Ch12 Pt2 Cundletown

When I arrived in Wingham, the School of Arts had just been taken over by Council as a public library. There were about five hundred books in it of the “Zane Grey” and “Ruby M. Ayres” type. Twenty-one years later we had a rebuilt and enlarged premises with fourteen thousand volumes of fiction and non-fiction covering every possible aspect, and the majority of these volumes I had chosen myself. Even the rather élitist Library Board had to admit that with our limited resources, we were providing an exceptionally good public service.

With regard to our road plant, we slowly increased it until we owned a large range of the most modern machinery, and by this we increased the scope of our work enormously.  

We established an industrial subdivision near the Sporting Complex as well as purchasing land near the Wingham Cemetery and subdividing it for industrial purposes. In this latter area we sold twenty acres to Angus Nugent and Sons Pty. Ltd. for one dollar to bring their tannery from Sydney to Wingham. We then subdivided the balance of the land and sold the blocks at such prices as to recoup our original expenditure. We made the tannery loans under the decentralisation legislation and the Local Government Act, and today they have a very large and viable business, which employs between fifty and sixty people.

We lent thirty per cent of the cost of establishing a factory to R. L. Child and Son Pty. Ltd., manufacturers of hydraulic hose fittings, to relocate part of their Sydney operation to the industrial area next to the sporting complex. They currently employ thirty-five persons, and if the business prospers, they have sufficient land to enlarge their factory four times over. I was pleased by a remark made by the managing director and reported in the local press that he was particularly grateful to the Town Clerk for all his help. Talk is cheap, we all know, but it was rather nice to have one’s efforts acknowledged just once.

The establishment of these industries in Wingham might seem small beer by city standards. But one should remember that in a small country town two new industries employing the best part of a hundred persons with the promise of more means an enormous boost to local prosperity. Another point is that for each industry we succeeded in getting established, the best part of a dozen might have made inquiries, taken up time, raised expectations, then simply vanished. 

In the early days in Wingham, I was one of the founders and secretary and general organiser of “The Wingham Dramatic Art and Musical Company”. We put on some shows of really professional quality, and I am sure Patricia and Peter remember taking part in “The King and I” and other shows. By this means we also raised enough money to build a home for a refugee family whom we brought to Australia from a camp in post war Europe. With this effort we actually put Wingham on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, which I always thought was no mean feat. The family did not entirely co-operate the way we had hoped, and the thing turned rather sour at a later date, but that was not our fault.

We underwent three amalgamation inquiries in Wingham between 1968 and 1979. We fought them all tooth and nail and won the first two. But we lost the 1979 one, and despite mass demonstrations in Sydney at the Town Hall and outside Parliament House by over two thousand people who had travelled especially from the country to protest against a number of proposals, Wingham ceased to exist as a separate entity as from 1st January, 1981. From that date, the Municipality of Wingham, the close-by Municipality of Taree and the surrounding Shire of Manning (less the Tuncurry and Nabiac areas) became known as The City of Greater Taree.

The former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Taree became the Town Clerk of the City of Greater Taree. The former Shire Clerk of Manning Shire became his Deputy. As the former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Wingham, I became the Administrative Officer of the City of Greater Taree. The title was rather grandiloquent. I had no idea what it really meant. The main thing was that I retained my scale of salary and my continuity of service. In a time of recession and unemployment where it would be difficult for a person of my age to get another job, I was grateful for this. I was nearly fifty-nine years of age and had six years to go before retirement. I had been Town Clerk of Wingham for twenty-one years and three months.

So, in August, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighty one, it is nearly time to bring this account of a small segment of my family history to a close. Irene and I live in a modest three bedroom brick veneer cottage with a double garage underneath. It overlooks the Manning River at Cundletown, just out of Taree on the mid north coast of New South Wales. We moved here twelve years ago, causing quite a stir in Wingham at the time, for the close-knit population did not fancy the idea of their chief administrative Council servant shifting to a rival town. However, now that I am working at the Council offices in Taree, it is very convenient.

Our children are grown up, and I am pleased with all of them. 

Patricia gained her General Nursing Certificate at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. After travelling to Canada, to her grandfather in London, France, North Africa, Spain and a kibbutz in Israel, she returned to Australia. More study resulted in passing her Midwifery training, to become a double certificate registered nurse. Irene and I were very proud of her for this effort, first because it demonstrated her perseverance and dedication, and secondly because always, throughout her life, she would have a profession to return to in case of necessity. Moreover, to be a good nurse is a help to being a good mother. Patricia upgraded her nursing qualifications and subsequently received the degree of Bachelor of Health Science, Nursing at the Catholic University in Sydney. 

Patricia married Raymond in 1975. Ray comes from old pioneers of the Newcastle district on his mother’s side. On his father’s side, he comes from mixed German and apparently Cherokee stock.  His German grandfather had emigrated to Canada and had married a full bloodied Cherokee woman, who was one of Ray’s grandmothers. This lady had travelled a long way from Georgia and North Carolina, the homeland of the Cherokee Indian Nation up to the 1830’s. The Cherokees of that day were highly successful farmers who competed vigorously with the white man in the agricultural area. So the American army under government orders dispossessed them and drove them westwards. Their prosperous farms were then stolen by the white settlers.

The Indian “Removals” were begun by General (later President) Andrew Jackson, also known as “Old Hickory” because of his hardness of character. They were continued under President Van Buren. The Cherokees were forced to vacate their comfortable homes at a moment’s notice. Soldiers then drove them mercilessly on a long winter’s march across the western plains to Oklahoma. During this terrible march when the icy winds began to blow down from Canada one quarter of the Cherokee Nation perished. The brutality of this North American forced exodus was repeated on a larger scale a century later by Hitler’s systematic concentration and murder of the Jews of Europe. I sometimes think that our grandchildren have a double injection of refugee blood. Perhaps with this they may be doubly endowed with the will to survive. 

Peter took up a Teacher’s Scholarship at the University of Newcastle. With the proceeds of this scholarship and by working shifts at the Newcastle works of BHP, he put himself through the University, obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, and became a schoolteacher with the New South Wales Education Department. I should be remiss not to record that my father was in Australia when Peter received his degree and was enormously proud to be present at the ceremony in the Great Hall of the University. So were Irene and I.

Peter married Margaret in 1978. Margaret’s background is interesting. She traces her ancestry to a soldier of the First Fleet, and to convicts and soldiers who arrived very shortly afterwards from England, Scotland and Ireland. So within one generation my family, from being very new Australians, related to nobody, became old Australians related to many. 

When Christopher left school, he struck an unfortunate patch. He had matriculated from High School and might have gone to University, but graduates were finding it difficult to get jobs. Indeed, everybody was finding it difficult to get jobs, and a recession of frightening proportions stalked the land. School leavers were major victims, and once having failed to get work, found themselves even more disadvantaged the following year when more school leavers competed with them for insufficient jobs. Meanwhile Mr Malcolm Fraser, our millionaire Prime Minister of the time, well insulated by his inherited capital, his politician’s high wages, non-taxable allowances, free overseas trips and princely superannuation, was telling everybody that “Life was never meant to be easy”.

So Christopher had to get a job forthwith, and any professional studies he took up would have to be done part time. 

Christopher found a job with the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales at their headquarters in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, where he is working hard and saving his money, the classic formula for financial success. Irene and I have confidence in his intelligence and ability. Christopher studied for and obtained appropriate qualifications in the Insurance business.

My father used to say to me that if a man had good children, he was rich. It was a precept with which I agreed entirely.

By these standards, Irene and I are indeed rich. For we have three fine children who, we know, will bring up good children in their turn. 

The grandchildren are, of course, a wonderful additional bonus. They are our future, our posterity. We hope that they make good marriages as time goes by and have good children in their turn. May they have health and happiness. If they have these they will acquire a sufficiency of wealth to meet their needs.

Ch 11 Holocaust survivors

One other thing worthy of mention happened while we were in Kempsey: Irene discovered that she had some family in Melbourne. We learnt of Sophie’s existence through a letter from Irene’s mother, but as we only knew her maiden name, had some difficulty in tracking her down. We took the Morris Minor to Melbourne, and when we eventually did find her, we discovered that by a coincidence, she and her husband lived in the next street to our old friend Max, who had been so kind to us when we first arrived in Australia. 

