Journey to the bottom of the earth

Mocco Wollert says she truly knows the tapestry of life as a woman: “I was, and am, a migrant, a businesswoman, a breast cancer survivor, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother and a widow.”

She’s also an author, and her book Bloody Bastard Beautiful was last month nominated for a Northern Territory Historical Book award for of its contribution to the social history of Darwin.

But you don’t have to have an affiliation with the northern capital to find this an entertaining tale, both funny and fascinating, detailing those early years, 1958-1972, in what even Australians considered to be a frontier town. Her relations in Germany had barely heard of Australia, much less the Northern Territory.

Mocco’s story begins in 1957, when Niclas, a Berliner and the love of her life, decided he had no prospects in post-war Germany and was eager to start a new life. He had heard there was work in Australia.

He was an architect but Australia needed bricklayers, so he returned to the trade his father had insisted he learn, and booked his passage to Melbourne

Niclas had been enlisted to the Hitler Youth and towards the end of the war, the boys were sent to the Russian front to fight. He was 13, but he survived the fighting and capture and, ultimately, the trauma.

Fearing again being conscripted by a government, he turned down the offer of a free fare to Australia and travelled at his own expense.  The only problem was that he had to leave his girl behind for what they feared might be years.

On arrival, there was no work to be had but he heard that Darwin always needed workers, so that’s where he would go, stopping to visit a family he knew in Adelaide en route. He invested the last of his savings in an old Landrover and set off. How hard could it be?

Mocco’s story begins with the adventures of that journey on a rough and rocky road by a young man struggling to speak English, stony broke and learning the nuances of Australia.  In the vein of They’re a Weird Mob it’s a story of European immigrants who arrived in search of a better life and discovered a peculiar culture hilariously different to their own.

“Leaving Adelaide, he was given strict instructions, ‘you have to shut the bloody gates, mate’. He was confused. Why there would be gates on the Stuart Highway and why would anybody smear blood on them,” Mocco says.

“The other new word he had learned was a wonderful word suitable for all things, and all situations: bastard. And this was a bastard of a road.”

Fast forward six months and Niclas was able to borrow money for the ticket to send for his sweetheart join him in this wild tropical outpost.

“Until the end of his life, Niclas would declare that he had bought his wife on hire purchase,” Mocco says.  “I loved that man. He hated Germany and was committed to living here. I loved Germany and didn’t want to leave but I loved him more.

“I knew nothing about the country at all. There were crocodiles, snakes, spiders, weevils and frogs, millions of frogs.”

They had become secretly engaged before Niclas left and despite her parents expecting her on the return flight, she stuck it out and they married in 1959. 

“Living in sin prevented me from being accepted as part of ‘good’ Darwin society and yet I was not a starry-eyed debutante and knew it meant forsaking Germany and abandoning my family forever,” she says.

Darwin remained their home for the next 14 years. Niclas became a successful builder and Mocco became a mother. 

Within two years she was writing in English.

“We only spoke English. We wanted to be Australians,” she says. “And for me, writing is a compulsion. I can’t not write.”

She has now published nine books as well as 10 children’s books and was the founder of the Society of Women Writer’s Queensland Branch.

During their last 18 months in Darwin, they owned a restaurant – where John Meillon and a young Jenny Agutter dined regularly while shooting Walkabout in 1970.

The trials and tribulations, joy and despair, challenges, struggles and achievements of a young migrant couple in an environment so foreign to everything they had known, make Mocco’s book about those first 14 years in Darwin hard to put down. It’s funny, interesting, heart-warming and informative in equal measure.

The Wollerts eventually left Darwin for the health of their second daughter, planning to settle in Atherton but on the trip north after a holiday on the Gold Coast they discovered Caloundra.

Four weeks later they had bought a block of flats there and in 1976, Niclas set up his business, Rolla-Shield. Five years later they moved to Brisbane.

Niclas was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2000 and died in May this year, aged 87 – just 10 days short of their 59th wedding anniversary.

Mocco continues to keep busy with her writing, talking to groups as a guest speaker promoting her book, and staying in touch with her two daughters, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Her life story is captivating and six decades after her arrival in Darwin, she has no cause to doubt that she made the right decision. Life has been good.

 “Had we migrated to the United States we would have been called German-Americans. Here we were called New Australians which gave us immediately a sense of belonging, of being part of our new homeland,” she says.

 Bloody Bastard Beautiful is available at Dymocks, independent book stores or email Mocco mocco.wollert@bigpond.com  She is also available as a guest speaker.