Very Different Story!
most, perhaps all, entries that will appear in ‘Natives
Abroad' I did not
want to migrate overseas. I did not
want to go to Australia. I
have mentioned earlier in the Visitors Book of being dragged off
‘to the colonies’ kicking and screaming.
Not unlike those early pioneering convicts who initially
populated Australia, you may say.
Not so, as far as I was concerned.
They were selected by some of the best Judges in England to
repay a debt to society.
What had I done?
did I object to migrating?
gifted scholarship from I.C.I saw my future in England assured
although when I reflect upon it there is a similarity to the
guarantees those Convicts were given - my employment, board and
lodging guaranteed for 4 years. But add to that an extension to College then possibly
University my future looked brighter than theirs although convicts
did receive an overseas holiday for free.
(Mine cost Dad a fiver.)
And then of course there
was a girl.
father said ‘Australia for you my lad. Regardless!’
on a New Life
on April 30th 1952 we, that is Mum, Dad, sister, brother
and I were dockside in Southampton lining up to board the former Empress
of Bermuda newly re-commissioned as the migrant liner New Australia the fastest liner on the Australia run taking just
my luck, I was not in a hurry!
held the family Identity Cards to give to the appropriate
Immigration official. With
my ‘still don’t want to go’ mentality, I surreptitiously
slipped my own card into my pocket ‘just in case’.
Either the official couldn’t count or was just slack as he
didn’t notice the missing card. (I still have it.)
odd looking New
Australia 28,000 tons formerly the Empress
of Bermuda 34,000 tons but minus top decks due to
wartime bombing in Liverpool docks.
sea lore tells us renaming a ship is unlucky.
It would be interesting to know how the many migrant
passengers the New Australia
delivered to Australia felt about that years later.
was only one other teenager on board, fortunately a girl. Marilyn was tall, slim, nicely shaped and appeared to be about the
same age as me. Sleeping
arrangements saw families were segregated – males down in the
lower deck cabins, females and children above. Mum, kid brother and
sister shared with Marilyn and her mother.
Dad and I shared with 3 other men including Marilyn’s
ship was well appointed and quite grand to us - with two Stewards
allocated to our group of ten.
They would serve us in the rather grand Dining Room and also
our cabins, cleaning and making up our berths – beds to non
two stewards were the ship's characters.
Always fun, attracting quite a lot of attention to our table
in the dining room but their ‘short sheeting’ didn’t go
down too well with one of our cabin mates.
I got the blame for that – it was Marilyn’s father’s
Our first shipboard and only formal dinner
the table L to R: Father ’Bob’,
No! definitely not the Langton tie I was wearing,
the two Merry Widows (who, like our stewards, were
also always good humoured and great fun),
- our two stewards, Marilyn’s father hiding behind the
R.H.steward (he always avoided
the camera.) Marilyn (sigh), my sister Val,
Mum (Eva Merritt,) and kid brother Colin.
at the faces. You
can pick the two Natives who didn’t want to be there!)
Table places were
initially pre assigned, the dining room working two shifts
for each meal to cater for ‘migrant’ numbers.
board entertainment, both stage and screen, were apparently pretty
much as they had been on the pre war Empress.
There were both ladies and gentlemen’s hairdressers, a
chemist and several shops supplying necessities.
two teenagers had the run of the ship to some extent.
Landfalls... and Oz
Our first landfall was the
‘top end’ of the Suez Canal but we didn’t stop at Port Said. Why would anyone live in such a hot desolate place I thought as we
traveled along the Canal. The
‘Great Lakes’ were more interesting with the many wrecked ships
both from WWII and some recent troubles while Dad enthusiastically
pointed out many features where he had been during The War.
The ship stopped at Aden although we weren’t allowed off. Soon we were assailed by many hopeful local traders alongside
in their ‘bumboats’ although one would think there would be
little trade from a shipload of ‘Ten Pound Poms’.
(Being under age, I was half price with even less cash to spend!)
next port of call was Colombo in Ceylon (Sri Lanka,) - our first
time ashore and, for most, our first steps on foreign soil.
I can only recall the market, the humidity, flies, smell and
lizards crawling over the fruit and vegetables - all quite
nauseating to me. The highlight was when a local approached one of the Merry Widows
with “Ten Bob, English lady?”.
That one certainly went around the dining room at dinner that
first experience of Australia, the port town of Fremantle, did not
impress us with its rusty tin roofs and drab timber buildings.