Sophie was a small, dark haired, soignée, charming woman of excellent intelligence. Her husband, Abe, who was ten years older than she, was a typical European intellectual, ready to discuss any of a dozen subjects at the drop of a hat. By profession he was an industrial chemist; by inclination, a pianist, and he played that instrument with considerable skill. They were not typical Australians; they were typical Europeans of the tolerant, well-educated middle class. If the analytical intelligence, tolerance and understanding they brought to Australia were to become part of the Australian ethos, then Australia would surely benefit.

Sophie spoke English with barely a trace of accent. Abe was grey haired, hawk-faced, and spoke still with a strong German accent. The knowledge they both had of the English language was, however, encyclopaedic. I had always fancied myself as having something better than average skill and vocabulary in my native language, and I was chastened when they both beat me easily at Scrabble.

They had a daughter, Freida, who later married a young engineer, also the son immigrants. I always thought that there was a strong facial resemblance between Freida when young, and Patricia’s little boy, my grandson.

This side of our family was uncompromisingly, (if liberally), Jewish. By “liberal”, I mean the usual interpretation given to these matters. That is to say, customs are kept only if they fulfil a religious purpose, and a very wide tolerance is shown regarding religious matters. In the final analysis, however, a Jew is a Jew, even though one’s personal religious faith may wane on occasion. Moreover, to be a Jew is something of which one can be justifiably proud.

The story of how Sophie and Abe escaped the Holocaust and came to Australia will bear telling very briefly, as a representative of so many others.

Abe and Sophie were married in Germany just before the war. He had obtained his degree and was starting to build the foundations of a career. Because the threat from Nazi anti-Semitism had became so obvious, Abe planned to escape Germany, promising to send for Sophie as soon as he was able to establish himself in a more civilised and less murderous society. As for thousands of Jewish people, things did not proceed smoothly. 

On Nov 9 1938 a violent pogrom against the Jews was carried out across Germany. It became known as Kristallnacht. Thousands of men were rounded up and sent to newly built concentration camps. Abe was lucky. Several thousand men were allowed to be released to England, as long as they already had travel documents. 

Back in England, an old army camp at Sandwich, Kent, was generously offered for the protection of these men rescued from incarceration on Kristallnacht – it became known as Kitchener Camp. The men had to leave Germany immediately, without any chance of notifying families.

It is only with hindsight that Irene and I understand the difference between the fate of Abe and that of Irene’s brother on that night. Abe had seen a bleak future and had already taken steps to leave. Irene too had had the foresight to arrange travel to leave two weeks earlier. At 18 years old, Irene’s brother Heinrich did not listen to the exaggerations of his little sister, preferring to remain in Berlin with his mother. Only two weeks later, his mother regretted her insistence that Heini remain with her. Despite her pleadings and offers of money, Heinrich, having no travel documents, was rounded up and marched to the brand new, mass extinction gas chamber.

Sophie was also forced to leave Germany and seek refuge in France in order to save her life. Sadly, shortly after the declaration of war, the Germans pushed the English out of Europe and overran France.

Neither Sophie nor Abe knew the fate of the other; their families had been dispersed or sent to concentration camps. Thus, they lost touch with each other for seven years, not knowing whether the other was alive or dead.

Just when there seemed to be some hope for Abe and others welcomed into the camps at Richborough, the harsher face of England showed itself again. As they had done 160 years before, the “powers that be” decided it was time to deport its “enemy aliens” to Australia.  2542 men were put on a ship with only a 1600 person capacity and sent off across wartime waters, including some Italian survivors of a rescue ship that had been taking them to Canada. Abe’s story became a part of the infamous events aboard the ship Dunera. Alongside more than 2000 Jewish, genuine refugees fleeing murder by the Nazi regime, the British included a few hundred Germans and Nazi sympathisers. Combined with poorly trained crew and officers, the detainees were despised, robbed and abused, as if they were all “the enemy”. The hellish trip finally ended on arrival in Sydney on the 6th September 1940. Several months elapsed in the dust-ridden New South Wales internment camp at Hay, before men like Abe were officially recognised as genuine refugees. Despite their journey, Abe and others took the opportunity to volunteer for the Australian Army, seeking to contribute in some fashion to the defeat of the bestial Hitlerian regime that had brought death to so many innocent people.

Unfortunately, while on a training exercise, Abe broke his leg and was invalided out. The resilient Abe then got a job as an industrial chemist with a private firm in Melbourne, and set about establishing himself in this new land.

Back in France, Sophie fled to the southern unoccupied zone and obtained work as a “domestique” or servant girl. She spoke good French, but unfortunately with a recognisable German accent. She explained this by pretending that she was an Alsation – a native of that province on the borders of France and Germany which has been alternatively French and German so many times that the inhabitants are mostly bi-lingual and seemingly fight every other war on different sides. 

She changed jobs from time to time, the more so after the Germans occupied the southern part of France. If her employers suspected that she was something other than what she pretended to be, they said nothing, until the time when the Gestapo eventually caught up with her. She was betrayed, captured, and sent to a French concentration camp erected on French soil with the concurrence of the collaborationist Pétain Vichy Government. Conditions here were normal for concentration camps – a bowl of cabbage soup, and a small piece of bread each day if one was lucky. It was not long before people began to die of disease and malnutrition. When they died, the bodies were wrapped up in shrouds, carried outside the camp in stretchers at night, and left there, to be picked up in the morning by the burial carts.

One day a rumour sped through the camp like fire. The Jewish prisoners were to be collected together and sent in railway wagons to the gas ovens of the “Vernichtungslage” in Germany and Poland. Once one was in the railway truck, one was as good as dead. At the same time, escape from the concentration camp was virtually impossible. Sophie sought desperately for a plan to save her life.

With ingenuity and determination, she hoarded her bread ration every day. The bread thus saved was used to bribe a guard to wrap her in a shroud as if she were dead, and leave her outside the camp with the bodies one evening. That this was done is not as surprising as you might think. The guards were also poorly fed, and many not totally committed to their work. At dead of night, she cautiously unwrapped her shroud and ran away into surrounding forest, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the concentration camp.

Once more she supported herself by domestic work, keeping herself to herself, moving whenever she felt it necessary, always on the lookout for a sign that some person may have suspected her secret and betrayed her to the Gestapo. Somehow she survived until the Allied landing in Europe. Her relief when the terrible fear of betrayal and death was finally lifted would be hard to describe in words. 

Luck, or fate, can play an equally terrible or fortunate part in our lives. Sophie’s name had been registered on a Jewish Survivors list, by the Red Cross. As fate would have it, friends in New York, who were already in contact with Abe in Melbourne, saw this particular list. Overjoyed on learning this wonderful news, Abe was able to secure passage for Sophie from Marseilles to Melbourne, via Tahiti. Sophie put her language skills to good use, acting as an interpreter aboard ship.

After seven long, anxious years, Sophie and Abe were united again; a happy ending for two people, tinged with sadness and the memory of so many whose stories finished in a different and tragic way.

CH10 Pt1 The best garage in Caringbah.

Irene therefore began to look around for a place for us to live whilst I went to work during the week, earning enough money for us to hang on by the skin of our teeth, and at least not need to touch our capital for everyday living expenses. Renting a room we decided was out of the question. First, rents were exorbitant. In the second place, we disliked the idea of paying for somebody else’s property. There had been enough of that in the old country. We weren’t about to start bad habits in the new one. Eventually Irene came across a temporary dwelling and laundry on the outskirts of Yagoona, whose owner was selling out for just over four hundred pounds. She made inquiries at the Bankstown Council and was told that there were no problems. We paid a deposit of forty-five pounds from our capital – equivalent to nearly two months’ wages at that time. We had just over two hundred pounds saved up. We hoped to raise the rest by loan from the Rural Bank.

