Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dutch kids

At primary school back in South Grafton, although I knew almost nothing about a country on the other side of the world named Holland (to be honest, I knew little about anything in the world beyond my birthplace), I had formed the opinion that life must have been exceptionally tough for Dutch kids. For example, we'd heard the story of the brave little fellow named Hans Brinker who'd stuck his finger in a dyke to save his flat low land from being covered by the sea. We South Grafton children had seen the Clarence River in flood, and the idea of a foreign land where kids were expected to hold their frozen fingers in dykes all night long was definitely not our kettle of fish.

Not long ago, at Choranche, I asked my friend Tineke Bot [a celebrated Dutch sculptor who has lived and worked here ever since she was a young girl] to give me the lowdown on that poor kid named Hans Brinker, often known as Peter of Haarlem, and I was surprised but somewhat relieved to learn that he had never existed. Tineke told me laughingly that the brave little Dutch boy with his finger stuck in the dyke was a figment of the imagination of an American female author—named Mary Elizabeth Mapes Dodge [1831-1905]—who was probably just as ignorant about Holland as me and my schoolmates at South Grafton Primary School.

Today, we learn that Dutch kids don't really have much to complain about, as indicated in a Unicef report that compares the well-being of children in the industrialized world. The Netherlands topped the list. For many English-speaking parents, the most alarming aspect of this report was the fact that British and American children would appear to be among the worst off in the industrialized world. My native Australia wasn't included in the study, because the required data was apparently unavailable. So, I can still carry on believing that, back in South Grafton, we kids were a hell of a lot better off than the poor little legendary boy with his finger stuck in a dyke.

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