Alexander Mellis

Ship name / Flight number: Fairsea

Arrival date: 07/08/1960

Tarland to the land Down Under

In 1960, At the age of seventeen years, I was working on the farms of Grodie then Balgranie, Logie Coldstone.  We had just come through one of the worst winters for some years.  Farm wages were very poor and insufficient to buy the necessary basic clothing and footwear needed for the cold and wet climate.

I made my mind up that I would migrate to Australia.  As I was under 21 years old, I had to have a sponsor.  I made application to the Big Brother Movement for consideration of being sponsored by them.  The movement would guarantee a job on my Arrival in Australia.  After completing the necessary paper work I went to go to Edinburgh for an interview before a panel and was accepted as being suitable for sponsorship.

There was great excitement on the day my Australian Visa and travel documents arrived together with a rail ticket to Southampton, a boarding pass for M.V. Fairsea, labels for my suitcases.  B.B.M., Sitmar Line etc. I was also advised to have about ten pounds pocket money for the journey which was expected to take over five weeks.

Raising the required pocket money was harder than I thought.  I sold my old BSA 250 motor bike.   After buying necessary clothing for the journey I was left with six pounds and that happened to be my sum total.

On 3rd July I left Dinnet station for Aberdeen.  I had to wait until late afternoon to join the train for London.  There were quite a number of families waiting at the station also going to Australia on the “Fairsea”.  To my surprise, my Aunty Ina Christie, my cousin George and my brother Duncan had travelled up from Stonehaven to see me off. Ina said, “Do you have anything to eat on the train” I never thought of that. As luck had it, Ina had a packet of whole meal biscuits in her bag and gave them to me.  That’s all I had to eat until I boarded the ship late the following day.

On arrival at Victoria Railway station everyone had to take a taxi to another railway station (Waterloo?) where a special train was waiting to take us to Southampton.  I had never been in a taxi before and I had no idea what it would cost.  I spotted the meter which showed one shilling and sixpence and I thought, that’s not too bad but as the trip progressed so did the meter. I cannot remember the final cost but was well above ten shillings. On arrival at the station I found that the people who were well back in the taxi queue were at the station before me.  I had been taken for a ride which made a huge dent in my pocket money.

I cannot remember much about the rail journey to Southampton.  It was only a short walk from the train to the ship.

Boarding at Southampton with two other little brothers behind me.

It would have been about 2-30pm 4th July, I boarded the “Fairsea” owned by the Sitmar Line, 13,432 tons, service speed 16 knots. Quite a crowd was gathering on the pier to see their friend off.  They were holding coloured streamers between them and their friends on board. There was plenty of tears and sobbing among the crowd.  As I had no one seeing me off I sat up on the foredeck and watched some happy faces and others very sad.

Late in the afternoon, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was being played over the P.A. system.  I felt the ship give a slight shudder, the streamers started to break as the ship moved slowly out from the pier.  You could hear the ships propeller start to churn in the water as we headed down stream towards the open sea.  The fog thickened and you could only see a short distance ahead. The sound of fog horns started to sound from all directions and was quite eerie.

I was still sitting up on the foredeck when our B.B.M escort come looking for me to let me know that dinner was being served in the dining room. I never enjoyed a meal so much as I did then after eating whole meal biscuits for a day.   The meals were mainly Italian style and most of the lads were not used to it, especially the cheese, they wouldn’t eat the cheese that had holes in it as they thought it was maggots.   Not too many attended the dining room the next day as most were sea sick.

Port Said was a very in- hospitable place for British migrants and we were not allowed off the ship because of the Suez Canal war.  There were sunken ship everywhere with masts and funnels sticking out of the water.  The Fairsea headed the convoy of ships down the Suez Cannel to the Bitter Lakes. Ships were waiting there to convoy up the Suez.  The second leg of the Suez Cannel took us to Old Aden where we were allowed off the ship.  This was the dirties place I have ever set foot on.  The stench was so bad I virtually held my breath until I got back on the ship.

From Aden we headed out into the Indian Ocean, with nothing to see but water day after day.  Tempers were starting to fray a bit amongst the young lads.  There were ten to a cabin and only about three could stand on the floor at any one time.  We occupied two cabins down in “D” deck.  It was hard getting used to the smell of crude oil that permeated everywhere.  My bunk was up top amongst the lagged plumbing pipes.  We all had one thing in common, no money to spend on buying a cup of coffee or any sort of treat.  Most of my pocket money went on cool drinks coming through the Middle East.