Too late we learned that the land was to be declared unfit for building as it was subject to minor flooding. The solicitor, one of the tribe who inhabited small offices in large buildings in Hunter Street, told us that the legal position was that the land was still fit for building at the time of signing the contract. Therefore we stood little chance of regaining our money. Indeed, the vendor might force us to proceed with the purchase. At this stage it dawned on us that he was acting for both parties, a fact to which, in our ignorance, we had not paid any attention. Subsequent advice from other quarters revealed that we had been misled, deliberately, it seemed, and we were eventually able to recover fifteen pounds. However, the outlook seemed very black at the time. Moreover our money was in limbo for a considerable period when we had most need of it. Although it seemed a paltry amount today, it meant that when we did eventually buy land and build, we had to settle for something less than might otherwise have been possible. To this extent our unpleasant experience possibly affected our entire future life in Australia. For had we been able to build a better house at the beginning in what was to become one of Sydney’s go-ahead areas, I may have resisted the temptation, five years later, to leave the big city and go to the bush. In the event, the lesson we learnt was not to pay out a penny before making the best possible inquiries about land. One should never sign a contract without being advised by one’s own solicitor. Any deposit should always be conditional on there being no unforeseen difficulties that might vitiate the agreement. The world is full of villains without conscience seeking to separate suckers from their hard earned cash. Caveat Emptor! Trust nobody!

The strike was wreaking havoc with the economy and eventually Ben Chifley, the Prime Minister, decided to put troops into the mines to save the jobs of the majority and prevent social chaos. It was the correct thing to do, although it earned Chifley, a great Labour leader, the enmity of many in his own party. Power was always dicey in Sydney at that time. The Snowy scheme had not yet been constructed, and everything seemed to depend on the continuing working of the Bunnerong generating station. But with the mines producing again, trains were restored, and we could once again cook with electricity. Suddenly the strike was over. And as if to herald better times, even the rain began to abate.

One evening, when I came home from the city, Irene greeted me with the news that she had found a reasonably priced block of land in Caringbah, near Dolan’s Bay, a couple of stops along the railway line from Cronulla. We went out to have a look at it the following weekend. It was in Want Street, opposite the junction of Cook Street, at the foot of the hill. It was fifty feet wide by about a hundred and sixty deep, and the price was sixty pounds. Irene said she could just imagine our house there. Trees were everywhere, the road was gravel, there was no sewer. Although we were only three of four minutes’ walk from the main road, and the bus, we seemed to be in the heart of the bush. Kookaburras perched on age-old gum trees cackled joyfully morning and evening. We thought it was beautiful. We engaged a solicitor, had all inquiries made and bought the block.

Our next door neighbour, whose name was Jack, was the sanitary carter. He lived in a rather jerry built house with his wife, mother-in-law and several children. He parked the sanitary cart outside at weekends in order to get an early start Monday mornings. Fortunately he always emptied it of its contents Friday afternoons. From Jack we hired a tent for ten shillings a week, pitched it on our block and moved in. Thus we kept our promise to Oll to leave his house as quickly as possible.

We had no toilet, so for the time being we used Jack’s. His professional activities enabled him to supply an extra sanitary service at no cost. We bought cups and saucers, plates, knives, forks and spoons. One Saturday morning, walking back from Caringbah, I saw the bus stop at Cook Street, and Irene, dressed in a brown suit inherited from her mother, step off. She had been down town before me, and held clutched to her a collapsible tin box containing double primus stoves. She made a bee-line down Cook Street in the direction of our tent, and I had to call before she saw me. 

She had picked up the cooker at a bargain price. Now we should be able to enjoy hot meals, always provided we could get the primus going.

Jack had lent us a couple of single beds, which just fitted into the tent, so we didn’t have to sleep on the ground. This was just as well, because shortly the rain began again. Only then did we discover that our block was a virtual continuation of Cook Street, and a main drain for all the storm water coming therefrom. 

For a couple of weeks we were ankle deep in water every time it rained. In addition, the tent had a number of holes, and the water dripped in everywhere. Getting up and dressing every morning without getting one’s feet wet became something of a work of art. The inside of the tent became a haven for tarantulas escaping from the rain. We had never seen these huge, ugly spiders in England. Here we quickly got used to them, but Irene never did feel completely at ease when one of them parked itself on the tent canvass just above her bed. The other spiders were the red backs in the dunny. There were endless colonies of them. They seemed to be unaggressive, and I adopted a policy of live and let live. Many a time, in the dunny I have had eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations with red back spiders at the end of which we have both departed in peace. Only when the spider insisted on taking charge of a section of the dunny essential to my own purposes was I obliged to pick up one of the many stones lying around and strike it sharply on its red spot.

When the rain eventually stopped, I went up the street, borrowed a wheelbarrow from a neighbour, and made two hundred trips to the bush immediately behind our block. I pushed two hundred barrow loads of soil from the bush and dumped them on the footpath and the front of our block. I had to go about three or four hundred yards into the bush and the road back was all uphill, so I slaved for a long time over that job. Then I went even further down and dug huge lumps of sandstone out of the soil. These I either wheelbarrowed or bullocked up to the front of the block to make my own kerb and gutter which would never be washed away in a hundred years. I succeeded in diverting the flow of water from Cook Street at right angles along Want Street into a small creek a couple of hundred yards further along. Never again was our block subject to flooding with storm water.

We now proposed to build a temporary dwelling. We drew up plans and specifications for a garage and our own dunny, and had them passed by Sutherland Shire Council. We would be permitted to live in the garage for a limited period while we built our house. We were not permitted to live in a tent, but nobody knew that we were doing so, and before they did, we would have the garage erected.

Thus we laid our plans, but now struck a snag. We had run out of money and needed to borrow one hundred pounds to obtain materials for our temporary dwelling. We would also have to pay for a minimal amount of labour, for we were totally inexpert. With a block of land rapidly appreciating in value, there should have been no problem. But we had been in Australia only a few weeks, and we knew nobody who would vouch for our bona fides. Oll gave us a character reference, but he had only been acquainted with us for a short time. We had no money, virtually no belongings, no bank references, we were new arrivals, foreigners, in fact. Today, when banks throw money at you and want everybody to be their customer, the conservatism of lending institutions in those days is perhaps difficult to understand. I could not do very much about this matter, because I had to work to keep our heads above water. Irene went to the Rural Bank in Martin Place, where she made the acquaintance of a man, who was one of their small loans officers. Over a period of three months she went to see him almost every day. Eventually he lent us a hundred pounds. I am quite sure that he did it to get rid of her, because it had become obvious that otherwise she would waste his time every day for the rest of his life.

Irene and I now made the acquaintance of a friend of our neighbour the sanitary carter, who came over from Wentworthville most weekends to visit. This man was a bush carpenter. He agreed to lay out the foundations of the garage and a dunny for us, to cut and erect a frame, and organise the purchase of materials for roof and cladding. However, Irene and I would have to organise the foundations.

We borrowed a hand concrete mixer from a sympathetic neighbour; ordered sand, a couple of trailer loads of metal, and several bags of cement; and stored everything underneath the sanitary carter’s house. Our first effort at putting down concrete was the floor of our dunny, the most essential of all buildings. Irene turned the hand mixer while I shovelled sand, metal and cement into it in the proper proportions and added the appropriate amount of water. A few weeks earlier I had not even known what concrete consisted of, so it is easy to imagine with what care we poured the dunny floor, smoothed it over with a wood float, and sprinkled in just a dash of cement to give it a final finish. I do believe that that dunny floor was the most perfect piece of concrete I ever put down. It was a beautiful piece of construction, and the only pity was that it was to be forever hidden from public gaze. However, I gained considerable satisfaction afterwards in private contemplation of my handiwork.

We now had to put down the foundations of the garage, and as our land sloped to the rear, these foundations were a major work, requiring the formwork to be straight and robust. Also we had to meet a deadline, as the builder was to arrive at a set time one weekend to erect the frame. Irene and I worked all day Saturday and Sunday, then continued during the week after I came home from work, sometimes at night by lamplight, and on occasions in drizzling rain, covering the form work with old tarpaulin and newspapers to allow the concrete to dry and set. With this job finished, I began to put together the frame. Our builder arrived in the middle of this, which was just as well as I had not had any experience in squaring up, and although I knew what was required in theory, practice was lacking. Soon our builder was putting in the second hand corrugated iron on the roof, and Irene and I were putting up the weatherboards, which were to constitute the cladding. I gave the garage a coat of red lead, an undercoat, and two good coats of dark green, glossy “Dulux”. There was red piping at the corners and around the louvre windows. I painted the roof silver, and it gleamed like a mirror in the summer sun. We filled up the interior of the foundations with earth and ash, put hardwood joists across, standing on bricks, then nailed fence palings for a floor. We covered the whole with lino. One end of the garage was the wash-house-cum-laundry-cum kitchen-cum-living-room. This section had a concrete floor, two concrete tubs under a water tap, and a vitreous clay pipe poking through the concrete foundation at the back allowing sullage to spill out direct on the ground. How the building inspector ever passed it I do not know. He must have felt sympathetic towards us because we were obviously trying so hard. Such were the times.

