Ship name / Flight number: Fairstar
Arrival date: 08/06/1965
1964 – Farm work in England
I left school at 15 years of age and we were living close to the village of Rosley just outside the city of Carlisle, Cumberland (now Cumbria) on the England/Scotland border. I went to work on one of the local dairy farms. As you can imagine, it was a seven-day-a-week job with half a day off on Saturday. In the winter months the cows were kept inside 24/7, and I remember how we sometimes got a load of whiskey grains to supplement their other feed, hay etc. It was the mash left over from the brewing of whiskey from one of the distilleries in Scotland. The cows just loved it. I guess it just made them happy with their lot in life.
My worst job on the farm was having to sweep the cobble-stoned holding yard. The cows would stand in the yard waiting to go into the milking shed after coming in off summer pastures with full stomachs which they proceeded to empty out all over the cobble stones. Sweeping was carried out with a hand yard broom that used to give me large blisters. I was starting to see there wasn’t much future for me working there. It was interesting to see on my first visit back to the farm with my family in 1990 (25 years later) the cobble stones had been concreted over. It’s a pity really as they would be quite unique nowadays. You could just see and hear in your mind’s eye, a scene from the old days of a hansom cab and pair clattering over them.
1965 Leaving home
While working on the farm, a friend said to me one day, ‘Why is a young guy like you working on that farm? At your age, you should get out and travel.’ At the time we were getting publicity about emigrating to either Australia or Canada but as a 16-year-old I couldn’t get any further as you could only emigrate with a legal parent or guardian unless you were 21 years of age. One day my mother read about The Big Brother Movement (BBM) who could be that guardian. We sent off an application in about August 1964. I had an interview and was on the boat ‘The Fairstar’ on the way to Oz on 7 May 1965, aged 17 years and nine days. When I look back now – I’m not sure how I convinced my parents to let me go.
Life on the boat was pretty good with fifteen other Little Brothers and a chaperone. It took about five weeks to get to Sydney. On arrival, the group was split up with us farm boys going out to the training farm at Fairfield, and the non-farm boys going to a hostel in Sydney. We came via the Suez Canal which was later closed from 1967-1975.
On the Fairstar
We had a stopover in Port Said, Egypt where we were able to leave the ship. A group of us wandered around the bazaar with no chaperone or guard being encouraged to enter the local brothels as we passed. Fortunately, none of us took up the offer that I know of. I bought a duty-free tape recorder as I intended to send tape recordings about my adventure back to the family in England. I found this an easy way to send news home, unfortunately, most of these were recorded over and sent back to me with their family news. However, some were saved and are now digitally archived in the Immigration Museum in Sydney. My suitcase, duffel bag and tapes were featured in the Bicentennial Expo exhibition celebrated in 1988.
Training Farm, Sydney
When we got to the BBM training farm at Fairfield, we were all given different jobs. Some with little farming experience had to do the usual farm work and milking cows, feeding stock etc. As I had worked on a farm in England for two years, I was given the job of helping the cook. This involved setting the tables in the mess room, helping to cook and serving the food, then clearing the tables and washing up by hand. We slept in in large bunk-room together and this was seen as a big joke on me by the other guys until it was realised that, although I had to get up first and was the last to finish at night, my time was my own after the breakfast dishes were done until I had to go back to the kitchen at about 11:30 am to help get lunch ready. Then I was off again till 4:30 pm when it was time to prepare supper. It was a great time as I would saddle up the resident horse and ride all around the land adjoining the farm. This area is now covered with houses.
Train Journey to Finley, NSW
I spent about three weeks on the training farm, then it was onto the train for the trip with another Little Brother ‘Dave’ down to a sheep/wheat Irrigation farm at a little place called Finley, NSW.
The night we travelled to the Sydney station to board the train, it was raining heavily and we got quite wet. We had a carriage to ourselves, so got out of our wet coats. Being early winter, the journey down through the outback NSW in a railway carriage was very cold with no coats to keep us warm. After travelling overnight, the train stopped at Narrandera railway station for breakfast (there was a large railway dining room there at the time). It was here that someone pointed out to us that there were large canister foot warmers under the seats that were full of chemicals that retain their heat for a long time after being heated at the start of the journey. When breakfast was over Dave and I spent the remainder of our trip hugging one of these canisters each as if it was a new girlfriend.
We landed on the Finley railway station platform early in the morning looking out on a little town surrounded by nothing but wheat fields and a very large irrigation canal. Having embarked on this journey from the city of Carlisle in the north of England, I stood on the platform looking out on the flat empty landscape. My thoughts were, ‘I hope they have a horse I can ride on this property’. I was soon to find out that Keith, the owner who was about to pick me up, didn’t believe in horses as they ate the grass that sheep could eat. There was one motorcycle for Keith and a push-bike for me. The motorcycle for me would come later which was finally welcome as I’d left my motorcycle behind in England.
Dave was picked up by another dairy farmer (Mr Coats) and taken off to Deniliquin. I was off to ‘Tulla’, a sheep/wheat irrigation property owned by Keith and Phylis Alexander. It was an old soldier settlement block that was issued through the Soldier Settlement Scheme to soldiers returning from the war. Keith had purchased the property from the original owner. Although there was a dairy on the farm, I didn’t have to milk the cows as that was the job of the share-farmer. This pleased me immensely.
