevitable that we’re faced with our own history.

I spotted the photo of Simon in the assortment of memorabilia waiting for him to pick up next time he’s in Penrith. And yes, I’m returning it to his “cache” before he misses it.

Marius 1959

It figures that there was a photo of yours truly from the same year (1958-59) and sure enough, there was.

Harry, did you find a photo from the same year as well?

The Johannes Calvijnschool was our primary school while we lived on the Cannenburghlaan. I found class photos of the period at website and downloaded a few class photos of Simon’s class of 1956 and 1958 as well as my class of 1958.
Surely you recognise us? (click on the photos for a larger version)

Simon 1956
Simon 1958
Marius 1958

Letter from Henny

Letter from Henny to Dad
22 Novemvber 1944

This letter was written to Dad in late 1944. At the time, he was in hiding at “Peer de Hoed” after escaping from a barge as he and and his future brother-in-law, Jord were on their way to Germany as forced labour. I remember him telling us about the worst blisters in his life which he got while escaping (as well as being shot at…

The letter is not in a very good state, here is what I can read of it. A scan of the original is here. (12/12/16 – Added a few missing words, Thanks Arie Kooij! And thanks to Simon for “gekebbel…”)

R’dam 22 Nov 44

Beste Jo,

‘t Is zoo vreemd zonder jou hier thuis en ons gekebbel, dat ik je maar eens zal schrijven. Het gaat je hoop ik al wat beter? We waren blij dat je alleen maar blaren had, ‘t had nog erger kunnen zijn! Henki groeit nog steeds en ik ben benieuwd of hij je nog kent. Vanavond zouden we voor het laatst licht hebben tot kwart voor 7, maar om half negen is het nog.

De jongens spelen konijn en eten rauwe kool. ‘t Is een stel apen hoor! Pa zou met Kooij naar the Hoeksche Waard, maar ze mochten niet over den brug. En regenen dat het deed. Jammer heh? Alleen wat savoye kool hadden ze.

Vanmorgen had de bakker de opwekkende mededeling dat er nog voor 14 dagen meel is. We eten nu kool en erwten!.

Nouw Jopie, het beste hoor en houd maar moed.

Hartelijke groeten van

Henny and Henki …….

Oom Jo, ik heb nieuwe zwarte lak schoenen!




Old wife how do you do?

Alles nog in orde? Met mij is alles nog bestig (?) We zitten allemaal te  xxxx over schrijf  dat en dit aan Jo  maar ik zeg. Ik schrijf enkel maar over mezelf. Leuk heh? Xxxxxx heeft zelf ook wat geschreven. Xxxxx xx?

Ach Jo ze hebben hier het allerlaatste avondmaal afgeschaft. Is dat geen rotstreek? En vanavond hebben we ERWTENSOEP. Zalig he ? Heb je

[Front top (upside down):]

Lieve Joop

Zondag zal ik schrijven

………………………………………………………… dag