We were the cynosure of all eyes in Cook and Want Streets. The centre of attention. I think all the neighbours were interested to see how the new immigrants were getting on. Whatever else they thought of us, Irene and I certainly showed them how to work, for in that first twelve months we never stopped once.

Thus, after only four months in Australia, we moved into our own place. It was an unlined garage on what was then the far southern perimeter of Sydney. It was unsewered and stood in almost virgin bush. Goodness knows it was a modest enough achievement. But we had saved every penny we could to make this small dream come true. Not knowing the first thing about building, we had put it together ourselves with minimal help. I cannot easily express the tremendous, absurd, bursting sense of pride that Irene and I took in owning that little garage in Caringbah. No other home we ever owned in the future meant quite so much to us as that dark green timber garage with the silver corrugated iron roof.

Ch9 Pt4 Arrival in Australia

How can one give one’s first impressions of Australia at a distance of thirty-two years? I kept no notes of our first Australian landfall. I recollect that as we got off the ship at Fremantle for a stop of just a few hours, I was a little dismayed at a lean, lantern-jawed, “typical Aussie” who was trying to sell us obviously worthless and meretricious souvenirs. I was disappointed to have my intelligence insulted by a man who would shortly be a compatriot. But when we got into a bus for the trip to Perth, I was enchanted by the small, neat, fibro and weatherboard cottages, whose corrugated iron roofs were painted prettily in reds and greens. I swore there and then that I would own one just like them, no matter what it cost me in personal effort. 

In Perth itself, I remember the beauty of the Swan River, the cleanliness and openness of the city, the lack of high rise building (at that time!). I thought that the streets were wide and gave one a sense of freedom. I liked the cool, easy, spacious layout of the big department stores. I found the easy, unselfconscious egalitarianism of everybody positively marvellous after that cramped English society which I had left – where everybody classified everybody else in the social scale as soon as he opened his mouth. The nasalness of Australian speech hit my ear with sledgehammer effect as if I was almost listening to a new language. But I did not find this intonation at all unpleasing. Most of the people I met seemed to have a clear idea of what they wanted to communicate, and in these circumstances the accent was of minor importance. Yes, I positively liked the Australian accent, and greatly preferred it to both glottal-stop Cockney and to nauseating plum-in-the-mouth Oxford English.

I remember that the trip across the Great Australian Bight was extremely chilly – those cold winds must have been blowing up from the South Pole. Even so, we had frequent clouds of flying fish fluttering up out of the water for a few moments ahead of the ship, then dropping back again. 

We by-passed Adelaide, but had a forty-eight hour stop in Melbourne. There we looked up Max and his wife Alice. Max was the son of a friend of Irene’s mother with whom both Irene and I had a passing acquaintance, since his mother lived close by Berta, in London. Max had escaped the Holocaust by moving to Australia just prior to the war, studying at technical college to learn English and become an electrician. He extended us his kind hospitality, and Irene and I explored Melbourne a little, moving around Flinders Street, Collins Street and St. Kilda, and having a look at such differing places as Port Phillip Bay and the Zoo.

Shortly afterwards the Ranchi was thrusting its way powerfully northwards in very fine weather, with the east coast of Australia, green and beautiful, about half a mile across the blue water on the portside bow. We reduced speed as we approached Sydney, and the evening before berthing went to sleep with feelings of intense excitement. The following morning, we were up on deck immediately after breakfast to see the entrance into Sydney Harbour. 

We came through the Heads with no indication of what lay before us. But suddenly there was the huge harbour with large rocky areas of bushland rapidly disappearing into urban development. Just ahead there swung into view the immense “coat hanger” of the Harbour Bridge. Having seen photographs of it many times, it was so familiar yet somehow more imposing and breathtaking than we had ever dreamt. I knew the moment I saw this that I was home. I knew somehow in the marrow of my bones, that although I might regret England and Europe many times in my life, Australia was the true place where I really ought to be.

We spent a while in the gloom of the Customs sheds at Woolloomooloo wharf, and it was from this large and disorganised checkpoint that Oll and Alma rescued us. He was tall, bespectacled, fortyish, bald and nasal. She was shorter, rounder, but equally nasal and one hundred per cent Australian. They were both extremely friendly, kind and hospitable. They took us by taxi to Wynyard Station, where we boarded a train for their home in Campsie. Oll had decorated the sunroom in bright colours, and a bed, cupboard and chairs were set aside for us. Everything possible was done to make us feel welcome and at ease. We had our meals with Oll’s family, and we were shown typical Australian hospitality. They were a great family, and my gratitude to them and admiration for them has always been unbounded.

For a week we took it easy, looking around, trying to find our bearings and somehow adjust to this new atmosphere. After the first forty-eight hours of fine weather it began to rain. Some people said it was the worst rain in living memory. I wanted to get a job, but I wanted it to be the right job. The trouble was, I had no idea what the right job for me would be. I was painfully conscious of my lack of any skill, apart from good literacy, which I suppose was something. I began to traipse the sodden streets of Sydney, looking for employment, and exactly at this time ugly rumblings started to come from the coalfields. Jobs seemed to be drying up. But I landed a stop-gap one with the Department of Local Government, at that time situated in an old colonial building on the corner of Bridge Street and Macquarie Street. Then the big coal strike of 1949 broke out. Industry was brought to a standstill, power was cut off almost continuously, people cooked on primus stoves and by the light of candles. Train services were cut back to an absolute minimum during the week and virtually ceased altogether at weekends. All this was happening in a country where labour was short and where there should have been a good living for everyone!

I found it all the more unbelievable because economic conditions were so far ahead of what we had known in England. Unrationed meat literally festooned the shop windows. You could buy as much chocolate as you liked. The greengrocer shops displayed unlimited tropical fruits – bananas in huge bunches, as well as such esoteric things as custard apples and paw paws, things which we had never known in England in the years of peace, let alone during and just after the war. Clothes, too, were in unlimited supply, of good quality and material, and not subject to rationing. The country was rich. What was everybody complaining about?

With the real commencement of the coal strike, factories began to close down all over Sydney for want of power. All of a sudden, thousands were out of work, and I was grateful for my local government job. It did not pay a princely wage by any means, but at least I had a small income to keep the wolf from the door and allow us to live. At this stage many of the Ranchi passengers with whom we were still in touch found themselves stranded. Some lost heart and booked return passages to England, feeling homesick and dispirited by the totally unexpected and quite catastrophic unemployment resulting from the coalminers’ strike.

We had given Oll our word that we would leave his house within a week of arrival. It was a promise that we were unable to keep because of the restrictions imposed by the strike. On his side, he had agreed to accommodate us for six months when he had secured our nomination. It was a contract that we certainly did not want to hold him to. 

But with transport so limited, particularly at weekends when I was free, it became extremely difficult to search for alternative accommodation.

CH9 Pt3 Ceylon / Sri Lanka

Finally, at midnight, like a cork out of a bottle, we left the Gulf and the ship thrust itself into the Red Sea. The next day it was glistening water on either side, sweltering heat, porpoises and clouds of flying fish emerging with a whirring sound from the water, flitting through the air for several yards before falling back into the sea.

We stopped briefly at Aden: an incredibly rocky and barren place, rising straight out of the sea. From the ship we saw several white houses, a clock tower and various wireless aerials rising from the summits of rugged slopes. The vendors in their cockleshell boats were similar to those at Port Said except that they seemed to be mostly African or Indian. There were none of the half-Europeanised Arabs such as one found in Egypt. African divers swam about the ship as we looked over the rail.

“Throw! Throw! Hi! You got sixpence? Throw!”

