James (Jim) Reardon
Ship name / Flight number: Orcades
Arrival date: 22/07/1949
From one Liverpool to another, on opposite sides of the world.
I was born in Liverpool, England on 14th August 1931. I was the fourth of seven children. My mother lost a couple more along the way. I was quite sick during my early childhood, my younger brother Albert and I had scarlet fever and double pneumonia. We were both admitted to the Royal Infirmary, but my brother didn’t survive. I remember my Mam carrying his coffin on her lap in a horse drawn carriage. I watched it go down the street and out of sight. I don’t know where he was buried. They were hard times in the early 1930s, in the Great Depression.
In 1939 the war came to England and to Liverpool. I can remember the bombs and screech they made as they rained down upon the city. The tremendous bang as they exploded. There was a factory in the street next to mine that was bombed and our house sustained some damage.
Thousands of school children were evacuated during the war and I was one of them. I went to Wales and lived with an old couple. The man was not nice. One day, my Dad cycled all the way from Liverpool to Wales to visit me. He didn’t like what he saw so the next day he took me home. I was evacuated again, this time to Chester, not that far from Liverpool. Each night while in bed I could hear the planes flying over on their way to bomb London and Liverpool.
Looking back on my life during those days, I was quite happy. I had a good upbringing, hard but fair. My Dad taught me how to look after myself. He taught me how to box. I boxed at the Red Triangle Boxing Club in Everton and Mellor House boys club in Paddington Street. We were able to have a bath there too – it cost sixpence (five cents in today’s currency) to get into the tub. My mate Reg Muir and I would get in together because it was cheaper.
I liked school, and was a reasonably good scholar. I wanted to go on to the Liverpool Collegiate, but one required a uniform to go there and my parents could not afford to buy one for me. So, I left school when I was 13 years and 10 months old. My Dad wanted me to join him in his business as a slate and roof tiler, but I nearly fell off the roof early in the piece, so that didn’t work out.
Instead, I took a job as a delivery boy for a local grocery store (The Magnet Stores) at wages of two shillings and six pence (25 cents) a week. I used to deliver orders on a push bike, which had a big basket on the front. I would deliver in all weathers – wind, rain and snow.
Then I was offered a job carrying coal around the houses at two pound, ten shillings per week (five dollars). That was a lot of money. Mam used to take it from me then give me two and six back for me to spend (25 cents). It was very hard work. The sacks of coal were heavier than I was. I used to deliver coal to tenements which had eight flights of stairs, at about ten steps in each flight. It really took it out of me, but I was young and could handle it.
Every Saturday when I finished work. I would go the Gafton Dance Hall. It was a terrific place to dance as it had a sprung floor. I think it cost three pence to get in and that included a piece of cake and a cup of tea. I enrolled in Gaywood Dance Studio, I wanted to learn ballroom dancing. The teacher, whose name I can’t remember, was a professional boxer. I got my bronze certificate for dancing. I reckon I would have obtained more, had I not come to Australia. I loved dancing.
I used to visit my Aunty Pearly in Uxbridge Street and she showed me an advertisement in the Liverpool Echo that changed my life. The Big Brother Movement wanted young boys to come to Australia and be farmers. I applied and was accepted, but before I could go, I had to get ten quid to pay [part of] the cost of my passage. That was a lot of money. It took me almost a year to save it. Harry Jolliffe was coming with me, but then he changed his mind. It was June 1949 and I was 18 years old.
My Dad took me down to Lime Street Station to get the train to London. I told my Mam not to come down, but she did, running as usual and brought me boiled egg sandwiches. I hated eggs but they were seen as luxuries because our food was still being rationed. When the train was about to leave, Venie (my girlfriend) kissed me and left lipstick on my face. Dad said: ‘wipe that jam off your face’.
It was at Lime Street Station where I met Bill Niven. Bill was going to Australia from Liverpool too. We hit it off together and became good friends. We are still friends more than 73 years later.
The sea voyage on the SS Orchades was terrific. It was the best holiday I’ve had in my life! There were 20 ‘Little Brothers’ all together – they came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I was fascinated by the various ports of call. It opened my eyes – the countries I saw were beyond my wildest expectations.
There were two Australian boxing welterweights on board: Mickey Tollis and Johnny Isis. Micky asked me if I would I like to give an exhibition of boxing with him. I said yes – it was an experience to box with a professional. When I had finished one boxing match, a couple of blokes came up to me and said: ‘we have some good boxers in Australia’. I said: ‘I am not going there to box, I am going to work on the land’.
