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Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

Preface, Introduction

Fragments of a journey

A Fistful of life


There were five of us, father, mother , three sons

and dreams like mantles hanging off us.

Jungle surrounding us, not alone with its colours and dense growth

but also the sounds of the animal life within.




Extract 1.

“ Write, son. Even if only one line a day, keep the flow going. Just as a river needs water otherwise it becomes a dry bed, so too does the brain need the stimulation of a word, a thought, a line, action. Energy and action.”

Thus spoke my mother, hoping I would become a journalist. As a boy, I would watch those hard-bitten journalists in B grade American movies, Dan Durea cigarettes hanging out of the corners of their mouths, alternately witty and sardonic ot jaded, cynical and melancholy. I did not want to be like that. I dreamed of quiet rooms and sitting at big, polished mahogany desks waiting for the the fires of inspiration to stir me into a feverish tapping of the typewriter keyboard. She was right, of course – every day, just write something. So I have kept a diary for years, sometimes extremely prosaic, other times, a lovely flash of life.

Extract 2.

I live in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Today it is cold, the frost has died and turned into water, soggy earth underfoot. A landscape which I had set out beforehand in sketches and in the mind is now becoming a painting,oils dripping off the brush and the mind, like a sentry on duty, allows not other movement than what it orders. I prefer to be in this slightly colder climate as the heat saps my energy and at seventy odd years of age, energy is to be preserved even more than before when the lithe young body recklessly abandoned caution. At the same time, I do not feel old. My mind has not caught up with my body and is full of the vitality and exuberance of youth, suddenly aware of its age only when I see the reflection of myself in a mirror or shop window and am startled to see the old man that I am. Born in 1929 is, nowadays a past so far removed that it feels like a fantasy or story to be told.

Sometimes, small extracts of the past arrive on the screen of memory and I see garden parties, my father playing tennis, soccer, flirting with the ladies, his giggles causing a heaving of fluttering hearts whilst my mother's wise eyes hooded over, storing all she saw. As a child, small and fragile but temperamental as well, I would hang back in the shadows and watch. And always feel alone.

Extract 3

My mother, an indomitable woman of aristocratic bearing, one of six children, was born in Blitar, approximately 70 kilometres from Malang where I spent some of my youth on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia but which at the time of her birth, was known as the Netherlands East Indies. Her father boasted an empire on the island of Java, establishing a series of plantations, growing rice and sugar, an empire he won and lost twice thanks to the volcano, Gunning Kelud, which wiped out his plantation. But he was a wild fighter. “No rotten mountain can get me on my knees,” he shouted, as he started afresh.

fragments of a Journey, A Fisful of Life

Jose de Koster

Self portrait by the author

Looking down

by Jose de koster

oil on canvas

Jose with parents and brothers



Long ago, Sumatran jungle green embraced my birth – and green-cloth is still my colour.
Living here in the Blue Mountains which drapes mist deep inside our smiles like a veil,
hides my old house,
fits my anxieties like a glove
on the hand which holds my soul.