Ship name / Flight number: BA812
Arrival date: 16/08/1972
I was born in Glasgow in 1953, the third of four boys. When I was six years old my father, who worked as a Stevedore, was sent to the newly independent nation of Ghana, in west Africa, to manage the new port of Tema Harbour. The whole family went with him. I really did have quite an exotic childhood. Immediate post-colonial Africa was a lovely place to be. But you couldn’t get money out of Ghana! We lived like kings in Ghana but like paupers in Scotland.
I went to a school run by the British military in Ghana until I was 14 years old; then I was sent to a boy’s boarding school in Dumbarton, back in Scotland. The Keil School was a big Gothic looking building and it was cold, wet and bleak compared to the sunny freedom we had in Ghana. I felt like the ‘wild colonial boy’ as I hadn’t grown up learning the social mores of living in Scotland. It was a huge learning curve. It got better and by the end I was everybody’s pal. I looked forward to going back to Ghana in the long summer break and every Christmas.
After I finished school in May 1971, I drifted for a while and found it hard to settle. My Dad wanted me to be an accountant, so I started a traineeship with Chivas Regal, but it didn’t stick. I felt like I was doing nothing of consequence. It was my Mum who suggested that I think about immigrating. Because I loved Africa, I wanted to go to South Africa, but she dissuaded me from returning to Africa so I chose to come to Australia instead. The immigration agents at Australia House put me onto the Big Brother Movement. I flew over for £10 and landed in Sydney on 19 July 1972. We were taken to Burwood House, which was run by BBM.
Now, I had to learn another set of social mores. I had studied the classics, but that didn’t help me with the colourful Australian language. That was an education in itself! I still recall the manager at Burwood House yelling one day that he was ‘as busy as a one-armed [wall]paper hanger’.
Unfortunately, the struggles that I’d had to find a vocation, or even an occupation, followed me to Australia. I started another accountancy traineeship but found that drugs were more fun. To get away from the growing drug scene in Sydney, I moved to Brisbane. I used to frequent a stamp shop in Queen Street in the city and soon started working there. Having grown up with the colourful French colonial stamps of west Africa, I was fascinated with stamps and started collecting them from a young age. I have a superb collection of Ghanaian stamps but it’s not worth anything, because no one else collects them. I studied stamp auction catalogues and rapidly learnt how to value stamps and recognise a good deal. After working at the stamp shop for four years, I left to start my own philatelic business. I advertised in stamp bulletins and was able to work from home. I’ve had excellent success: I earned more money in my first year than a doctor would.
As a stamp dealer working in the pre-internet era, you had to know your stuff. I acquired a lot of intellectual capital, which made my business successful. I’m the only person in Australia who specialises in stamps from the British Empire and the Raj. To be successful, you also had to be personable and build rapport with people, so they feel they can trust you. Philately was both my trade and my passion. In 1992, I won a gold medal for Australia at an international philately exhibition in Granada, Spain. It’s like the Olympics of stamps, but very few people have heard of it. I still buy and sell stamps, but there are far less collectors these days. I’m still studying stamps and I know the contemporary market. But it’s a dying trade. When I die, my stamp collection will go to auction.
My business gave me the time and money to pursue other interests. I came to love water sports such as paddle boarding, water-skiing and scuba-diving. I was a dive master for about 20 years and an instructor for a while. I’ve dived all along the east coast of Australia, and on a wreck off Vanuatu. I’ve seen whales, sharks, octopus and manta rays, but the swordfish and dugong have eluded me. I would never have been able to experience these things if I’d stayed in Scotland.
I also met my wife this way, as we were both keen on water-skiing and paddle-boarding on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. I married when I was 25 years old and we had two daughters: Shelley (Michelle) lives with me on the Sunshine Coast and Lisa was the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica. She has written a book about her hair-raising experiences: Facing Fear.
I’ve had my own near-death experiences too. When I was in my late 40s, soon after my first marriage ended, I discovered that I had contracted Hepatitis C during my brief dalliance with drugs. My liver was packing up and I had a liver transplant at the age of 55 years. About ten years later, I was at home when I burst a blood vessel or three and collapsed. I was lucky that Shelley found me in time and that there is a hospital close by. After many blood transfusions and a month in the intensive care unit, I started to recover but I had to learn to walk again. This happened about three and a half years ago, and it diminished me in many ways. I feel like I’m still recovering from it.
My younger brother and Mum and Dad emigrated to Australia about a year after I did. My two older brothers followed later. They still live in Australia but my parents are dead now. My Mum lived to the age of 95 years. I doubt she would have lived that long if she’d stayed in Scotland.
I am 1000% thankful that I came to Australia. Any obstacles I’ve encountered in my life here have been self-inflicted. I’ll be honest about it. Australia has stood by me through thick and thin. I’ve met nothing but the nicest people, especially in the medical field. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed a similar level of prosperity if I’d stayed in Glasgow. Australia is just superb – the environment, the wild places – it’s absolutely amazing.
Tema harbour https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tema_Harbour
Keil School, Dumbarton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keil_School
Lisa Blair https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/Contact Little Brother