Ship name / Flight number: Fairstar
Arrival date: 08/06/1965
1965: I am on a boat heading to Australia!
My name is Denis Slevin, 17 years old, working in a glass factory in a town called St Helens, Lancashire, United Kingdom. I had joined the Territorial Army when my mate George Seddon, also in the Territorial Army, came up and showed me an Army magazine with an ad for young boys to emigrate to Australia.
I sent for the forms and got Mum and Dad to sign. I think they were glad to get rid of one less mouth to feed, coming from a very poor family.
Before you know it I’m on my way! My mate George had left two months before me. We are still, to this day, the best of friends. I landed with three pence in my pocket.
Four weeks later, I was sent down to Sydney to the Big Brother Movement (BBM) office to learn my fate. Low and behold, my mate George was there waiting for me! He had quit his job in Dubbo. That afternoon, three of us were put on a train to head to the bush to work. It took two days to reach Finley NSW.
Ouch, what an experience! Up before the sun, milking cows. Breakfast was porridge, then back out to work digging post holes. Did I mention that it is late June? Bloody freezing and I didn’t have any warm clothes as I was told in England that one didn’t need warm clothes in Australia – that bugger should have been shot!
Anyway, I discovered the meaning of a packed lunch (which never varied). It was two peanut butter sandwiches and two Vegemite sandwiches plus a plastic covered Styrofoam container full of lukewarm tea. Needless to say I have never touched Vegemite or peanut butter or drank tea since then! I do not know if one can imagine taking a bite of either of these sandwiches for the first time; talk about a cultural shock!
Ok, time for dinner, chunks of sausage meat fried up. Help me I want my mummy! Ok, dinner over, time for bed and it’s not even 6:30pm. I lived in a shack with one single bed, one wardrobe, one blanket – and last, but not least – a long drop toilet.
One day the farmer said to me that we have to slaughter food? Bugger – what does that mean? So – he said to me this is how we do it. He showed me by grabbing a lamb, putting it between his legs and slitting its throat. Oh!! What’s happening to me? Next week I am told you need to do this to live in Australia, ok, I think to myself I’ll give it a go.
The farmer brings me a lamb to be slaughtered. I grabbed it by top legs and with a knife tried to cut the poor bugger’s throat. I didn’t do a good job. The poor bloody lamb took off. The farmer said to go get a wheelbarrow, follow the blood trail and bring it back. No wonder I wanted to leave these bloody people.
When I was in Sydney, I was told I would be supplied with transport if I wanted to go anywhere. So, the first time I asked the farmer if I could ring my mate George and catch up, the bugger charged me for using the phone! Anyway, he supplied me with a push bike, but I didn’t know it was an eleven mile ride on a dirt road to reach the highway. Plus, I must have stopped to pump up the tyres a dozen times, and I never got to see my mate that day.
The next time, some weeks later – (oh, I forgot to mention I was paid ten pounds a week but by the time they took out food and board, I ended up with 2 pounds) – I arranged to meet George in town. I left first thing, got to the highway, tossed the bloody bike in an irrigation ditch and hitched into town to meet George.
Over a couple of beers (first time we had Australian beer) we decided that I was going to his place for the night and the next day we were going to bugger off back to Sydney.
That night, a bit worse for wear, we arrived back at George’s place. “Stay under my bedroom window” he says, “I will just go in and say goodnight to the boss and come and open the window”. In he goes George, sits down in front of the fire and falls asleep, here is me, bloody freezing to death! Just as well his boss woke him and told him to go to bed.
Next morning, after sharing a single bed, George was going out to tell his boss he was leaving. He told me the boss starts out early in the morning, so he had to go out and find him. In the meantime, I could smell breakfast, so I went outside, and thinking that George had cooked for me, I tucked in. Next thing, George comes back and sees me finishing up. “Oh no” he says, “that was for the boss”. Too bad.
A short while later, the boss turns up, but by this time I’m back in the bedroom. I heard George talking to the boss about leaving and asking if he can call a taxi (it turned out that the taxi took 30 minutes to arrive). Now I forgot to mention, George told me his boss
only had one eye. So the taxi arrives, I heard George thanking his boss and saying his farewell. He walked into the bedroom, picked up his suitcase, walked back out and shook hands, said goodbye. Then I walked out, shook the boss’s hand and said goodbye.
