Leonard Shefford

Ship name / Flight number: Fairsea

Arrival date: 07/08/1960

Recollections of a New Chum

I need to set the scene – it’s 1960. London, England, Britain was starting to recover from the war which ended only 15 years earlier but there were still frequent power blackouts.  Smog (Smoke & Fog) from coal fires was common, there were plenty of bomb damaged buildings still around, and as kids we used to play in the ruined houses.  Britain was not in recession, but the economy was a bit shaky.

The average wage in the UK for the year 1960 was between £12.00 to £14.00 per 45 Hour Week.  Juniors were of course paid only a percentage of the adult wage depending on their age.  A packet of 20 cigarettes would have set you back less than 25p in today’s money.  At the time, the average house price was £2,530, while a loaf of bread, which could finally be bought ready sliced, was the equivalent of 5p.

 The British Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan.  The Queen gave birth to her third child and second son.  Which was who? Andrew (Charles, Anne, Andrew, and later Edward)  The Princess Margaret married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, there was a big stink because he was a commoner.   Cliff Richard was the latest pop sensation and  Bridget Bardot the movie sensation.  It would not be until August that The Beatles, would perform their first concert in Hamburg, West Germany.

Clothing styles for men were distinctive but women’s fashion would probably be ok today.

 I lived in Tottenham of Spurs fame, a heavy industrial suburb, North London, This was my street.  And this is the house I lived in (looks a bit cleaner today than in 1960).  This is the main street – real inspirational!

I was 16 yrs old and had been working for 12 months – initially in a solicitor’s office on Holborn next to the Old Bailey but hadn’t found anything that turned me on.

I was enjoying life but it wasn’t enough.  I was looking for adventure and a better life.

 After seeing an advert for Australia in the paper, I went home to my mother one day and said: “Hey Mum I’m going to Australia”, She said “good, I’ll pack your bags now”.  I said “well no, not yet, I still need permission and things.”

The Big Brother Movement was a youth migration organisation.

 The critical factor limiting youth migration was understandably the natural reluctance of parents to permit the migration of their sons so far from the British Isles when they were so young and inexperienced.  The ‘Big Brother’ provision was intended to respond to parents’ fears.

 Its basic idea was simple enough: each youth emigrating (the ‘Little Brother’) would be given an adult person in Australia (the ‘Big Brother’) who would provide encouragement, advice and support during the young migrant’s early adjustment period in the new country.

The emigration process involved getting references, and having a medical and [29] then an interview at Australia House in London.

I left my Mother and Sister on 4 July 1960 – Independence Day! and emigrated to Australia.

My ship was Sitmar Line’s MV Fairsea.  It was quite small by today’s standards:  Dimensions: 492 x 69 ft (150 x 21.1 m), and around 12,000 tons, it did 16 knots on a diesel engine with a single screw.

Originally named Rio de la Plata, the immigrant ship Fairsea was built for the American shipping company Moore-McCormick Line for their passenger and cargo service between New York and the east coast of South America.

However, she never served on this intended route, for when she was launched in 1941 (during World War II), she was converted into an escort aircraft carrier (HMS Charger then USS Charger) After a brief post war period as a troop carrier, the Fairsea was rebuilt for migrant service in 1949.  In 1955, the Fairsea was chartered by the Australian Government to transport assisted immigrants from Britain, providing very basic accommodation for 1,800 passengers which she continued to do until July 1969 (81 voyages), when she ended up in the ship-breakers at La Spezia, Italy.

I was with 24 other boys ranging from 16 – 19 years. We were in large cabins with bunks on D Deck (on the water line).

As you can see from these photos we were a handsome bunch

During 5 weeks on the ship I was exposed to a whole range of foods that I had never seen in Tottenham where I lived on “school dinners” for lunch, and bread & jam for tea.  Food on the ship was mostly Italian.  I learned a lot, about alcohol, smoking (duty free), and free thinking girls.  And I can never hear the song “Volaray”! today, without thinking of hearing it every night on the voyage.

We stopped at Suez then went through the Suez Canal to Aden then over the Indian Ocean which was pretty rough then to Fremantle.