Around the irrigation
I could drive a car and had a motor-cycle learner’s permit and could reverse the tractors and trailers but had to learn how to irrigate pastures. This involved turning on and off the flood irrigation bays at the right time via a concrete stop with a slide in it. If there were no ‘stops’ in a paddock, you had to dig a small outlet in the channel wall to let the water out of the channel. You also had to make sure you had enough openings for the amount of water coming down the channel, otherwise it would overflow at its lowest point and flood somewhere, usually at the worst possible place. When you had the water running down your bays, you had to close off the channel opening when the water was about three-quarters of the way down. If you didn’t there, was a risk of overflow the end. This sometimes involved setting the alarm to get out of bed in the middle of the night to change over bays. In the warmer months you quite often came across brown snakes out feeding on the frogs and other creatures being flushed out by the water.
Keith had warned me that if I saw a snake I was to kill it as next time I may not see it – step on it and get bitten which would be a death sentence by the time I could get back to the house to get any help. Snakes were not protected at that time in Australia, but 17-year-old boys were. It’s OK to say ‘just kill it’ when you have a long-handled shovel but when I saw my first brown snake, I only had a pair of long-handled fencing pliers with me. So, I hit it with them but that was the first and last time I ever got that close to one. No long-handled shovel, and they were free to go on their way. It was too much of a close encounter.
Learning to kill & dress sheep
Soon after I started to work with Keith, he asked if we killed our own stock on the farm in England. I said ‘No’. He said ‘that will be one of your jobs here. Come on, I’ll show you how to do it’. So off we went out to round up a ‘killer lamb’. First job was to catch your lamb, tie up its legs, throw it in the back of the ute and then back to the outdoor killing block. Next, we cut its throat, then skinned and gutted it. Then over the shoulder and the lamb was carried to hang in an outdoor flywire covered cooling room overnight for it to set. The next morning, I had to cut it up into roasts and chops with a butcher’s handsaw. Now those people who do the weekly shopping at the butcher’s shop would know that some parts of the lamb get directed off for dog food, the neck, for instance. However, Keith always insisted I cut that up for chops too, then he would serve it up for my breakfast a day or two later. It was not my favourite lamb cut as it’s very tough when it’s been fried on a pan – although I can’t complain because Phyl was an excellent cook and meals were good. I’m sure other Little Brothers did farm butchering but for me, these skills were to lead to a job that set me up for life. More of that later.
Keith had an amateur pilot’s licence and sometimes we’d go to the Tocumwal Flying Club about 22 km from ‘Tulla’ for a flight. This was always good fun especially flying down over the property and then onto ‘The Grange’ near Moama to where we’d soon be relocating.
Driver’s licence & first car
For the first few months I was stuck on the ‘Tulla’ property as it was about 20 km out of Finley and there was only one vehicle, Keith and Phyl’s Ford ute. I could drive a car okay having had lessons from my Dad before I left home. I also had a learner’s motorcycle license which you could get at 16 years of age in England. I even had a little motorcycle to go to work on. But of course, here I needed to get an Australian licence.
So, when Phyl took me into Finley one day to help do some shopping, she dropped me off at the police station to get a car Learner’s Permit. When I went into the station the young constable behind the counter asked me if I had an English Licence, so I handed over my motorcycle Learner’s Permit. It must have looked pretty good to him as it was in a bright red folded hard cover. He hardly looked at it, held up some red, yellow and green cards to see if I was colour blind, then he asked me to complete an application form with my full name and address and told me my licence would be posted to me in a few weeks. That was it, a full Australian Driver’s Licence and no driving test. This licence also allowed me to drive small trucks. Keith wanted me to have this licence so I could drive the farm truck full of wheat to the local wheat silo while he continued to drive the header taking off the wheat crop during the season.
Now I needed a car. Keith had a friend in the motor trade so he found me an old FJ Holden with a tow bar at a good price and ‘Wahoo!’ I could get off the property. I could go into town on a Saturday night and catch up with some of the other Little Brothers in the area who could get a lift into town. There wasn’t a lot to do in downtown Finley on a Saturday night. We had a fish’n’chip/hamburger shop (called Greasy Greg’s, not sure his name was Greg but we were kids and that’s what you do). There was a cinema but we had seen most of the films in England as it took a while for them to get out to outback Aus. Then there was the pub. Being NSW, the pub stayed open till 10.00pm, whilst in Victoria they still had 6:00pm closing until 1 February 1966. This was just before decimal currency was introduced in Australia on 14 February 1966.
Most of the guys loved hanging around the pub but I had come from a non-drinking family, so it was all so unfamiliar to me and took a bit of getting used to. Plus, on a minimal farm wage (ten pounds a week plus keep) you couldn’t be handing too much over the bar with a car to run and maintain. It’s all different now of course, as I love to have a beer with mates or at a barbeque.
December 1965 – First Call home after 6 Months in Oz
Keith and Phyl asked me if I’d like to use their phone to call my Mum & Dad for Christmas. As overseas phone calls were not in the price range of Little Brothers working on minimum wages, I thought this was a nice gesture from them for someone so far from home.
I had a nice chat to my Mum, Dad and sister for only a few minutes, then hung up. It was hard to get much out of them because my Mum and sister cried most of the time, but my Dad was OK. Keith then asked me to ring the operator back (all calls were put through by the operator back then) and ask her how much the call had cost so he could take it out of my wages. A nice bit of Christmas spirit there I thought. But they were different times back then.
The excitement of Christmas that year also included the news that Ronald Ryan and an accomplice had escaped over the wall of Pentridge Prison in Melbourne after shooting a guard dead. It was suspected that they’d escaped into NSW somewhere. So, Christmas dinner was eaten with a loaded .22 rifle leaning in the corner of the room just in case he wandered onto our property. I’m not sure what use such low-powered rifle would have been, but we felt we were ready. They were eventually caught in Sydney and Ryan was the last man hanged in Victoria.
