To free­dom Dow­nun­der

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS LOOKING BACK -

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.

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