Tuesday, 21 May 2013

In the beginning


In the beginning........

The “Ten Pound Pom” scheme is the colloquial name for an assisted migration scheme that operated in Australia after World War II. In spite of its name, this scheme was not limited to those from the United Kingdom but was open to citizens of all Commonwealth countries. (The word “Pom” meant English people, and was sometimes used in a derogatory manner.)
Adult migrants were charged 10 for their fare and children travelled for free.  They were drawn by promises of employment and housing, a more relaxed lifestyle and a better climate. 

My father was a Coppersmith by Trade who had served his apprenticeship with Rolls Royce in Scotland.  My mother was a seamstress, who had served her apprenticeship at the tender age of 15 years, with Corby Gowns in London, the year was 1943. 
Mum 1944

During the war years Mum joined the NAAFI, this stands for Navy Army Air Force Institute and was the virtual stomach of the UK Defence Forces.  Mum viewed this experience as doing her bit for King and country and it became a bit of a family joke that this was how Mum and Dad actually came together as Dad did love his food, and Mum used to say that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach.

Dad was in the royal engineers in the English army.  When my Dad first met Mum, he was not convinced that she was 18 years old and actually asked my grandmother what her real age was.  This came about due to the fact that my Mum was just barely five foot tall and slim built, and was constantly plagued by officialdom of needing proof of her age. 

Wedding Day
They had a whirlwind romance and married on 10 July, 1948 and I was born May, 1949 followed by two brothers, one in 1953 and the other in 1954.  After much talking and cajoling on mothers part, my parents emigrated from England to Australia as “ten pound poms” after receiving the 'O.K." from Australia House, sanctioning their acceptance as Commonwealth Nominees - for my Mum it was the realisation of a dream,- something that had materialised out of official documents, letters, and my uncle in Australia sponsoring my Dad as a potential tradesman.

Following the official interview and medical examination, came the tickets, documents of Identification, and TB immunisation which both parents required but us children somehow missed due to fears of adverse reactions that were around at the time.

The day finally arrived when we left Tilbury Docks in June 1955 and were determined to enjoy the four weeks voyage but soon after we set sail and proceeded through the Bay of Biscay, many folk were conspicuous by their absence as they struggled to gain their sea legs. It is amazing how we children were unaffected from the worries of sea-sickness, and from the moment that the ship's Shop opened, we formed a never-ending queue from morning to evening eager to sample the wares on offer. According to my mother, this shop had a wider variety of goods than many a shop she had encountered ashore.

Soon the Rock of Gibraltar was looming through the mist,and although the coast-line was not visible, the sight of the mighty rock and the knowledge of it's history impressed many of the adults. On the other side of the ship was the cold forbidding coast of Spanish Morocco,- our first glimpse of the mighty African continent. The sea had become calmer now, and all signs of previous malady amongst the passengers had disappeared. Most had now their sea-legs, and were in a merrier mood. At the tables in the saloon, there were no empty seats, and somehow the food had become more appetising. 

From Sunday to Thursday, there was little to see except the dreary coastline of northern Africa in the distance, and many speculated as to the exact position of Alamein and Tunisia and Tobruk. We knew that we were passing the George Cross Island somewhere north, and later guessed at the location of the ancient country of Greece. 

view of cabin
dresser in cabin
In the early hours of Thursday morning we were wakened by a terrific din,- a babel of voices and rattling of chains, and realised that at last we were at Port Said.  Excited and eager to see what all the fuss was about, we rose and scrambled on deck to find many of our co-travellers had the same idea as us. For many of us it was our first sight of the hubbub and excitement of the bum-boats and bustle of activity on the water, it was a new world. The re-fuelling barges were alongside, pumping oil into the ship, whilst long lines descended from the rails into the trading bum-boats clustered around what seemed to us to be the bottom of a watery pit. We seemed to be a terrific distance away from them. The long lines were used to lower the cash and hoist up the goods which were offered for sale, by means of little baskets tied to the lines.