Thus far east then, has the English language penetrated, and thus far the tentacles of the old British Empire, now sadly disintegrating. The divers diligently avoid a police launch. The crew, smartly dressed with black puttees and black fezzes, stands stiffly to attention. I notice particularly the flag fluttering at the launch’s stern. It is a British ensign with two large-sailed Arab dhows enclosed by a circle in the bottom right hand corner. How much longer will that relic of Britain last?

As we crossed the Indian Ocean, a heavy swell developed, but the stabilisers kept the ship on a reasonably even keel. It was very warm, and at night Irene and I slept on the top deck, as did at least half of the passengers on board. We were all getting to know each other fairly well, and scraps of gossip began to be bandied about the ship. Mr “A” has had a serious tiff with his wife over her supposed infatuation for Mr “B”.  Mr ”C”, a cultured man, though of a powerful physique, has quarrelled with two other passengers over the division of food at table, and has relieved himself of some most uncultured language in the process. Three young New Australians have been brought into the world since we left Tilbury, notwithstanding the fact that women more than three months pregnant were not supposed to travel. (I always suspected that our own medical examination was more than somewhat cursory). Old Tom, who has been to Aussie before, relates how, in the outback in the twenties, he was nearly speared by Aborigines, only escaping because he left a bundle of clothes in his tent wrapped up in blankets, but actually slept in the bush. Mr “X” who is a former soldier is going to drive bulldozers in open-cut coalmines, and is always making plans to bring out his wife and children whom he misses deeply. However this does not prevent him having a torrid shipboard romance with Mrs “Y” who is on her way to rejoin her husband. Mr “W”, who was stationed during the war in Sydney wonders how many of his old girl friends will be married and whether Australian beer is still as strong as it used to be. He has it in mind to marry one particular girl, and the question of employment is uppermost in his mind. That subject probably worries us all, but there is little point in considering it until we reach Australia. It is then that the “New Life” will begin.

It was about half past ten one night a week later that we began to see lights ahead – almost the first sign of land since Aden. Rapidly they became brighter and more numerous until we were passing along a channel marked with buoys which gleamed wanly, like oil lamps in the darkness. Within a short while we were well within view of the intermittent, dazzling beam of a lighthouse. Then suddenly, on the port side, a cluster of red and white lights surged towards us out of the darkness and a small white-painted launch came alongside. A rope ladder had been slung down from the Ranchi with two dangling thongs protruding. A man in a white shirt, shorts and raincoat stepped on to the side of the launch, grasped the thongs and swung himself towards the rope ladder, up which he proceeded to scramble. The pilot was coming aboard to take us into Colombo Harbour.

In the morning, we found ourselves anchored within the harbour in the company of many other vessels. The sea on the other side of the harbour wall heaved and swelled and periodically smashed itself into sparkling white smithereens against the unyielding stone. A small launch took us ashore for a rupee apiece and put us off at the main jetty. Beyond, in one of the major streets of Colombo, rickshaw coolies in loincloths and makeshift turbans, or patched shorts and battered hats pestered us to hire them.

“Take you to native quarter, bazaar, Cinnamon Gardens, sair. One rupee. Very cheap.”

“Madam! Take you for tour of Colombo. All the sights. Very cheap.”

So English is the lingua franca even in Ceylon. Australia is the next stop. Then comes New Zealand, and the next major country round the world is North America. English has indeed encircled the globe. However, the rickshaw pullers clearly do not understand the word “No”. If you tell them you don’t require their services, they grin villainously and say: “All right, sair. By and by.” They then continue to follow you, keeping up a running commentary on the attractions of Colombo.

Irene and I strolled along, following the little single decker trams until we came to a market quarter. In many ways, this resembled the Sukh in Cairo. Certainly if you closed your eyes and inhaled the awful odour of human and animal smells, cooking, and rotten fruit, you could easily imagine yourself back in Egypt. Yet the people were entirely different. There was almost no European or African racial admixture. The people were either dark brown or golden brown skinned, with straight black hair often done up in the case of the men in a bun at the back of the neck, although many had western-style haircuts. The men generally wore an ankle-length skirt of patterned material with either a shirt tucked in, or a small jacket. The women wore a similar skirt and a small bodice-cum-brassière. Most of the women seemed to take very definite pride in their appearance, and a few were strikingly beautiful. Silken saris were also frequent, and fitted most becomingly into the general picture. Some of the women were dressed western-fashion, and among the businessmen of the community one saw white ducks and white topees.

The traffic of Colombo consisted of the small, rattling, single decker municipal tramways, lean rickshaw men, trotting barefoot, with bicycle bells screwed to the shafts of their conveyances, modern motor cars, carts with curved, plaited straw awnings, drawn by incredibly small bullocks, and red double-decker buses which, incidentally, were run by a private company, and imported from England. Irene and I boarded one of these buses after seeing the native market, and travelled to Mount Lavinia, on the coast about half an hour’s ride distant.

At the time of our visit, this country had recently become independent from British rule, but was still known as Ceylon. Since 1972, it is now the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. 

We got chatting on the bus to a smartly dressed native of Ceylon. He was employed by the bus company, and spoke perfect English.

Education was free and compulsory in Ceylon, he told us. Children with the necessary ability could go to University without payment. He himself had got his school certificate, which meant that he had roughly the same education as I. My mind slipped back to a few tattered, deformed, dirty child beggars I had seen only a short while ago in the native quarter, who I am sure had never seen the inside of a school in their lives, but I thought it might be bad manners to question our friend about this on such short acquaintance. Nevertheless, our meeting strengthened my impression that Ceylon was a civilised country, which was pressing ahead. Kandy, said our friend, was the best place on the island for Europeans – elevated, picturesque and cool. It was a pity that we were stopping only a few hours. We ought to have seen Kandy.

He was evidently very enthusiastic about his country. Almost everyone on the island understood some English, although the mother tongue of most was Sinhalese. Schooling in English had fallen behind but they would pick that up – they must, for all the best technical books were written in English. Rain had drenched Ceylon for the previous three days, but we had arrived at an opportune time when the sun was shining.

Our bus ran roughly parallel with the sea on the way to Mount Lavinia, and we passed some lovely bungalows with shady verandas and orange tiled roofs, clearly the properties of wealthier inhabitants. Inevitably there was also the odd super-modern cinema with its captions in English and Sinhalese, the latter so different from the dots and squiggles of Arabic, but still looking like some weird and heavily written shorthand.

Alighting at the bus terminus, we walked along a road of orange-roofed single storey homes, past a school where dark-eyed, dark-haired boys and girls sat chanting their lessons. As we topped a green rise, our view looked down on the yellow sand and gentle surf of Mount Lavinia Beach. The pure blue sea heaved itself into long, glittering rolls sweeping shorewards and finally spreading themselves in a creamy, hissing confusion on the golden sand. And all along the beach were palm trees. But such palm trees! Incredibly tall, incredibly slender, with a green, coarse tuft of leaves at the top, and a cluster of nestling green coconuts.

After filling our eyes with the beauty of this scene, Irene and I went up to the Mount Lavinia Hotel, an imposing building at the end of the beach. We wondered whether the ten rupees, which were all the money we had brought ashore, would be enough to buy us a drink. We sat in the spacious, luxuriously furnished lounge and gazed at the dazzlingly bright beach with its background of palm trees. A waiter came to us, took our orders, and returned with two very large glasses of iced lemonade. Sixty cents for the two of us! I gave him a fair sized tip in my excess of relief.

We bought a few souvenirs for the children of Oll and Alma P in Australia, all at a very reasonable price. Then we caught a bus back to the centre of Colombo, looking down from our top front seat at the strange shops and bistros, the orange tiled houses, the cars, the rickshaws, and the policemen. The Ceylon police struck us as being fine, upstanding fellows. They were tall, well-built, dark skinned men, dressed in slouch hats, khaki jackets and shorts and black puttees. When directing the traffic, they stood on little raised pedestals in the centre of the street, with a small umbrella like arrangement suspended over them to keep off the sun.

We returned to the Ranchi, having seen as much of Ceylon as we could during the few hours allotted to us, and having spent only ten rupees, much to Irene’s delight.