Marilyn and I were free to roam ashore for the day before the
ship sailed on to Melbourne. What
an adventure that should have been in this new land but although the
sun was shining very brightly, the place was too dull, drab and
boring even for a couple of wartime bred teenagers.
One bright point was a very small 4 table family restaurant
where we had a meal. A
14 year old girl and her 13 y.o. brother were completely running the
show. No Dad and Mum
was in hospital. Our
introduction to the Australian
‘have a go - keep
things going ’ mentality.
to Melbourne.... and Journey's End
impression didn’t change when we arrived in Melbourne due to very
heavy rain and the early evening light.
Luckily, the rain eased off as we prepared to disembark in
the dark. Bidding our
farewells to Marilyn and her parents, I got one of the first shocks
this new country was going to deal me. Marilyn’s father announced
that, tomorrow, would be her birthday – her 13th.
Strewth! I thought she was 16 like me!
brother organised taxis to take us to his house where we would be
staying until we had our own home. We would be staying in a bungalow behind their house.
It was very dark when the taxi pulled up outside what I could
see was a bungalow. Carrying
two cases, I followed Uncle’s instruction to take them around to
the back door. Approaching where I thought the back door would be, the
next shock greeted me.
you old barrrsterrrdd!”, shrieked a voice. Such language was shock enough but screeching out of the path
by my feet in the darkness certainly rendered me motionless. That is until a laughing Uncle explained I had been welcomed
by Aunt’s pet Cockatoo, a completely naked one too. My first taste of Australian wildlife!
so into the bungalow.
shock. In Australia
house = bungalow or anything bigger, but bungalow = typically a single room ‘glorified shed’ in the
backyard. (Most were
better than a shed, lined and even having 2 rooms plus kitchen.)
Dad, sister and brother would be sleeping in the ‘bungalow’, I
would share with my (male) cousins in the house.
shock. Not only was the
bedroom literally a sea of beds but the window was to be left open,
not for fresh air though. It
would be left open so that the voluptuous Daphne from next door
could climb into our bedroom without waking the parents. What a shock for this naïve lad from quiet Whitstable!
OK, so you may know different but the Whitstable I knew
didn’t have Daphne's willing to climb into one’s bedroom!
shock. Our second night
there and Daphne did actually climb through the bedroom window.
again. My bed was below
the window and Daphne didn’t proceed to cousins’ beds!
“This is Australia?”
was saved from my ‘What do I do now’ predicament by alert Dad. From that moment on, I would sleep in the ‘bungalow’.
was an order! Yes,
father was a bit autocratic.
Uncle had secured a job for Dad where he worked while I was to
continue my schooling. I
would find High Schools here were very different from England’s
next shock - the material I would be studying I had done two years
earlier. But, worse
still, ‘they’ wanted me to start one year down ‘to acclimatise’.
Gosh! I didn’t
want to come here in the first place.
It was bad enough being in a place of rusty tin roofs, sheds
for bungalows, where sink, washing and bath water ran into the
street to run along the gutter to the nearest drain, but to go
backwards 3 years at school was the end.
refused to go to school. I
wanted to go back to England immediately.
Father said “No way. School
If I had
known which direction the sea was, I may have tried running away to
that. Luckily, a cousin
immediately found a job for me. Commonsense
prevailed. I started work and had a chat with a
College Principal (alias Headmaster) about my education dilemma and
my then desire to become an architect. He thought I would be more suited to Engineering and mapped
out a series of night school courses for me.
That proved a very worthwhile chat. Wise man.
my ‘College Principal’ chat, Dad arranged for me to have a
‘career’ chat with his Works Manager who also thought I would be
suited to Engineering. The
company was then the largest manufacturer in the Southern hemisphere
- their factory being 80 acres under roof plus twice that as open
space. They needed
Engineers but, here comes the next shock I thought, when he said all
their Engineers (and Management) had first to do an engineering
apprenticeship. I said
a rather blasé, “Yes.” I was to start work after Christmas.
closest I had ever been to the inside of a factory was looking
through a huge doorway of the Supermarine aircraft factory in
first Australian Christmas saw us eating the traditional roast –
outside in 106 degree heat - without shade!
Mad Dogs and Englishmen!!!
At that time, almost the whole of industry closed down for the
traditional two weeks annual leave period. The whole place literally shut down while most people took
off someplace for their annual holiday.
a Career.. in Fairisle
that first Australian Christmas, more shocks were in store for me.
