Ship name / Flight number: Ranchi
Arrival date: 13/11/1952
I was born on an island off Portsmouth in a little village called Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. We faced the English Channel, which my father would sail ships through for the Shell Oil Company. In 1938, four years after I was born, my father was transferred to Singapore to take command of a vessel. My mother and I went to live in South Africa with her parents, which is where my sister Sue was born in 1939. Little did we know that Singapore would be taken by the Japanese nearly three years later. Luckily my father managed to escape. I can still remember seeing this big, tall bloke silhouetted in the doorway of our bedroom in Durban, South Africa, in 1942 and being frightened until I realised it was my father.
Dad was able to get a transfer to Mombasa, a port city in Kenya but as there were no schools there suitable for me, I had to go to boarding school in Nairobi and my parents lived in Mombasa. At the end of 1946, Dad was transferred to Hong Kong and the rest of my family, including my maternal grandparents, returned to the Isle of Wight. I continued my schooling there and was nicknamed ‘Dicky Moss’. I was teased and taunted because I looked so different from my pasty English classmates with my sun-tanned skin and sun-bleached hair. They probably thought I was a bit nutty because I would curse them in Swahili!
When I finally finished my schooling, I thought, ‘what do I want to do?’ I didn’t want to go to sea like my father, I wanted to go on the land. I trained to be a dairyman and had two years on a farm and at night school before I was called up for National Service in 1952. I was about to turn 18 years old and they wanted to send me to Korea. I didn’t want to go killing people! I decided to leave the country to avoid the draft. My parents didn’t object but Grandpa Moss did. He had been in the British Army and retired with the rank of Major. In his eyes, I was a coward and a disgrace to the Moss name. I did not care for his opinion, for me it was a case of MYOB (Mind Your Own Business)!
I looked around for countries I could emigrate to and chose Australia, because it had a much better climate than Canada or New Zealand. My Mum found out about the Big Brother Movement and I applied and went for an interview in London. They agreed to take me due to my experience in the dairy industry and because I’d read up about life in Oz.
It was a mad scramble to get me out of the country before I turned 18 years old, but we managed it – just. I sailed on the SS Ranchi from the Port of Tilbury on 4 October 1952. It was a terrible ship – it broke down in the Indian Ocean and we drifted for half a day while they fixed the engines. Having sailed to South Africa and East Africa as a child, it was just another voyage for me. I sailed with 39 other lads and our escort, Don Treggoning. There were 12 ‘Little Brothers’ to a cabin. I decided to introduce myself as ‘David’ – my first name. Up until then, everyone else had called me by my second name, John. This symbolised a promise to myself, that I was starting a new life, taking on a new persona.
Left to right: Me, Thomas and Sam Kane, both from The Ranchi Nov 1952
We sailed into Sydney Harbour early on 13th November, 1952. Sailing through the heads and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge was magnificent. I know we’ve got to have progress, but the harbour was a wonderful sight back then – much greener and no high rise.
We were greeted by Frank Mansell, Secretary of the BBM; Sir John Northcott, the Governor of New South Wales; and Sir Denzil MacArthur-Onslow, patron of the BBM. Little did we know that the 1000th ‘Little Brother’ was on our ship – hence the VIP welcoming party!
We boarded a bus, dropped some lads off at ‘Gunning House’ in Homebush and then went to the training farm called ‘Karmsley Hills’ near Liverpool. We were met by the managers, Bob Girvan and his wife, who showed us to our allotted rooms before we lunched on corned beef, carrots and spuds.
I was only at the training farm for three days before I was sent to work for Mr W.E. (Archie) Hamilton on his property seven miles outside Finley. I caught the train to Finley, a remote, little town in the Riverina district south-west of Sydney. When I arrived at the farm, I was shown to my quarters, which were separate from the homestead, and told that I would have to dig my own pit toilet. It took me two days to dig a six-foot, long drop toilet. It was the start of summer.
Each day began with milking some 30 cows. There was a milking machine that could milk two cows at once. I also had to help round up the 120 head of sheep. It was my job to jump out of the ute and run around like a headless chook trying to round them up. I got sick of this, so I bought a bicycle, but the tyres kept getting punctures. Then I obtained a dog – a Kelpie cross – but he was as mad as a two-bob watch, so I named him ‘Bob’. Bob was so stupid, I think he must have been a sheep in a previous life – he always wanted to get in front of the mob, rather than behind, and if a sheep challenged him, he backed off!
*Left: Me and Bluey, 1954
I wasn’t much good at writing letters home. My mother used to worry about me and would write to the BBM in London asking: ‘where’s my son?’. They would send a telegram to Frank Mansell, who would then ring the Hamilton’s in Finley to check if I was still there. I was a bad boy at writing letters. I was never homesick and enjoyed my new life.
I celebrated my 21st birthday at the Tocumwal pub. It was the one and only time in my life that I’ve been stinking, rotten drunk. It took me two days to recover.
