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Aussietrekker's memoirs (in many instalments)
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aussietrekker aussietrekker has been starred
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 12:24 am    Post subject: Aussietrekker's memoirs (in many instalments) Reply with quote

We almost didn't get to come to Australia at all.

The year was 1962, and I had just turned 8 years old, with a younger brother Martin and sister Colette, and parents Eddie and Annie. We lived in a seaside town called Bangor in the north of Ireland, half an hour away from Belfast where our grandparents and all of Mum's family lived. We rarely saw any of Dad's family- although they had lived in Bangor for hundreds of years, most had gone to live in other countries after the war, and that included his parents and all brothers and sisters. By 1962, Dad was still in Bangor under sufferance and had only one goal- to move to Australia. The topic in our house that I recall from the earliest times, was "when we move to Australia". He had actually made his first emigrant application around 1950 when he was young and single, but his plans were delayed due to meeting a beautiful girl from Belfast between voyages.
Dad had joined the Merchant Navy when he was 16. By the early 50's, he had travelled round the world several times, including two trips to Australia and even then, saw it as a paradise, far removed from the cold weather and many other adverse conditions in Ireland at that time. As a child I used to love hearing his numerous stories about when he was "on the boats". I remember him telling me about walking down Footscray Road when it was only a dirt track, and swimming with his mates in Southport when it was just a collection of fibro shacks. He left us numerous photos of those voyages. He made friends with an Irish family in Port Melbourne, and another in Brisbane, and said he had his appendix out in Sydney.
Dad was on shore leave in Ireland, intending to settle in Australia, when he went to the Crofton dance-hall in Bangor one night and met my mother, Annie. Mum was a local girl, from a typical Belfast hard-working family of battlers. She worked at a cigarette factory, like her mother and sisters before her. Her job was to strip the tobacco leaves. She had a great sense of black humour and she used to love telling people later on that she'd been a stripper, then tell them about the tobacco leaves once they'd been shocked and mortified. Eddie and Annie arranged a date for the following Saturday at the Floral Hall in Belfast and soon after, he made a decision- he would do his final voyage to Australia, marry Annie, and work on her to come and live in Australia at some future date. They were married in Belfast in 1953, and I turned up 11 months later.
It took 8 years for Mum to agree to emigrate but an unexpected spanner was in the works- Dad failed the medical examination, and our application was rejected! Shocked


Last edited by aussietrekker on Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What a real interesting story, thanks for that.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Judith - I'm looking forward to reading further instalments! I'm still reading but feel I don't have much to contribute as I don't remember an awful lot and I live so far away. The reunion plans sound exciting. Good luck with it all.
Love and best wishes
Carol x
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Eileen and Carol- there plenty more to come yet!
Even though you guys are in England, you're still as much a part of our hostel family- and you have contributed a great deal already. Every little snippet counts.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Keep it coming Judith.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 7:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The application was knocked back, and we felt unloved by Australia. To our surprise it was Dad who was to blame- seems his blood sugar level was too high, and that was enough to exclude the whole family in those days. So he bit the bullet, bought a new car and redecorated the house, and took to gathering travel brochures of exotic holiday destinations like Jersey and the French Riviera (none of which we ever went to!)

Mum and Dad both came from extremely poor backgrounds, and all of their neighbours were in the same boat- all post-war battlers together. Dad's family didn't have to be poor- his father had a good regular job but like so many Irish families, the beneficiaries of his salary were the heirs of Guinness Brewery, rather than his own children. Dad was always very bitter about this, and aware that he didn't need to go to school without the basics, and "the arse out of his trousers". They would have been way worse off if it hadn't been for his mother using her skills at dressmaking. She also supplemented the income by telling fortunes. She read tealeaves, and women would bring their teacups on the bus from Belfast, half an hour away.

