A SOUL WHO LOVED
by Sandra Costellia
in honour of Mary
The following is the TRUE account of the life of William Costellia
CHAPTER TWO – GROWING UP – THE 1960’s
In the 1960s, under the direction of Sir Robert Menzies and then Harold Holt – who faced the challenge of defending Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War – Australian society was changing along with the times. It was a decade where young people challenged the government and the traditional values they were brought up with. Noted for the Women’s Rights Movements, racial equality and demonstrations against the Vietnam War, conscription and the nuclear industry. With the development of improved communications, these ideas were easily spread around the globe.
The 1960s was also the time of changes to the White Australia Policy, which now permitted skilled Asian migrants to settle in Australia.
It was the decade of the Pill, Indigenous Rights and the Hippie Revolution occurring amidst the Vietnam war. Around 50,000 Australians served in the conflict between 1965 and 1972. Many of them were conscripted. It was a time of protests – some violent – which divided the country on whether or not we should support our American allies in the effort to stop the spread of Communism from the North to the South of Vietnam (1) The upheaval and conflict didn’t affect young William however. He was absorbed in a childhood that was filled with all the good things in life. The farm was an oasis for him. As any child, his world was simple and he was unaware of the problems in society, or those that were present closer to home, in the lives of his parents. Their marriage was not entirely happy. Hans continued to battle with his drinking habit and this sadly impacted on his personal life with Gertrude. As a dad, however, he remained as always, the gentle father that William will always remember. As the months wore on the nostalgia for Germany returned to the troubled couple. The yearning for home brought them to the realisation that they would indeed return. Maybe this was an attempt to salvage their marriage. To William, who was ten – he simply felt good about the news.
In 1960 the family left their home in Australia homeward bound to Germany. It is not clear who looked after the farm, however they did not sell it. They boarded an Italian ship known as the La Flaminga. The trip this time was different for William, who was now no longer the little four year old child, but a growing healthy boy of ten. The trip involved passing through the famous Suez Canal in Egypt, which is more than 160km long and provides a connection between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Designed and supervised by a French Engineer in the 1800’s, the Canals purpose was to increase trade between the Middle East, Europe and Asia. It guaranteed free passage to all. There are no locks on the canal and even the largest of ships can pass through it. (2)
For William, the memories of this trip made a strong impact in his mind. Passing through the Canal marked the link between Eastern and Western worlds – an important link which would surface for the young man later in his life. The origins of the Canal date back to ancient Egypt. Not many would know that an early version of the Canal was finished in the 3rd century B.C. – during the Ptolemaic Dynasty – and many famous people including Cleopatra may have travelled on it. Napoleon Bonaparte considered building the final canal, but due to faulty calculations of his surveyors he abandoned the task. It’s final planning officially began in 1854 and, although initially opposing its construction, the British Empire purchased nearly half the shares required and it was built using forced peasant labour and up to date machinery. The Statue of Liberty was originally intended for the Canal. In 1956, four years prior to William’s journey, the Suez Canal was at the centre of the brief Suez Crisis. Many Egyptians had become resentful of the lingering British influence which had its origins in the Canal Zone. The Europeans finally withdrew from Egypt in disgrace, as the United States refused to support them and the Soviet Union threatened them with nuclear retaliation. Seven years following William’s passage through the canal, it was shut down by the Egyptian Government during a six day war between Egypt and Israel. Fifteen international vessels were moored at its midpoint and remained stranded there for eight years! They became known as the “Yellow Fleet” – as the desert sands settled on their decks. The crew of the ships eventually formed their own floating community, where they hosted sports and social events and were even known for producing their own stamps and internal system of trade! (3)
According to memory, the trip took young William and his family, four weeks. In the 1960’s, the transit time for ships to pass through the canal was 15 hours. Aden was the first stop for the family. It is the city Port, which supports the country of Yemen, which claims to be the ancient homeland of the Queen of Sheba. William clearly remembers how busy it was. With its Mediterranean climate and busy streets, the young William enjoyed looking at the markets and colourful stalls selling exotic food and wares. Carvings, mats and intensely colourful fabrics caught his eye. The smells and atmosphere were punctuated by melodic prayers of Islamic ministers wafting through the worshipping towers. And then there were the camels, in all their glory. A sight to behold.
