In a lifetime which includes two stints of missionary service in foreign countries, Paul Krom reflects on a life of variety.
The flying dutchman
Born in Hoorn, Holland, Paul moved to Australia with his family in 1959, aged eight.
He attended St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School and Salesian College in Victoria, before graduating and picking up an apprenticeship as an aircraft electrical mechanic at the now defunct Ansett Airlines.
He completed his apprenticeship but the toll of life in the city became taxing, and so he headed for Holland to explore his roots and visit family.
During this time, he worked for a family friend on a cabbage farm, harvesting produce from small acreages surrounded by canals.
When he wasn’t working he backpacked, exploring Spain and Italy as well as a visit to Israel.
His time in Holland helped him to develop a love of work on the land. When he returned to Australia after nine months, he looked for agricultural work.
A trip to a rural employment agency in Melbourne turned up just one vacancy: a dairy farm in Nabageena.
Moving to such a remote location was a daunting concept for Paul. His time backpacking had satisfied his thirst for adventure for the time being and he was ready to settle down. More importantly, he was ready to find someone to spend his life with.
“Who on earth am I going to meet in Nabageena?” he thought.
Nonetheless, he hit the road on his motorbike, with the wind in his hair and his heart on his sleeve.
His arrival on the farm brought with it long hours and big weeks. As a newfound Christian, Paul was frustrated that his work commitments kept him tethered to the farm and unable to attend church.
To allow for this, his boss Jeff Kay helped him to find a bible study group at Upper Scotchtown Road.
That first session, he encountered a shy and thoughtful young woman named Jan.
He called her the following week and invited her for a ride down the west coast.
“I think she was more enthused by my means of transport than she was about me,” he laughs.
“But she said yes, so I wasn’t complaining.”
The pair ended up on a Marrawah beach and talked for hours. Jan spoke of heading to bible college in Melbourne – an exciting prospect for Paul.
Two months later he returned to Chadstone for Christmas and told his family he had met the girl he was going to marry. In January he proposed. The next month, they attended bible college together. Three months later they were married.
The next year, a graduation day surprise brought their first daughter Katherine into the world, and Paul and Jan began to extend their family.
Mission to serve
Newlywed and servant-hearted the pair dived into their next venture: crisis care work.
While helping disadvantaged people who were homeless or from broken homes and those nursing mental health issues, Paul and Jan developed a passion for pastoral care.
Eventually finding it difficult and even unsafe to balance this career with raising a family, Paul left this line of work and moved to Yeodene, Victoria near Colac.
Paul found a job working for a potato farmer and purchased a home with eight acres on which he enjoyed rearing a house cow.
During this time, Paul renovated their humble cottage, building an extension which doubled the size of the premises. Jan’s father Alec Billett was an inspiration for Paul at this time.
After the Kroms had settled in Yeodene, Jan’s mother suffered a small stroke, and Paul and Jan began to have doubts about their location. With no immediate family around her mother, who would look after her if she became unwell?
With this in mind, the pair moved to Forest, Tasmania and built a new life with their family, which had now grown to include daughter Ana and sons Jotham and Benjamin.
It was a blessing in disguise long term. Paul slipped back into pastoral work and built relationships with those who were struggling all over the community. He also picked up a job as a woodwork teacher at Circular Head Christian School.
During this time, Jan taught piano privately and to students at primary schools in the region.
In 2002, Paul began a degree in adult and vocational education via correspondence.
As the last of their children headed to university, Paul and Jan started looking to serve overseas.
Their church at the time, Smithton Christian Fellowship, connected the Kroms with a sister church in South Africa and helped to fund their deployment.
The trip was a tremendous misadventure. Their hosts were still suffering with the dissolution of apartheid and had workers that were treated similarly to slaves.
Their hosts’ church was thriving at first sight, but as Paul and Jan got a little closer it became clear that all was not as it seemed.
Making the best of a bad situation, Jan volunteered at an AIDS orphanage and Paul put his practical expertise to use, converting a house into an orphanage.
The pair stayed 11 months, returning home in 2005.
When they returned home, it took a lot of time for Paul and Jan to recover. Their trip to Africa had left them physically, emotionally and spiritually drained.
Paul found work driving taxis around Smithton, buying and renovating two houses to sell while Jan continued to teach music. He also put his degree to use in Burnie, teaching simple literacy and numeracy at TAFE.
It wasn’t until October 2010 that the Kroms were called into action overseas again.
Following a tsunami in Sumatra that caused massive amounts of damage to infrastructure, a lot of children had missed out on several years of schooling and were struggling to find employment as a result.
With this in mind, Paul and Jan moved to central Sumatra, planning to learn Bahasa Indonesian so that Paul could pass on his basic vocational knowledge to young people in the area. However, they soon hit a snag.
The Indonesian language is reliant on soft consonants at the end of words. At the ripe old age of 60, Paul – completely deaf in one ear – struggled to differentiate between words.
He gave up learning the language and found work doing what he does best: building and fixing. He constructed some school furniture for an impoverished village while Jan helped a group of Indonesians improve their English and music skills.
When their stint was up, the couple returned home and Paul worked as a self employed part-time painter. Jan returned to teaching music.
After retiring on his 65th birthday in 2016, Paul and Jan are enjoying the privilege of sons Jotham and Benji returning home to Smithton with their wives after years of university studies and working some years in far flung Arnham Land.
They cherish their eight grandchildren and look forward to spending time with daughters Katherine and Ana when they return home from Lombok, Indonesia and Canberra, Australian Capital Territory respectively for visits.
Paul Krom enjoys the simple things in life: building things, his family, and having a chinwag with those he encounters in day to day life. Picture: Isaac Popowski.