On January 6th 1953, 7 months after arriving in
Australia, I joined 38 other apprentices ‘ready’ to start our
Engineering careers. Well
at least those 38 were ready. They
had been to Technical College.
I don’t think I had even seen the outside
of Canterbury Tech. They
were clad in their blue boiler suits.
I was clad in ……my Fairisle pullover (and tie!)
Talk about standing out in a crowd!
were progressively taken off to the various departments we were to
start in. That’s when
this country delivered what I will call its final shock to me. I walked through Hell. I
know it was Hell because it was as dark as a stormy moonless night
and much, much noisier with dark shadowy figures flitting through
the glow of Hell’s furnaces.
The very severe looking Apprentice Master had led me through
one of several dingy forging shops built and equipped with oil fired
furnaces about the time of WW1.
I wouldn’t be working there, he had simply taken a short
cut but I often wondered if my Fairisle pullover had led him to play
that little piece on me. Later
we became quite good friends.
did not know then but my earlier blasé “OK” was
the best decision I could have made here. So high was that
company’s standing that most of the Royal Melbourne Technical
College, Institute of Engineers and Institute of Management
examiners were drawn from their Engineering staff.
As long as we were capable and interested we had a career
path mapped out from the factory floor to top management –
anywhere in Australia.
what about the social side of life for me.
Well now, the Daphne issue aside, those first 7 months or so
were a revelation. Perhaps
I should say my cousins were. I
couldn’t say they were typical Ocker
larrikins because they neither drank nor swore but they did have
a sense of almost irresponsible fun.
The first Saturday after our Melbourne arrival, I heard some
sort of a row out in the roadway.
Opening the side gate, I saw two of my cousins, about my age,
confronted by a third very belligerent looking character.
All three noticed my presence.
Words were spoken then suddenly the belligerent one turned
and ran off.
my cousins, like several other nearby families, were under constant
threat from the vicious hard drinking bullying son of a neighborhood
family – the belligerent one.
Again, quite a different experience from my Whitstable. But
cousins had organised a solution.
They let it be known that they had a cousin
coming from England. He was not just a champion
boxer of all England but an International
champion! He would ‘fix’ anyone
who threatened his cousins. The
belligerent one had bought the story, a ridiculous story considering
my skinny 6 foot and maybe 8 stone frame!
But some 20 years later by a very strange coincidence, the
belligerent one, broken beer bottle in hand, would remember and
again flee – thankfully.
my first Australian Saturday evening my cousins took me to the
pictures. After the
first film, the show stopped, the theatre lit up and everyone went
out for ‘The Interval’, a second major film being shown
afterwards! Out to the
foyer for drinks, ice cream, chocolate etc.
Or outside for a smoke or around the side for .…….! Different to
the ‘Oxford’ or the ‘Argosy’!
I would quickly learn that
it didn’t pay to have an English ‘Pommy’ accent.
Luckily we didn’t appear to have an accent in Whitstable in
those days but I did need to hide my Grammar School language - then I could ‘sit on the fence’ and avoid harassment or
Sit on the fence?
and Whingeing Poms
From about that time there
was a growing resentment towards English migrants.
Considering that over 90% of Australia’s population was
either English born or of English stock that may be a surprise. The issue was that many of the English migrants were earning
a reputation as ‘Whingeing Poms’.
Many migrants persistently complained that things Australian
were “Not as good as back ‘ome!”
That raised the ire of the existing Anglo population which it
should be remembered were all still British Subjects.
Gradually it became fairly
obvious that the ‘Whingeing Poms’ emanated from
the industrial areas of England. Within my own encounters with them,
I found that one could accept the Rivers Severn and Thames line as
the southern boundary of
‘Whingeing Pom land’.
Exempt those from rural areas who appeared to settle in
obviously, those who had most reason to leave Britain for greener
pastures complained most!
with my life in OZ! Two
of my four cousins took me rabbit shooting.
Quite a new experience.
No ‘Whitstable’ catapult or bow & arrow here but real
rifles. Hitch hiking
back home, we were dropped off outside Melbourne’s major gaol.
A major gaol fronting the main Melbourne-Sydney highway and 3
Smiths with rifles in hand was a scenario to attract any policeman.
