Ship name / Flight number: Mooltan
Arrival date: 26/11/1951
As the only child of working-class parents, I grew up looking for adventure. Immigrating to Australia with the BBM gave me that.
I was born in Hastings, which is a coastal town in the south of England. My Mum and Dad ran a café but Mum said that Dad ate all the profits so we moved when I was about 7 years old. We seemed to move around quite a bit. This might have affected my learning, because I wasn’t a good student.
In 1942, it looked like the Allied Forces were losing World War II and that Germany would invade England from across the Channel any day. We were living on the south coast and all the beaches were barricaded with barbed wire. There was talk of English children being shipped to a safer place, like Australia, so Mum sewed nametags in all my clothes in preparation. However, the German submarine attacks were increasing and it was considered too dangerous to send a shipload of children into those perilous waters. I stayed in England but the idea of Australia as a good place to live had entered my mind.
I finished boarding school when I was 16 and took an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. While I was studying for my trade at technical college, I made two good friends who decided to come to Australia with the BBM. I heard their amazing stories and that got me thinking.
In those days, when you turned 18 years of age, every male in the United Kingdom had to do two years of national service. I didn’t fancy that so I asked my parents if I could apply to join the BBM. It was hard for my parents, since I was their only child, but they said: “Derek, we wouldn’t stand in your way”. My father had been to Australia twice when he was younger and I actually had a half-brother in Perth, from his first marriage.
I sailed from Tilbury on the RMS Mooltan in November 1951. It was good fun. I was able to meet Ken, my half-brother, when we docked in Fremantle. We arrived in Sydney in time for Christmas. Instead of celebrating Christmas day in a small family of three, I was spending it with 26 other Little Brothers in the heat. I was a responsible lad so I was made head boy at the BBM hostel in Homebush. My ‘Big Brother’ in Australia was William Beard, who ran a building supplies shop in Strathfield and was a member of a Rotary Club.
Maybe it was due to my Big Brother’s connections that I was sent to work for David Roy McCaughey as a jackaroo. Roy McCaughey was the nephew of Sir Samuel McCaughey, the father of the Murrumbidgee irrigation scheme. He had a beef cattle stud called Borambola Park near Wagga Wagga. It was his show property so he wanted it kept spick and span all the time. Jackaroos usually work out in the paddocks, but I worked seven days a week raking up leaves around the expansive homestead and helping the stud groom look after the prize-winning shorthorn cattle. I got food and board and had a little room to myself. I was allowed one day off a month.
On one of those rare days off, I caught the bus to Wagga Wagga and happened to see a BMW 500cc motorbike in a shop window. I fell in love with it and made the rash decision to buy it for £4/week on hire purchase. It was a huge risk, because as well as not being about to afford it, I also knew that McCaughey forbade his employees from having their own transport (except a push-bike). I had to ask the neighbouring farmer if I could park the bike on his property. He agreed, but the Borambola Park manager, Mr Gaston, still found out about it and I was forced to quit. It didn’t really matter as I went to work for the neighbour as a farmhand and that was more interesting work. I stayed there for about two years.
Now that I had wheels, I could drive the 25 miles into Wagga Wagga at night to go to dances. I found a good dance teacher and learnt the foxtrot and quick step. But swing was the thing. I fell in love with swing jazz music. Wagga had a full swing band run by Lorraine Winters and they played at the Coconut Grove. As well as dancing with the girls, I loved to listen to the band. When I heard Colin Forral play the clarinet solo for the song ‘The Golden Wedding’, I was mesmerised. I wanted to learn the clarinet! I bought an old clarinet from Colin and started taking lessons from him. Jazz music became one of my major life interests.
In 1953, I was called up for National Service in Australia. I was supposed to complete 176 days of training for the army but I fell off my motorbike and broke my arm so I was deemed ‘unfit’. Having left England to avoid National Service, I didn’t want to have to do it in Australia.
While I was working at Borambola Park, I had become friendly with the other jackaroo, a lad named Donald McMahon, whose father was a police sergeant in Sydney. He said I needed to think of my career and get a trade, and suggested I learn to be a wool-classer. I did a course through the East Sydney Technical College and could study the first year part-time by correspondence from the farm. Then I went to Sydney for the final six months of the course and lived with Donald’s family in Brighton Le Sands.
