Marie Constance Margaret Davidson and the Cunningham family.
|Town/City||Dingley Village / Melbourne|
|Country of Origin||England|
|Date of Birth||1957|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1966!|
|Submitted by||Marie Davidson|
From a small Mancunian child I always considered that the turnstiles of life swept my family through from a life of dirty polluted rivers, and unimaginable unemployment and the certainty of poverty. This had we not immigrated to Australia in the 60’s, would have led to a huge decline in the way our middle class life had treated us so well, so far.
I never considered my real status in Australia until recently. When I was a child, I came to Australia with my family. I lost my Mancunian accent as quickly as possible in order to assimilate.
Recently I came in possession of a book titled “Ten Pound Poms, Australia’s Invisible Immigrants”.
I must admit I was a bit taken aback, I have no doubts about my heritage but I did not realise that we were chosen to blend in with the post war “White Australia Policy” and that we were chosen as those who could fit in with the greatest of ease. With the exception of Elizabeth in Adelaide and BHP there were very few ” enclaves” and the reasons that these places became so were that they flowed out of the migrant hostels and into the Housing Trust houses which were built like a ” process line” for buyers and renters alike and into the mass employment of Holden Auto Planting Elizabeth and BHP Steelmakers and the Shipyards in Whyalla.
I wrote my story as a gift to my youngest sister who turned 40 on our 40th anniversary of landing in Australia. I realise it’s lengthy but until I read the book I have described I didn’t realise that the “Ten Pound Pom” wasn’t considered “enough of a person” to actually have a history worth mentioning. I’m here to tell you that we did. When people read my sisters story at her 40th party, they said ” this is my story” without exception. It was then that I realized….. This wasn’t our story, this was the tale of the “immigrant child …. 40 years on” and so the new title of the story was born.
The Immigrant Child – 40 Years On
As I shopped today for a birthday card for my youngest sister, for her 40th birthday, I realised that she was three months old when we left England on July 26th 1966. That means that I am privileged to have lived in this beautiful country, Australia, for the past 40 years.
Why we left Manchester.
As a seven year old child my lasting memories of the land of my birth, Manchester, England, were of dirty polluted air and canals and derelict housing estates. Our neighbours were being herded into high rise apartments and the Coal Mines were closing down. Fortunately, we left before the real brunt of those closures was felt in the burgeoning rise in unemployment.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were some really positive aspects to living in Manchester. We had the family support of our extended family, an abundance of grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and were very involved in the church as we all attended the local catholic school. We had the freedom to explore our local stomping grounds and I know for a fact that my parents would cringe at some of the spots we visited, even though I was in the care of two older brothers.
My parents were an unlikely union at the time, my father being Irish and my mother English but I think it was made easier in those times, due to the fact that my mother had converted to Catholicism some years before they met. My father was a hard working man who provided well for his family despite the fact that he had a very sad and disadvantaged upbringing himself in Ireland.
We left England with 6 children, as “Ten Pound Poms” on June 26th 1966 and we were absolutely amazed to find the streets of our neighbourhood lined with well wishers eager to cheer us on our journey. This was a great adventure we were realising, one that most people could not even imagine embarking upon, even in their wildest dreams. Australia was just so far away, and to leave family and friends behind was inconceivable to most. Many people had not even ventured out of Manchester in their whole lives.
About the journey.
After what seemed like a never ending train journey from Manchester, we boarded the cruise ship the “Fairstar” at Southampton for what was to be the first real holiday we had ever had. Can you imagine the delight we had at six weeks of free movies, our choice of swimming pools, wonderful food and sights we had never even heard of? We attended school every morning and learnt about decimal currency and what to expect in the way of flora and fauna in our newly adopted country, Australia. We arrived in Fremantle and then sailed on to Adelaide, arriving on August 19th, my brother’s tenth birthday and felt eager to find our land legs.
Sadly, the abundant jobs my father was told existed at the Holdens auto plant in Elizabeth were nonexistent and he spent many days waiting outside the “Labour exchange” waiting for… anything at all to come up. He did however make lasting friendships as they waited and searched for work.
In the meantime we lived in a Migrant Hostel. In Nissan huts with no air conditioning, communal dining and no TV or radio and I guess most importantly, no razor wire keeping us in. As children we had the freedom to explore our surroundings and made friends easily at our new schools, even if we were called Ten Pound Poms. It made us work very hard at adapting our speech until in no time we looked and sounded like our fellow Aussies. We were in heaven!!!