To this day, I will never forget the look of shock the poor man had. His one eye was going around and around one hundred miles an hour, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. We both had the same type of clothing on, jeans, blue jacket, plus we both had blondish hair, not to mention our accents were exactly the same. Anyway, we jumped into the taxi and got out of dodge as quick as we could. Had to sit at a railway station all day waiting for a train all the while dreading that the Big Brother Movement had been notified and had sent for police to drag me back!
Two days later we arrived in Sydney and reported to the Big Brother Movement Head Office, near Circular Quay. Needless to say – they were not impressed with us. “Never before has this happened” we were told; “naughty boys”.
We were given papers to report to a car factory in Zetland, near the airport. We found the place and were told to report the next day on the production line. Talk about into the frying pan! I left England because of the thought of living my life working on the line, and here I am, back on the line! Needless to say, after a couple of weeks, we left Sydney, and the Big Brother Movement, for an adventure north.
Taffy, who was on the ship with me, and had travelled to Finley with George and I, had turned up in Sydney. The four of us, George, Taffy, Myself, and Eric, (also from the ship) set off and we were given a lift as far as Newcastle. We ended up on the road, headed north for Cairns as Eric had a brother living up there. First stop Newcastle, where we caught up with a family of five we had met on the ship to Australia. That day we arrived one of the girls was getting married. We were invited along and what a time we had. I am still in touch with two of the girls in the family.
We ended up eighteen miles out of town and our first couple of days were sheer hell. Sunburn, blisters on blisters. Eating sand when it was windy, living on the beach and food consisting of coconuts and fish.
We supplemented our finances by selling coconuts to the tourists, extra cost if they wanted the coconuts de-husked. But the idyllic lifestyle was about to come to a shocking end when I was knocked off a motorcycle breaking my arm and leg.
This accident was to put me in hospital for eighteen months. I had my first stubby and first taste of watermelon. But not a good idea when one is strapped up in traction, and needs a bottle to pee in. I have to say, at this time I was extremely shy, and coming from the North of England I had a very strong accent. I had nurses galore rocking up to my bedside just to hear me talk! Which was so embarrassing for someone that had not had a lot of contact with females. I must say, I was looked after and treated fantastic by all at the Cairns Base hospital (which is no longer standing).
By this time, my mate George is living at Milla Milla. Upon my discharge he had organised accommodation in Milla Milla for me. It was a shack that housed four people, behind a Chinese café. Once again, I came upon a new experience – the famous night cart. These guys definitely earned their money! After a couple of months fighting mozzies, cane toads and bloody big pythons, I left to go back to Sydney. Goodbye George. (I won’t see him for a while).
I arrive back in Sydney still on crutches, but. trying to get a job was out of the question. So back to the Big Brother Movement cap in hand. I have got to say that Frank Mansfield was good to me. He got the Movement to give me a couple of pounds a week to get me by, as you could not get the dole in those days. I needed physio at the hospital every day, which I have to say was hard going at the time. I was living with a couple of boys that I came out with. I was sleeping on an army camp bed, with just one blanket! it was freezing. I still had no warm clothes, and it was a bit of a shock after living in the tropics.
Ok, all is well, no more crutches. Working menial jobs; building sites, brewery, lolly factory, supermarket. George turns up and we move into a unit, five of us all sleeping on the floor. We got word that this family from back home had arrived in Australia and were living in the Bonorong Hostel, so off we go to visit. It turned out that this lady called Joyce had a brother who was the boss of the White Wings cake factory. Next day, George and I went to visit him, we were offered a job on the spot. At the end of each shift our shoes and socks were stiff with flour mix.
George’s mother, brother, stepfather, and stepbrother have emigrated from the mother land and arrived in Wollongong, staying in an hostel. George and I headed south and moved into the hostel rent free and food free. Both of us got jobs working in the steel factory, I think we stayed at the ‘Gong’ for about nine months. By now I have been in Australia for three years.
Rick and I decided to go back to England for my 21st birthday. I spent 8 weeks on the ship, what a great time! I saw half the world (looking back, bloody stupid idea). Anyway, birthday done and dusted, my Dad got me a job in a distribution warehouse, where I was sent to learn how to drive a forklift. All was going great until one day I was hoisting a pallet of baked beans up on to a rack when the pallet just snapped. Down came hundreds of cans of baked beans. Some just burst open, with beans creating one awful mess. I didn’t think this work was for me (I heard some time after that that the canteen was serving up beans on the lunch menu for a couple of years).