Home alone at ‘Tulla’
By Christmas 1965, I’d been on the farm six months and had enough skills so that Keith and Phyl felt they could go for a holiday with their two little girls on the Victorian coast and leave me to look after the farm and the irrigation.
While they were away Dave, who I’d travelled out with, was having trouble at the Coats farm that he had gone to in Deniliquin. He called me up to say that Mr Coats was proving very difficult and had sacked him and had already arranged to get a new Little Brother to arrive the following week. Dave had to leave the farm straight away and had nowhere to go. As I now had a car of my own, I went over and picked him up and brought him back to my farm at Finley, which had an extra bunk-house next to mine. He helped me with all my chores and with two people on the job, we were finished by lunchtime and were able to drive into Finley and go job-hunting for him. After two days he got a job at the Springfield Poll Hereford Stud, so between the two of us, he had very neatly dodged a bullet as far as work goes and being able to support himself.
Can you imagine my surprise when Keith came back and I told him about Dave’s dilemma as he’d met Dave at the station when he’d picked me up, so knew who he was. I was caught by surprise when he was very angry at what I’d done. I asked him why, as he had Dave working on his farm for nothing for two days. He complained about the extra food that was consumed, I told him it was the cheapest worker he would ever get and asked, would he have refused to help a fellow Australian working in England under the same circumstances. He seemed to take this on board and let it go at that.
One of the things that worked in my favour while Keith was away was I had saved the life of one of his dairy cows. I noticed it was down and unable to rise. As I had seen this before in England, I thought it may be milk fever which is caused by the high demand for calcium in milk production, or maybe bloat which is caused by a large production of gas in the cow’s ruminant stomach. This happens when the cow feeds on rich new pasture. So, I headed back to the dairy for a bottle of anti-bloat liquid (Gaviscon) for cows, if you will. Plus, a bottle of calcium and a syringe to inject the calcium into the cow. This involves sitting astride the cow, opening its mouth, and getting the bottle of liquid down its throat. Then you have to inject the whole bottle of calcium into the muscle of the rump so that it can be slowly absorbed into the bloodstream. Three quarters of an hour later the cow was happily back on its feet. I told Keith about this when he returned. He seemed most impressed and asked me where I had learned these skills.
Another day, I had to deliver a lamb when I came across an ewe out in the paddock who was obviously in trouble. When I went to investigate, I found the lamb’s head was breeching so reached in, turned the head around and the lamb slipped out. Unfortunately, it had died but the mother was saved.
Moving to ‘The Grange’ Moama, NSW
After about nine months on ‘Tulla’, Keith sold this property and we moved down to his family home property ‘The Grange’ (now – remember that name it looms large later) which was also irrigated on the newly opened Moira Irrigation Scheme, also in NSW. ‘The Grange’ was closer to the Victorian/NSW border being about 17 miles from Echuca (Vic) which is a much bigger town than Finley. However, here we only had a party line telephone. A party line involves several properties sharing the one line and the calls are distinguished by the ring on a morse-code system of long and short rings. (These phones were featured in the old movies. There is no dial pad, just a big silver winder that you give a good twirl when you want to get the operator to connect a call for you). Our call code was long-shot-long so when you heard the phone ring, you had to listen hard to see if it was for you or one of your neighbours. Of course, if you needed to make a call out and the line was being used, you had to wait until the other person had finished their call before making yours. Once a year we would have a working bee for all the party line people to go along and check the integrity of the line. It was made up of a single strand of fencing wire with the joints soldered together to make a good contact. We also checked the insulators on the posts and cut back any tree branches that may rub or fall on the line.
1966 – Living at ‘The Grange’
My little house on the ‘prairie’ at ‘The Grange’ was a step up on the one at ‘Tulla’ in Finley. I had two adjoining rooms with a connecting doorway, an indoor shower but no toilet. The toilet was still a ‘long-drop’ across the yard with cut up newspaper as toilet paper, the same as Finley. And yes, the brown snakes and red-back spiders liked to get in there out of the weather too. The old Aussie song ‘There was a red-back on the toilet seat’ isn’t so funny when there isn’t a toilet seat to lift up to check under, only a round hole cut in the top board of the frame of the out-house. You soon learn to use it in the same manner as an Asian or European toilet.
A bonus at ‘The Grange’ was a TV in the breakfast/dinner room attached to the homestead. I’d only had a radio at Finley so was very cut off from what may be happening in the world until we moved. This had been quite a culture shock as I’d come from watching a nightly news bulletin which heavily featured the building of the Berlin Wall, ‘Top of the Pops’, the launch of The Beatles and Rolling Stones and all that rock music scene in England. The radio had been fine, but it was good to have a television back.
I saw my first kangaroo whilst driving through Moama, the small town on the other side of the Murray River to Echuca. It turned out to be someone’s pet, but I just had to get out of the car and take a photo of it. At the time, it was unusual to see kangaroos in our area. It’s different today as they’re protected and can be found almost everywhere in the country. They’re a real danger to cars driving at night. It’s rather ironic to have seen the roo here as it was in a paddock close to a now defunct Kangaroo brand petrol station. I thought this was a very funny name as in England we would laugh at some learner drivers who were having trouble mastering the clutch on their car and would start off with a series of hops. We’d say ‘they’ve got Kangaroo petrol’.
