Cliff Skinner

Ship name / Flight number: Ormonde

Arrival date: 01/08/1950

I came to Australia in 1950 with the BBM, with my schoolfriend, John Smith. We were 16 and 17 respectively when we left London, Tilbury on the old ship, the Ormonde.  From memory, there were about twenty other lads in the group.

*Ormonde 1959

We left in July and arrived in Australia in August of that year. It was a very exciting time for both of us. We had both survived the heavy bombing raids close to London in Britain during the Second World War, experiencing some very close shaves, and here we were, in a new and safe country and with interesting lives ahead of us. Neither of us ever regretted making the big decision to come so far away from our homeland.

When we arrived in Tasmania, we were both sent to farms on the north west coast and were much impressed with the beautiful countryside there. The people were so kind to us and I couldn’t speak more highly of my farm employer Pat Meredith, and my Big Brother, George Freeman and his family. I remember, with great appreciation the many delicious Sunday roasts I had with them, on their nearby farm. The work on Pats dairy farm was sometimes quite strenuous for me and of course, entailed long hours in the milking shed, but I enjoyed every minute of it and he and his family were very kind to me. I kept in touch with him by mail for many years after I left the farm and met up with him and his family on trips to Tasmania in future years.

Unfortunately, my farming career came to an abrupt end when I was compulsorily conscripted into National Military Service during the deteriorating, international Cold War threat and the war in Korea. I was assigned to the Royal Australian Army Service Corps and eventually awarded two national medals and the veterans badge. After being demobbed, I moved to Hobart and met up with John again who had also moved there. We never returned to farming, but I have always retained an interest in rural affairs ever since that time. I like to return to the bush as often as I can. The years in Hobart were very happy ones, but I finally moved to Melbourne where I have lived, in the main, ever since. Melbourne is very much larger than Hobart and the opportunities were greater here.

*Arrival in Tasmania August  1950, Cliff Skinner is on the left holding his coat

On my first trip back to Britain in 1957 to see my old family, I applied for and was granted a post by the BBM and the relevant government department to escort a group of Little Brothers from Britain to Sydney on the Orion. It was an interesting trip and they were a great group of lads to travel with and didn’t cause me too many problems. I have often wondered how they all got on in their new land. Perhaps, you could let me know, if you have any information about them. John was also  an escort officer for BBM in the 50s, but I can’t recall what year that was.

When I returned from overseas I offered my services, on a voluntary basis, to The Big Brother Movement in Sydney and was appointed as their Welfare Officer in Melbourne and spent the next 11 years meeting Little Brothers on their arrival (by ship) plus I also had to contact many Little Brothers who were resident in Melbourne.

There were all sorts of matters to deal with, as you see from the correspondence. I was given a special pass which allowed me to board the ships to meet the new arrivals. I received my instructions from the Secretary of the Big Brother Movement, the late Frank Mansell and a few years ago I provided the BBM with copies of the copious correspondence between us during those years for the BBM Archives. Frank was always very appreciative of the work that I did for the Movement. It was quite an onerous task for me at times and some of the cases were quite complicated, especially the legal ones, for me at my relatively young age. But I found it personally gratifying and it was a way of paying back something to the BBM for the great opportunity they had provided to me, to achieve a good life in such a wonderful country.

I managed to obtain a fairly good job in Melbourne, but I was aware that many of my friends had top line, well paid jobs. The secret of their success appeared to be that they all had academic qualifications. So, I set out to try and achieve the same. I worked long hours on jobs and even spent a few years on the dangerous Snowy Mountains Scheme, operating heavy equipment, sometimes in severe winter conditions, in order to save enough money to commence tertiary studies in Melbourne.

After three years of initial studies, I graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (now RMIT University)  in property law and economics, urban economics and estate management. I then enrolled in Melbourne University where I eventually graduated with a Bachelor degree and Post Graduate qualifications in Town and Regional Planning. It was a long haul, but I enjoyed the many years of study and it finally paid off when I was appointed to a senior Government position which I held for the rest of my career. Later on, I did another postgraduate course of study at Deakin University in Architecture. In April 2021 I was listed in Deakin University’s list of Alumni (former students) who had achieved high success resulting from their university education. The commendation was listed on their web site under the Alumni category “Science, Engineering and the Built Environment”.

During my study years I was granted leave of absence by the Government to undertake research studies at a number of universities in Britain. So, it was a happy feeling for me, that many years before I had sailed away to Australia at the age of 16, penniless and with no qualifications, but at the least very hopeful that things would turn out alright for us, and here I was, all those years later, coming back to the old country as a research scholar. On reflection, I can hardly believe my good fortune.

When I retired, I offered my services on a voluntary basis to the Royal Australian Town Planning Institute (now PIA) and spent many years on their education committee assisting students at mainly year 12 level, their school vocational advisors and parents, at job expos, schools and colleges. I also served on the committee for the prestigious annual Awards for Planning Excellence. For my voluntary work, I was awarded the status of Fellow of the Institute. I also offered my services to The Art Deco and Modernism Society of Australia (formerly Society Art Deco ) and acted as their Voluntary Architectural Heritage Officer for many years. I was awarded Life Membership of the organization for my work in helping to save many iconic and historic buildings from demolition or unsympathetic renovation or redevelopment. My responsibilities entailed appearing at occasional court hearings as an Expert Witness, attending pre-court hearings at Heritage Victoria and Council building meetings, many on-site inspections, preparing heritage reports and attending development company board meetings and discussions with their architects and engineering staff. It gives me a great deal of pleasure today to see these beautiful buildings and know that I played some small part in their retention and restoration.

I am very grateful to the Big Brother Movement for nominating me years before, giving me the chance to achieve something worthwhile in my life. The opportunities that opened up to me were more than I could ever had hoped for.

*BBM group en route to Australia in 1958

*BBM group en route to Australia in 1958 and Cliff is in the middle with check shirt and cap – this photo is taken in Sri Lanka

Today, Helen and I live in the Bayside area of Hampton in Melbourne, close to the sea, thoroughly enjoying our retirement years, doing some travelling, both locally and overseas and surrounded by our married children and eight wonderful grandchildren. And, could you believe it, still studying, but at a much slower pace than in former years, at the local University of the Third Age, U3A. (for the senior citizens)

I had the pleasure of attending a BBM reunion in Sydney a few years ago, where I met up with two of my shipmates from the original 1950 voyage to Australia and also another BBM reunion in Melbourne in more recent times. It was great to meet up with the former Little Brothers and to hear about their lives in Australia. Like myself and my fellow traveller, and Little Brother John Smith, they were all so glad that they made the big decision to come to Australia and they were very appreciative of the opportunity that the BBM had given them.

With best wishes

Cliff Skinner  FPIA

Cliff Skinner and John Smith on one of many trips to Tasmania, a few years ago. Cliff is on the left with the dark shirt.






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