On October 29, over 100 Binalong residents, family and friends, came together to bury one of their own, Theo Kuster.
They say that it takes several generations before small communities accept you as one of them but Theo and his wife of 57 years, Catharina, proved that bit of folklore wrong. Theo and Catharina were married, came to Australia and settled in Binalong all in the same year, 1955, and quickly became an accepted and treasured part of the Binalong community.
After a six-week voyage, Theo and Catharina arrived in Melbourne, where their sponsors, the Catholic Rural Movement, had made arrangements for them to be placed at Savaun with Mrs Winifred Browne.
Once the immigration formalities were over, they were put on a train to Binalong. It was tough. They spoke virtually no English, had no money, had no idea of the vastness of Australia, or where they were going.
But as we say, when conditions get tough the tough get going, and Theo and Catharina carved out a wonderful life for themselves and their children in our community.
The stories have become part of Binalong folklore. Like the time Theo naively picked up a large snake and asked Mrs Browne in Dutch, “What sort of eel is this?”
Or the time that they were asked to bring a “plate” to a function, and they thought the poor people must be short of crockery, so they brought a whole set of plates and cups and cutlery as well!
Theodorus Bernardus Kuster was born and baptised in 1925.
Theo was part of a large family: child number five out of eight. As circumstances would have it, he was to outlive all his siblings. His parents were market gardeners. Theo grew up in the Dutch countryside, near the small village of Huissen. He developed a love of the outdoors and especially an interest in animals: birds, bees, poultry and rabbits. Farmed rabbits were an important industry in his home country, one that seems rather unnecessary in Australia where rabbits are free for the taking. He was also passionate about gardening.
Theo grew up during the Great Depression which, in his home country, was more severe and lasted longer than in Australia.
Then, when he was just 15, the war came.
He experienced first hand the horror of being invaded and having one’s life totally controlled by a foreign power, the much hated Nazi regime.
During the war a piece of shrapnel shattered his left wrist. Fortunately the doctors were able to repair it to a point where he regained some limited use of his hand.
Theo’s experience of the depression and the war had a lasting impact. As a look at his farm shows, nothing was ever thrown away. “You never know,” he would say, “it might come in useful!”
Theo met the love of his life, Catharina, in 1949 at a carnival in the nearby town of Elst. She too came from a big and close family.
After that terrible war, economic conditions in the Netherlands looked hopeless and many Dutch men and women emigrated to Canada or Australia.
Theo worked with Mrs Browne for the two years required by the sponsorship arrangement but it was a not an easy relationship. Fortunately, Mrs Brown’s son, Niall, saw their predicament and sold Theo 10 acres of land.
By Dutch standards, especially for market gardeners, 10 acres was a huge area. Here Theo and Catharina built their first real home consisting of a kitchen, lounge room and one bedroom.
Other Dutch people came to Binalong around that time and Theo and Catharina tried to help them settle but these newcomers found the area too remote and the hot summers too long so they moved on.
But Theo stayed and worked tirelessly on his block in the evenings and on weekends. It became his life-long passion. Later he was able to add additional land to this original block and even buy some investment properties.
But more than anything, he loved his home farm.
Over the years, Theo extended the family home, adding a further two bedrooms, a new kitchen and a billiard room to accommodate the growing family. He was enormously proud of “the house that Theo built”!
As well as working his own property, Theo worked for the railway for a few years and later, he did farm work for Binalong stalwarts like Bonnie Henderson and Roger McDonald.
Theo was full of ideas and could turn his hand to the many and varied tasks required of a farmer. Roger McDonald once joked, “Whenever I think l have a great idea, Theo would come up with a better one!”
When Theo was 65 he stopped working for other people and concentrated on running his own farm. He had no intention of retiring or selling up.
Theo and Catharina were able to visit their home country a number of times, and were delighted that numerous Dutch family members were able to make the long journey to Australia.
He took up lawn bowls and loved the Friday evening social matches at the Binalong Golf Club during the summer months. Theo and Catharina also enjoyed their regular bowling trips around the country.
Theo was a master of the billiard table, even when his sight was failing and he needed to be told which ball was the black one. And when finally he was totally blind in one eye, he never lost his ability to snooker his opponents.
Before Alzheimer’s took over, Theo had a memory like an elephant. When playing cards, he could remember what cards had been discarded and work out who was holding the remaining key cards.
Theo was in his early 80s when he finally agreed to lease out some of his land. He realised that he was spending more time snoozing in his recliner and the farm was getting away from him.
But throughout his life Theo was strong and fit. His health was great. Of course Catharina can take a lot of the credit for that. She looked after him and supported him throughout.
It was only in the last years of his life that Mr Alzheimer began to take its toll and impacted severely on both Theo’s and Catharina’s quality of life.
When the end came it was blessedly quick.
He will be missed by his wife, Catharina, children Paul and Ingrid, granddaughters Debra, Stacey, Jacqueline, Kate and Brooke and great-grandchildren Jordan, Cooper and Sienna.
They will miss his “mel-ek” for milk, “gol-ef” for golf and, when there is a difference of opinion, “niets er van, I say no thing!”
Farewell Theo, rest in peace.