It did. After
taking my cousins names, they both had Irish Christian names, the
policeman turned to me with “I suppose you are an Irish
Smith too?”. “No
I putting on my best rendition of an English upper crust voice, “My
cousins have been showing me how you help the farmers keep the
rabbit population down.”
a grin the policeman said “Next time bring the rabbits back
and don’t get dropped off here!
Off you go.” I
wondered if our one time neighbour, Constable Fullagher, would have
let me off so lightly.
above cousins were professional racing cyclists.
Very good too. I
was riding my bike 18 miles to work and back and thought to join
them. But before I
could they were both banned for life – for fixing races!
Such dishonest things like that didn’t happen in Whitstable
many migrants Dad bought a block of land and we spent the next two
years building a house (English bungalow!) for which I had drawn up
the plans aboard ship (I had not been totally pre-occupied with
Marilyn!). Until about March
’53, Dad and I spent the weekends building, living on site in a
shed and going home Sunday evenings as many of our migrant
the roof was on the completed frame, it was the norm to clad the
rear half and live in that.... which is what we did, just as many
other migrants were doing. (It would take two more years to fully
complete the house.)
temporary bedroom was the eventual bathroom. Mum and Dad had what
would be my bedroom while younger sister and brother slept in the
eventual laundry. By the time
an Australian brother arrived just before Christmas ’53, we were
all in our planned bedrooms except sister who was still stuck in the
laundry and, luxury of luxuries, there was a real bath in a proper
bathroom. Mum had her kitchen but the toilet was a ‘dry pan’
affair in the backyard, the area not yet being sewered.
can only assume that ‘dry pan’ meant there was no reticulated
water attached because the smelly thing was never dry.
Once a week, the ‘Humdinger Wagon’ aka ‘The
24 Door Sedan’ would arrive outside.
A man with a flat topped cap supporting a fresh (!) lidded 20
gallon pan went to the rear of the ‘cludgy’ (that’s old
Whitstablese,) opened a flap and replaced the existing pan with the
new, cleaned, freshly tarred and disinfected pan, having removed the
lid to place it on the ‘used pan’ before carrying the latter
away on his head! Most
embarrassing for those who were ‘on the job’ when he arrived!
The area was eventually sewered but migrant numbers were building
too fast for such infrastructure to precede them well into the
‘70s in some areas.
were lucky with public transport though.
Four times a day, the ‘Stagecoach’ would pass our house,
twice in the morning, twice in the early evening, half that on
Saturday and Sunday. It
wasn’t really a horse drawn coach but, as a bus, it wasn’t far
removed! Very ‘pioneerish’.
and I had a 1½ mile walk to work, Mum the same route to the shops
or the nearest railway station.
The younger kids also had a similar walk to their Primary
School. Groceries were
delivered free and Doctors made home visits but I cannot recall milk
being delivered! Just
as well in the Australian sun.
No refrigerator either.
Just an ice box – like
a 2 compartment cupboard with a large block of ice in the top one.
in and Writing Home
social life expanded, sort of.
I had joined a local football team, real football not the
Aussie Rules thing. Playing Saturday afternoon, training Tuesday,
Thursday evening and Sunday morning complemented four evenings each
week at night school, Saturday evening at the pictures in Melbourne
and working with Dad on the house left me enough time to write to
the girl I had left behind.
1st 1953 marked the end of our first year.
still had not escaped.
One... and Adulthood
were very, very strict here about what one could do until ‘of
age’ i.e. 21.
the time I reached that milestone, I had re-established a career
path, had my third car, was in the middle of a National Service
commitment and, as previously noted in the Visitors Book, my
Australian wife of now 50 years was on the scene.
married a couple of years later in August ’58 having five quid
left over but, before Christmas 1960, were able to move into our own
newly built home on a 25% deposit ‘just down the road’.
A total of £4500 covered land, 3 bedroom triple fronted
house, fully fitted kitchen and laundry, hot water service, bath,
shower and even the driveway was paved and all fences installed.
We furnished it too including a ‘fridge, gas stove, washing
machine and wrought iron front gates. All except the gas stove, without
Could I have done that in
1958/60s Whitstable? I
couldn’t do the equivalent here now!
A Man for
Upon reflection I never
did actually decide to stay in Australia.
In accepting Australian Citizenship, I did not have to
rescind my British Citizenship.
With our Lottery’s cooperation I would be quite happy to
use my dual citizenship to enjoy the best seasons of either country!