Bridging the Distance | The Boersma Family
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The Boersma Family

Elizabeth and Gerard are ten-year old twins who live in Tasmania.
It was only recently that Elizabeth wrote her first overseas letter to
her third cousin Roosmarijn from Zwolle. They tell about their hobbies,
their Dutchness and how they became acquainted with Roosmarijn.

“Those who do are probably militant Frisians”

Elizabeth and Gerard are ten-year-old twins who live in Tasmania, the island which was named after the 17th century Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. On answering the question as to whether they are indeed of Dutch ancestry, their father Ian jokes: “There would not be many people surnamed Boersma who do not have Dutch ancestry. Those who do are probably militant Frisians who don’t want to be called Dutch”.

Sheffield Steamfest
Geert Boersma
“And by the way, is there any chance that I could sleep under your roof tonight?”

The basis of the newly established pen-friendship between Elizabeth in Launceston and her third cousin Roosmarijn is in a cycling trip across the Netherlands undertaken by her dad years ago. “In 1990 I was cycling around the Netherlands. One evening I turned up at Fokko and Aly’s door and introduced myself as a son of their cousin in Australia, and by the way, is there any chance that I could sleep under your roof or in your backyard tonight?” Ian tells. To cut a long story short, Ian and their daughter Anja have remained pen friends ever since, but it was only recently that Elizabeth wrote her first overseas letter to Anja’s daughter Roosmarijn. “I wrote that letter to her in Dutch!” Elizabeth tells enthusiastically.

“I love reading Dutch!”

Elizabeth’s twin brother Gerard explains that they learn Dutch by reading Dutch books every night. “I love reading Dutch!” he tells. And the belief that their dad might take them to the Netherlands for a holiday in the near future if they keep practising their Dutch naturally also encourages them to do so. Regardless both Gerard and Elizabeth can now read Dutch at the same level as they can English, and that is pretty impressive!

Gerard (Note the binoculars on the bed)
Shared passion for horses

Elizabeth and Gerard share a passion for anything that is related to horses. “I like to sit on my bed and use my binoculars to watch the horses and ponies in the paddocks further up Thistle Street” Gerard tells. “Sometimes we get to ride on Misty” Elizabeth adds. For Gerard the annual Sheffield Steamfest is one of the highlights of the year. “There are a huge number of working steam traction engines and other vintage machinery as well as horses and bullocks!”

Another thing that Gerard enjoys is to attend musical performances. “But we don’t get to do that very often. At least most Sundays I do get to sit and enjoy the church organ when Mr Meijer plays it. We sit at the very front of church, near the organ, so I can see everything that the organist is doing.”

A job rather than a hobby

Elizabeth tells about her hobbies. “I like going out for a drive or walk with dad, particularly if it involves picking berries or going somewhere where we can use our scooters. I’m quite interested in archaeology, and have picked up some interesting old objects in our back yard. And I look after the chooks, but that is a job rather than a hobby.”

Elizabeth on the job
Notification of Marriage
Married ‘met de handschoen’

The story of how their grandparents on their father’s side came out is undoubtedly one of those favourite family stories they have heard time and time again. Elizabeth tells that her opa was married in Australia to his fiancé while she was still in the Netherlands! Ian explains that his father was sent ahead to scope out the prospects for a new life in Australia. “It became evident that Australia had a lot to offer and arrangements were made for Grietje to join him. The Australian government however required a bond equivalent to a return fare in case she did not want to stay. Such a bond did not apply to married couples, so my parents arranged to be married ‘met de handschoen’ (by proxy)”.

“They brought fishing boats
and lived in makeshift tents!”

The migration story of the forebears on their mother’s side is even more remarkable. The newspapers in Australia as well as the Netherlands even published an article on it!

Two sons of the Plug family were sent ahead as scouts. They chose Albany as it looked promising for a fisherman’s family from Katwijk. Soon after the rest of the family boarded the Sibajak to set sail for Australia to join them. And Opoe Plug, Elizabeth’s and Gerard’s great grandmother, at 70 years of age, was the eldest family member undertaking the big adventure. “They actually took fishing boats with them!” Gerard tells. “And they lived in makeshift tents [that] they built from the packing crates!” Elizabeth adds excitedly.

Opoe Jannetje Plug
The migration story of the Plugs family made headlines

The story of Roosmarijn – the other half of this double interview – will follow shortly