B. Philipsen during “Hunger Winter” Rotterdam, Holland

You can make up your own mind about my mother’s art. This was her passion. 

As long as I can remember my mum, Luberta Hendrina Philipsen, (Bep for short), was drawing, sketching, painting, or else, she was busy sewing, often using her own designs. 

During World War 2, there were no longer any warm clothes available to purchase in the shops, and mum fashioned beautiful items out of blankets and scraps of material, or using recycled clothes, for her and her family.

During this painful time of the horror of war, witnessing atrocities and going through the hunger winter, when Rotterdam was occupied by the Germans, and denied food and basic human rights, my mother continued to record what she saw in her art.

In early infancy, mother contracted polio and was left with a lame leg, but she considered herself to be one of the lucky ones. Many children died or became paraplegic. However, she was very self-conscious about her disability, and was unable to wear fashionable high heels. She became pessimistic about her future, thinking she would be unable to find a good husband, and a good career.

As a child, after years of painful operations, she was left with a limp, and one foot was smaller than the other. Mum could not run like the other kids, she spent a lot of her time with a metal frame on her leg. Her art was her escape. She sketched and painted what she saw from her little attic window, overlooking a busy Rotterdam Street.

After school, mum secured a job as an artist at a doll factory, in the evenings she attended the Academy of Art in Rotterdam. She was fantastic at fashion drawings, and her dream was to become a fashion designer. At age eighteen, war broke out, and her career was put on hold. 

After the war, mum met my father and married, and subsequently emigrated to Australia. 

With a growing family, her career in art was non-existent. She supported her husband and then struggled with five children as a widow. 

Even though art was not a profitable past time, she continued to draw and paint. In later years, she sold the odd painting, or gave them away to very grateful friends. 

Mum joined the Bowral Art Society, an elite group, of artists. The decision makers of the Art Society decided that a poor widow did not deserve to have her works displayed at exhibitions, and without exposure was unable to sell any of her works. This disappointed her greatly, and it made things perfectly clear, where we were positioned in the Bowral society.

When you are poor, you are nothing.


Polio was sometimes fatal, but it was also feared because of the paralysis that was characteristic of the disease. There were no facilities or compassion for the disabled, and young lives full of promise were shattered. Indeed my mother was taunted and discriminated against cruelly in Holland during the years she was struggling to walk in the street. “Cripple, cripple, they shouted at her”.

In less than 2 percent of cases, the virus invades the nervous system, where it destroys cells in the spinal cord, these cells are part of the motor neuron system, and their damage produces paralysis. 

Only when the acute infection waned could doctors assess how much paralysis had resulted from the damage done by the virus. 

Paralysed polio patients faced years of rehabilitation, and many would undergo repeated surgeries, at an effort to fuse bones or to transplant ligaments and muscles to improve function. Often, many survivors ended rehabilitation still significantly disabled. 

Mum’s pen and ink of clothes fashioned from scraps
Oil Painting – Australian Beach
(B. Philipson/Dekker/Vandepol)
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