So Dad, almost to the point of obsession, was determined to reverse the unnecessary poverty cycle. When he left the sea, he took a job as a shift worker in a factory that made nylon stockings (and Mum never had to buy stockings again!). He took every bit of overtime he could get, stopped smoking, and started saving for his own house. By the time I was two years old, they had gone from boarding house to council flat, to council house, to their own house in a new estate. Mum gradually got all her modern appliances, us kids had nice clothes, we had a car, and we went to Butlin's for our holidays. He'd done a remarkable effort in a few short years, and we were feeling prosperous. But we were prospering on the wrong side of the world, and Australia wouldn't have us. cry
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 8:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We also had a lot of mishaps. We came on the SS Orcades in May 1960.
My mum slipped on the ship knocking her head and had a cerebral haemorage and was paralized all down her left side, she spent most of the journey in the ship's hospital not knowing any of her children or where she was. We were put off the ship in Fremantle for her to go to Perth Hospital; because of customs she had to leave the ship on a stretcher with no 'luggage' or any items at all and she always loved to boast years later that she arrived in Australia in nothing but one of my dad's shirts. She went to hospital for 2 months and we lived on Greylands Hostel in Fremantle, we used to go to school in bare feet, like the local kids. We were even in the newspaper because of our plight. All our luggage in the hold of the ship went on to Melbourne, dad used to wash out our clothes every night.
In July we came to Melbourne on the Fairsea and lived in the Exhibition Buildings for a few weeks until we were found a place at Altona Hostel. It was so cold in the Exhibition Buildings we had to line our beds - top and bottom - with newspapers, The Age was best.

My mum made a full recovery and lived to 85 (this happened to her when she was 38). After 3 years on the hostel we gave Tasmania a try, dad couldn't get work and my sister and brother had to work on a poultry farm every Saturday and Sunday (they were only about 12 and 13 I never ate so many eggs in my life, we were very poor (don't remember being unhappy though). Two years later we returned to Altona and were able to rent a house.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 8:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That was an awful thing to happen- your Mum was so lucky to cheat death.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

1962 became 1963, and brought with it the most bitter winter in living memory. The sheer quantity of snow would have been enough to make anyone want to flee the country to somewhere warmer. Cars wouldn't move. People were snowed in for days, stretching their rations. Dad tried to start the car to take us to school, gave it up as a lost cause and to our delight, we went back into the house and escaped school for three whole days. In my euphoria, I managed to forget the playlunch I'd been looking forward to- a long doughnut with jam and cream. After three days in the snowbound car, it was calcified. I'll never forget the disappointment.
We caught ailments. Millions of them, one after another. We would not have frozen like that if Australia hadn't been so mean!
Britain was starting to change. The papers were full of something called the Common Market. Dad didn't like the sound of the Common Market. He said the country would soon become flooded with cheap European labour, that would swamp his factory and others, and undercut wages. (He actually used a more derogatory term for the continental workforce, and I learned a new word that day.) I liked 1963- mostly for the music. There were all these new bands- The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Merseybeats, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, and I could go on. I was 9 going on 19, and used to buy those magazines with all the song words, and listen to the Top 20 every Sunday.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The TV shows were also getting better. I'd always had a fixation with "Space the Final Frontier", and had followed the space programme ever since I could remember. So when shows like Fireball XL5 and Dr.Who aired in 1963, it was the icing on the cake. Britain was a happy place for a 9 year old.
1963 also brought the news that Dad's factory was closing down. That was the last straw. He was going to have another go at applying for Australia.
There was another motivation for emigration, which only a native of Northern Ireland could properly understand. Dad's family had for generations been pillars of the local Presbyterian Church. He had done the unthinkable, and married a girl from a Catholic Nationalist family. That his family were not happy would be an understatement. Even his landlady was furious, and he soon moved lodgings once married. Mum's parents were named Joseph and Mary. Joseph was a carpenter- but by no means could they have been described as the Holy Family- even though my Granny was given to saying holy stuff like "Oh Sacred Heart!" or "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" whenever Mum would tell her certain items of news.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 10:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The aforementioned landlady, Mrs. B, was invited to the wedding just the same. The story goes that she came up from "swanky Bangor" and sat like Lady Muck , resplendent in a fur coat , being waited on through the wedding breakfast in my Granny's modest little parlour house, and no doubt feeling above her station. My Grandad had the curious habit of painting the front door whenever any of his offspring were getting married. Enamel paint does not dry quickly in Irish weather. It certainly wasn't dry on Mum and Dad's wedding day. On this occasion, the colour of choice was a bright burgundy red. Mrs. B leaned against the front door on her way out. Off she went down the road, unaware of the red paint on the fur coat, and a big bare patch that had attached itself to the wet door. My Grandad was alerted but instead of being sympathetic, all he said was 'God curse her- she's ruined my lovely door!"
So Dad took Mum to live in Bangor, became a Catholic because he wanted to, and had the hide to send his "hybrid children" to the Catholic school in the town of his forbears and all who had known him. We weren't popular in the neighbourhood as a result, and we kept a low profile. We knew we would never be fully accepted, and that was one more reason to leave. The minute Dad heard his factory was closing, he made another application for Australia, and submitted for another medical. A few weeks later, we had a letter from Australia House in Belfast, saying that our application had been successful, and we would soon be advised of our sailing date. The long wait had been finally worth it.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Orange Vs Green dissention has certainly caused much heartache over the years, hasn't it?
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're not wrong. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel- thanks to integrated schools and believe it or not, the Continental Workers! Dad was 40 years ahead of schedule in his prophecy, and a great change has come over Ulster in even the space of two years. Belfast is suddenly overrun with migrant workers from the European Union, and a growing number from Asia and Africa. I stayed at a B&B in October and had my "Ulster Fry" breakfast cooked by a girl from Czechoslovakia! Laughing I had a blue with a very arrogant Euro saleswoman in a souvenir shop, trying to fob off some Irish linen supposedly embroidered with a local landmark- it wasn't the landmark's bootlace, and she got a shock when the "unsuspecting tourist" told her so, and what a front the shop had selling such fakes to visitors. I could draw the place from memory, and the embroidery was likely done in China anyway. In the railway cafes, you're likely to be served by a girl from Poland. And old hags from Romania up and down the street like dogs at a lamp-post, selling the Big Issue and begging in every town. Organised professional begging by these folk is an industry that is causing great concern. Belfast is changing too quickly but strangely enough, it is uniting all its citizens from both factions in a common complaint. Maybe they'll leave each other alone for a bit longer!

