FRANK Iske did not have any relatives in Australia, but he had a family — and a community — to call his own. Born in Holland, Frank arrived in Melbourne in 1953, aged 26, with little more than his older brother’s bicycle and a youthful sense of adventure.
In the years leading up to his migration, Frank cycled a lot. The fifth of seven children, he would ride across the Dutch countryside, helping his father with the family cigar-making business. After working as an upholsterer and serving in the Dutch Army in Indonesia, Frank came to Australia, finding work in Fitzroy. His bicycle came in handy, as it helped him to navigate the unfamiliar streets and often-unpredictable transport system of Melbourne.
Though Frank settled in quickly, his time there was short-lived. Within a matter of months, Frank travelled to Heathcote, following the footsteps of other Dutch migrants. Some, including the Boere family of the Green Frog Cafe, became firm and fast friends.
With limited English, Frank found work as an apprentice with Cornelis Boere, who was owner of the Green Frog Cafe and also a cabinet maker. Frank’s English language skills and confidence grew quickly. When Cornelis retired, Frank took over the business at 220 High Street. He would serve the community of Heathcote as an upholsterer and all-round handyman for 37 years. During that time, Frank could often be found riding his bike to and from the local hardware store.
Frank was loved and respected for the quality of his work and generous spirit. He was also community-minded; he served in the Fire Brigade for 20 years. Over the 54 years Frank lived in Heathcote, Frank made many friends, including his best mate, Ron “Joey” Ellis.
He kept in touch with his family, mostly through letters. Frank returned to Holland twice, but it wasn’t until later in life. Although Frank never married, nor had children, he formed close ties with the Oost family through the Boeres. Eventually Frank would become the beloved godfather of Danni and Lyndon Wheeler, the great grandchildren of Johanna and Arend Oost (Mia Mia) and the grandchildren of Fenry and Shirley Oost (Mia Mia). Tragically, Danni’s parents, Fiona and David Wheeler, were killed in a car accident when she was just eight years old. It was at this time Frank fully embraced his role of godfather. Over the years, he would provide Danni and Lyndon with much love, care and support.
“Frank became a hero in our lives,” Danni reflects. “My brother and I would spend weeks at a time during school holidays with him. Heathcote was like our second home. As we grew up, we remained close with Frank. My family live at Lockwood South and Frank would spend his pension money on fuel to come and visit. He really was the missing link in our family. He would tell us stories about my parents and Nan and Pop.”
In his final decade, Frank left Heathcote to live with Danni and her husband. Danni gave birth to three children, each of whom developed their own close bond with Frank.
Living in a self-contained unit on their property, Frank remained fully independent to within a month of his passing.
Danni reflects, “Despite fairly serious health issues, Frank drove his brand new Subaru Outback right up until the month before he passed. It meant a lot to care for Frank in his later years. He was a kind, quiet man, with a deep love for children. Although he didn’t have his own, he was closer than blood could be. He was like my unofficial grandfather. My kids idolised Frank. He was the most amazing, selfless man you could ever be blessed to know. I will miss him terribly.”