Spiders and snakes
‘The Grange’ seems to have been a great breeding ground for brown snakes as I came across more there than at the Finley property. Their babies looked like harmless little legless lizards but had a small black dot on the top of their heads which they lose as they mature. They’re very aggressive and are just as poisonous as their mums, only not as much of the ‘Jonestown’ kool aid to put into you.
Just a side note here, most people get bitten in their own homes as the snakes like to come inside looking for rodents, so we always kept up our baiting programs for mice. The filter box on inground pools is also one of their favourite spots but on most country properties in NSW in 1966, inground pools or swimming pools of any description were not a common feature even though we had plenty of irrigation water to fill them. An exception was the pool at the Berryman’s on the next property down from us. They had a few older children who could take advantage of it.
My life with Keith and Phyl on ‘The Grange’ was pretty good, having seen the conditions that some of the other Little Brothers had to put up with. I was lucky to have been sent to work for the Alexander’s. But the winter months in my little shack could be cold. There was a fireplace so I could get some wood for heating, but summers were harder.
There are lots of mosquitoes on an irrigation property and I didn’t have a fly-wire screen door. There was only a small window with fly-wire on it and no way of creating a through draft for cooling, or an electric fan. So, I decided to make my own out of an old washing machine motor and a radiator fan off an old tractor. I welded the fan onto the pulley stub of the electric motor then mounted the motor onto an old bedside cabinet and fired it up, then got ready to jump into bed. But I couldn’t get to sleep. As you can imagine it made quite a racket, also I kept thinking ‘if that weld on the fan lets go, the fan is going to rip around this room like a wild tornado and it’s sure to come across me in bed on one of its circuits’.
So, I jumped up and put it outside to get it to blow through the flywire on the window. Although if it had let go, it could still have found its way through the fly wire and into the room. It worked well but was too noisy and the worry of the fan weld letting go kept me awake more than the heat, so after a couple of days I had to stop using it.
1966 – Off with his head – Christmas
The wheat crop was off so Keith and Phyl went off for another holiday on the coast, and I was back looking after everything again. It was hot but I’d found an old army surplus hammock complete with mosquito netting. ‘Now, where can I hang it that would catch a nice breeze?’ The corner of the chook pen had a nice sturdy post with a peppercorn tree close by so I slung the hammock between the two, set it up with pillow, sheet, and small blanket just in case it got cool in the wee hours and settled down for a good sleep. Sometime during the early morning hours the rooster must have decided that it was near enough to morning that all his girls should be waking up to lay some eggs. Or maybe he didn’t like the look of this new black shape hanging off the end of his domain. He started, ‘cockadoodal doo’ etc., etc., then he would settle down for a while and I’d get back off to sleep — then he’d start again ‘cockadoodle doo’ etc., etc., and then settle down again. I’m thinking ‘if that bloody thing cockadoodle doos’ one more time, —- ‘COCKADOODLE DOO’! Right, I grab the torch and the axe, stride into the chookhouse, grab the rooster, WHOP, off with his head! I chucked him over the fence for the next fox that came along and thought, ‘problem solved’ and headed back to bed. It didn’t do any good though, as the rest of the hens were so disturbed, they muttered and cackled for the rest of the night.
When Keith came back, he asked me what happened to the rooster. I said he was looking a bit seedy and I thought I should put him out of his misery and not let him linger on to die. This seemed to satisfy and no more was said.
At this point you may be thinking, if everyone is away why aren’t you sleeping up in the big house under the air conditioning? Well, no. You have to know your place. The hired man does not get to sleep or even use the toilet in the boss’s place.
There was an outside flushing toilet with a proper toilet roll attached to the house that faced onto the garden. We were not allowed to use it but I did one day when I was working in the garden and they were away. Keith fronted me up about it when he got back, I don’t know how he knew, maybe he had the toilet roll marked or something.
Breakfast was at 7:00 am but we had a house cow. I had to milk it by hand before breakfast and save enough milk for the house and put the rest through the milk separator to make cream. This was also hand operated. The separator had a small bell attached that dinged to indicate when you were turning the handle at the right speed. All of this had to be done before breakfast but was not considered working time as that started at 7:30 am after breakfast.
Along with the general sheep/wheat work, we were clearing some of the paddocks of dead trees to set them up for the new irrigation bays. Some of the stumps were quite large and could not be pulled out by tractor and chain so we would have to dig under them with a small post-hole digger. Then on three or four sides we’d pour in two jam tins of nitrogen fertilizer mixed with diesel (a fertilizer bomb if you will) then put in a quarter of a stick of gelignite with a detonator and fuse. We estimated that a jam tin of this mixture had the same explosive power as three sticks of gelignite. I can still remember the mixing details – 20/1. When you were ready to light the fuse, you held the head of a match tightly on the end of the fuse and struck it with the matchbox striker tape till you saw it starting to fizz. Then you’d jump in the ute and drive away to what you thought was a safe distance and wait for the big bang. Sometimes you’d get some debris land around you and you’d think ‘Sh-t that was a bit close, we’ll drive a bit further next time’.
One time when we went back to inspect our work there were a couple of brown snakes in the hole. They hadn’t been killed by the explosion and were very angry. So, out with the long-handled shovel again.
Because we were in NSW, we had to buy the gelignite from Deniliquin NSW, not Echuca Victoria which was closer. I had a friend in Deniliquin, so Keith would give me his explosive permit and I’d go to the stock and station agents to buy it. ‘How many sticks would you like?’, they would ask. I would always take the maximum allowable, plus a box of detonators and a length of fuse, pop them in my car then go and see my friend for the weekend. It was a very simple process. No other checks needed.