Our first Australian port was Perth in Western Australia. We were met by an enthusiastic group of people who put on a BBQ lunch for us. I had never been to a BBQ before and the size of the meat they were cooking! We had never seen so much food. Rationing was still on in England and had been since 1939. We used to get 2 ounces of butter a week, a shilling’s worth of meat a week, and a quarter pound of chocolate once a month. Our tummies were not used to so much food. We were all given ice-cream in cones, how lovely it tasted. We had a group photo taken which I still have in my album.
We sailed into Circular Quay, Sydney, on 21 July 1949. The first thing I bought was Juicy Fruit chewing gum. I had never had chewing gum before. We were met by Mr Frank Mansell, the secretary of the Big Brother Movement and then taken by bus to Liverpool Training Farm. It was our introduction to rural Australia before we were sent out to our allotted properties in various parts of NSW. I went from one Liverpool to another, on opposite sides of the world.
Bill Niven and I spent about ten days at the training farm [Karmsley Hills]. We didn’t learn a great deal at the farm – a little bare back horse riding. We would ride to the Post Office to get the mail. We dug out rabbits and had to kill them, I found this very difficult and thought it cruel – to ring the rabbit’s neck – but was told they had to be eradicated as they ate too much grass.
A big bloke by the name of Ken Tubbs was the supervisor. He used to give some of the guys a hard time, abusing them and standing over them. He was having a go at one bloke and I stepped in to stop it, so Ken had a go at me. I came off best, which was lucky I suppose.
Bill Niven and I both left on the same day by night train to Young – about a 12-hour trip. It was August and it was cold. There was no heating in the train carriages, which were called ‘Dogboxes’ or ‘Doggies’. There was a tin tray with sand in it to warm your feet. It was very primitive.
When we arrived in Young at 6am the next morning, Bill went to work for a Mr. Ellerman at Bribbaree, north-west of Young. Bill was most fortunate to get Mr. Ellerman. He was given the day off to rest after our journey and get acclimatized to the property. I wasn’t so lucky.
I was met at the station by Mr Barrie, a Scot, who owned the orchard I would be working on. When we had travelled about 20 minutes, I asked if he had picked up my suitcase. He said no and went off his brain! “Time’s money!”, he kept shouting at me. We had to go back to the railway station to get my case. I knew then, he was going to be a hard task master.
When we arrived at his property, he showed me where I would be sleeping: a small bed on an enclosed veranda with no windows. He told me to get into my working gear as I had to start work straight after breakfast. He took me to a paddock and gave me a huge crow bar to start digging holes so he could put posts in for fencing. The ground was solid and it was hard yakka. I was pleased that I had worked hard hauling coal – it put me in good stead for this.
I worked for this guy for three months, from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. During this time, he never once took me into Young. He and his wife would go into town every week to do their shopping. Mr. Barrie was very aggressive towards me; he had fought at Gallipoli. I told Mr. Barrie if he was a few years younger I would take his head from his shoulders.
When eventually he took me into town, I met Mr. & Mrs. McAuley. They were sort of welfare officers. I introduced myself, and they said that they had heard of me from Bill Niven who had come to town quite often. They could not understand why I hadn’t been brought in. I bought myself a Malvern Star bike for £18 pounds – I was earning the paltry sum of £2/10 per week. I rode the 13 miles back to the property and told Mr Barrie that I would now be knocking off at 4pm on a Friday and going into town for the weekend. That’s what I did.
Bill Niven and I used to write to each other and after I bought my bike, I would ride to see Bill one weekend and he would come over the following weekend. When we went into Young, Bill and I would go to the pictures on a Saturday. We always had booked seats.
I left Barrie’s orchard after about four months and went to work for Jack Roles in the summer of 1950. Mrs McAuley helped me find that job. Roles ran a dairy and I had to milk about 12 cows a day – by hand. I had never been up close to a cow before! My living quarters were no better with Roles. I lived in a tin hut which had a concrete floor with a single bed on one side and a bath tub and a chip heater (to heat water) on the other. It was extremely hot in summer: in those days you would get temperatures in the 100s Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius) for days on end.
Next, I went to work on Jack Creighton’s property. He taught me to drive his ute, and I got my driver’s license. He wasn’t doing me a good deed – he wanted me to be able to load his ute with 180-pound (about 80 kg) sacks of wheat, then drive the ute to the silos in Young and unload it and come back and do it all over again, and again. This was the daily routine until the end of the crop season. During my time at Creighton’s, I drove sheep, put in crops and worked in the shearing sheds. In the sheds, I used to pick up the heavy fleeces and throw them on the bench for the wool classers and sweep up around the shearer’s feet. The first time a shearer shouted out ‘tar’, I didn’t understand him because I hadn’t given him anything (‘ta’, pronounced ‘tar’, is an abbreviation for ‘thank you’ in English). I soon learned. A shearer rubs a bit of tar into the sheep’s skin if he accidently cuts it while shearing.