My mother, I think, was often sad and lonely, with a new baby and five other children under 12 years of age to care for, she was often left alone to cope whilst my father went away to find work. There were no “Centrelink” benefits in those days and rent needed to be paid for our board and lodging and our meagre savings had dwindled quickly. One of my distinct memories is of coming across my mother (always the strong one (I thought!) crying inconsolably because she hadn’t heard from my father in more than two weeks, as he had travelled up to Whyalla with a mate to find work. The rent need to be paid by the next day. There were no phones, no mobile phones, in other words no means of communication. If the rent wasn’t paid we would have to move out, we also wouldn’t have any food, this was really serious stuff, we had nowhere to turn… I was 8 years of age and it really shook me. Fortunately Dad saved the day with a telegram the next day with a money order and we survived to live another week.
Our final settlement.
My family soon moved to Whyalla and we added another boy to the family making that a total of three boys and four girls. The first shock came when we went to register the family at school, only to find that in Australia one had to pay for their education at catholic schools. In England it was free. Needless to say with 7 children on a labourers pay, it was impossible to be able to afford to send 7 children to a private school. Not that I am complaining, I received a good education as did my siblings. I must say here though, the only reason I can recall all of the words to the National Anthem of the day, “G save the Queen” is because we sang it every Monday morning at assembly for the ten years I spent at school!!! I wonder if kids still sing the National Anthem at school? We were also privileged (though we didn’t think it at the time) to have our times tables firmly etched in our minds by “sing-song” recital every morning of our primary school lives without fail. I can snap off any multiplication factor up to 12×12. My spelling is pretty good too after spelling lists and weekly tests for the same period. After we arrived in Whyalla, the first thing to hit was the heat (38-40C) in summer and of course even the lucky families only had a fan. Then there was the dust, everything was permanently coated in a thick layer of red dust. There were no roads, and no supermarkets, so my mother had to drag the baby pram backwards three miles, there and back, to a small shop, on the dirt road each day for supplies. The Supermarket and shopping centre, along with the sealed roads that followed, were a blessing. In the meantime, did we complain? Probably, but I don’t distinctly remember doing so. There were so many other things to give thanks for that one didn’t give a second thought to the negatives. I had the first shower in my life on board the Fairstar and here in Whyalla we had a shower and a bath!! In Manchester we had a tin bath in front of the fire every Saturday night. It was fun but I didn’t miss it!!! and I am sure that Mum didn’t miss having to fill it up and empty it!!!
New Values developed as part of our Immigration experience.
We spent our summers happily whiling away the hours exploring, or getting sunburnt at the local swimming pool. There were games of cricket (even the girls were allowed to play) and footy on the front lawn and when we were a little older, on the nights when it was too hot to sleep, sitting on the front veranda, quietly talking between ourselves or with the neighbours. Life was simple, every day an adventure.
In Whyalla, there were two types of homes, Housing Trust and non-Housing Trust. We lived in a three bedroom Housing Trust house and squeezed in two sets of bunks with a tiny chest of drawers in between, into two of those rooms. I know I keep saying it, but it’s true we were in heaven! We had a garden and we grew fruit and vegetables and raised chickens for their fresh eggs. Being the last house in town in those days, the ” bush” was literally over our back fence. My brothers and I explored the bush and made cubby houses in trees, found lizards and had a wonderful childhood in Whyalla. There always seemed to be a cot in my parents room and when the last of the babies moved in with the ” big” kids the “mozzie -proof” enclosed cot served well as a rabbit hutch for many years. We also managed to squeeze in a “lodger” which helped to pay the bills. These days my kids advise me that “just everyone” has their own room with a full sized double bed and their own stereo to boot.
How we assimilated.
The boys immediately embraced Aussie Rules and played for the local club. I distinctly remember a photo of their team in the local paper titled “League of Nations” I think from memory there were 23 different nationalities between the under 12’s and under 14’s combined. It really was multi-culturalism at its best! I don’t think I met my first true blue Aussie for about three years after we arrived in Australia!! Initially people clung to their roots and gradually, blended in to the Australian way of life. In a small country town with lots of migrants, that was just how it happened. I guess in retrospect, it wasn’t so easy for the non – English speaking migrants but their children and then the next generation just became “Aussies” longing more than ever to fit in. The aboriginal kids at our school came from well respected members in the community and most aboriginal kids excelled at sport. I can quite honestly say that I never heard a racially motivated comment levelled at any person, in the whole of my school years in Whyalla.
