Gunter’s Story (Part IV)

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For one year Gunter would work on a farm in northern New South Wales struggling to learn English and adjusting to the loneliness of working on what his boss had told him was a ‘small’ 5,000 acre farm. By German standards of the time, the newly arrived immigrant found it anything but.

“One day we were working when my boss stopped and pointed out in the distance where we could just make out a car by the steady stream of dust it was kicking up. Apparently, the sight of another car was pretty uncommon. At least, uncommon enough for him to have felt it important enough to point out. That was the sum of it. Just a car.”

With such a dearth of social stimulation at his disposal, Gunter grew increasingly eager for…something, anything. When his attempts at enlisting in the military were stymied by his boss’s claim to the war department that Gunter was ‘irreplaceable’ on the farm, Gunter knew he had to make a change. That change would prove to be making it to Melbourne for a job manufacturing plane parts for the war effort.

It would be there that he’d meet, Mimi, the woman who’d become his first wife. Not long after, they had a baby boy they’d name Rodney. Three months later, due to complications with the birth, Mimi would pass away making Gunter a widow at the age of 23. His real battle had only just begun.

“I was in a place where I didn’t know what to do. I had no family around, I could hardly communicate,” Gunter said of the tragedy nearly 70 years later. Eventually, he’d decide to send his son to be cared for by his sister and brother-in-law in Sydney. It’d be a solution that would hold together for just three months before his sister’s husband made it clear the arrangement was not practical for them and couldn’t continue. Gunter’s sister was forced to put the infant in a foster home.

The foster home option would force Gunter to relocate to Sydney, an attempt on his part to maintain steady contact with his young son and, even more importantly, to stave off attempts by child care officials to put the boy up for adoption. Somewhere between finding the fortitude to make his weekly cross town pilgrimage to visit his son and working in his brother-in-law’s garment factory, Gunter would eventually form a business partnership with an acquaintance which would lay the groundwork for what would eventually become the highly successful Sydney clothing factory, ‘Le Gay Parisian’.

Yet, the pending success of the Parisian would take a backseat to more pressing concerns: Gunter was desperate to find someone to help take care of his son. Of his second wife, Gerta, Gunter said, “She was a beautiful woman. I didn’t know anything about taking care of a young boy. She did. She loved that boy immensely and he loved her back equally.”

For ten years, the couple had what Gunter remembered simply as “a good life together.” Yet, it would be what he remembered as being nothing more than a routine visit to the hospital for his wife, that would change all that. It would be only then that Gunter would come to learn of his wife’s history with cancer and within what he says seemed like only a couple weeks, his wife was dead and his ten year old son had lost the only mother he’d known. It was a crippling blow and one that the then 30 something Gunter said often left him wondering “what I’d done to deserve this.”

Yet, he knew he couldn’t focus too much on his loss; there was little time to grieve.

Gunter knew his son was depending on him.

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