Further into Yemen William noticed “caves” set high in the rocky slopes which rise sharply out of the Arabian Sea. The image flashed in his mind and he remembers enquiring about them and being told they were the homes of lepers. In fact some 14,000 lepers banished from their villages, still inhabit the mountainous region, dwelling in thatched huts and inadequate encampments. It may be difficult for the western world to comprehend, however as recently as 1992, 80% of Yemenis people were deemed illiterate and live in mud walled villages. Witchcraft and superstition were still used to ward off illnesses, rather than western medicine. There is neither the money or the commitment by the government to deal with this illness and by the time sores are deep and evident on a person, the early undetectable stages of the disease, where it is most contagious, have passed. (4)
Just to know that people were living in these terrible conditions with this disease was enough to imprint on William’s mind and heart the desire to relieve suffering. A deep sense of compassion for his fellow man was evident, even as a very young man.
Cairo was also visited and in the distance William could see the ancient tombs of the Pharaohs and their Queens; the Great Pyramids. There are around 80 pyramids constructed from 2686 BC which used some 100,000 labourers. Each pyramid took some 200 years to build and thus many were built simultaneously. In welcoming contrast to the searing heat outside, inside the pyramids a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius is maintained. The largest of these covers 14 acres. The three main pyramids are at Giza and are guarded by the famous Great Sphinx monolith. (5)
The final stop north east of Egypt for William and his family, was Port Said. At its busiest during the summer months, when William visited, the Port provides cool evenings attracting many Egyptians, from the oppressive humidity of Cairo. The Port was established during the building of the Suez Canal. Rising an unimpressive 3 metres above sea level , it was perfect for the Canal requirements. It is busy with fishing industries, food, cigarettes, cotton, rice and also serves as a fuelling station for ships that pass through the Canal. William wandered through the town inhabited by various nationalities and religions. The homes are old and the balconies large and imposing, bringing a unique personality to the area (6). In memory, Port Said was the last stop before home, for William and his family. Their final destination was not far away. One can imagine the joy and excitement that accompanied this final stage of the journey.
In the 1960s, Germany was in full recovery mode from World War II. West Germany was more prosperous compared to East Germany, which suffered from housing and food shortages. The Berlin Wall stopped the flow of refugees and potential workers from East to West and, so in order to satisfy the need for more workers in the West, foreign workers were brought in from Italy, Spain and Greece. By the 70’s the number of recruited workers had reached 2.6 million. (7)
Due to the coming of age of many of the post war orphans, the 1960’s were defined in Germany, as it was in Australia and the rest of the world, by feminism, sexual freedom and the birth of the commune. It was to this situation that the family returned. It was also close to Christmas time. (8)
William remembers well staying in a little bungalow on his step fathers parents property, in Cologne. His Grandpa – on his mother’s side – was very ill with pneumonia and Grandma was busy nursing him. His dad’s parents, however, offered their little property to the family. It included a modest two bedroom home, just big enough for the family. It was November and the snow was thick on the ground. Despite the cold weather the family managed to grow little tiny red grapes on the half acre lot – and gooseberries too. William clearly remembers old blown up military tanks left abandoned from the war. He played in them, wearing a German helmet, also left behind. Young William was able to disappear into a boy’s world inside the broken machine, manoeuvring the canon via levers and fighting for good. His Dad worked, running his own fruit and vegetable stall and William went along with him to sell these at the nearby markets. He stayed long enough to help out and eat his weight in fresh fruit, before heading home.