I also worked on a 10,000-acre property named E U Watson Estate north of Young. I had nice quarters to live in with another Little Brother, Richard Tubey. He looked after the animal side of the property while I took care of putting in crops: wheat and oats. I was the first to drive a Caterpillar Tractor, the only one in Young at the time. If I worked on a weekend, I used to get paid extra. Dick and I had to do our own cooking and took turns in killing and cooking a sheep. I found it quite difficult at first, but one got used to it after a while.
When you were sent to the bush with the Big Brother Movement, I think they forget about you. A lot of boys did it tougher than me – I heard that some had to sleep in chicken coops! I wrote to Frank Mansell one time about my poor wages and he said that it was all part of the experience. That wasn’t good enough for me.
In 1951, after my two years with the Big Brother Movement was up, I gave the bush away. There was a war on in Korea and I wanted to have a go. I had been on the receiving end of bombings so I wanted to do my bit. I went to Sydney to join the navy. I was so pleased when I passed A1. Because I was under 21 years of age, I had to have my Dad’s signature on my enlistment papers, but he wouldn’t sign it as he wanted to see me first. I wasn’t too pleased about that at the time. Now that I am a parent, I can understand why.
As there was no way that I could get back to the UK, and my Dad couldn’t afford to come to Australia, I had to wait until I was 21 to join up. While I was waiting, I took a job working behind the bar in the Commercial Hotel in Young. Bud Fisher was the licensee. We had a blue when his wife accused me of leaving a glass on a windowsill and I said she was a liar. He stood up from his chair and walked towards me as if he was going to hit me, and I said: ‘don’t start anything you can’t finish’. I picked up a chair and said: ‘this will bring you down to my size’, then Fisher said: ‘you’re sacked!’ So off I went, back to farming for a little while.
I joined the Navy on 14th August, 1952, the day I turned 21 years old. I was assigned to HMAS Cerberus at Crib Point, Victoria. My eye sight was not good enough to work as a stoker or Able Seaman, so I joined as a Ship’s Steward. I always wanted to join the navy from the time I was at school. I had finally realised my ambition: I was in uniform at last.
While I was in Melbourne on leave in December 1952, I met up with Joyce Hall again. I had met her in Young in 1949. Back then, she didn’t want anything to do with me, a Pom. This time, I used my good looks, charm, charismatic personality and all the other features that I possessed to make sure that she couldn’t refuse me! Joyce was the first and only girl I feel in love with. Her father didn’t like me, but Joyce was 21 years old, so he couldn’t stop us getting married. I still asked his permission to marry his daughter though.
On the 18th of July 1953 we were married in St John’s Anglican Church in Young. Bill Niven was my best man and Mr. & Mrs. McAuley stood in for my Mam & Dad. We travelled by taxi to the church and the reception. When everyone was kissing the bride and groom, one bloke kissed Joyce and I tapped him on the shoulder and said: ‘don’t make a meal of it!’ He turned to me and said: ‘just as well we are related now or…’ I said: ‘don’t let that stop you!’ I took off my coat and told him to come outside, but he didn’t. Joyce wasn’t too happy, and walked away.
For our honeymoon, we caught the train to Brisbane and stayed at the Roma Hotel. We were there for just a short time as I was going to Korea. I was assigned to HMAS Sydney, an aircraft carrier and away for about eight months. I loved being a ship’s steward – it was the best job I ever had. I worked in the bar of the Officer’s Mess. I got to know all 136 officers on board and what drinks they liked.
When I returned to Sydney in June 1954, one of the officers I had worked with, Lieutenant Craft, arranged for me to be drafted to HMAS Vengeance, which was going to the UK. Joyce was able to sail to the UK too and meet my family. It would be the first time I had seen them since coming out to Australia five years earlier.
We arrived at Plymouth (in the south west of England) and when I looked over the brow, there was my Mam & Dad waiting for me. I was about to get off the deck when an officer said: ‘wait Reardon let’s get the gangplank up first!’ As soon as it touched the deck, I was off. There was an article in the local paper about Mam being there – she told the reporter it was like getting one hundred pounds to see me. We caught a train to Liverpool, and to home.
It was wonderful being backed home and a bonus having Joyce with me. She was enjoying every moment of it. It was all new to her, a country girl, and here she was overseas and in Liverpool. I still had to do sea time while in the UK and on these occasions, Joyce would stay with Mam and Dad.
I was deployed to the Malayan Emergency in 1956 on HMAS Melbourne; it was a war against the Communists. We had jet planes on board; a far cry from the propeller planes used during the Korean War. We were ‘up top’ in the area of Andaman Sea for a couple of months. It was an exciting time not knowing what was going to happen one day to the next. But we were all young and able and had done it during our time in Korean waters.