At this time, I was making home brew beer. After saying to mum and dad that I was off again, this time to catch up with my mate Rick Shields who I had left Australia with. I decided to take a couple of home brews with me. First night in London, we decided to celebrate by going out to dinner. So we drank the home brew and headed out to a cellar, I don’t remember much, but I was told I stood on a table and sang rugby songs (and for those that do not know, they are extremely rude!).
Both Rick and I decided to return to Australia, and on arriving back to Sydney we were met by two of the girls from Newcastle (we had met up with them at the wedding earlier). It was a great surprise. As was seeing a friend of Rick’s from Ireland ‘Lawrence’. He had come out to Australia the year before we arrived back. He invited us to come and stay with him and his mates. It turned out there ended up being sixteen of us in a three-bedroom-house in Petersham. I have to say, the beds were never cold or empty.
While Rick and I had been in Ireland, we met a guy called Eddie. We had been back in Australia for about six months and low and behold Eddie came knocking on our door one Sunday morning. We became best of mates, I was the best man at his wedding and his son, Lucas Neil many years later became the captain of the Socceroos.
It’s now 1969, the moon landing is coming up. I decided to enrol in a cocktail-making course. Next thing I am working at the Chevron Hilton Hotel, which was supposed to be the best hotel at the time, attracting all the best overseas artists. I met Bob Hawk when he was starting out in politics, I also met the leader of a pop group called ‘The Ted Mulry Gang’. He wanted me to work for him as a roadie, no thanks.
Now I have to tell you a story. In 1965 coming over on the boat (the first time) this mother and daughter (who we stayed with months later in Brisbane) showed me a picture from a magazine and asked me if it was me. I had not a clue who it was. So here I was, working in this topnotch venue and low and behold, walking towards me is the person in that magazine that was shown to me four years earlier. This person walks up to me, shakes my hand, and says to me “you are my double”. That person was Micky Rooney.
Next step, I am working at the Texas Tavern, this was when Kings Cross was swimming with Americans, all due to the Vietnam War. I worked there for a year and decided to move on. Keith, who I met at the Texas Tavern asked me if I would like to go into partnership with him in a Restaurant at Chatswood. Ok, let’s do it! So, a couple of days before we open, we got a visit from the liquor and gaming detectives, and, it turned out they both wanted a free meal for themselves and their partners. I have to tell you they nearly sent us broke with the amount of food and top shelf that was consumed by this bloody crooked pair. We stuck at it for a year or so, but we were not cut out for this type of work.
Time for a change, I got a job as a postman, only bad thing was when it rained and the odd mad dog. One day Keith and I were sent to Carlingford – I had a motorbike and Keith had a pushbike. One day when I finished work, I picked Keith up to finish his round, and when going past a particular gate a big dog lunged at us, we took off leaving letters all over the road. I remained a ‘postie’ for three years – I’d had enough of cold wet weather.
Time to move on.
By now George has moved back to Wollongong, Time for me to put on my good clothes, he was getting married, and I’m going to be his best man, what a day/night that was.
I then moved on to be a courier driver. I worked for Alpha Courier In Sydney. One particular day I stopped off for a counter lunch and quick ale or two at ‘The Hotel’ on the Great Western Highway. As it turned out, one hour later there was a big motorcycle gang war in the car park. It was called the “Fathers Day Massacre”. There were seven killed, twenty-eight wounded. Too many hours driving, I feel it is time to move on.
I get a phone call from Keith, now residing in Townsville, ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. Looks like I am about to give up being a courier driver! Ok, there is a ticket to Townsville waiting for me. I arrive in Townsville, Keith and Peter are both waiting for me, Peter was also a ‘Little Brother’, I had befriended Peter when I worked at Kings Cross.