Australia in 1960 Prime Minister was Robert Menzies,  Arthur Calwell was leader of the Australian Labor Party.  The basic wage was £14.8.0 per week and like England, juniors were paid only a percentage of the adult wage depending on their age – a 16 year old didn’t get much.  Basic groceries were: Bread (4lb loaf) 18d, Milk (quart) 18d, Sugar 10d, Butter (lb) 57d, Potatoes (lb) 47d, Tea (lb) 77d

On arrival in Sydney (7 August 1960), after a medical, we were sent to a “Training Farm” at Fairfield, which was still a lot of country back then.  We lived in a dormitory and worked for our keep. Our only money was what we had paid in before we left England and was doled out to us each week.

On my first day, I was sent to the Dairy, this was a new experience as I had never been closer to a cow than out the window of a train.

We had Australian farm hand to supervise us and one told me to “Wash the cow”.  Now, not being totally stupid I figured that he didn’t mean the whole cow, so I started delicately washing the cow’s udder.  The cow didn’t seem to like this too much so I did it a bit lighter.  She responded by kicking.  Of course all I was doing was tickling her and when the farmhand came back he put me straight with some good old Anglo-Saxon words.  I learned fast!

After about a month, I got my first job and it was off on the overnight mail train to Balldale.  This was a culture shock both for me and for Balldale.

I got off the train and stood in an almost empty main street, dressed in the height of London fashion: winkle picker shoes, stove pipe trousers, bum freezer jacket and slicked back hair, and waited to be picked up.

I lived in an old hut similar to this away from the main house with no hot water (water for washing ourselves and our cloths was heated in a 44 gallon drum fire under the bowl arrangement – usually on a Sunday).  We did eat in the farmer’s house though and were fed well.  The farm was about 4,000 acres, mainly wheat and sheep.

After a while I started to look the part.

It’s a sad fact that many of the farmers (but not all) who took inexperienced pommy boys did so because no Australian would work for them. They were hard to get on with (I was a bit too) and – it has to be said I found it hard to adapt – after about 3 months I had a row with him and walked off.

Back to Sydney to the BBM, (they had an office in Macquarie Place) another overnight trip on the mail train, this time to Frampton a small station near Cootamundra.  Didn’t get off to a good start here either, because by the time I realised we had arrived at the station and I got my large suitcase (with all my worldly possessions) to the door they had chucked off the mail and newspapers and left the station.  I got off at the next stop and some railway track workers took me back to the farmer who let me have it with both barrels.

Again, I lived in a building away from the main house, but this time I did have hot water – from one of those old chrome gas heaters which ignited with a bang.

This was me in front of my hut Xmas 1960.

The farmhouse area was surrounded by dogs on long chains with 44 gallon drum kennels, it was their job to keep the foxes away.  They were never unchained and howled all night, but eventually you get used to that, and when you’re tired, you sleep ok.  I worked mostly with sheep, cattle, dairy, pigs, and poultry.

We didn’t have TV then of course (Although TV came in in 1956 many country areas still didn’t have reception in 1960, when it came in people used watch it in shop windows.) and being by yourself all the time was a bit lonely, but I was fortunate that a previous incumbent had left a big box of books under the bed.  Over the months I think I read every Carter Brown paperback ever published.

It would be nice to say I fared better here but I didn’t.

One of my jobs was to let out the turkeys each day and round them up into the pen at night.  On this occasion they had wandered downhill to a small fenced enclosure containing round hay stacks, as you probably know, brainpower is not a turkey feature, and of course as I tried to herd them one way they would just go round and round the hay stack – I would reverse and so would they.  Frustration, and tiredness took their toll on me and when I got a blast from the farmer, I let him have one in return.

Back on the train!

By this time I was starting to think Australia had been a mistake.  It had not lived up to my romantic notions and I was doubting my ability to get on with Australians.  But, I had to stay 2 years!

My next job was on a poultry farm in Epping now a heavily urbanised suburb of Sydney but then was still country on the outskirts.  Although again living in a separate building in a small room with the mice in the walls, I found the farmer to be fair man and a good boss.  We got on well, and he introduced me to some locals who were around my age and I had a bit of a social life.  I particularly enjoyed bushwalking in the Blue Mountains.

But!  I wanted more adventure.

In November 1961 I enlisted in the Australian Army – but that’s another story.


The end of the ‘white Australia’ policy in 1966, the election of a Labor government in 1972, and the termination of preference for British immigrants in Australia’s immigration policy spelled the end. Gradually the Big Brother Movement ceased to recruit young British migrants and was transformed into a service organisation which now sponsors young Australians to study overseas.

Anyone interested in the story of youth migration in Australia the book Likely Lads and Lasses: Youth Migration to Australia 1911–1983, by Alan Gill is recommended.

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