Well, a penny saved is a penny earned. And in just over a fortnight, we shall arrive in Sydney, where Oll and Alma will be waiting to meet us. Then we shall need every penny we can muster. During the whole of this trip, we have spent slightly less than five pounds. Other migrants have spent several hundreds. If they have money, then they may well have more money than sense. As for us, we don’t expect to get it easy. We are preparing for a struggle. England is a long way behind. But we don’t feel homesick.

We are going home – not leaving it.

Ch9 Pt2 On the Ranchi to Suez

In the past the authorities at Australia House, despite a pile of correspondence and repeated interviews, had always regretted that they could do little to help us. Now they made up for all their previous dilatoriness. Medical examinations and an interview with a selection committee followed each other rapidly. Finally, four months after Oll’s nomination, on my twenty-seventh birthday, we received a telegram from Australia House saying that we were due to sail within the week. 

Hurried goodbyes were said. It was impossible to visit all our friends and relatives. I resigned from the London County Council and got my severance pay. In twenty four hours, Irene sold all the furniture and other articles in our flat which we had saved every penny to buy. We made arrangements for a carrier to take charge of a large trunk containing all the personal belongings we wanted to take to Australia. Getting that trunk down four flights of narrow, twisting, old-fashioned stairs was a back-breaking job.

One late morning in May, we said goodbye to my father who had come to see us off at St. Pancras Station. We had taken leave of my own mother and Irene’s mother previously. Neither had wanted to come to the station for fear of becoming upset.

Even in 1949, if one went to Australia, one did not come back for a long time. The airfare was beyond the capacity of the ordinary working man, and the duration of the trip was such that most people could only afford to make it once or twice in a lifetime. In a way it was, to most English people, still a sort of transportation sentence.

We were never to see my mother again. We saw Irene’s mother once more. I was privileged, however, to enjoy four protracted visits with my father, some in Australia, some in England, before he eventually passed away.

Our train had been specially laid on for migrants bound for Australia, and we thus had a sense of common destiny, and of leaving the land of our birth quite possibly forever. We piled out of the train at Tilbury, on the Thames Estuary. The railway terminus was very close to the dockside. We had barely time to touch the English earth of the quay in valediction before we found ourselves walking up the gangplank and aboard the P and O liner Ranchi.

We were ten people to a large cabin, males in one cabin, females in another, of course. It was certainly not a luxury cruise, but compared with what we had known in the army, and considering the fact that the journey was free of cost, neither Irene nor I had any complaints at all. We thought that it was a very fair thing. When our bags were stacked, we went up on deck. My thoughts were mixed as I looked at the broadening estuary as it merged with the sea. We were taking our last look for many years – perhaps for always at the “Old Dart” – England – the country which had moulded me, the country which had confined me, my parents and my grandparents to the “lower orders” of society. Yet it was also the country that had offered Irene and her mother, and many other thousands of refugees, protection from a tyrannical Nazi regime. It was ironic that tolerant, kindly England, which had given life to so many of the downtrodden, had at the same time forced so many of her sons and daughters to seek a better life elsewhere. As I leant on the paint encrusted rail of the SS Ranchi, looking at the cranes on the murky wharf side, the waving groups of well-wishers, and the squat sheds became silhouetted against a lowering sky. I reflected how strange it was that a worldwide English speaking brotherhood had evolved, very largely as a result of an enormous emigration from this tiny island.

The voyage of the Ranchi was uneventful. From Tilbury docks we made a straight run for Port Said. One afternoon ten days later, we drew slowly towards the indistinct outlines of the ships and buildings of this gateway to the east. An hour later we were steaming slowly into the actual harbour.

As we drifted past the big ocean-going ships, the palm trees, the buildings with their signs in Arabic and English, a mosque-like edifice which appeared to be a hotel, and the yellow cement police station, we were surrounded by rowing boats filled with merchandise. Below us swam a brilliant array of multi-coloured handbags, pouffes and tapestry work. As the oarsmen of the little cockleshell bumboats pulled frantically to keep abreast of us, vendors stood upright and shouted hoarsely while waving brightly coloured wallets with extravagant designs of the Pyramids, camels and palm trees on them. Strings of beads, green unripe bananas, peanuts and wide brimmed straw hats were offered. As we slid to a standstill and ropes secured us to the wharf, strings with bags attached to them were thrown up to us with remarkable accuracy, money passed downwards, and Egyptian curios upwards.

A fussy little launch chugged around, flying a flag with a white crescent moon and a star on a green background. White uniformed policemen stood at its sides, with fezzes and rifles. Some of them finally climbed aboard our ship. “Watchmen” were there too, in European clothes, to see that fair trade was carried out between the passengers and the Arab salesmen below.

Egypt is a country of mixed races – African, Arab, Greek, Italian and Turk mingle here. Some of the vendors and policemen have white skins, others dark, and there are all manner of shades in between. All this I have seen before, but I got the same thrill as when I first steamed into Port Said with a boatload of troops one black and silent night in 1946. As for Irene, she was as excited as I had ever seen her, dashing here and there and talking to everybody in Arabic.

I noticed particularly that the vendors took great care to exorcise the more colourful flights of English from their conversation. No doubt one converses with tourists, (which they undoubtedly thought we were), on a slightly higher plane than with the rough and licentious soldiery. However, they exercised their usual technique of asking three times as much for an article as it was really worth, and then allowing themselves to be beaten down. Irene bought a wide brimmed straw hat for four shillings when twelve and sixpence had been originally asked. I got a piece of tapestry work depicting mosques, minarets, camels and Bedouin for Alma P, wife of our sponsor in Australia. The price asked originally was three pounds fifteen shillings, but we got it for one pound five shillings and six cigarettes. We had still probably been swindled. But bargaining is fun.

Night falls at last. The dirty waters of Port Said twinkle and shimmer in the glare of the wharfside lights, just as they must have done every night since my last visit there; just as they would do for interminable nights into the future. Astern of us, dancing on the skyline, are the winking lights of the city’s night spots. A few vendors still row around hopefully below us, with lanterns illuminating the wares in their little boats.  

The big, black water barges pull away, and the floating pipe, which has been pouring oil into the Ranchi from ashore, is withdrawn. We are due to sail at half past ten and for the greater part of the night we shall be creeping through the Suez Canal.

At exactly ten thirty a police launch comes alongside, and a Suez Canal official climbs aboard. His business does not occupy him very long. He leaves. The gangplank is hauled up by a team of Indian seamen, and we begin to crawl through the Suez Canal. The sandy banks are walled up to a few feet above water level so that they will not cave in. The scenery is mostly barren – sand – the odd clump of palm trees – occasional bare military encampments. At night, every ship passing along the Canal switches on a powerful searchlight in its bows, and the murky waters, with their navigable depths marked by buoys, are lit up for many yards ahead. During the day the waters of the Suez Canal are green, and seem faintly stagnant. Often clouds of mud appear in the ship’s wake as it slides cautiously along. According to the charts, the average depth of the Canal is between 35 and 40 feet.

The Suez Canal was opened in 1869, and is 87½ miles in length. Of this 66½ miles is actual canal, and the rest of the distance is made up of channels dredged through Lake Timsah, and the Great and Little Bitter Lakes. Traffic is controlled by thirteen signal stations alongside the Canal. We passed through the greater part of the Canal at night, but in the morning crept slowly through Lake Timsah and were able to see the township of Ismailia, looking strikingly green and prosperous against the barren yellow landscape. This town was to be badly shelled in one of the later Israeli-Egyptian conflicts. We saw also big, dirty dredges, with their equally dirty crews. Approaching Suez we passed a massive war memorial erected on a hillock of sandstone, and bearing the legend: “Défense de Suez 1914-1918.”

It was on the day that we passed through the Suez Canal that our stewards appeared in all-white uniforms. The head steward, with his black and gold epaulettes, looked like some South American admiral.

In the late afternoon we came to the end of the monotonous Suez Canal. During the last stretch, between the Bitter Lakes and the Gulf, we came across bomb craters by the side of the Canal, and the twisted and torn hulls of ships which had been sunk during the Second World War and hoisted out of the water on to the sandy bank. Suddenly, there was Suez on our right: white houses, palm trees, macadamised roads, square harbour, and an Egyptian ship lying at anchor and letting off vociferous steam. A busy tug approached, our pilot climbed down the side of our ship and stepped into it. The tug veered away, and suddenly the Ranchi’s engines thundered and we started to put on speed.