The Christmas Season was in full swing and much to the delight of William, he experienced the only true way to celebrate Christmas – traditional European style. He recalls the most beautiful time of year and remembers the snow and the lantern lined streets, lit up in celebration. Every major city was aglow with Christmas markets spilling over with arts, crafts and plenty of food. William built his first snow man and had his first wonderful snow fight with his sister. The Advent Calendar marked the exciting countdown to Christmas, with little pictures depicting the story of Christmas. On St. Nicholas Night, December 5th, William and his sister placed their shoes in front of the main door and they were filled with chocolates the next morning! What good children they must have been – as if they were not, St. Nicholas would have dipped into his red sack and left a lump of coal in there instead. The legend is based on the practice of an actual Bishop named Nikolaus, who lived in Turkey and was known widely for his love and generosity. (9)
The family also purchased a natural Christmas tree, which was decorated so beautifully with miniature little candles – real candles, that never seemed to catch fire! Little silver birds and silver confetti also adorned the tree. The Christmas wreath sat on the living room table four weeks prior to Christmas and the lights dimmed before lighting a candle each week. In Germany, presents are usually opened on Christmas Eve and this is how William and his family celebrated too. The family enjoyed a traditional Christmas meal, followed by individual Christmas plates filled with aromatic mandarins, different nuts and of course the little chocolates in the shape of Father Christmas. The smell was so fresh and inviting. All the grandparents attended, including great Grandma who was in her 90’s. The presents were placed under the tree by William’s Mum a few days before, only one or two toys at the most. At last, William could now open the long awaited gifts. William got the toy he had dreamed about, a little train set and Karen got a little doll. All around the city beautiful bells could be heard, calling people to Midnight Mass. The family attended and then returned home to sing carols, followed by cake and hot chocolate. These are the memories that meant so much to William. It was his only Christmas there, but has stayed in his heart ever since. In his adult life, he has always tried to recreate that traditional German Christmas for his own family, focusing on the Birth of Christ and the Miracle surrounding Our Divine King’s Birth.
Young William was a source of entertainment for the little family. He sang and danced and acted. He was affectionately known as the “Sunshine kid” as he brought so much joy and laughter to everyone. Christmas Holidays slowly came to a close and school drew near. A new start for William in a school he remembers little about. The school was not very far from the little home, where the family lived. German was spoken in the school and William found this very difficult. There were no paper and pencils and William took a little blackboard each day in his school bag. It seemed an uneventful time for him. The summer holidays were spent enjoying picnics in Germany’s beautiful Black Forest. Bordering France and situated in South West Germany, its 6,000 square kms. are filled with thick evergreen trees and quaint villages. Many of the Brother’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales were based here and this is where cuckoo clocks have been produced, since the 1700’s. The delicious Black Forest Cake also originated here. (10)
The family would spend endless summer days here camping and Uncle Willy, who was only a few years older than William, would accompany them. He was an accomplished cyclist and rode mainly the trails the forest had to offer. Unfortunately, around this time, William had a very serious accident. Being an adventurous boy, he had climbed the families roof. Why he did this alludes him. Why does every boy climb? – because he can! He slipped and fell, landing from a great height on a pointed rock close to his spine and against his kidney. He was rendered unconscious. One can only imagine the horror of his poor mother when she found him. She thought he had died. She carried him inside. In those days no ambulance was called. William was very ill but with the love and care of his mum he made a full recovery.
The months passed and after only a year and a half, Williams parents grew homesick for Australia and their farm. Germany was not how they remembered it to be. Post war advancements and changes were foreign to them and the yearning for Australia brought them to the decision to return to their little farm. It was a rather unexpected decision. Gertrude had decided to return to Renmark without Hans. The marriage was in a difficult place but William being 12 did not really comprehend the situation. To expand on this would only be speculation, so we rejoin the three travellers, Gertrude, William and Karen, as they boarded the massive KLM plane back to Australia. William’s Grandma – on his Mum’s side – came to see them off. He did not want to leave Grandma, as he loved her so much and was very close to her. He remembers the plane very clearly – even the three fins on the back. It was not to be an easy trip for him though, for his heart was torn to leave his Grandma and he hugged her so tightly, not wanting to let go. Finally, tearing himself away from Grandma at the last moment, he ran to the plane steps, as his Mum and sister were already boarding and as he climbed them, he hit his leg on the steel staircase and injured it very badly. It was to become badly infected and gave him a lot of grief on the trip home. This leg still bothers him today.
