John Armitage 1941 – 1960

Ship name / Flight number: Strathaird

Arrival date: 03/06/1959

“An excellent type of lad”


In March 2010 the BBM office received an email:

“…my daughter heard “something” on the radio recently regarding young men who travelled to Australia in the past under the auspices of the Big Brother Movement.  She wasn’t able to catch all the details but did pass on to me the above email address. Maybe you could give me further information as my brother travelled from Yorkshire in the UK to Australia in 1959 under this program. Look forward to hearing further. Cheers, Sheila”

With this email from his sister Sheila Buck resurfaced the story of John David Armitage. A story of passion for life and of tragedy, that had been buried for many years among thousands of records of the Big Brother Movement.

Nine years and a visit to BBM’s Sydney office later, Sheila Buck summarises her late brother’s legacy:

“John’s brief but very happy days in Sydney and Canberra are the legacy he left for his family members who immigrated to Australia after his accidental death in 1960.

“Crossing the Equator Ceremony.” John David Armitage, SS Strathaird, May 1959.

John, aged 17, Keswick Lake District 1958. John took his 10 year old brother Gary on a camping trip to Keswick before he emigrated to Australia six months later.

John migrated from Yorkshire in the north of England to Sydney in 1959 aged just 18. On his application for the Big Brother Movement the apprentice stone mason had declared that he left his first apprenticeship as an armature winder after two years because “inside work just doesn’t suit me at all”. He much preferred the outdoors, swimming, cycling, and fishing.

John’s departure in pursuit of a life in farming made news in his local paper. In the article, his mother supported his choice:”I think that John is cut out for farming. He’s a big and strong lad.” At 18, John was too old to attend farming school, but he planned to later pursue his dream.

On the 6th of December 1960, just 18 months after he arrived, John died in a tragic accident while working for a delivery company in Canberra. Within four months, his grief-stricken parents Syd and Hilary Armitage and his siblings Sheila 18, Sheena 16 and Gary 13 packed up everything and moved from Yorkshire to Canberra.

They hoped to find comfort in this new city where John had lived for only a few months which had given him a wonderful impression of friendliness. From here he wrote, urging his parents to join him and experience ‘ a new start’ in this wonderful country where he had been so kindly embraced by several very caring new friends.

John’s tenacity and spirit to travel half way around the world from his homeland was to later benefit many more family members and friends who also migrated to Australia. After his immediate family settled in Canberra, the word was spread to family and friends to ‘do what John did’, take the plunge and immigrate ‘down under’.

More than 50 years later, we and many more feel like we are now the lucky ones, all thanks to John’s ‘first big step with the Big Brother Movement’ initiating John’s move to this great land.”

Sheila Buck and her cousin Jean Brett meet BBM volunteer and ex Little Brother Dick Steell at the BBM office in Sydney on their flying visit from Queensland.


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