Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of when my dad, his five siblings and his parents left for Australia.
The eight of them had only ever known the hilly lands of a town called Coulsdon in Surrey. I suppose my grandfather thought it was time to seize the opportunity of the 10 pound pom scheme and get aboard a ship to the great unknown. He made an appointment at Australia House in London, and the plan was set in motion.
My dad, the second oldest out of his siblings, was just seventeen at the time, having only been in the workforce for a year or two. He remembers telling his friend that he’d see him later, just out of habit I suppose, but they never did see each other again. I imagine it was a big upheaval for them all, especially the older kids who had mates they were leaving behind. It isn’t like these days where communication is as simple as an email. Many of those friends were never heard of again.
My aunt (Dad’s older sister), being the eldest, found it especially difficult as her roots were embedded deep in the English soil. I think she’s always had a hard time letting her home country go. She goes back there on average about once a year, and she’s about the only one who keeps in contact with the few threads of family that still remain in Surrey. My dad has no interest in going back to England because he chooses to remember the places how they were, and not how they are now. I’m still trying to convince him that there’s other places to see in England besides Surrey, but he is hard to coerce!
The ship they came out on was grand, at least compared to their standards. The Orcades was furnished to the nines, and had many luxuries they had never seen at home. It was about four weeks of restrained bliss. I believe it was also the last ship that sailed through the Suez canal for many years before war broke out.
When the family arrived in Melbourne they were supposed to be split as part of the Fairbridge scheme. The two older kids were supposed to go work on a farm. My great-aunt had come over from Adelaide to meet them, and after a bit of quick talk, it was decided the whole family would take the bus to Adelaide instead. What a different life they all could have had, and most likely not for the better, if my great-aunt hadn’t spoken up!
They all ended up in Pennington migrant hostel, which wasn’t too pleasant. Apparently the goverment deliberately made things expensive at the hostels to discourage the immigrants from staying for extended periods. One good thing my aunt remembers about the place was that it was the only time in her life that she got a room to herself.
After some time my grandfather decided on a house he wanted to live at in Athelstone, and with the exception of a move to a house not so far away (next door, in fact!) he lived there for basically the rest of his life. His wife and children took a while to adjust, but eventually they flourished. Though it was tough on the family to tear themselves loose from England, I think it turned out to be one of the best decisions my grandfather made.
I, for one, know there’s no other place I’d rather be.