I worked on Archie Hamilton’s property for two years. I might have stayed longer, if he’d given me the pay rise that I asked for. In 1955, I was earning three pounds and ten shillings per week. I wrote to the BBM asking what the going rate was. They wrote back saying I should be getting about 11 guineas (11 pounds, 11 shillings) which was almost four times more than my wages! Armed with this information, I approached Mr Hamilton. He said that he was unable to pay me more. I then commented that since he could afford to buy a new Holden car every year, he could afford to give me a pay rise. This comment was not well received, so I gave notice and took a job as a builder’s labourer.
With the extra money I was now earning, I bought myself a portable transistor radio on the hire purchase scheme. Unfortunately, I fell well behind in payments and was issued with a summons. To avoid this, I left my job and moved inter-state, where the summons was not valid.
In Shepparton, Victoria, I fronted up to the labour exchange and was offered a job picking apricots and peaches for Mr Towers at Mooroopna; then shovelling coal for the boiler house at SPC in Shepparton. For a short time, I also worked in the area where women manually filled the cans with fruit. You had to keep your wits about you – if you were not careful, a host of girls would grab one of the young blokes and stuff fruit down his pants!
After two months at SPC, and since the weather was getting colder, I decided it was time to move on again. I caught the train to Sydney and headed to the BBM office located in Macquarie Place. Frank Mansell met me and interrogated me on why I’d left the employment of Mr Hamilton. He seemed satisfied with my explanation and arranged accommodation for me at a boarding house in Stanmore with some other ‘Little Brothers’. It was run by a Mrs Cray who was the most revolting cook.
*Left: Me and two other LBs at 139 Trafalgar St Stanmore with Mrs Creagh Landlord 1956
While BBM had helped me out with accommodation, I had to find my own work. I had a variety of jobs, including storeman for Shell Oil Company (the same mob my father had sailed tankers for) and working as a conductor on the trams. I ‘swung the bag’ for six months on the ‘toast rack’ trams (O & P Class), which meant that I had to move along the exterior footboard to collect the fares. It was dangerous work in the Sydney traffic.
Then the taxation department starting chasing me, because they said I owed them £7/1/9. I decided it was time to clear off and go bush. I applied for a job as a Jackaroo at Koothney station, north of Walgett. I spent a year or so there before I decided to return to Sydney in my 1929 Chevrolet. The car was unregistered, so I drove only at night time to avoid getting caught.
Back in Sydney, I was lucky to get a job as a storeman/driver with Schering Pty Ltd, a distribution company for pharmaceuticals. This is where I met Elaine. I can still remember the date – it was 5th November 1957 – and we were in the packing room at Schering’s warehouse in Chippendale. I was acting like a goat and we hit it off. I’d had other girlfriends – one that I even moved to Brisbane for – but Elaine was the one. We were married on 4 June 1960. None of my family were at our wedding.
*Left: Elaine Debutante 1952, The Love of My life
Elaine and I had two boys – Andrew and Chris. I mostly worked for Schering as a warehouse manager and then they put me in charge of building their new warehouse in Alexandria. It was a far cry from a life on the land, which I had come to Australia for. However, we saved up and built a house in Campbelltown, on the southern outskirts of Sydney, where we could see the Blue Mountains in the distance. After about ten years there, we moved to Camden, which was even more rural, so the boys could go to the Anglican school there. I used to do lots of volunteer work for the local scouts and the Campbelltown Show Society and anyone else who needed a hand.
I retired in 1996, when I was 62 years old. It was not a good move financially, but I was sick of the company politics. In 1998 we saw a townhouse advertised in the paper and bought it – even though it was in Adelaide! We lived there until 2019. I much prefer the dry heat in Adelaide.
I planned to come back to Sydney in November 2002 for an event to mark the 50th anniversary of migrating to Australia as a ‘Little Brother’, but the day before I had a massive heart attack and spent four days in hospital. Elaine and I were planning our 60th wedding anniversary when she was diagnosed with cancer. She died on 31 December, 2019. I still miss her every day.
After that I decided to move to Port Macquarie, on the NSW coast, to be near my son Chris and my two grandchildren. My other son, Andrew, lives in Coomera in the Gold Coast hinterland, just 500 kilometres to the north. Now I do lots of baby-sitting and dog-minding and go to the community hall every Friday for a beer. I like researching my family history and going through our old photos. My sisters and parents actually emigrated to Australia in the early 1960s, and it was a bit of a sore point that they never told me they were coming!
I think of Finley as my home town. I just love Australia and I can’t see enough of the countryside. I feel like I’ve kept my promise to myself and that I did start a new life as ‘David’ when I migrated to Australia in 1952.
*Below: David Moss in conversation with BBM treasurer, Eric Haines, at the Legacy Celebration in June 2022.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MooroopnaContact Little Brother