Annie Rijs continued...
Annie was pregnant when they arrived, but their friend and Piet’s former boss, Peter Spijker, was already settled in Melbourne and found work for Piet as a dough maker at Cheltenham. Over the next few years they lived at Mornington, Seaford and Cheltenham.
In 1960 Piet was approached by the owner of a bakery at Bruthen, who offered him a job with a house and a ‘good wage’, so the family moved to Bruthen.
But the Dutch family was not always treated well—the good wage was reduced by £10 before the family had unpacked their suitcases—and the children were teased at school. As the town’s only baker, the hard work to maintain the bakery (and make up the extra ‘ten quid’) took a huge toll on Piet, who had a heart attack at the age of 46. Things had to change, so when a baker’s position became available at Freeman’s bakery in nearby Lakes Entrance, Piet took the job.
The family of eight purchased a two-bedroom home in Coates Road, but Annie was never very fond of staying home. She preferred being with people in the workforce to doing domestic chores, so when Patties Cake Shop, near the corner of the Esplanade and Barkes Avenue, was put up for sale in 1966, she and Piet bought it. Annie would run her shop her way and look after her customers, staff―and her family―properly!
Piet was a European baker and pastry cook, so first he had to learn to bake Australian pies, pasties, sausage rolls, lamingtons and vanilla slices. He asked his old friend from Holland Theo van Nimwegen, who had a cake shop in Melbourne, to show him how. They baked a large Dutch windmill, which was proudly displayed in the shop.
Annie hated food wastage. At the end of the day, the leftovers were packed onto trays and often Annie would drive to Nowa Nowa and distribute this food to needy aboriginal families.
Before long, through sheer hard work, Annie and her shop girls became respected for their exceptional kindness to their customers. Annie was in her element: she worked 12-hour days, ensuring that the customers were happy and the staff paid fairly for their efforts. The bakery opened seven days a week, employed locals and was well supported, all year round.
Annie never forgot her origins or how hard life could be. In 1978 when Father Shanley, the priest at St Brendan’s, asked her to assist with housing Vietnamese refugees, she and Piet made the two old units next to their home available, and invited 17 strangers to live at their place. Annie oversaw their education, organised driving lessons and helped them every way she could.
Annie was a loving and supportive wife and mother, who saw nothing unusual in working hard or going without. She walked miles to raise money towards the Lakes Entrance swimming pool, played bridge, sang in choirs and held musical nights at her home. She was proud of her family and their business accomplishments, but money in itself was not important to her.
While her sons continued to grow the family business, they also worked extremely hard. They looked after their customers and the community too―and that gave her even greater joy. Annie died in 2013.