That night we steamed at full tilt down the Gulf of Suez, while behind us the waters tumbled and foamed madly. Earlier in the evening, while the light lasted, barren rocky desert had been visible on either side. Now it was pitch black and we were really pounding along. A following wind, created the effect on deck that the air was still, and it was very warm. The smoke from the Ranchi’s huge black funnel poured straight up into the sky, and the night was glorious with stars.

Ch9 Pt1 Sponsorship to Australia

“They’ve published it,” said Irena. 

She held out a short typewritten note to me.

Dear Sir,

Your letter to The Editor was published in ‘The Sun’ today, and we have pleasure in enclosing a cutting.

                “Yours faithfully ………..”

It was signed by The Associate Editor of the Sydney Sun.

“Well,” I said, “let’s hope it will help us to get on our way to Australia.”

Irene and I were in the small upstairs flat near Notting Hill Gate that we had been lucky enough to rent after our marriage early in 1947. The letter, which had just reached us after journeying half way across the world from Sydney to London, was the result of our latest effort to obtain a sponsor to bring us to Australia.

We had decided many months ago that our future lay in Australia. The idea of migrating had been at the back of my own mind for a long time. After the war it was resurrected by the publicity given to the country by its “Food Parcels for Britain” scheme. The Australian Government also initiated a drive for British migrants. The problem was to obtain berths on the limited number of overcrowded ships.

During the war in Britain we had seen quite a few Australian airmen who were regularly engaged on bombing raids over Germany. Also one saw occasional Australian sailors. I do not recall ever meeting any Australian soldiers. After their stint in the Middle East the Australian Prime Minister of the time, John Curtin, had withdrawn them to Australia to fight the Japanese in New Guinea. This was after a ferocious but well-concealed row with the British Prime Minister Churchill who thought that Australia was expendable, and could be liberated from the Japanese after the defeat of the Germans in Europe and North Africa.

Irene had known a few Australians in Cairo. They were rather notorious for misbehaving themselves and taking bars and bistros apart. She said that basically they were lonely and frustrated, and weren’t really bad at heart.

The Agents General for all the Australian States were in the west end of London, and most of them in The Strand. Thus I could walk across Waterloo Bridge from the Headquarters of the London County Council where I worked and read the Australian newspapers, which were always on display during the lunch hour. I did this for two years so that when the time eventually came for us to go, I felt that I knew as much about modern Australia as I did about England, and when we got there, I would not be a stranger. I also read as many books on Australia and Australian history as I could find in the library with the object of making mental preparation for the future.

Irene was not happy with the London climate after the openness and sunshine of the Middle East. The dirty streets oppressed her and the cold winter chilled her to the bone. Moreover, she viewed with alarm the renewed activities of Sir Oswald Mosley’s fascist hooligans, and wondered how many of her friends who thought she was German would still have been her friends had they known that she was not only German but Jewish. Remember that the clap-trap mouthed by these young fascist thugs who openly began to hold meetings in London was identical with Hitler’s ravings which had encompassed the death of most of Irene’s family little more than three years previously.

Sir Oswald Mosley, by the way, who addressed fascist meetings in the east end, dressed in jackboots and black riding breeches and shirt in pre-war years, had been interned during the war. It was always a mystery to me why the authorities did not shoot him. Instead, with that tolerance for which Britain was at one time famous, they let him loose again.

If these things made Irene begin to doubt the wisdom of continuing to reside in London, I saw the city as a huge stone and concrete prison. A kind of claustrophobia gripped me when I walked its dusty streets, devoid for miles of a single blade of healthy green grass.

The general economic situation at this time was also most depressing, and a sense of urgency began to prick at my mind. I was in my late twenties, beginning to look towards thirty, and I had achieved nothing, neither did I seem to have any prospects. Apart from these things, however, there was another even more important matter thrusting me towards pulling up stakes and starting afresh. Quite simply, I had a quite dreadful personal vision of the England of the future.

I saw the rich getting continuously richer and the poor getting poorer. I saw a country with decreasing access to raw materials and a need to rely increasingly on superior technology to import food and resources necessary for its survival. But who could guarantee that with increasing competition, English manufacturing excellence would continue to be triumphant? Beyond this, the tight little island was grossly overcrowded. Furthermore, the nation had always been riven by class distinction and had never been a true meritocracy with equal opportunity. I saw this inequality and class distinction tearing England apart.

I did not foresee racial strife, because West Indian and Commonwealth immigration had barely begun. What I did see, however, was the spectre of nuclear war.

Already we had been almost brought into conflict with our recent allies, the Russians, over the Berlin question – where that city had been divided into four segments under British, American, French, and Russian control.

There was no way in the world that I would have joined up again to fight the Russians, and I am sure that a very large number of ex-servicemen at that time would have been of the same mind. But it was crystal clear that Russia was to become the next enemy. Nuclear bombs had won the war against Japan, with what terrible effect everybody knew. How long would it be until the Russians mastered the technology and laid waste to England?

These, then, were our reasons for wanting to get to Australia. We were held up because of lack of shipping following the war. The Jumbo aircraft of the modern era had not yet been developed, and all travel to the Antipodes was by ship. The Australian Government, in its drive for migrants, was offering free passage to ex-service personnel. But in order not to prejudice the housing situation in Australia, which was very restricted after five years of war in which little building had been permitted, it was necessary for each migrant who was not a skilled tradesman to have a sponsor. This individual would guarantee board and lodging for six months in Australia. Irene and I had no known relatives in Australia, neither had we discovered any friends who had contacts. Therefore, to accelerate processing of our immigration application we had to find a sponsor. This was the reason for my letter to the Sydney Sun. The letter read as follows:

           Waiting, Hoping ……..

                My wife and I first decided to migrate in 1946, and long before the present ‘free and assisted passages’ scheme came into operation, we were investigating at Australia House here in London, generally gleaning all the information about it that we could.

                There are now about 750,000 applicants for free and assisted passages registered with the authorities – and the list is getting longer every day. So it would seem that if government-assisted migrants eventually leave at the rate of 50,000 a year, a wait of “some years” for those without priority such as my wife and myself may mean 15 years!

                In desperation my wife and I booked private passages with the P and O Line. We should be broke when we reached Australia, but at least we should get there while still young enough to feel ourselves part of the country.

                We were told at the time that we would have to wait 18 months for a berth. Today, more than a year afterwards, we are informed that the shipping position has worsened, and that a wait of three years is envisaged before tourist berths become available.

                When such difficulties and delays are put in one’s way, one feels at times like accepting the fact that one is beaten. Only at times, however, because we intend to come to your country no matter how long it takes, and to settle there.

                I wonder, nevertheless, if there is any reader of your newspaper who would care to nominate a would-be immigrant and his wife — both ex-service, and not afraid to work and learn? 

                When we get settled in Australia, we know at least one family whom we in turn shall nominate.”

About a fortnight after receipt of notification of publication of this letter, we received a further letter from a Mr P, of Campsie, Sydney, New South Wales. Mr P informed us that his parents, to his everlasting regret, had christened him Oliver, and begged us to call him “Oll” for short. He also told us that he would nominate us for a free passage if we received no other offers of help. As it turned out, we did not receive any other offers. Thus, a few weeks later Oll, true to his word, and despite the fact that he and his wife had five children, and his own house was, if anything, overcrowded, had nominated us.

Oll was employed at the GPO in Martin Place (now Martin Plaza), in Sydney. He was an upright, honest, hard working Australian gentleman, who took a chance on a couple of complete strangers. I added him and his wife Alma to my very special list of people whom I regarded it as a privilege to have known.

Ch 2 p 4 Mum and School.

My mother’s maiden name was Eleanor Alice Hunt. She was born at London Fields, Hackney.  On the birth certificate her father was shown as Arthur Hunt and her mother as “Ellen” Hunt. This should have been “Eleanor”, and was an example of my grandfather’s airy disregard for detail in official matters. He always called my grandmother “Ellen”, and if it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for the Registrar. My grandfather’s profession was shown as “Butcher”.