Not only was gelignite easy to buy, you could also buy ex-military rifles. At the time, the Australian Army had changed from the old .303 rifles to the new NATO 7.62 rifle. The old .303 rifles had been in use from the Boar War through to the First and Second World Wars and were being sold off to the public. There were ads for them in a lot of the monthly magazines, you just had to send off a cheque and your address and they’d send you one through the parcel post. They had full wood right up the barrel and a small cleaning kit in the butt. You can only see them now in war museums. I never got one as we only had rabbits and foxes around us which we used to go out spotlighting for with a .22 rifle, a .303 rifle was too big to shoot them with.
Compulsory national service surprise
Also, at this time was a nasty little surprise waiting for all of us Little Brothers who emigrated to Oz in the mid 1960’s. When we landed, we came in on some sort of entry immigration visa and not on our own passports. We must have been considered Australian citizens and, as such, with conscription for the Vietnam War, we had to register for the draft for the army on our 18th birthday along with Australian-born 18-year-olds. There was no pulling up stakes and heading back to England as we had no passport and were obligated to stay in Australia for two years having come on an assisted passage. (10 Pound Pom, or 16 Pound in my case). So, I had to send off the papers on my 18th birthday, even though at the time I had only been here 10 months. I then had to wait to see what happened. Luckily my number didn’t come out which was a great relief and I wasn’t drafted. Other Little Brothers weren’t so lucky. Denis Slevin got called up but was rejected because he had a broken arm and leg from a motorcycle accident. Another guy from our group, Norman was called up and went to Vietnam.
Conscription was a bit of a chook raffle really. The barrel was spun and those who won the birthday draw were destined for military training through the National Service Scheme. The scheme had been abolished in 1959 but was reintroduced in 1964 for the Vietnam War. For Australian-born guys it was bad enough, but you never hear anything about immigrants such as us being required to register and possibly being called up to fight in Vietnam. Most people would expect that as Britain was not at war with Vietnam and we were only prospective citizens, we should have been exempt. This now seems to have been forgotten. When I tell people about it their reaction is always the same ‘But you couldn’t have been an Australian citizen in 10 months’. But there you go, only we remember it now.
1967 Another Little Brother for ‘The Grange’
There was so much work in setting up the new property, we got another Little Brother called Tim. (Can’t remember his last name). I had been friends with him for a while as he worked on the property next door to ‘Tulla’ in Finley. He was keen to have a move and be closer to a larger township.
He had come out a year before me, in 1964, but I don’t know the date or the boat he came on. He worked with us at ‘The Grange’ for a year or so, then moved on again. I think he went to Sydney. I was sad to see him go as we were quite good friends being the same age and backgrounds. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep in touch, I’d love to know if he stayed in Oz or went back home to England.
Good rains are forecast
One morning when Tim and I were finishing breakfast, Keith came out into the dining room to say there were good rains coming by the end of the week and we needed to plough up and seed one of our larger paddocks before the rains got here. He said that to do it we’d have to work the machinery 24 hours a day in eight hour shifts to get it done in time.
Tim and I thought that would be OK between the three of us, even though you’d need to take a turn of driving all through the night depending where your shift fell. We’d have sixteen hours off to get some sleep, have shower /meals, etc. But that wasn’t what Keith had in mind. He intended that Tim and I were to do eight hours driving each, then swap over and do it all again. This meant, when you were relieved you had to drive back to the homestead in the old fuel truck, refill it with diesel from the main tank, have a shower, something to eat and get some sleep in the time left. This wasn’t long as you had to be back down to the paddock in time to refuel the tractor and let the other guy get home with the fuel truck to do it all again.
After two days of this Tim and I were dead on our feet, so much so I went to sleep at the wheel during the night. There were still some very large redgum trees in the paddock that we needed to plough around. I’m not sure what made me wake up in time to avoid the tree but I thought ‘this is stupid’, I pulled up over to the part that had already been ploughed, took the keys out of the tractor so it couldn’t be moved, made a pillow out of my jacket and went to sleep under the warm tractor in the soft dirt and had a good sleep till morning. I woke up at daybreak with dirt and bugs down my shirt collar and started ploughing again.
When Keith came down to check how I was going, he said ‘I thought you’d have got through more of this by now’. I told him what had happened, that I was lucky not to wreck the tractor and I wasn’t going to do these eight hour shifts anymore. So, he started to take his turn which made it better after that and we got the crop in before the rains came. Keith made a lot of money that year but of course Tim and I didn’t see any extra in our income. No penalty hours. We did, however, get a few days holiday at the Wellington Hotel in Melbourne as a break from the farm. It was not long afterwards that Tim decided he’d move on to Sydney.
1968 – New Year’s Day. I didn’t know it at the time but this was going to be the most fortunate year of my life
Life at ‘The Grange’ (remember that name, it looms large in the next part of the story) continued much as normal. I had sold the old FJ Holden to another Little Brother before I left Finley and bought a 1964 Ford Cortina, so was able to get into Echuca to meet people and go to the Saturday night dance held at St Mary’s Catholic Hall. One night during the June midyear school holiday break, a friend of mine, Ian, got a young lady up to dance. Her name was Camilla Grange and at the end of the dance he offered to give her a lift home. When I met up with Ian he said ‘Hi Derek, meet Camilla Grange, I said we could give her a ride home. Is that OK?’ I was driving him around at the time as he had lost his licence, I said ‘OK’ and off we went. When we got to Camilla’s house she said ‘Can you come in and say ‘Hi’ to my Mum as she will wonder whose car this is?’ We say ‘OK’ and in we go to meet the family.