My father explained to me that the men are paid commission for all they sell, the goods not being their own property, unfortunately as is the case from time to time their were certain passengers who thought it a good idea to hold on to the line as the ship was moving off, and then deliberately dropping the basket into the sea, any goods that were lost and not accounted for of course, the man had to suffer the loss, by making good to his employer. The ship's steward let it be known that this practice was not appreciated to all on board later that day.

We stayed at Port Said all day Thursday and Friday, and sailed early on Saturday morning. Nobody was allowed to go ashore, owing to the anti-British feeling in the country at the time, so it was with great relief that we moved off through the Suez canal. As a six year old I did not understand why there were men with camels and rifles sitting on the bank just staring at us.  I was fascinated with the huge jelly fish that were around the ship as we travelled through the canal.

On Saturday night on the after-deck, my parents went to a dance and there was a live band playing, they had made friends with another two couples and a good time was had by all. It was a memorable affair.

Our next port of call was Aden,  In competition with the boat-men, particular stall holders were permitted to come on board and set up small stalls around the decks.  Mum was especially pleased there was even a Woolworths.  Stall holders would sidle up to you and offer "genuine gold" watch or "real diamond" rings at ridiculously low prices, but if you bartered well you eventually were able to buy the article for about a quarter of the original price. Further along the deck in the centre of a group, mainly children, was the "Gilly-Gilly" man, taking live chicks from his mouth, much to the delight and squeals of the children and "borrowing" half-crowns from anyone foolish enough to give him one.

We arrived at Aden early Monday, and were permitted to go ashore, it was extremely hot and humid as we ambled ashore to explore the markets and streets of this little place.  As we walked through the many stalls I was intrigued by the tiny cameras which seemed to be very popular with the male members of our group, so being the inquisitive one that I am I picked one up to see a sight which was titled "Chloe - what the butler saw!", I was not able to contain my squeals and my mother was quick to recover the offending camera and place it back on the stall rather quickly, dragging me after her.  

It was smooth sailing as we entered the waters to Ceylon, and on the Saturday morn we dropped anchor in the harbour at about 10 am.  Our days were spent much the same as usual, lounging about in the sunshine around the swimming pool.  There were fancy dress parades, games and races. The evenings saw most people in the cinema-lounge looking at film shows or playing card games.

It was around this time that my young brother came down with chicken-pox and was confined to the ships hospital.  Mum was required to stay with him as he was only one yr old.  The rest of the family was not permitted to join him, but we were able to see him across the barricade.  My other brother felt sorry for him and gave him his favourite steam roller toy to play with, but instead our young brother took it and threw it down onto the deck where it bounced and promptly went overboard.  We often joked that a shark swallowed it and it was running back and forth in his stomach.

In Colombo as the ship cannot come alongside the wharf, it  anchored in the harbour, and passengers were conveyed ashore by tender. It was night time when we arrived in Colombo and our parents went ashore with the other passengers they had met for a night on the town, while all us children were cared for by the Stewards, who entertained us with games and a suitable movie.
Evidence of
crossing Equator
As we sailed across the Indian Ocean towards Fremantle, there was a very special event that took place..The Crossing of the Equator.  This was highlighted by the attendance of King Neptune and his mermen and mermaids who were to bless us and allow us to cross from Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere.  There was much dressing up in seaweed and other underwater regalia with lots of water dunking and after some official words and pageantry we were presented with a certificate to mark our crossing.

The next day, Monday, in Fremantle the officials of the Immigration Department boarded the ship and interviewed all Heads of Families. Directions were given as to where our ultimate place of disembarking would be. We were assigned to Melbourne at first, but when my Father pleaded his case in that his brother was meeting us at Outer Harbour in South Australia and was his sponsor, this was changed accordingly. That night, our last on board, there were fireworks! There was weeping and wailing as we said our goodbyes, but elation to find that the two families we had befriended were also getting off in Outer Harbour. 

It was 30 July 1955.  It is a long held belief that first impressions are everything, well if the dock where we landed was anything to go by Dad was ready to turnaround and go back home; Mum was under the impression that this is a young country and was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  The Port was dirty, smelly and dusty.