My mother spent most of her life up to the Second World War in Frampton Park Road, Hackney, she and my father taking possession of the two top rooms in the house after their marriage in 1921. As a boy, I used to climb a sycamore tree in the back garden that had been planted by my mother as a seed when she was a child. 

My mother did well at school scholastically, but with money needed to help with the household expenses, she left at the age of fourteen and started work as a machinist at a local shirt factory. She pursued this occupation until her marriage to my father, after which she devoted herself to looking after the household and her children.

My earliest recollections of my mother are of a fair haired, very attractive, bluish-green eyed woman who loved me probably above all else in the world. To my father, she was “his girl”, and he cherished her and remained scrupulously faithful to her until the end of his life. My mother had long, naturally wavy hair that she subsequently had bobbed in the fashion of the time, and used to curl with hot tongs. She never wore make-up, which for some reason she disliked. Many women eschewed make-up in those days. I think it may have had something to do with the Victorian concept that only “fast” women wore that sort of stuff.

My mother had a true Cockney sense of humour and like my grandmother, she worked hard. She kept our two rooms scrupulously clean at Frampton Park Road, and I have a whole range of memories of her kneeling on a piece of sacking and scrubbing the lino flooring (we used to call it “oil cloth” in those days in London). I also remember her and my grandmother stoking up the copper in the Wash House to do the weekly wash, manipulating the heavy mangle amidst clouds of steam, scrubbing on the scrubbing board, and hanging out interminable rows of sheets and clothes in the back yard.

Having lived all her life in the east end of London, and drawing the conclusion that any sensible person would arrive at, my mother’s ambition was for her children to lift themselves out of the ignorance and poverty of our environment, and to this end she always tried to direct us.

When I first went to Infant School, in Paragon Road, Hackney, opposite the Public Library and the big Telephone Exchange, my mother used to take me there in the morning. Every afternoon she would bring with her an old tin can that we would place on the tram lines running along adjoining Mare Street. When a tram came along I would shout with laughter as it rattled past and squashed the tin flat in a most satisfying manner. 

After the Infant School, I received my education at three other schools. These were, the Hackney Free and Parochial School, which was the elementary school and stands to this day in St. John’s Churchyard, Hackney. Then by the grace of scholarships and my parents’ scheming to finance me, I progressed to Upton House Central School, and one step higher to Parmiter’s Foundation Secondary School.

However, the Hackney Free and Parochial School will always be My School, for there I spent my happiest childhood days. There the teachers seemed to have a real interest in their pupils. 

Of all my teachers I remember best Mr Bowles, a small man with large horn rimmed spectacles, but how well he knew his job of handling boys. Tragedy struck him during my later years at the school when he lost his wife. I wonder if Mr Bowles ever knew how my childish heart overflowed with sympathy for him then? I remember too fierce, bald headed Mr Atkins, the history master. He stirred my imagination with tales (delivered with fine histrionics) of the sabre toothed tiger, prehistoric man, and the first Roman invaders of Britain. On one occasion also, when I was standing in front of the class he gave me the biggest clout I had ever received from anyone for turning away when he was speaking to me. I suppose I deserved it. The next year Mr Atkins offered a book as a prize for the best historical essay and I won it. Mr James, too, springs into my vision, the kindly, grey moustached headmaster who called all his pupils by their Christian names and always had time to listen to any one of them. We all rather looked up to Mr James. Apart from his kindness and obvious ability, he was the only member of the staff who had a university degree.

And, of course, no Hackney Parochial boy who was there with him could ever forget “Jimmy” Hollick, a veritable Mr Chips. Jimmy had himself been a pupil at the school in the eighteen seventies, subsequently becoming a student teacher, and then being promoted to the full status of master. He was tall, hoarse voiced and very short sighted. His suits were always impeccably tailored and sat well on his broad boned but spare frame. He wore pebble glasses with extraordinarily thick lenses, and had to hold papers within a couple of inches of his wrinkled face in order to read them. He was the deputy headmaster, a Hackney local boy who had made good.          

After Mr James’ retirement, Jimmy Hollick became head until, in the early days of the war, a piece of shrapnel received during an air raid put out the sight of one of his failing eyes and ended his teaching days for ever. He was a good man with a fine understanding of children. Jimmy specialised in the teaching of geography. It was he who slung a map across the blackboard one day and first said to me the magic name “Australia”.     

Jimmy Hollick and Mr Bowles used to take the swimming classes together at the local (indoor) baths. At different times during the day, classes of boys would form up in a row in the school playground, “quick march” through the little gate into the silent, tree-filled Hackney Churchyard, then up and across to busy Mare Street. We used to get about half an hour of actual swimming, two boys sharing a small “box” with an inadequate wooden seat to dress and undress. Leaning precariously over the edge of the pool, and generally getting themselves soaked in the process, Jimmy and Mr Bowles would encourage breathless boys to hang on to the bar and make appropriate leg movements, yelling to make themselves heard above the din. Or else they would induce some intrepid young man who had almost mastered the art to allow his arms to be fitted into a couple of loops hanging from an overhead wire and then be lugged up to the deep end, puffing and blowing and madly waving his arms and legs.     

I never saw Jimmy Hollick actually swim, but Mr Bowles once donned a bright blue costume and volunteered to take part in a race. However, he gave up half way, informing us that he was unable to see where he was going without his glasses. We all readily accepted the explanation at the time; indeed it rather tickled our boyish sense of humour. However, in the light of adult experience, I look upon it with some scepticism, believing that Old Bowlsiefound the exertion of the race too much for him and decided to give it away.

Every Christmas, partitions which divided three classrooms at the school would be folded back so that one large hall was formed. A wooden platform was erected at one end, curtains were rigged up, and each class set about devising a sketch or short play. I remember that I took the part of the heroine in a cowboy melodrama at one of these Christmas shows. I can’t remember the plot. But I know that all rules of chivalry went by the board, because I had a tremendous life and death struggle with the villain of the piece, falling over and severely bumping my head on one of the iron desks in the process. The villain was well and truly plugged by the hero’s six guns, and the curtain fell as I swooned (very nearly literally) in his arms. The gun reports, horses’ hoof beats, and so on were provided by our effects man who stood hidden behind a small curtain, knocking the usual coconuts together and striking the blackboard with a hammer. We looked forward to Christmas at that school, and thoroughly enjoyed our annual show.

I left eventually and went to other schools, but I never enjoyed them half as much, except when a very fine linguist by the name of Algernon Montgomery taught me the first elements of French at the Upton House Central School. I learnt the elements of algebra, geometry, trigonometry and mechanics and promptly forgot them. I gained some knowledge of biology, physics and chemistry. At Parmiter’s Foundation, history meant mostly learning long strings of dates and any understanding of this subject I may possess was picked up mostly from reading books after I left school. The best thing that I retained from my education was an excellent knowledge of French phonetics and later of the language itself. I liked this and had a bent for it. I was then spewed out into the world equipped with a School Certificate and good for little else but pushing a pen.

I had failed to matriculate because in changing from one school to another I had missed out on some basic mathematics, and had never been able to pick them up. Mathematics was a compulsory subject in matriculation in those days, and if you failed in that it mattered not at all how good you might be in other subjects. After the war I found that every worthwhile avenue of study was barred to me unless I went back to the beginning and matriculated all over again. This I was unwilling to do, and the absence of any concession in this regard was one of many reasons why I finally left England and went to Australia. 

I mentioned at my last school that I would like to go in for journalism. I personally wrote to some forty or fifty newspapers, but was unable to get a traineeship with any of them. Thankfully, my school found me a job on The Hairdressers Journal, a trade paper run by Messrs. Osborne and Garrett, known as “Ogee’s”. This was a Soho firm that made hairdressers’ equipment and ran a large department store for the public and the trade. It was at this office that I started work at the age of sixteen some months before the outbreak of the 1939 – 1945 World War 2.

What is Jim’s Book?

Jim loved writing. At nineteen his goal in life was to be a top notch journalist. His first step on the ladder was for a hairdressing magazine in Soho, London. Despite WW2 intervening, changing his career, and moving across the world to Australia, Jim continued to write stories, poetry and his diaries.

A lifetime later, he compiled his notes and recounted his life on typewritten pages, which he then bound and presented to his daughter Trish.