When I finished the course, one of my teachers asked me if I’d like to join his team that would be travelling all over New South Wales for the next shearing season. He took me on as a wool sorter. I could not believe my luck when, in 1956, I found myself working in a shearing shed near Cootamundra at the same time that the Australian Jazz Convention was in town! I was able to combine my work and my passion.
The shearing season ends with winter, so I returned to Sydney in 1957 and got a job at Goldsbrough Mort, a huge wool store at Pyrmont (which is now an apartment building). My job was to move large bales of wool around for the wool-classers.
Back in Sydney, I started dating a young lady who lived at Bondi Beach. Maybe that’s how I contracted Hepatitis A, (through kissing). It’s a very contagious disease that mucks up your liver. I had to spend three months in bed on a very strict diet with no fat to help my liver recover. I was lucky that Mrs Muller and her family, who were migrants from Germany, were also boarding with me at Brighton Le Sands and she cared for me.
When I finally recovered, the wool store was quiet, so I looked for other work. I applied to the big department stores, David Jones and Grace Brothers, but nothing came of it. Through a friend’s aunt, I was introduced to the Managing Director of International Correspondence Schools and he liked the look of me and offered me a job selling correspondence courses in central west NSW. They gave me some training and off I went! Luckily, I had already traded the motorbike in for a tiny Fiat panel van (500 cc engine), primarily so I could drive girls home from dances, but now it would be my work van and mobile home. I put a mattress in the back and hit the road.
While I was door knocking in Gulgong, I saw a sweet little Corgi pup and decided to buy her. Whizzer became my companion on the road. With so much driving to do, I needed a bigger van with a more powerful engine, so I traded up to a Peugeot 203. Unfortunately, I was trying to show off one day and rolled the van outside Walgett. Fortunately, the Corgi and I were able to get out of the upside-down van but it meant we were grounded while it was being repaired. I sold a lot of correspondence courses while I was in Walgett and became the top salesman for two consecutive months.
I was starting to feel disillusioned with my job and became unhappy when I realised that about 80% of the people I was selling correspondence courses to were failing. Even if they didn’t complete the course, they still had to pay for all of it. I wanted to quit but the Managing Director in Sydney convinced me to drive to Adelaide to see the South Australian Manager – he knew how to give a sales pitch! I ended up staying with the company and being their sales rep for the southern half of Adelaide.
While I was living in Adelaide, I was able to pursue my passion for jazz. I became a band groupie and one day, the trombonist’s fiancé’s flatmate asked if I would partner her friend to the annual Kelvinator Ball in 1959. I asked if I could meet her first and my beloved Whizzer whizzed on her floor! Even though it wasn’t the first impression I had hoped to create, we went to the ball together and within four months we were married.
In 1960, we decided to go to England to see my parents. After spending three months with my family in Sussex, we decided to stay on. As an experienced comptometrist, Anne got a job at a brewery, and I went back to working with cars – this time as a crash repairer. I’m glad we stayed, as my father died while we were there.
In 1963, the Cuban Missile crisis was heating up and it looked like World War III was imminent. Anne’s father wanted her back safely in Australia, so he paid for her and our son’s airfares home. I was to take the cheaper route back – a double decker bus across Europe and Asia and then fly from India. I wrote to Anne, pretending that I was going to stick to this plan, but saved and borrowed enough to fly home. When I landed, I sent her a telegram saying that I was on a flight to Mt Gambier (her home town in South Australia). She was completely surprised and met me at the airport with Whizzer – it was so touching and memorable that my Corgi remembered me after three years! I made it home in time for the birth of our second son, Scott, in October 1963. We had two more children together.
Anne and I set up house in Mt Gambier and I started repairing cars and trucks again. After about 12 months, I decided to set up my own business called ‘Gambier Speed Shop’ selling exhausts and ‘hot bits’ for cars. In the 1960s, you could only buy a standard model Ford, Holden or Valient and if you wanted any extra features, you had to buy them yourself. I developed the best speed shop business outside of Adelaide. Business was booming, so I sponsored a friend from England and his wife and family to come out to Australia and join Anne and myself as a business partner. Unfortunately, he also took a liking to my life partner, and he and Anne had a daughter together in 1970. I left Anne but, with the help of her father who sold me his home for the price the Council valued it at, I stayed in Mt Gambier so I could provide some stability for our four children. At that time in my life, I felt more comfortable with cars than with close relationships. Love wasn’t something I was used to talking about. It was like a new language that I had to learn.
