Bob Harvey 1906 – 1980

Ship name / Flight number: Jervis Bay

Arrival date: 14/12/1925

By Lynn Brebner

I was contacted by Dick Steell, asking me about including my story about Robert Bell Harvey, (Uncle Bob), in the bi- monthly newsletter for the Big Brother Movement.

I was thrilled to be able to do this for my uncle so that the history is not lost. My research started with my interest in genealogy, and again when I joined a writers group in which we were writing our family stories. As Bob was such a vibrant person, I did some searches on the Internet with regard to his arrival in Australia and the Big Brother Movement of which he often spoke. I was excited to discover he was on the first ship to leave England for this great experiment.

This is his story.

Robert Bell Harvey was born on 5th December 1906 into a middle class family; his parents were George Burton Harvey and Fanny (nee Glover). He was a delicate child, suffering with a lung condition, from an early age. At about the age of 16 years, the doctor advised his mother that if he were to survive, he would need to leave England for a warmer climate. Glowing reports were flooding the UK about the opportunities and favourable climate in Australia.

Then in 1925, Bob’s mother heard about The Big Brother Movement, established by Richard Linton, a Melbourne businessman. After the war, there was a severe labour shortage in rural Australia and later, the movement was hailed as the most successful and enduring of the youth migrant organisations in Australia. The boys chosen to apply for migration were aged between 16 and 20 years, educated and from a middle class upbringing. They were known as the Little Brothers. Bob was part of the first group to depart London on the Jervis Bay on 3rd November 1925, and arrived in Melbourne on 14th December 1925, after a five week journey through the Suez Canal. Bob was accompanied by his brother Tom, who was aged 17. The boys had no idea what conditions awaited them in this new country established by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788. Life in Australia was virtually unknown in the UK in those early days.

On disembarking, they were duly met by Bob’s allotted Big Brother. Unfortunately, I have forgotten his name, but may uncover it later with further research. He was, at first taken to Cowra on the Lachlan River and advised to keep in touch and to contact him with any queries or concerns. The boys were required to write to their parents each month. Other conditions were that they were to work hard, not drink or gamble, to avoid ‘bad company’, and not to leave their employment without permission.

Even though Bob had never done manual work, he thrived in the new country. He was mostly involved in picking fruit, sorting and drying fruit in the fruit sheds and then working in the canneries. Tom did not settle, so decided to return to the UK, but Bob was content; he loved the lifestyle and friendship and was very adventurous; always looking for new pursuits. Stanley Bruce was Prime Minister when Bob arrived, the population was six million and George V was our King in England. 1929 was the start of the Great Depression. Many of the soldier settler farms failed due to lack of experience and the economy, and desperate families walked off penniless.

During those hard times Bob arrived in Griffith. The Burrinjuck Dam started construction in 1906. and in 1911 the Murrumbidgee Irrigation reclaimed land and started building canals. With water, the land proved to be ideal for agriculture. Many of the early crops failed including Lucerne and peaches, which on picking were discovered to be unsuitable for canning. All the trees were removed and replaced with a quick crop of tomatoes to tide over the dispirited farmers. On his arrival in Griffith Bob settled in Bagtown, a shanty town, where he met and befriended Jack O’Brien, who was later to become an in-law.

Shelter was constructed by the itinerant workers, using corrugated iron, hessian sacks and saplings, packing cases and cardboard, with each helping the other. There was no unemployment, though wages were low and living conditions very basic; but it was here that enduring friendships were forged. My father, Charlie Hubbard arrived in Griffith in the early 1930s, he later married my mother, May Carr, who was the sister of Bob’s wife, Sheila. Bob married Georgiana Sheila Carr in October 1931. Norma was born in 1932 and was to be his only offspring. He was so proud of his daughter.

During his early married life, the family lived on the farms in the workers cottages. After working on the farms for many years, he was employed by Harry O’Meara, managing the cannery, which was mainly canning prunes. He stayed in this job until his retirement in his 60s. Sheila also did seasonal work at the Cannery. When Norma was about six years old, Bob bought a block of land located at 6 Moorie Street, at the cost of ninety pounds. The block was on the outskirts of the town centre, sitting under Scenic Hill. The payments were set at ten pounds a year, but Bob was assisted by his family in England to build a new house. Bob designed the house to replicate an English house. It was a real showpiece. He then set about planting a hedge at the front as he’d seen in his homeland.

He always had a beautiful garden with exotic plants and vegetables. I remember the beautiful Jerusalem artichoke soup, and the fresh mushrooms picked from Scenic Hill. Also the fresh asparagus cut from the banks of the canals, and the fragrant freesias to be found along the banks.

Life in Australia was good to Bob. His mother was able to visit Griffith and was very happy to see she had made the right decision those many years ago.


Memories of Uncle Bob

I was born in 1941 in Griffith NSW, so Bob was always present in my life.

He enlisted in 1942 but served his new country as a land recruit due to his health problems, and discharged in 1945. Even though he was only in his 30s he was ‘our leader’. All picnics, adventures, fishing trips and holidays were arranged by Bob, who had adopted his entire wife’s family as his own. It was always said; he never had a bad word said about anyone or anything!

Being curious and adventurous, he was the only person we knew with a car. I can see now that he had a small annuity from his parents in England, due to the reason he was sent out to the colony at such a young age. The car was a two seat utility but he packed us all in the tray with the men standing on the running board, holding on to the roof.

He was the most generous person I have ever known. He had the best garden in Griffith, growing vegetables and fruit trees and a beautiful hedge enclosing his home, replicating his home in England.

When his daughter Norma was 18, he sent her to England for three years to live with his parents. My mother had been married to Kingsford Smiths friend, Jim Guthrie, and when Smithy visited Griffith in the Southern Cross, of which I have aerial photos, taken by Bob, Bob was enthralled with Air Travel. He wanted to Fly!

He instructed Norma to go to a factory in England to have a kit plane shipped to Australia, which she did. His friend Eric Robinson, a young mechanic in Griffith was approached to assemble the plane, with the right to use it at any time as his own in lieu of payment. We all spent many hours at the Aero Club, flying about in Tiger moths and doing some daring stunts.

Life went on; we grew up and moved away. Unfortunately, Bob and Sheila separated. But undeterred, Bob took in young Italian migrants to share his home. This opened up more opportunities. He taught them English and they in turn taught him Italian. This then prompted him to visit Italy and travel on to England to visit his homeland, where he admitted he was a stranger in his home country. On his return he bought a caravan, to experience more adventure, travelling extensively all over the East Coast of Australia, making many new friends along the way.

It was during this time that he came to Caloundra to see me. I had only been here a couple of months but we both loved the area, which was very small at that time in 1976. Later I bought a house at Currimundi and Bob spent six months of the year here with me. We had many adventures, picnics and outings. He was very interested in my children, taking them to the beach to fly kites, fishing and many other activities. During these times he would tell me a lot of stories; we were great mates! In July 1980, at age 73, he succumbed to a severe lung complaint and died in Caloundra, where he is buried in the Cemetery.

Post Script: I have recently returned from a heritage train trip to Griffith, where I was overcome with emotion, when I saw his and my father’s name proudly displayed for all time on the Anzac Memorial granite columns in the park in Banna Avenue. His name is recorded in Griffith, the town that he loved, where he was a pioneer in the new town.



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