Will continue the blog another time, I've got work today and habits to support.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So we were going to Australia at last, and that's when the bombardment of questions started. Do they have TVs in Australia? Will we see Fireball XL5 and all our other favourite shows? Do they have the same fruits as us? What money do they use? Are the children cheeky like in Bangor? Dad said that there were cheeky children everywhere, and couldn't promise the same TV shows. He told us about fruit with weird names like mangoes and pawpaws, and about colourful Christmas Beetles that clung to your clothes and you had to pull them really hard to get them off. There wasn't a day when we didn't pester Mum with "are we going yet?"...Marge Simpson had it easy compared with our constant nagging, and always the same reply- when we get our sailing date. Big fat newspapers and other stuff started coming in the mail. The fat newspaper was called "The Age". I thought that was a bit weird- age was what you turned on your birthday. Real newspapers had proper names like the Daily Mail or the Belfast Telegraph, or even News Of The World (a Bad Paper according to the nuns). But Dad pored over these Ages for ages, probably at the employment section. Right up to the 70', the employment section was almost an inch thick. You could take your pick of jobs in Australia, and there were plenty of factories that wouldn't be closing down.
We were very discreet children, and when we were asked to keep our emigration plans quiet, we managed to keep the secret. Our parents, already out of place in the neighbourhood, didn't want to be the subject of additional idle gossip.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 10:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There was a downside of going to Australia. Our excitement quickly turned to dread upon hearing the news that we had to have injections against smallpox and cholera, on account of all the unhealthy countries the ship would stop at. I don't want to go to Australia anymore!! I'd never had a needle, and the prospect was too scary. There was no way out of this, and over a period of weeks we made bulk family visits to Dr. Smyth's in Bangor. We'd had him since we were babies, but it was going to hurt all the same. The first one was for smallpox, and it left a big scar on each arm. But the cholera needle hurt way worse. Since we were keeping a major secret, I couldn't seek some badly needed sympathy from my schoolmates the next day- though I compensated later on for years in Australia with an inflated account of how the needle went in one end of the arm and out the other. Mum didn't take at all to the cholera needle- she was crook for days. But we lived , and it brought us one step closer to fleeing the country. The letter from Australia House eventually arrived but it wasn't for a sailing date...it was for a FLYING DATE Cool
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