Ship name / Flight number: Castel Felice
Arrival date: 08/08/1964
The adventures of the marvellous Brian White
By Kimberly Grabham – The Riverine Grazier – 11 October 2023
Imagine, jumping on board a ship at age 17, considered a grown-up but still not that long ago a child, leaving the whole life you knew for adventures to places unknown? That’s what Brian White did. He leapt from the UK, headed for ‘the land of opportunity,’ one of thousands from the UK, ‘ten-pound Poms,’ as Brian jokingly refers. Although, he says that his was free. As he was under 18, he was eligible to set sail, cost free.
“I wanted to go to Canada initially, as I was in forestry and grew trees, but you had to pay,” he laughs. “So, I set sail for Australia.”
Brian was born in Axminster, Devon, England and came to Australia under the Immigration Scheme. Sponsored by an organisation called the Big Brother Movement, they were called Little Brothers, a scheme founded in 1925 by Sir Richard Linton to facilitate migration of young men to Australia from the UK. The young men were trained for farm work at various government-run training farms. The Movement sponsored about twelve thousand lads to settle in Australia up until 1982. Brian, sailed from Southampton Port on July 5, 1964. His mother had a stroke when she was 25. “It was hard going for her,” Brian recalled. “So, I decided to get out in the world and see what happened. “Life was hard in England at that time, the climate was hard and it was just after the War. “It was an Italian Ship we went on, called the ‘Castel Felice,’ and owned by the Sitmar Line, from Genoa, Italy.
Below: A young Brian White, eating dinner and looking directly at the camera aboard the
‘Castel Felice’, with fellow travellers. They were dressed well, in suits and dining at tables.
It went to Taiwan as scrap in 1972, and is probably cutlery now. Half of the passengers were from the United Kingdom, like me, and half were Dutch, from the Netherlands.” Arriving in Sydney on August 8, 1964, he and 13 other passengers on board for the Big Brother movement were asked if they had a preference for working in the city or country. Brian chose the country, and was sent to a training farm at Cabramatta, now called Fairfield City Farm. One room of the farmhouse is dedicated to the Big Brother movement.
“I remember, we walked into Cabramatta one time to see the Beatles movie, ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’” he recalled. “After two weeks, I was offered a job in Finley in the Riverina. I caught the train from Central Station, and I remember how very cold it was in August on the train. Passing through Goulburn, I just walked up and down on the train to try and keep warm.” One of his fellow ‘little brothers’ got off at Berrigan, and Brian got off at Finley Station. He was met there by Mr Ian Killeen. “He said, ‘put your bags in the back of the Ute,’ and I put my two small cases in, and off we went, to his property called ‘Kevandale’,” Brian recalled. Mr and Mrs Killeen had two sons,Kevin and Douglas, both of whom attended Hay War Memorial High School. Douglas and his family recently came to the Centenary of the school, earlier in 2023. ‘Kevandale’ had cattle, sheep and grew grain crops. “I remember in the first weeks on the farm, I got some sheep mixed up, I ‘boxed’ them. At breakfast I burst into tears, and said, ‘I will never make a shepherd,’ but I ended up staying there for seven years,” he recalled.
In 1969, Brian caught a train from Tocumwal to Melbourne with a friend, to attend a Billy Graham evangelist crusade. “I don’t know why we went, but I remember we had suits on,” Brian said. On the train back to Tocumwal, Brian was asked by another passenger what he thought of the crusade. “I said ‘I don’t know, but I feel strange,’ and the man replied, ‘don’t harden your heart against it,’” he said. “I did not understand the Christian faith back then.” When he returned to Finley, he knelt beside his bed, and asked Jesus to come into his life, if he was real. This heralded the start of his Christian journey.
From 1972 to 74, he attended the Melbourne Bible Institute, at Armidale. After this, he tried to enter the Melbourne Diocese of the Anglican Church, but discovered that he needed further education. Upon his return to Finley, the local Anglican priest, Reverend Bill Ginns took Brian to meet the Bishop of the Riverina. “Many people in Hay will remember Bill and Rowena Ginns who came to Hay after their time in Finley and Tocumwal,” Brian said.
From 1977 to 1979, he trained for the Anglican Church at St Barnabas College in Adelaide. He then married his first wife, Diane Thomas on November 30, 1979, and was made a priest at St Peter’s in Leeton on December 8, 1980. They welcomed their daughter Rachel on September 11, 1981 in Griffith Hospital. The couple then moved to Griffith, where Brian was ordained a Deacon. Their marriage ended when they were in Griffith, Diane returning to South Australia. Bishop Barry Hunter moved Brian to be his assistant at Deniliquin. While in Deniliquin, he was sent to Culcairn and Henty for five months. In 1984, he was then made Minister of Moama, Mathoura and Bunnaloo. In 1988, Bishop Hunter married Brian to Mary Simmons, his second wife, who at the time was Captain of the Salvation Army in Echuca.
At the end of 1989, the couple moved to Barham, and had the parish of Barham, Wakool and Koondrook. While living at Barham, Brian and Mary adopted their son, Andrew, who had Downs Syndrome. In 1991, the family moved from Barham to Lithgow, where they looked after a church at Wallerawang, near the power station, which has closed since they were there. While there, Brian travelled to Katoomba to complete a Bachelor of Welfare at TAFE. The family were then offered the opportunity to run a pizza shop in Lithgow, Papadino’s
Pizza which they did for the next 20 years.
“I was in the shop in 2017, when a man who worked for the RTA came in to buy a pizza,” Brian recalled.“I told him that I was planning to go back to the Riverina, to a town out west, and told
him you won’t know the place. It is called Hay. He then told me his name was Jeffry Anderson, and nickname is ‘Panda’. He took out his driver’s license to show me, and it said he
was from Hay. Small world, we have since become friends.”
Brian finished at the Pizza shop on Halloween, 2018, and in January 2019, moved to Hay. Since coming to live at Hay, he has joined the congregation of the Uniting Church, and has been given the opportunity to periodically lead Sunday Services. Through all of his ups and downs, Brian remains the cheerful, jovial, wonderful person that is known around town. He still talks to Mary and son Andrew most days. Andrew is living in a group home. “One of the favourite times of my life was coming to Hay, buying a house and becoming part of the community,” Brian said. Brian maintains a connection with the Big Brother Movement, an organisation he said shaped his life in positive ways. He has been back to England three times, and is happy with the way his life led him. The centenary of the organisation is in 2025, something which Brian is looking forward to, and is hoping to attend.
Below: The wonderful Brian White today. Image: The Riverine Grazier/Kimberly Grabham
“I have no regrets about making the decision to come to Australia, my life would have been very different if I had stayed in England,” he said. “There were far more opportunities here,
and everyone wanted to come to the ‘land of opportunity.”
Contact Little Brother