Camilla had said her Mum was English also, like me, so when we met we had an instant rapport. (She had been a front line nurse with the 8th Army during WWII and had come out to Australia when she was demobbed to be with her sister who had married an Australian seaman during the war. She’d met and married Camilla’s Dad who was also a returned Australian soldier). We were offered a cup of tea, which gave me a bit more of a chance to talk to Camilla, we talked about the Murray River being in flood through the Barmah Forest and how it was pushing all the animals up onto little islands of higher ground. She said she would like to see that. So Ian and I arranged to pick her up the following Saturday and take her out. All was going well till we got bogged. I asked Camilla if she could drive and I’d get out with Ian and push us out. She said ‘No’, I was better to drive and she would get out into the watery mud and push. I thought ‘Wow’, what a great girl this is.
As Camilla was doing Year 12 and this was week two of the midyear break, she was not able to go out again until after the end of year school exams. We kept in touch and after the last exam I asked her out to a movie and we started our courtship. With me being so far out on the farm all week and the phone situation being so bad and not private anyway, she would write me a letter Monday which I would get in the roadside postbox Wednesday and I’d see her on Saturday. It was a bit of a long-distance love affair but we made the best of it.
One Saturday midday I was in my car heading into town to see Camilla when Keith came running out of the house to say the Berryman’s on the adjoining property had finished their irrigation run early and we were the next in line to take the irrigation water. He said he would set the watering bays up but I would have to be back to the farm by 2:00am Sunday morning to change the bays over. I said, ‘But I’m going into town to see Camilla and I’m not going to be back until Sunday night’. He said that was not fair if he was going to set it up now. It was only right that I should be back to change it over, so I had to cut my weekend short again. But it was the beginning of the end of my time working on the farm.
1969 – The end of farm work
I continued working for Keith for a few more months. He and Phyl had met Camilla and liked her a lot. They probably thought that I would stay on and live in a house Keith had recently bought from a block in Echuca and had transported out and set up on ‘The Grange’ supposedly for another working man who had a family. But I was getting tired of being tied to the farm and always having to be there if something needed to be done.
As Camilla and I had been going out now for quite a while and were getting very close, I’m sure her parents had envisaged a better future for their daughter than being out on a farm.
She was looking to go to university and going off to live on a farm 20km out of town wasn’t in the mix.
The situation fixed itself one day when Keith got mad at something he thought I hadn’t done properly and an argument ensued during which he said, ‘I think you should find yourself another job’. After a while he cooled down and apologised but it was too late, it was the push I needed. So, after three years of working for Keith, which on the whole had been a good experience, it was time to move on. We remained friends and he and Phyl were special guests at our wedding.
Unfortunately, some years later, about 2003, Keith was to die from melanoma cancer. I’d lost touch with him over the years as we were now living four hours away in Mildura. He’d also fallen on hard times. He sold ‘The Grange’ in the early 1980s and retired into Echuca but had invested in a Queensland housing investment scheme that had gone belly up. I felt bad for him as, in his own way, he had given me a job and home-base for the start of my life in Australia.
Mid 1969 – The next stage
Because I’d been killing and dressing sheep for some time now, I was able to line up a job in the Echuca Abattoirs. What a change it was – less hours, only five days a week and more money.
Camilla and I got married 28 November 1970, she was 20 and I was 22 years old. Due to family reasons Camilla’s tertiary studies had been put on hold and she was working in the office of a local builder in Moama. She rode a Yamaha 75 scooter and would ride across the bridge each day from Echuca to Moama. Miniskirts were all the rage for young ladies at the time. This would cause quite a stir at one of the truck depots as we found out later when a friend, Kerry went to work there. On his first day at the depot, all the guys in the workshop started to wander out to the front of the workshop at about 7:50am Kerry said, ‘Is it smoko already?’ They said, ‘No, we go out to wave at a girl on a scooter in a miniskirt’. Of course, on this particular morning the girl waved back when she saw Kerry. This had never happened before and it made him an instant star with the rest of the guys.
1972 – Another move for the better
The Echuca Abattoirs was only small at the time so there was not much chance of getting a permanent job as a slaughter-man and better money. So, we moved to Goval Meats in Shepparton which was a large export establishment. I got a job with them as a permanent slaughter-man. At this works, there was a large team of government meat inspectors who worked for AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service). I would work opposite their station on the production line and think what a great job that would be. It would make a better career than being a slaughter-man. I got to know a few of the inspectors quite well and they encouraged me to enrol in a course to become a meat inspector as there was a shortage of inspectors both in the local and export trade and you could be assured of getting a job as soon as you qualified. This meant a better working life plus government superannuation.
Fortunately, a meat inspection course started up the following year in Shepparton, so I applied. Unfortunately, so did most of the workers at the abattoirs. The course was being held as night classes at one of the local tech schools. So, on the first night of the course so many people turned up, I couldn’t get in the door of the classroom. It was like that for the first month or so. You had to get there really early just to get a seat.
There was so much to learn, all the diseases and parasites and their correct names, what they looked like in the animal, what could go for human consumption, what would be condemned and go to the rendering works or pet food establishment. But I loved it all and would take all my textbooks to work with me and work on them during the lunch break. I think this was considered ‘nerdy’ by the other meat workers as I never saw anyone else doing it, but I didn’t care.