The plane stopped at Kolkata, India. William remembers how kind the Indian people were. The family stayed in a hotel for the night. William recalls limping down the metal stairs and lying awake most of the night, due not only to the oppressive heat, but the painful infection which had begun to set into his leg. Not much else is known of the details of the infection, however, we can presume William received treatment, as very soon the family was back in Renmark. They resettled back into their home and life continued from where they had left it. William settled back into North Renmark Primary school for his final year. He remembers clearly having to perform the song “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” on stage, complete with guitar. It was not a pleasant experience. He disliked everything about the situation, especially the song.
As the months passed, Hans decided to join the family, however things were not quite the same. He returned to his old job back at the distillery and also worked as a bricklayer. William remembers visiting him at the distillery to see what he was doing. The young William was now in Renmark High School and was eager to leave, despite his father’s encouragement to get his finishing certificate. Finally, Hans allowed William to work with him as a bricklayer’s assistant, during the school holidays, to see if he liked it. The plan worked and after two weeks William decided to return to school!
High school was a busy time for William. He excelled in football and swimming and most of his studies, except English.
Hans worked very hard. As well as the two jobs, he also worked on the farm. Gertrude also worked at a packing shed in town as well as on the farm. Young William also worked as a packer during the school holidays. Farmers needed people to cut apricots, pears and peaches and William loved to do this. He earned a shilling per tray and the good money he made would all go to his Mum and Dad. He has always had a very strong work ethic and was never known to waste time. Even at a young age he was very industrious and showed great generosity, with the money he earned. At Birthdays and Christmas he would keep a small amount to himself and ride his bike into town. He would have been around 14. He went to the big stores, with the idea of helping his Mum on his mind. He went into Grace Brothers and put kitchenware on lay-by. He paid this off a little each week with small amounts of his earnings kept aside. Things that his Mum couldn’t afford were purchased with the love of a son. Mixers and appliances that he knew she needed, but couldn’t afford, were soon hers. He loved to see her smile and anticipated her needs so well.
William also learned to play guitar at this time, from a famous country and western singer named Rocky Page. He lived in Renmark at the time and Gertrude arranged the lessons, which were thoroughly enjoyed for around 12 months. After this time, William was offered a position in “Young Talent Time” – the Australian show for up and coming stars. Johnny Young was in charge and shared mutual friends with William’s family. He was required to live in Adelaide with the Young Talent Team and alternate schooling with shows. It was a time when William was also performing in front of family friends, singing, playing, acting and being a comedian. The thought of leaving his Mum, however, made the decision to leave home and join the Young Talent Team simple. He declined the invitation.
William was now 15. The idea of getting his driver’s licence was exciting. Shortly before this milestone his cousin visited from Germany. He took him on a trip to Adelaide, which he remembers for all the wrong reasons! His cousin was wild and adventurous and extremely likeable. He purchased an old Chevrolet for 178 pounds. It had no brakes and the 170km trip, which was often downhill, is etched in William’s memory. Their lives were in constant danger and William warned his cousin, but to no avail. The trip took only one day and it is not difficult to imagine that William returned home very quiet. Life kicked along for a little while but problems began to resurface in the marriage. Hans’ drinking returned and did not help an already fragile situation. This began to affect the children too. Gertrude and Hans decided to separate. The short reunion in Renmark did not seem to help the marriage. It was with great sadness that William was to say goodbye to his dad, as Hans had decided to return to Germany. Hans seemed to return to his homeland with the idea of preparing a life for them yet again back home, but no longer had he arrived there than Gertrude filed for a divorce. William did not know of his Mum’s intention to divorce his Dad. As a young man his mind was on the excitement of getting his licence. At 15½ this was achieved. Life for William was about to change, yet again.
Soon, after Hans Scheuttler returned to Germany, the family received a visit from some friends who brought with them a wonderful man, who was eventually to become William’s second step- dad. He was a beautiful person, inside and out. Tall and handsome with deep blue eyes and blonde hair, his nature was gentle and patient and entirely good in every way. He brought with him his 9 year old daughter and Gertrude began to feel the spark of a new beginning. Gertrude’s friends were based in Melbourne and so was the handsome man. Gertrude needed a change and decided to move there. It would mean a fresh start for the family and she would have the support of friends. So, at 15, William took the wheel and drove to Melbourne with his Mum and little sister. He was apprehensive and not at all excited by the move. He was leaving his friends and the farm, which was now sold. However, he had no real choice in the matter and put his mind to the positive aspects of yet another change. This has always been his attitude to life from a young age. If you can’t change a situation, make the most of it and do your best with what is in front of you.