One of the ways I learnt about love, was by reading The Secret Life of Plants, a revolutionary book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird that was published in 1973. The last chapter of the book is about Findhorn, a spiritual, ecological community in north-east Scotland and I felt powerfully drawn to go there. I also wanted to go to England to re-connect with my dear old Mum. I decided to go there in 1976 and took a second job as a drink waiter at a local motel to help fund the travel.
The trip changed my life. The workshops I did at Findhorn helped me see the spiritual side of life and understand that time is a construct we have created to try and understand reality. I was able to connect at a more emotional level with my kids. When I got back, I kept working as a drink waiter and that’s how I met Carole, who has been my wife since 1979.
In September 1980, Carole and I flew to England for three months so she could meet my mother. It was the last time I would see Mum, as she died in 1981. When we returned, Carole enrolled in a teaching degree at Sturt College in Adelaide, and we moved there with her daughter, Sharon.
I was unemployed for a while, so I started doing volunteer work with street kids at a drop-in centre. This led to working at Glenelg Beach over the Christmas holidays where there was an amusement park. Because I had a bus driver’s license, I got a job with the Department of Community Welfare driving a double-decker bus which doubled as a mobile drop-in youth centre. This led to me being invited to join the board of management for the Norwood Independent Therapeutic Residence for Adolescents (NITRA) which led to me working at the Bowden Brompton Community Workshop School – the only school in Adelaide for kids who were struggling with the mainstream education system. It was the best job I ever had in my life. I was employed as a typist/gardener/bus driver. I had also trained as a Shiatsu Practitioner, so I was treating students and teachers who were suffering from headaches with acu-pressure.
While my work-life was flourishing, my marriage was fraying. Carole moved back to Mt Gambier in 1985 to take up a temporary teaching position but I stayed in Adelaide. In 1986 she moved to Ramingining in Arnhem Land for a permanent teaching role (her brother was the acting principal at the school and recommended her for the position). In 1987 she contacted me and said there was a job as a bank manager at the only bank in the community and would I join her up north?
I was furious! I was doing the most satisfying work of my life and she wanted me to give it up for her! I was faced with a very difficult decision. I remember sitting up in bed and saying to God: “I promise to be obedient to whatever you say”. God’s unmistakeable response was: “your place is with your wife”. To the dismay of my colleagues at Bowden Brompton, I resigned the next morning and flew to Ramingining in June 1987.
Even though I was hopeless with figures, due to Carole’s consistent help and support, I ran the most successful bank in Arnhem Land. We were adopted into an Aboriginal tribal family and employed some of our ‘relatives’ as bank tellers. This was fraught, because their loyalties were divided between their extended family and their employer. When one of the Aboriginal tellers started ripping off the customers, Westpac (who owned the bank) sent in an auditor. They confirmed my report of fraud and Ramingining Council’s book-keeper decided to bring in computers to try and tighten up the record-keeping. This was very stressful and I was starting to ‘go troppo’. After nine years in Ramingining, we decided it was time to move on.
We were sad to leave, as Carole had worked her way up to the position of deputy principal at the school. I also had a successful small business selling Avon beauty products! From 1988-1995, I was the second biggest seller in Australia. The ladies loved it!
We were looking around for a desirable place to live and in 1993, we bought 33 acres of heavily-forested hillside and an octagonal two-story house near Lorinna in Tasmania for $70,000. We leased it out until we could move there in January 1995. Together, we planted a beautiful garden and called our place ‘Deva-dell’ as we believe that plants have spirits too. We stayed there until 2017, when we decided to move to Sheffield, Tasmania, to be closer to health services. Carole has bad arthritis in her right knee and lower spine due to being a machinist for clothing company Fletcher Jones for three years – she can no longer walk and uses a wheelchair. I have had a mini-stroke and also have dodgy knees. We look after each other – it’s part of our ‘love language’. I feel like I was destined to be with Carole – she is my teacher but there’s been some damn hard lessons.
Looking back on my life, I couldn’t imagine being in England for all the years I’ve been in Australia. I’ve had a wonderful life. I am so grateful to the BBM which enabled me to come here.Contact Little Brother