Somewhere on the Indian Ocean

We would have been half way across the Indian Ocean when we sailed into a cyclone.  The ship pitched and rolled as huge mountains of water came towards us.  The ship was like a small  floating cork.  The crew had ropes along every passageway for people to hang onto.  I felt quite safe, crew were marvelous.  During the cyclone I had the dining room virtually to myself.

Due to the long voyage in cramped conditions, signs of fraying tempers and verbal arguments amongst the lads (BBM Group) started to show.   We had one individual we called the “Beatnik” He was a pompous individual who couldn’t get along with anyone.   It was obvious that he had a very good education.  He had everything that most of us didn’t have, silk dressing gown, fancy slippers,  high quality clothing and above all he had plenty of money to spend.

I had bought a packet of washing powder from the ship’s shop and kept my shirts and other clothing clean. Two days out from Fremantle in Western Australia the shop had to comply with the law and close.   I was fortunate to have the washing powder and many of the lads wanted clean shirts to go ashore. Another lad and I went into business. I would wash the shirts, he would hang them out to dry   Our old friend the beatnik wanted his expensive shirts laundered.  Everything was going well until my mate came to me and said that the beatnik’s shirts had blown over the side of the ship.  Well he stormed in and said, “What are you going to do about it?”  I had to think fast. I said, “well, they are still being rinsed and if they don’t rap themselves round the ships propeller, they probably end up someone wearing them in Madagascar or if you are lucky end up on the beach in Western Australia.”  He was livid. Case closed.

At first light on the 31st July, the ship berthed at Fremantle.  The Victorian League met us at the ship and took us on a bus tour of Perth, across the new Swan Bridge.  We had lunch on the lawn at their headquarters under a huge palm trees before being taken back to the ship.

Late that afternoon we were on our way to Melbourne. We had been told by many people to expect very rough seas across The Great Australian Bite. However, we were  lucky, it was as smooth as glass. We arrived in Melbourne on 4th August and were able to get off the ship for a few hours . We were advised not to go too far away as the ship was due to sail early afternoon.   All the lads went to a Greek café for a milk shake.  I never had a milk shake before, so I ordered a chocolate one.   It was cold and delicious. I said to the owner, “I will have another one” He politely told me that I had not finished the first one. It was a huge milkshake made in a metal container.

From Melbourne to Sydney was such a pleasant trip.  On the 7th August we sailed up the Sydney harbour to Darling Harbour to dock. Sydney harbor would be one of the prettiest scenes you would ever see.

We were met at Darling Harbour by the director of the Big Brother Movement,  Frank Mansell.  He accompanied us on the bus to the B.B.M. Farm at Fairfield.  After a nice shower and a change of clothing we sat down to a scrumptious meal.  We all had an early night to bed. I didn’t sleep too well as the bed didn’t rock or sway.  All the strange noises, crickets, frogs croaking and those bloody mosquitoes dive bombing you through the night.

I stayed at the BBM Farm for about two days before I was put on a train at Sydney Central bound for Finley in the Riverina, a nineteen hour trip. I was given a sandwich to take with me on the train, as I had not eaten since earlier that day it was eaten before leaving Sydney.  It was about 8pm the train left Central Station.  I had only some silver coins in my pocket after my trip from Aberdeen .

The trip was long and uneventful.  At Harden the train stopped long enough for me to get off and stretch my legs. There was a small take away on the platform.  I enquired how much the pies were. As I had no idea of the Australian currency I held my hand out full of coin and asked the lady if I had enough to buy a pie.  She politely said that I had enough for two. I enjoyed the two best pies I have ever eaten.

At Cootamundra I had to change trains for Narrandera then on to Jerillderie. After leaving Narrandera a young fellow joined me in the carriage.  He was a student on his way home to Finley. His father was the bank manager for the Rural Bank.  He said that his parents drive from Finley to Jerilderie to pick him up as it saves him over a two hour wait whilst the engine was being serviced.  He invited me to travel with them to Finley which I did.  I had a most enjoyable lunch with them before they drove me round to Finley station later in the afternoon where I was to meet the farmer   I was going to work for.