The suburb they had set their hearts on was Sunshine. Situated 13 km west of Melbourne, its volcanic clay soil was then dominated by grasslands. It has always had a lower rainfall than Melbourne, which made it inadequate for cultivating crops. Formally a Shire of Braybrook, in 1951 the suburb became Sunshine City. The population exploded from 22,000 in the post war period of 1951 to nearly 63,000 in the next 10 years (11). Many of the immigrants came from regions of the world suffering upheaval, which ultimately created a diverse multicultural city. Such that, by 2001, 40% of the residents were from non English speaking backgrounds. Sunshine was a very new suburb at the time of our little family’s arrival. Its rapid development brought with it the opening of many new schools. Sunshine West High School was opened in 1955 (12) and it was here that William was to continue his high school education. As it is with all young adults, the changing of schools is never easy. William was also to experience this. He did not enjoy being at Sunshine West much. It was a city school which proved completely different to the country school William had come from. The students were a little rough, however William made a few friends there and made a concerted effort to make the best of it.
It was the 60’s and The Beatles had hit the world stage. The school was crazy with Beatle-mania. William was unaffected though. He didn’t care much for their music and even at this young age, wasn’t swayed by public opinion. His Mum loved Elvis and Roy Orbison however and her taste was shared by William. The life of Roy Orbison was to have a strong impact on the young William. When Roy was six, he asked for a harmonica for his birthday but was given a guitar and taught to play by his dad, Orbie. At the age of 10 he entered his first music competition, giving half of the $15 prize money to his friend as a gift, for carrying his guitar. He formed his first band, the Wink Westerners, when he was 13 and by 1953 they had their own show.
By 1964 Orbison toured Australia with the Beach Boys and William had the joy of attending. It was a night that would always be remembered fondly, even though this would be the only time William would see his favourite performer live. The sorrow that would follow in Roy Orbison’s life was to prove well known also in the life of William. In 1966, Roy’s wife Claudette, was killed in a motorbike accident and two years later, two of his three children died, when his house burnt down. Deep in grief, the shy, soft spoken and gentle Roy, found himself unable to write songs for a while, but always maintained a positive outlook on life and continued touring. He married a German girl in 1969 and by 1980, his career was reborn. He continued to produce albums and travel however, until his death when he was just 52. Many people do not know that Orbison was never blind. He wore his trade mark black glasses and suit because he wanted to! He did not have black hair, but dyed it to suit his image. Both Elvis and The Beatles opened shows for Orbison early in their careers. He was a great legend. In 1987 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (13)
William at 15. He also loved Elvis, his music and style
While at Sunshine West, William and a friend formed a band known as the Tornadoes. They consisted of the two young men; William on guitar and his friend on tin can drums. The music was anything and everything with both boys singing. The venue was his Mum’s garage. The two boys decided to enter the Coca Cola competition which was part of Roy Orbison’s Australian Tour. They were accepted as candidates but soon pulled out. When asked why, William answer is “We had tin cans for drums!” All was not lost however, as it was at this time that William went alone to see Roy Orbison in concert. William excelled in sport at Sunshine West. He did athletics and played American Grid Iron, as he had an American Sports Teacher. He passed his grades and received his matriculation. Socially he made more friends. Teasing of course is common in most schools and William’s German surname was the topic for much. He took this all in good humour, laughing it off and getting on with life as it was. Gertrude, at this time, had managed to find work through some friends, William’s sister was also at school and the family was settling in. It was also during this time that William began to attend Mass, not only on a Sunday, but when school time permitted during the weekdays, as well. His faith was simple and strong and his love for God and His Blessed Mother was evident in his commitment to them, in his daily life. He loved to read about Our Lady and Her Apparitions, especially that of Fatima, which was his favorite. (14)
