|Country of Origin
|Date of Birth
|Year of Arrival in Australia
‘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 June 26th 1966. That means that I am privileged to have lived in this beautiful country, Australia, for the past 40 years.
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 were 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.
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 learned 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 Holden’s auto plant in Elizabeth were non-existent 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 5 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 no where 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.
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.