Working on the kill-floor made a big difference here as my station was at the head of a very long production chain that would take about 30 minutes to get to the inspection point at the end of the line. So, when the last sheep for the run passed me, I would go over to the end of the line and watch the inspectors do their thing and get some experience with them. I also got a lot of encouragement and support from my wife Camilla at this time. Plus, with her typing skills, she would type up the assignments for me.
As the months went on, the people that were finding the course harder than they thought started to fall away, so getting into the classroom was no longer a problem. So much so, that by the end of the course only 13 people sat the final exam with five of us passing. I got a job straight away as a relieving inspector around the Shepparton area, Tongala, Kyabram and Tatura. I was then offered a fulltime job in charge at the Mildura Abattoirs with the proviso of having to stay in Mildura for three years. As it happened – we stayed 33 years.
1975 – 1998 stationed in Mildura
We liked life in Mildura and were settled but wanted our own house. Borrowing money was a problem. Eventually, we decided to subcontract and build our own house as owner-builders as the banks at the time would not lend enough money for us to buy an existing house. Once the concrete slab, framing, roof, electrics and plumbing were done, we put up the plasterboard ourselves with help from friends to put up the ceiling sheets, as they were too heavy for two people to hold up there and screw at the same time. Once brickwork was completed, we moved in with just a small amount of furniture and floor coverings in a couple of rooms and finished it off from there. After six years of marriage and our own house to live in at last, it was time to start a family. We had two boys – Sean and Paul.
Once the boys had grown a little, Camilla enrolled in university and commenced library studies becoming librarian in-charge at St Joseph’s College. She had an interest in computer technology and was to become a leader in the use of computers in education as they were adopted by schools.
1993 – On the road
If the abattoirs you were stationed at had a temporary shut-down (due to low supply of stock) you might be asked to go into a fill-in pool of inspectors. This was the case for me in 1993. I had been at the Mildura Abattoirs for 18 years and had seen it grow from a small establishment with solo pens for each individual slaughter-man (who was employed by local butchers), to having a large beef and mutton production chain system, plus a larger area to slaughter and dress pigs. However, there was a downturn and I was forced to spend time on the road as a relieving meat inspector. During this time AQIS also provided an opportunity for me to upgrade my qualifications at TAFE in Shepparton.
One of the abattoirs I worked at was in the town of Deniliquin (where I had picked David up from the Coat’s property 28 years previously). So much water had flowed under the bridge since then. Also, one of the extra jobs I had to do every Thursday was to drive down through Finley to a small knackery to complete official paperwork to comply with their licence to operate. It was strange to be driving back there on some of those familiar roads after all that time, thinking of that 17-year-old boy who’d only been in the country for a few months and everything that had happened since then. Unfortunately, I never took the time to drive out to the old ‘Tulla’ property to see how it may have changed.
While I was stationed at Deniliquin I met up with Lenny, a slaughter-man I’d worked with at Goval Meats in Shepparton. He had moved to this abattoir when the Shepparton works had closed down. It was good to catch up with him as Camilla and I had been to his wedding. His bride had worn Camilla’s wedding dress as it was a perfect fit for her but more importantly, it was a ‘shotgun’ wedding and they had no money for that sort of thing with a baby on the way. Lenny introduced me to his son who was working with him. He was in his early 20’s. Lenny said to his son, ‘Remember the photo of your Mum and my wedding? Well, it was Derek’s wife’s dress your Mums’ wearing in that picture! ’Unfortunately, the photo had lasted but not the marriage.
After a while, the Mildura Abattoirs started up again and I was able to get back home for a while, until there was another downturn. This time the abattoir was sold off and was to remain closed for many years.
1997 – Back on the road again
When the Mildura Abattoirs closed once more in 1997, I was back on the road again as a relieving inspector. During this stint, as Camilla was working and the boys were at school, the family remained in Mildura and I travelled to Bordertown, South Australia, returning home at weekends. We were to maintain this lifestyle for seven years. Bordertown was a great place to work with a large team of inspectors. It had two shifts doing 8,000 lambs per shift (16,000 per day) most of which were exported to the European Union (EU) and America (USA). By this time, our sons, Sean and Paul were at university in Melbourne. Christmas was one of the busiest times of year when extra workers were needed, which coincided very nicely to provide our boys with holiday employment. They would come over to live with me in Bordertown and have a summer job for three months.
2003 – Early retirement on the horizon
Camilla and I were keen for me to complete as many years as possible in the job to get the full benefit of my government pension. As this involved a bit more traveling and me being away all week, we decided to put up with it. It was harder for Camilla as she was working full-time, plus, by this time both our fathers had died and our two respective mothers were living in Mildura. My mother was living with us and Camilla’s mother was in a local retirement home but liked to come home for the weekends. I will always be grateful for what Camilla was able to do in keeping it all together for us all until my retirement date came up and I could return home permanently.
By 2003 my 28 years with AQIS were up and I was able to take a 54/11. This involved working until I was 54 years and 11 months and then I could retire on my government pension. If you hit 55 years, you had to work on until you were 60 years old to get the same benefits. It was an old superannuation scheme that had applied until 1998. It was one of those ideas they must have dreamt up in the 1950s to keep people moving through the workforce and to keep employment turning over. By 1968 they realised people were living longer and changed the scheme to keep you working longer. I was lucky to be in the earlier scheme.
So I retired and started to paint the house – but that didn’t take long. Camilla came home one day and said they were having trouble getting reliable cleaners at her school and would I like to do some cleaning. So, I started working again. This was to be a new phase of my working life as I was given the job of cleaning and looking after the school’s basketball stadium.