I have many pleasant memories of going to cabarets with mum and dad and being taught to dance. The risk my parents took, in throwing caution to the wind to seeking a better life for their children, was enormous. I realise now, my parents sadness and longing to see family and friends and we mainly socialised in those days with Irish and English couples in the early years. I also understand now also, why refugees for instance, form enclaves. There is a sense of safety in numbers and being valued and not judged. Everyone one wants to feel that they have a sense of belonging. My parents were founding members of the Irish Australian Association in Whyalla and there were great music and dancing events and BBQ’s for all the family. The girls all became ” Irish Dancers” (I was hopelessly “unco” when it came to the reels so I never joined them) but Dad was a great Irish dancer and spun the reels with the best of them.
The Crown Jewels – we became ” Australians”.
The years seem to have passed by quickly and of my parents seven children, we were all honestly, gainfully and professionally employed. Not a bad effort I think. If we had stayed in Manchester, we would have ended up in the housing estates we see portrayed on TV dramas such as “The Bill”. How many of us would have been employed I wonder? How many of us would have turned to drugs and crime? All but one of us has married and there are now 13 of the next generation, the first of whom is getting married this year and is already buying her own home. My parents and most of my siblings own our own homes and live reasonably comfortable lives.
If we had stayed in England, it would have possibly been an issue that none of us married other Catholics. I am married to an atheist, my other siblings to various other denominations. My youngest sister married a Greek man, in the Greek Orthodox church, to keep his parents happy. They did however have their marriage vows renewed the next day in the Catholic church as they didn’t feel married because they couldn’t understand the service!! My parents said that you marry who you love and who loves you and placed no restrictions on us. It is interesting though, that of all of us, I am the only one who educated my children in the catholic system and my children are the only ones to have made all of their sacraments. Laziness? No I think it was simply that they had a choice and they made it. It was more important to me and so I followed my own choice. My children now make their own choices and don’t attend church and may decide not to educate their children in the Catholic system. That’s the beauty of living in Australia; we can make our own choices. In England we would all have educated our children in the Catholic system, as it would have been expected.
I love my country, I am a naturalised Australian and totally proud of it. I feel a great sense of pride when I hear the national anthem or I see a great Aussie achievement on TV or anywhere for that matter, and my heart swells and my eyes tear up. I support Australia first and foremost in all of our sporting, political and other challenges. Last year, on my first trip to the UK since I left there, I travelled on my Aussie passport to England, Ireland and France and came home so glad that I lived in this wonderful country, Australia. We really do live in the best country in the world.
Yes, there are issues in our country which need to be addressed.
The Public Health system is in some areas, sadly lacking and I find it very sad, and totally inappropriate that the sick and the elderly are placed on such long waiting lists for surgery and the like. The elderly, after all created the lifeblood of this country and they are cast off so easily in what should be, their golden years. This is particularly evident in isolated regions.
My biggest concern of all is the Mental Health issue, particularly in the Public Sector where I am appalled at the treatment, or lack of it, and the condition of the various Psychiatric Units. The poor care of our mentally ill has led to homelessness and incarceration in so many cases. The “de-institutionalization” of many severely intellectually disabled people has seen homelessness increase and many people innapropately housed and at risk. The number of homeless people is rising at an alarming rate and there is a great shortage of affordable rental housing.
40 years on!
Still… 40 years on, I am happy that I can walk down my street and not have to worry too much about being mugged or shot at. The likelihood that I will be in a building to be bombed by terrorists is low. I am not in this lifetime likely to have to be worried about atrocities carried out by invading soldiers or civil war. The pollution levels are not likely in my lifetime to be so bad that I can’t enjoy a sunny Melbourne day. Our rivers and reservoirs are clean and monitored and I have adequate, clean drinking water. I am not likely ever, to starve to death due to lack of food supplies. My husband and I own property, and cars, we have jobs and finances for goods and services, clothing and fine dining. There are cinemas, good books to read, excellent libraries and public services. Private Health services are readily available to us, and there are excellent Private Hospitals to choose from. My children have been well educated and there are good, well paid jobs available. I can hop on a plane, on one of the safest airlines in the world, to see my family and friends and be with them in an hour, even though I live so far away from them. I am unlikely ever to experience the devastation of tsunamis, landslides or hurricanes in my country. I can find employment easily and can expect to be treated fairly in the workplace. Freedom of expression is encouraged and we live in a democratic society. I can expect to be protected and governed by our laws and know that they are in place to keep me and my fellow Australians safe. I can make my own choices within Australian Law, and follow my own religious beliefs as long as they do not interfere with the rights and safety of others.
Life is good… to my parents, my family and my fellow Australians… I have a lot to give thanks for…….40 years on!