The days progressed and the family slipped into a manageable routine. The new man in Gertrude’s life became more involved with the family and often stayed over. He worked in Wollongong as an inspector, in the coal mines. It came as a great surprise when, just a little later, Hans Schuettler made contact. A phone call came out of the blue and Hans spoke with Gertrude requesting to see William. This troubled Gertrude, as she knew that William knew nothing of her separation and intended divorce. She decided to tell William, which came as a great shock, as William knew nothing, either of the fact that Hans was not his real dad, nor of any separation. The thought of this division caused him deep grief and yet he wished always to be a support to his Mum, in this time of need. Even though Gertrude was not keen on William visiting his dad, he reassured her that he would be fine. Hans was staying in Adelaide with some friends. He wanted William to accompany him to Renmark. He had purchased two tickets to Germany and one was for William. He presented this idea to his son, who gently but firmly said: “No, not now, but I will join you at a later time.” The friend’s took William aside and warned him that his dad was planning to kill him. They told William to go to the police. This took him aback and disturbed him, however, he recollected himself and went to the local Church. There he made his Confession and made his peace with God. He decided to let things ride and made ready to accompany his dad. The pair travelled to Renmark and they soon arrived at friend’s place. It was here that the friends also told William that Hans had a shotgun in the boot of the car and a shovel. They revealed that he was going to drive William to the graveyard and kill him. William listened and slowly understood that the dad he knew loved him, but would rather take his life than lose him. A very deep understanding from such a young man. He got in the car with Hans and they arrived at the graveyard. William’s heart was beating fast and he made many offerings of this to God along the way. By now it was dark. The car came to a standstill and William knew he had to act. Very gently he told his dad that he knew of his intent to murder him. His father was taken aback that despite knowing this, his son would still co-operate with his request to come with him. William spoke to Hans about God and that what he intended to do was wrong. He reassured him that although he would not come back to Germany, it was not necessary to kill him. He spoke to him of his love for him. A love that had not changed and would not in the future. That he would always have the love of his son. Hans broke down and poured his heart out to William. He told him that on learning that William would not return with him to Germany, he had intended to run the car into a semi trailer on the way to the graveyard but couldn’t go through with it. He was so sorry and begged William to forgive him. This was done without a second thought and the pair returned to Adelaide. Relief.
Life continued in Sunshine for William, quite uneventfully for a little while. Only a short time was to pass, however before another dramatic episode. One afternoon, William returned as usual from school. His Mum was at work and his little sister was out playing. The house, which was usually empty, was broken into by his step-dad. He was in a drunken rage, and had thrown his mum’s clothes out onto the front lawn. It was this situation that greeted William. The first thought in the young man’s mind was to contact his mum and tell her not to come home yet, but to stay with his sister at a friend’s place. Gertrude understood and though upset, William reassured her everything would be OK. Entering the kitchen he found his dad in the kitchen, wielding a large kitchen knife. He was verbally threatening William and his mum for leaving him. He was visibly upset and out of control. William calmed him down somewhat and it was at this point that Hans revealed to him that he was not his real father, but that William was the biological son of an Italian nobleman. This came as a great shock but there was no time to stop and absorb anything. William had to consider Hans, who was clearly not coping at all. So, the two sat and talked in the kitchen and Hans poured his heart out once more. A grown man like a little boy – to his little boy – who provided a strong shoulder for him to lean on. Father and son, bound now by the deep bond of love. As the hours wore on, Hans fell into a deep sleep. William contacted his mum and she returned home with his sister. Quietly William packed food from the fridge and the three snuck out of the house and drove to Wollongong, where they were to settle with the new man in Gertrude’s life. It dawned on William that there was a relationship between his mum and the kind man. It was a time of great adjustment, but one which William dealt with in the most balanced of ways. It was all part of life and this, though a struggle, he was to take in his stride. As for Hans Schuettler, he returned home to Germany and that was the last William was to see of him. News of his death was to come years later, but now Wollongong was home and the young man began a new chapter in his life.
6. http://wikitravel.org/en/Port_Said and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Said
13. http://royorbison.com/roy-orbison-official-biography/ and http://www.smoothradio.com/music-news/5-quite-interesting-facts-about-roy-orbison/