There were a lot of cars around the station waiting for people off the train.  I had no idea who was to pick me up from the station.  When the train came in, people started to walk towards the platform. I noticed this old gentleman looking around. I said, “Are you looking for someone from the BBM?” My welcome wasn’t what I expected.  He said, “Have you been sitting in that car all that time? We could have been home by now.”  He tossed my suitcases into the boot of his car and we set off towards Mayrung.  He didn’t utter a word for several miles and then it was only small grunts.

On arrival at his homestead, I was surprised to find another BBM lad that had arrived a few months earlier than me.  His name was Michael Massie from Alford.  I did know his brother who lived in the Tarland area.  I would have been nice if I had been offered a cup of tea or coffee on my arrival but it was not to be.   I had a shower before I donned my working clothes.  Mike and I machine milked about fifty cows, cleaned up the dairy before going over to the homestead for our evening meal.  Our meals were handed through a window onto an open verandah. It was after 9pm that night before we got our meal.

I have many happy memories of living in the Deniliquin area. I was elected the secretary of the Mayrung Junior Farmers which gave me the opportunity to meet so many young people in the area.

I drove to Sydney (10 hour drive) to join the police Force.  I found accommodation in Ashfield a short drive to the city. The next morning I attended the Police Recruiting Centre in Bourke St. I passed the medical and mathematics but bombed out on dictation. I was unlucky, the dictation passage was taken from a gardening passage and I had no idea how to spell a lot of the Australian plants and shrubs.

In 1963 I joined the New South Wales Railways as an engineman at Werris Creek. I enjoyed working on the steam engines.  Not all engines were fired the same way and it was a challenge for the fireman. He had to know the terrane he was travelling, type of coal being used, when to put a fire on and when to pull back.  Diesel engines were fast being introduced. The steam engines were being cut up for scrap.  The diesel engines were a lot cleaner than the steam engines but I could not see myself sitting in a comfortable seat looking out the cabin window checking the signals for the rest of my life.

Whilst at Werris Creek I joined the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers army reserves at Tamworth.  Each week a group of us would travel from Werris Creek to Tamworth to attend the Reserves.  I completed my Army driving course at the Bersheba barracks.

I met my beautiful wife Beverley Alice Taylor at Werris Creek.  Bev was nursing at St Vincent Hospital in Sydney.   After we were married on 2nd May 1964, I transferred   to Taree .  There were no steam engines at Taree depot. One of my job was refueling  the  engines for the Brisbane/Sydney, Sydney/ Brisbane passenger express.  The lead engine from Sydney was taken off, refueled and placed as the lead engine for Sydney.    I often worked as the observer on the fruit express to Maitland, no longer were we referred to as a fireman.  Bev was nursing at the Taree Base Hospital.

It was whilst we were at Taree I received notification that I had been accepted into the N.S.W. Police Force.    On 2nd November 1964 I commenced training at The Police Training Centre in Bourke Street, Sydney.  Bev started work with the large book store Angus and Robertson as a statistics clerk.  On completing my initial training, I was posted to No.7 Division at Redfern. Redfern was regarded as one of the toughest inner city stations. Our area also took in Mascot Airport and when celebrities arrived such as the ‘Rolling Stones” we would be required for crowd control. I had the unfortunate job with other surrounding the stage whilst the “Stones” were performing at the Manufacturers Hall.

I spent thirty three years in the police service at various locations across the state.  I also held the position of Divisional Education Officer.  At the age of 38, I commenced a four-year course in social science at the Newcastle College of Advanced Education  On graduation, I was seconded to the N.S.W. police Academy at Goulburn.  Our Dean of Studies David Bradley came from Clydeside Police Academy in Scotland.

Whilst at the Academy. I was appointed Senior Sergeant “Head of School Applied Social Science” for a few years before being appointed as Patrol Commander at Gundagai. Three years later I received the Queens Commission and appointed Inspector of Police and transferred as Patrol Commander for the Young District.  I retired from the Police Force in 1998 after 33 years of service.   I received the National  medal, the National Police Medal and the thirty years Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

Bev and I settled in Gundagai.  I still have small amount of silver in my pocket but my wealth is in our beautiful  family  who have given us eight precious grandchildren. Australia has been good to us and  I never had any regrets in being a migrant.  Incidentally, we have been friends with the late Frank Mansell’s sister-in-law at Gundagai for the past 30 years.

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