For the next year I worked three jobs a day. First job was setting up and ready to go at the Workmens’ Club, i.e. cleaning pool table, stocking up fridge, making sure all was in readiness for when Peter came in at 11am to start work. I then headed out to the Rugby Club to help Keith set up a restaurant, we would go our & buy food, then go back and prep for dinner. I had a couple of hours rest then back to working at the Mens’ Club to relieve Peter for an hour – this is about four pm. The customers are coming in now, these men usually stood in groups of 6-8 at a time, each put money on bar and they only drank ponies, this is about a seven ounce glass of beer! By the time I served one lot, the next lot was waiting. By now the first lot had drunk up and rush to fill up again trying to remember whose shout it is. Well it is now five pm back to Rugby Club, get changed into black and whites, ready to wait on tables for drinks. On Sundays we would go out to Magnetic Island, to unwind. It was less than an hour on the ferry. We stuck at this for about a year, then we decided to head for Perth WA.
Left Townsville for Perth but ended up in Darwin first? After a day at Catherine Gorge, only there for couple of days, then headed south for WA. To get a job in Perth you had to go to an agency, so at this time there was Keith, Peter myself, and a guy called Bob who I bumped into in Townsville and I had met in Kings Cross. I got a job in what in its day was known as the best restaurant in Perth. it was called the Mediterranean, and it was the hang out for all the millionaires who wanted to be seen e.g. Alan Bond was a regular. He would have put the Queen to shame – he had three birthdays a year, always with a couple of dolly birds on his arms. I did three years at this place. The maitre d’ was an Italian who thought he was God’s gift to women. We had an altercation and he sacked me.
I met up with Peter and he got me a job working at a mining camp at Newnam. I work three weeks on one week off, there was thirty workers at the camp working three shifts a day. These workers had any type of food they wanted, I was a cook at this camp cooking breakfast lunch and dinner.
This was a dry camp but it seems that Peter somehow had access to alcohol, as one day when I was on my one-week off Peter got lost in the desert – and when they found him he was talking to his watch asking for me. Time to leave.
I moved back to Perth back to the employment agency where they got me a job as a cook in the takeaway a on Rottnest Island.
At first the job was nice and slow, but come school holidays, it was a mad house, working five am to midnight cooking greasy food.
I had sleeping quarters behind the takeaway. One had to be very careful where one walked both at night and in the morning as the bloody island was full of Quokka poo. The only transport on the island was pushbikes.
One day I walked into the hotel and the staff told me every time I walked in there they felt hungry, because I smelled like a walking chip.
On my day off I used to go into Perth by ferry. One day I saw this school bus for sale so I bought it and got it converted to a mobile home. The season is starting to come to an end. The bus is ready to be picked up. Time to leave the island and say my goodbyes heading southward for passengers.
Next up at Adelaide got a job picking grapes. What a hard job that was! Made one dollar first day and at the end of the day I was so sore from bending over picking grapes. I spent four weeks there till the end of the season.
Heard from my uncle George in Sydney that Keith was in Adelaide about to get married for third time, so I got his address just making it to the church on time. Next stop Sydney spent a couple of years with Uncle George then headed to Victoria to drop off a passenger then headed back north first stop Toowoomba where Keith was now living.
He was working on a double-decker bus that he had bought from a radio station. The top was open as it had been used for promotions. It took us eight weeks to get it ready for the road. I worked in a bar for this period.
Time to leave we were headed for Darwin. Keith’s bus broke down and he couldn’t get parts for four weeks, so I left and headed for Darwin. First thing I did when I got there was go to the dole office, and in the queue in front of me was Peter. I got a job in a French restaurant as a waiter, Peter got a job in a bar – I did not know at the time Peter was an alcoholic.
After six months in the restaurant I got a job next door in the Victoria Hotel – where I had a great time as there was live music. This hotel used to do the beer can regatta, and
on this day, we took the barge out. In the middle of the day it was full of kegs of beer so if you participated in the regatta and you sank, you could swim to the barge and get free beer.
There was this one guy who had only one arm and he was tying up these crabs. And they were big. The wet was due and this was the time for people to be silly.
By this time, I had met Cathie at the Darwin Cup. One day I took Cathie to the crab tying championship contest. There was this one guy who had only one arm and he was tying these up the crabs. These crabs were big – the wet was due and this was the time for people to be silly.
About this time, I met a guy called Mick who was living with six guys from Tasmania and he asked Cathie and I if we would like to go to Kakadu National Park for the day. The trip was a little longer than we expected so we had to camp out for the night, Cathie and I slept on a pontoon but we didn’t sleep very well because of all the mozzies. Next morning when we woke up there was a sign saying beware crocodiles – OUCH!
Fantastic place – buffaloes and waterfalls.