It was a good trip and one which I enjoyed. I was offered a promotion to Petty Officer, but I knew that since I had been at sea for over four years, my wife will kill me if I took it. It was an honour to be asked. I have a lot to thank the navy for – I saw some wondrous places and many countries. I met some really good guys and some became mates. I often wonder where they are now, or when they died. Life can be sad, but you make of it what you can.
During August 1958 H.M. the late Queen Mother visited Australia, and during her tour she visited HMAS Penguin. The ship’s company were on parade and the commander was asked by the Queen Mother “how long had the sailors been standing there?” No idea what his answer was. Shortly after, she joined the captain and other officers in the wardroom accompanied by her ladies in waiting and were seated. I was appointed as the Queen Mother’s wine steward on this occasion. It was indeed an honour to be selected. I approached the Queen Mother, stood on her right side, presented the wine to HM and explained the vintage and where it was grown. She looked up at me and said” Thank goodness we are in the capable hands of the navy.” She put me at ease and I felt confident that I could do the job. Here was I, a Scouser, thousands of miles from the UK and had the honour of waiting on Her Royal Highness. I was very proud.
After being discharged I went to see a captain in York Street about civilian life. We had a long chat and he asked me what I was going to do now. I said butchering. He nearly fell off his chair! “Butchering!” he said, “with your qualifications you should be in a high-class hotel!”
My first job was with Col Campbell. I telephoned and explained to him that DVA (Department of Veterans Affairs) would pay 75% of my wages and after a working as an apprentice for a few months a bloke from DVA would assess how I was going, and they would reduce the percentage as I learned. Anyway, it didn’t work out with Col so I gave it away.
Then I went to work in a butcher’s shop at Hollywood near Liverpool. I ended up managing the shop for the owner but decided not to buy the business off him. Next, I worked in the meat department at Woolworths. I rose through the ranks until I was managing the butchery in their new Bankstown store. After about eight years I decided to leave, as I acquired a position with the Department of Agricultural Economics in the State Marketing Bureau. My job was to go to the fresh fruit and vegetable markets in Sydney’s Haymarket and report on the sales. Semi-trailers from all over Australia brought produce to the market and the fumes from their engines were nauseating.
I was also sent to the livestock markets to gain more knowledge of the industry. Thousands of sheep would be placed in pens and I had to get amongst them, catch one to see how much wool there was, and ascertain what the dressed carcass weight was when it was delivered to the retail butchers. My experience as a butcher and time on the land with the Big Brother Movement came in very handy. I would return to the office and assess the quantities and prices of the livestock, and I would broadcast the results over the ABC radio to all parts of Australia at about noon each day. The farmers would down tools and listen to the broadcast to learn what prices they could get for their produce.
A marketing sheet was compiled each day and distributed far and wide. This was an essential part of my job. Should a semi-trailer overturn on the way to market and ruin the stock, the quoted price on the sheet on this particular day would be used to fairly compensate the producers. It was a very responsible job, which I liked doing. I think I was good at what I did. I retired from this job when I was 60 years old.
For a while I was on the board of the BBM. I wanted to set up a fund to pay for the burials of former Little Brothers. The motion was passed at one meeting but rescinded at the next. I was told that ‘we are not here to look after them from the cradle to the grave’. I think there’s a lack of recognition that Australia was built on people like us.
On 31 December 2014 my life changed completely when my dear wife Joyce died. I was her carer for two years. It was what I wanted to do and I did it gladly. I loved her so much. To see her health, deteriorate before my very eyes was cruel for both of us. How will I survive without my Joyce? It will be difficult; she was always there encouraging me. She was a tower of strength. We were married for 61 years and had two daughters, Michelle and Sandra. They each had four children, and now I also have nine great-grandchildren. We always get together at Christmas and Joyce loved having her family around her in 2014.
About two years ago I joined the Vietnam Veterans Association and found a group of fair dinkum blokes. I meet some of them at the gym twice a week for 90-minute sessions. The DVA pays the gym fees and I think it is doing me good. Being with these guys keeps me young. Three of them are widowed and I know what they are going through. After the gym sessions we have coffee and cake. Tell a few yarns. At times it’s like being back in the forces. The camaraderie is wonderful.
Even though I have lived in Australia for over 70 years, I still remember where I came from. People who are born in Liverpool are called ‘Scousers’. We are known all over the world for being tough and ready for anything and for our fighting ability. We are also known for our sense of humour. I love Liverpool.
At night I get lonely and reflect on my life, the good times and not so good times. Generally, it has been a wonderful life.
Mickey Tollis https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148611257/view
St John’s Anglican church, Young http://ydam.com.au/
Dog boxes – doggies – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_Door_(train)
Department of Agriculture https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares
Vietnam Veterans Association http://www.vvaa.org.au/
The sea museum has published pictures and a little story about James here:
Contact Little Brother