2005 – Surprise contact after 40 years
One day while working at the stadium I was contacted by the Brother Movement (BBM) to say that someone who had come to Australia in the same group of Little Brothers as me would like to get in touch and was it OK to pass on my contact details. I said, ‘OK’. Within half an hour I’d had two phone calls. One was from Denis Slevin who now lives in Tasmania. The other was from Kit Scally who at the time was living in Sydney.
It was great to hear from them. Kit had been on the bunk below mine in the same cabin on the ‘Fairstar’. I think he may have been one year older than me and was into technology and seemed quite switched on in telecommunications. He even fixed my radio one time after it had an accidental fall off the top bunk. I was a little disappointed we had lost contact as he had been one of the guys who went to the city hostel when we got to Sydney and Denis and I had gone to the training farm at Fairfield. Denis had actually been sent down to a Finley property about a week after me. Unfortunately, I didn’t know he was there as his experience was not a good one and he had left Finley before I got my car to be able to drive into town and meet up with any of the other guys. Like all of us, he will have a great story to tell.
We all have had a chance to catch up at the next BBM reunion at the Fairfield farm, it being our 40th anniversary of arrival in Australia in June 1965. Kit was particularly interested in having a look around the farm as he had never been there and I guess wondered where and what had happened to the farm guys after five weeks with us on the high seas. I’m sure Kit will also have a great story to tell.
1998 – We need to buy a house in Melbourne
By this time both of our sons were at university in Melbourne and living on campus which was costing us a fortune. Fortunately, by now we were in a position to buy a townhouse in Brunswick East for them to live in plus an extra bedroom for another student to help pay the rent. It was about five km from Melbourne University so they could ride a bike or catch a tram to get there and it gave us a base in Melbourne. We still have it 20 years later. Both of our sons live in Melbourne. Paul is a nursing educator and Sean works in science communication.
2008 – Goodbye Mildura!
In 2007, Camilla suggested to me that as our parents had died and there was nothing to keep us in Mildura, it would be good to move down to Melbourne to be closer to the boys. Plus, we were spending a lot of time driving up and down the highway to see them, a trip of about six and a half hours each way. The real motivation to make this move came after we had a near miss when a driver coming in the opposite direction had gone to sleep at the wheel, crossed over to our side of the road, woke up in time and crossed back to his correct side, only to over-correct and spin out behind us. We thought, ‘Well, that’s our near miss!’. But it happened again on almost the same stretch of road some months later. This time it was more serious. The driver didn’t wake up till he hit us, Camilla was driving at the time and probably saved everyone’s lives, his and ours, by avoiding a head-on by taking evasive action and heading for the bush on the side of the road. We were still side-swiped and wrote off our new Mazda 3 which we had bought because of its safety features. So, we started to look for a house and new jobs in earnest.
19 Dec 2008, we made the move and now live on the outskirts of Melbourne at Chirnside Park. Camilla works as Head of Library & Digital Learning at Mazenod College in Mulgrave.
I have a retirement job at Mount Lilydale Mercy College doing some maintenance, bus driving and traffic control on the school crossing. We’ve never regretted the move and have now lived here for eleven years.
2020 – Drawing to a close
In recent years, Camilla and I have been fortunate to do quite a bit of travelling. Two years ago, while visiting Camilla’s brother in Toronto, Canada, we took a flight over to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It has a long history as the place where people from Britain landed in the days of sailing ships and most of the streets have English or Scottish names. It is where most of the passengers who perished in the ‘Titanic’ disaster were brought to be buried. They are all in one graveyard which is now quite a tourist attraction after the success of the most recent ‘Titanic’ film. We also went to Montreal, which is where people immigrating by ship landed in the 1960s. This was of interest to me as I could easily have immigrated to Canada instead of Australia.
A good time to compare my life’s choices
As I said at the start of this story, in the mid 1960’s English citizens had a choice of assisted migration to Canada or Australia. I’m happy the BBM helped me make the choice I did for many reasons. It appears to me as a visitor that the life of the average Canadian is not as sweet as in Australia. Workers receive only two weeks annual leave for a start. It also seems to be important that you have a job that pays private medical benefits. There are very few older cars in everyday use as the salt/grit they put on the roads during the winter rusts the cars away. That’s after you have had to dig the snow out of your driveway just to get on the road. Two sets of tyres are needed – winter and summer treads. Every house needs a basement with an oil or gas furnace just to keep the house liveable during the winter months. Plus, house maintenance costs are very high with moisture and frost getting in to cause damage. All of this done on a minimum wage of about $12 or $13 an hour at the time I was there. Some jobs you get laid off during the winter months as it’s just too cold to work outside.
To finish up, I would just like to say how grateful I am to have been accepted by the Big Brother Movement to come to Australia all those years ago (55). I was able to secure a career to take me through to early retirement. I also got to meet and marry a great girl and a life partner. Camilla and I will celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary in November 2020.
We’ve been fortunate to have a few trips back to England. The last visit was 2017 when our son Sean was working in Edinburgh for a number of months and we took our grandson Gabriel over to see him for Christmas.
It was a thrill to take everyone to see my old home as the people who now live there invited us in and I was able to take a photo in exactly the same living room where my last family photo had been taken back in 1965 before I left England.
Revisiting your old life is a nostalgic, joyful experience but returning to Australia is always a thrill. It’s a great place to call ‘Home’.
Thank you BBM
Derek & Camilla Elliott
2 July 2020Contact Little Brother