It’s time to say goodbye to Peter as he was working at Bachelor (about an hour out of Darwin), cooking for the local aborigines, so we decided to head south to Cairns, which brought back a few memories from my motorbike accident.
Stayed in a caravan park for a couple days, then headed for Townsville for a couple of days before heading back south where we pulled into Airlie Beach. As usual the first stop was the employment agency where I got a job at the hotel. Started straight away working cooking takeaway food. I was working with a French chef who used to smoke in the kitchen all the time.
I asked the guy in the agency for a piece of paper to give me leave to go see someone on Hamilton Island. So off I went had an interview and was told to start the following week working in one of the bars there.
Meanwhile I returned to work Airlie Beach (the following morning) and when I went back to the hotel to work the French chef sacked me telling me that I left the kitchen dirty the day before. When I told him I didn’t work the day before, he just said too late, your wages are in the office, goodbye. I found out later he had a friend he wanted to give my job to.
The following week I started on Hamilton Island, but, it was only casual for a week as the island is not really opened yet. There were only a few guests. I made one guest fish and chips his name was George Harrison – one of the Beatles.
They had the official opening the following day, with the singer/songwriter Peter Allen performing at the opening.
Now back in Airlie Beach I went into the resort called Wanderers Paradise, which, at the time, was owned by Ansett. I walked up to the bar and the barman said to me “do I know you from Darwin?” “Yes” I said. “Are you looking for work?” “Yes” I replied. He went on to ask if I could come back the next day when the boss is here so next day Cathie and I turned up (she was working in an office as a draft person). I was introduced to the supervisor and the three us sat down at the table and – low and the behold – he ordered lunch for us and said he was looking for a bar manager. He also asked Cathie if she’d like a job waiting table.
So, for the next couple of days I had to teach her how to carry more than two plates. Every Friday the resort put on a fancy dress party but the staff were not allowed to win first prize even though we dressed up too. We spent our days off on a yacht belonging to one of the staff members. I supplied the grog, the chef supplied the food. Most nights we had cane toad racing and, as this place was a resort, every night there was a buffet of was prawns, crabs, oysters and fish.
After a couple of months of this food it does get a bit boring so one day when there was a cyclone off the coast, everyone was told to go home, and the guests told to stay indoors. So, Cathy and I took off home with a couple bottles of champagne and a roll of tape, to tape up the windows, and wedged a mattress against the glass door. We opened the champagne, fell asleep and missed the cyclone.
I then met a guy called John who worked at the resort who came from Brisbane. We all decided to leave together and head south to Brisbane. Cathy and I were going to head further south but we decided to stay a couple of days in Brisbane. The first time we went to the dog races we discovered that, as it was a Friday night, they had a smorgasbord. We were given the best seat in the house which was normally occupied by the Minister for racing. Russ Hinze. You will not believe what the buffet was – bloody seafood! Said goodbye to John.
Next stop Canberra as this is Cathie’s hometown. We stayed for a couple of months to get Cathy’s house in order so she could sell it.
Then on to Tasmania. I was going into partnership with Mick (who I had met in Darwin) in leasing a pub. One of my bad decisions in life. I worked twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week and as interest rates were killing us, we were not making any wages. The Taxman was taking all our profit, so we sold out.
I decided to get an accreditation, so I went to TAFE and ended up with an Advanced Degree in Hospitality Management. Got a job with the government teaching unemployed people bar work. This was eight-week course – 3 times a year and I did this for two years before a new Government disbanded the course.
It is now 1999 I applied to work at the Sydney Olympics and got a job as a supervising chef – I really don’t know what the job entailed – but it definitely was not chef work as I only cooked two eggs in twelve weeks!
I worked in the area were the athletes ate. My shift was three days, on one day off. I was staying with Rick at the time when I met this guy call Michael who was the supervisor at the racecourse in Launceston where I lived. He offered me a job when I got back home so after fourteen weeks, I went to visit Michael at the racecourse and he offered me a job, but it was only on a Saturday. However, he introduced me to the manager of a hotel called Archers Manor, so I worked there at the bar, kitchen and buffet.
At this time AFL was starting up-in Launceston so when the teams from the mainland came over, I did the buffet at the football grounds – this lasted for about two years.
I have now come to the end of my story one last thing at like to tell you, about eight years ago I became a LORD.
I wish everybody well and goodbye. Lord Dennis James Slevin.
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