365 Places: Drammen

Day 3: Drammen, Norway

Photo credit: Henry Rosling c 1860

Photo credit: Henry Rosling c 1860

Today, my post is about a place I would love to go – Drammen in Norway. Drammen is about 40 kilometres from the capital of Norway, Oslo, and is one of the larger cities in Norway. The city centre lies at the end of a valley, on both sides of the Drammenselva river, and where the river meets the Drammensfjord.

Why Drammen? My father’s great-grandfather, Anton Benson, arrived in Australia in 1868 from Norway, via North America. He came from Drammen and was a merchant seaman. The photo above is dated around 1860, not long before he made his journey to live on the other side of the world. Story has it that he in fact jumped ship near Harvey Bay before settling in Toowoomba, near Brisbane – but that is disputed.

I know very little about this part of the world but it has captivated my imagination since I was a child. I have only travelled to Scandinavia once – to Helsinki and Stockholm, and that was 10 years ago now. What I saw I found beautiful – especially the boat cruise I took along the fjords and the Baltic Sea. I also became addicted to the sauna culture of Scandinavia when I was there, and recently invested in a home sauna for the cold Canberra winter ahead.

What I do know about Drammen is that it is an industrial city situated on the banks of the Drammenselva River and that the industrial revolution had a big impact on this river town. Drammen is now a major area for trade as it is also the main harbour for car and fruit import in Norway. Elvebyen Drammen states the following:

The fjord and the river have been the basis of existence for the inhabitants of Drammen for many centuries, indeed this is the life nerve of the city. The river has carried river prams, barges, small vessels and modern-day leisure boats, and was for many years one of Norway’s largest logging rivers, second only to the Glomma.

From the 1850s onwards, many steam-powered sawmills and planing mills were established along the lower section of the river, and in the course of the 20th century the paper and cellulose industries boomed. Later on, however, in the 1960s and 1970s, the cellulose industry experienced an economic decline, causing the factories to close down one after the other.

My parents have visited Norway and often talk about what a beautiful place it is and how much they enjoyed visiting this country and discovering our ancestor’s home town. I know so little about Anton Benson, the first ancestor in my family that came to Australia, despite the fact I carry his name and have a great fascination for this part of my cultural background.

We are planning to go to Norway and Iceland next year, so I hope the next time I talk about this place it will be from first-hand experience.