TOMMY Kerkhof is Warrandyte’s best-known television personality. He is the man behind our TV screens. This year his television repair business celebrates a 50-year milestone. For almost half a century, Tom has toiled and tinkered with our Panasonics and adjusted our Samsungs and Sonys.
From the clunky boxes of the 1950s to the sleek flat screen models of today, he has kept us tuned in and switched on.
“But times have changed,” said Tom. “I’m basically in forced semi-retirement because hardly anybody gets their TVs repaired anymore, they just throw them away. But if any work turns up, I’ll do it.”
Tom and the rest of his family arrived in Australia from Holland when he was only nine. The year was 1952 and Tom could hardly speak a word of English. They first went to live in Hepburn Springs, but Tom’s dad heard about a house to rent at Warrandyte and he came all the way down here to inspect it.
“Dad was a nature lover,” said Tom. “And as soon as he saw the beautiful river across the road from the house, he knew it would be a great place for the four kids to grow up.”
The family, moved into 304 Yarra St and Tom remembers becoming excited the day they arrived.
“I saw the Warrandyte sign as we drove into town and thought to myself, this is the place where we are going to live.”
Tom attended Warrandyte Primary School the very next day.
“The first thing they asked me was, can you play football? Although I could only under- stand a few English words, I could understand the question,” remembers Tom. “I replied, yes, and they handed me a red oval-shaped ball and it looked nothing like a soccer ball.”
Although Tom knew nothing about footy at that stage, he was convinced by fellow student Ray Girling to barrack for Essendon and Tom’s been a red and black faithful ever since.
Tom’s lack of English was to get him into trouble early at his new school.
“My classmate Johnny Smith set me up a beauty,” he says, laughing. “He told me to go over and tell the teacher to go and get, well, a very rude word. She blew up and seemed surprised at my colourful language but she soon realised that I had been set up by Smithy and I was let off.
“Our teacher Mrs Cowden cottoned on to the fact that I could hold a tune and later that year she cast me in a school play that was held at The Mechanics Institute. She introduced me to the crowd saying that although I had been in Australia only four months, they should listen to me as I sang to my fellow student Margo Forder. The crowd stood up and applauded at the end of the song and I had to sing an encore.”
Tom picked up English quickly and today speaks without any accent at all. He attended Ringwood High School and remembers travelling on the school bus with fellow Warrandytians such as Frank Schubert, Daryl Pike, Laurie Warr and Willie Merbis.
“The bus driver Dick Termorshuizen wouldn’t take any nonsense,” remembers Tom. “And if there was any ruckus he’d pull over and throw the offending kids off the bus and they’d have to walk home to Warrandyte.”
Tom was keen on high jumping and joined Ringwood High’s athletics team. The ability to jump would serve him well in later years when he played first ruck for the 1966 Warrandyte premiership team.
Tom also became keen on electrical things and interested in radio. In 1956 when TV came in, Tom was even more interested.
“I thought TV repairs could be a good job because it was mostly indoors and would keep me out of the heat and rain.”
After finishing Year 10, a teacher gave Tom some good advice saying: “If you are interested in radio and TV then there is no point in staying on at school.” Tom took his advice and started his apprenticeship at Stoney’s, an electrical retail store in Ringwood. His course lasted five years as an apprentice radio and television technician, which included studying one day a week at RMIT.
“At Stoney’s I started out fixing irons, jugs and toasters but finally progressed to radio and TV,” said Tom. “I also met my wife Penny at Stoney’s where she worked as a sales assistant. I was 20 and she was 16. We’ve been together ever since.
“Penny and I got off to a slow start because I used to squire her around in Stoney’s Vauxhall ute. She wasn’t too keen to be seen in the ute, but she brightened up considerably in 1961 when I pulled up in my newly bought FC Holden.”
Eventually Tom and Penny were married in the Ringwood Catholic Church in 1968. They honeymooned in Surfers, driving there in the FC Holden that Penny much admired.
“The first night of the honeymoon was spent in a motel in Springvale,” remembers Penny. “We couldn’t understand why it was so hot and we spent all night trying to get cool. We opened all the windows and doors of the motel unit and it wasn’t until the morning that we noticed an air conditioner in the room. If only we’d switched it on!”
Tom started playing football with the mighty Bloods when he was 17.
“I started in the reserves but rapidly improved and within two years I was playing in the seniors,” said Tom. “I trained hard because I had a passion for footy, I just wanted to get better and better and better.”
Tom remembers when they won the 1966 Grand Final. “It’s a great feeling when you’re doing what you love, playing well as a team and actually winning the flag.”
Tom’s hard training paid off when he was voted Warrandyte’s best and fairest player in 1971. He was invited to train with Fitzroy but declined saying, “I just started my own business and I love playing with the local boys.”
Tom and Penny started up Tom Kerkhof Television in 1966 when his job at Stoney’s began to interfere with playing football with Warrandyte. It’s interesting to note they have loyally advertised their business in every single edition of the Warrandyte Diary since 1970. Tom fully acknowledges his wife’s involvement in the family business saying: “Penny has done all the paperwork for the past 50 years. She has also worked for 40 years as a medical receptionist.”
The Kerkhofs had one daughter, Melissa, now 43, and they spend a lot of their time with their granddaughters, Ebony 7 and Chloe 2.
Penny looks back on her time living in Warrandyte: “I really love Warrandyte even though I didn’t live here as a child,” she says.
“We do a lot of socializing with our friends and neighbours and have a long and close involvement with the tennis club.”
For Tom it’s been a wonderful journey for a little Dutch boy who came to live here 63 years ago. One who quickly learnt to speak English and then assimilated into the melting pot of our culture, business and sport and found a place to call his home.
Tom has the last word: “I’ve never had a reason to shift and never thought of leaving. We’ll probably live here forever.”