Anthony Kennard

Ship name / Flight number: Otranto

Arrival date: 14/09/1953

I was born in Greenwich, London, in Shooters Hill Road Maternity Hospital on 9 October 1937. I was the second child, and only son of Grace Florence (nee Gurney) and Robert Henry Kennard. My father had a career in the navy as a Chief Petty Officer and gunnery instructor and my mother was a school teacher, prior to getting married.  I wasn’t close to my father, as he was away a lot during World War II. He was on board HMS Herewood, a H class destroyer, when it was sunk off Crete on 29 May 1941 by a German dive bomb. Fortunately, he wasn’t killed, but was a prisoner of war for the next four years. I was seven years old when he came home, and he was a stranger to me. We never saw see eye-to-eye.

During the 1940s, things got a bit hot in London, due to the blitz, so we moved to Portsmouth. I started primary school there, and went on to the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, Suffolk, when I was 10 years old. The school is connected to the naval training college in Greenwich. I was a boarder at Holbrook until I turned 15 years old, and was deemed old enough to join the navy. My father was serving on the Duke of York battleship at the time, and he got permission for me to spend five days on board, which I absolutely loved. However, although I turned up on the doorstep of the naval recruiting office in Portsmouth full of youthful enthusiasm, I was out on the street before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’. I’ve worn glasses to correct my vision for most of my life, and they didn’t want anyone with poor eyesight.

I was upset about being rejected by the navy and grabbed the opportunity to come to Australia with the BBM. I wasn’t happy at home or at school, and I didn’t know what I’d do with myself after the navy turned me away – the BBM gave me the opportunity to escape and start a new life in Australia. I don’t think anyone in my family was sorry to see me leave. My father did come to Tilbury Docks to see me off – and to make sure that I boarded the ship!

I sailed on the RMS Otranto with about 20 other ‘Little Brothers’ and arrived in Sydney on 14 September 1953, about a month before my 16th birthday. We had a very rough trip across the Great Australian Bight, which lessened my regrets about not getting into the navy. Like the majority of boys in my group, I elected to work on a farm and we were taken to the training farm outside Liverpool. I don’t think it taught me a damn thing! Before coming to Australia, I’d done some casual work on house farms, where people grew vegetables in garden plots, but this didn’t prepare me for working on the huge properties in rural New South Wales. In retrospect, I can see that ‘Little Brothers’ like myself were a source of cheap labour. I worked from daylight to dusk for a couple of pounds a week.

The first farm I was sent to was a wheat/sheep/rice property in Yenda, but I only lasted about three months there. Next, I went to work on a dairy farm called “Cudgell Park” near Young. I was just 17 years old, and responsible for milking 60 cows twice a day, on my own. There were no milking machines in 1954, just my two hands. I also had to clean out the stalls and help with calving. I learnt some animal husbandry on the job! The dairy was owned by a conglomerate of ‘Pitt Street farmers’ (i.e. men from the city) and Mr Schrivner was the overseer. After about eight months, I had the audacity to tell him that my weekly wage of £3.1.1 was too low, so he sacked me!

I went into Young and asked at Grazcos (the Grazier’s Association) if there was any work available. They suggested that I go to a shearing shed near Lake Cargelligo (240km west of Young and 552km west of Sydney) as they needed a ‘board boy’ or rouseabout. It was my job to pick up the fleeces as they were shorn and carry them to the table for the wool classers. At the end of the day, I had to sweep the boards. I graduated to become a wool presser and could press 50 bales a day using the Koerstz presser. I’d weigh the bales, brand the hessian wrapping with the initials of the wool presser and the name of the property, and stack the compressed bales for transport by truck.

Each year, I started work on the first Monday in January, usually in the Moree district. I worked for Chris Maidwell, and he would tell me which shearing shed to go to. After Easter, I’d go north to the New England district, and then south to Naracoorte in South Australia for the second half of the year. I’d finish up the week before Christmas and fly back to Sydney to stay with friends. I learnt all the jobs of the shed, including shearing and wool classing. Sheep are the dumbest animals on earth, but they kept me employed. I was never out of work. It wasn’t a bad life.

I did a few other too, such as working on the railways in Moss Vale, and making plastic moulds for AWA who made transistor radios. In 1956 I took a job just outside Darwin as a records clerk for the Department of Civil Aviation. It was my first experience of the tropics. In 1968, I moved to the other end of the country – to Tasmania – to work at the Savage River magnetite iron ore mine, south-west of Burnie, as a camp manager. I had to order all the supplies and make sure everyone got fed. This was quite a change from pressing wool and milking cows.

One weekend, a few of us went into Launceston for a ‘big night out’ and I met Margaret, who became my wife. She was doing her third nursing certificate (for midwifery) at the Queen Victoria Women and Babies Hospital in Launceston, so I got a job there as the catering officer. This was a nice easy job after the mining camp, as it was a little hospital with a big kitchen and I found some good chefs to work in the kitchen.

I was thrilled when Margaret agreed to marry me. We went to Brisbane, where she grew up, for our wedding in a Catholic Church in 1967. Afterwards, we went to live in Alice Springs so I could work as a caterer for the Australian-American Joint Defence Research facility at Pine Gap. Our daughter Joanna was born there.

Left: Anthony and Margaret on their wedding day, 1967

By now, my parents and three sisters had migrated from England to Adelaide, and my father came to work with me at Pine Gap. He ran the canteen, selling drinks and snacks. When I left Alice Springs, he took over my job. My mother lived with us in Alice Springs and helped Margaret with our baby daughter.

Margaret and I moved back to Brisbane for a while, and our next child, Julian, was born there. Then we returned to Launceston, bought a house together in Duke Street, and had three children in quick succession: Jonathon, Robert and Anthony. For three years in a row, I walked out of the hospital with a baby boy under one arm and a box of formula under the other.

With five young children and my long hours, Margaret wanted to be closer to her parents for support, so we moved back to Brisbane and lived near them. I moved north to Bowen and worked as a security guard at a nightclub for a while. If ‘variety is the spice of life’, I’ve certainly spiced up my life!

I was restless, so I went back to working for the Poon Brothers, a catering company started by some Chinese migrants to Western Australia who specialised in catering for mining and industrial sites around Australia. I moved to WA and my daughter Sharon was born there. She’s good at keeping in touch with me, even though we don’t live in the same state. I live in Brisbane now, as it’s closer to some of my children and grandchildren.

The decision to come to Australia when I was 15 years old was the smartest move I ever made. I wasn’t paired up with a ‘big brother’, and because I wasn’t close to my family, I didn’t have anyone to steer me in the right direction when I got ‘off track’. I just had to work it out for myself.

Left: Anthony (Tony) Kennard, 2024, Brisbane.

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