To freedom Downunder
rom East Germany to Wonga, Ingrid Behrndt has some interesting tales to tell, as discovered
STARTING life in East Germany in 1938 meant Ingrid Behrndt experienced a different childhood than most.
Her family had a small farm with one cow, two pigs and lots of crops.
“My father of course was conscripted into the German Army and fought in France,” Ingrid explained, “and then he ended up in a POW camp.”
But as a family of 5 children, they at least had access to food during and after the war unlike many others who only could buy whatever food was available.
“If you wanted to eat schnitzel one night, chances are that it wasn’t available at the butchers, so you could only buy what they had,” Ingrid said.
After just eight years of schooling, Ingrid sat a special test that enabled her to leave school and she took up a hairdressing apprenticeship.
During this time her brother needed to leave East Germany as he had been reported to the authorities for visiting West Berlin without permission.
“He quickly left one night and the police came early the next day asking of his whereabouts,” and my mother just said she had no idea where he had gone.
“I visited my brother several times — with permission — and in 1957, on my third visit, he convinced me to stay.”
Ingrid had finished her apprenticeship and decided to work as a hairdresser in the West.
“It was that year I met Dieter who was also from East Germany,” she said, “and in 1957 we married and by 1969 we had three children and I opened my own hairdressing salon in Dortmund.”
Ingrid and Dieter used to visit family over the border in East Germany and would always take them lots of canned food and good clothing — things they couldn’t buy in the East.
Ingrid’s brother had migrated to Australia in 1959, and in 1978, Ingrid and the family visited him in Cairns.
“We realised our children would have a better future in Australia so we moved here too in 1981.”
Ingrid took some work as a hairdresser but soon was asked to use her bilingual skills in the tourism industry.
“There was a big ship coming in and they asked me to act as a tour guide for the Germans on board,” she explained, “and that’s how I ended up working for 30 years as a guide.”
She took groups up to the Tablelands, out to the Reef and Kuranda but her favourite tours were ones that included the rainforest.
“I had to learn so much about the rainforest and I just loved taking people to Cape Tribulation and through the rainforest,” she said.
Working as a freelance guide, Ingrid became well known for her high standard of service and reliability, being the preferred guide by many outbound operators in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
There were times when things got a bit tense and being the person responsible for a group of visitors meant Ingrid had to be a quick thinker and problem solver.
“Once, when there was a cyclone approaching Cairns, the airport had given a few hours’ warning that it was going to be closing, so Dieter and I had to chase around Cairns, finding all the members of my group to get them to the airport early so they could continue on their trip. “I remember it was the first and last time I did 130km/h along the Captain Cook Highway.”
Dealing with tourists was usually a pleasurable experi- ence for Ingrid but sometimes people would be difficult.
“I remember when Ansett stopped flying in 2001 we had to quickly make arrangements for my group to get by bus and train from Cairns to Sydney, missing out on the scheduled visit to Uluru.
“There was a couple of Germans who just refused to accept that they couldn’t fly to Uluru, even after I explained that there were hundreds of people there trying to get flights home.
“I told them that I might be able to get them a flight out there, but they would be stuck for days and their whole schedule would be shot. They agreed to get on to the bus at Cairns but every stop we had down the coast, they were asking me to take them to the airport so they could fly to Uluru.
“The others in the group put pressure on them to stop their grizzling as it was upsetting everyone, including me, and eventually I put the group on a train in Brisbane for Sydney and never saw them again.”
Ingrid recalled how, on the occasional bus trip she hosted between Sydney and Darwin, the Outback would get a little boring and they used play bowls up the aisle of the bus using plastic cups and a ball.
Although she sometimes is still called upon to act as a guide for special Germanspeaking visitors, Ingrid has retired, and spends her time now tending her beautiful garden that surrounds their home at Wonga Beach.
“I love it here at Wonga — it’s peaceful, we have wonderful wildlife and lovely neighbours,” she explained, “and I particularly love the orange footed scrubfowls that visit us most evenings.
“I loved hairdressing and I loved tour guiding — I guess I am lucky that I have always enjoyed my work,” Ingrid said.
Ingrid Behrndt in her garden at Wonga Beach. Inset above: Hairdressing comp in Torgau which Ingrid won in 1953. Right: At 19 years.