John Clive Coates
Ship name / Flight number: Ranchi
Arrival date: 26/03/1952
This is my story as well as I can remember after leaving the UK and arriving in Australia.
I came to Australia with the Big Brother Movement. This organization sponsored boys, under 18 years of age, with the help of the Australia government to settle in Australia and find them jobs. The term Big Brother was used as each poor unsuspecting migrant lad had allotted to them an older person whom they could look upon as a big brother. Someone to talk to if they felt the need.
My Dad and 2 sisters and yours truly left Cricklewood on the morning of 6th Feb. 1952. We took a taxi to the train station to go to Tilbury Docks . I was put on the train and they left. Looking back on that time I now feel like lamb being led to the slaughter.
Some of the other lads were crying. I made up my mind not to. I am sure I suppressed a lot of emotions. But I keep telling myself that it was no different than heading off to National Service. It was at that time I decided to become John not Clive. I thought Clive was too sissy.
Just after we boarded the ship we were told to assemble and we were given the news that the King had died. A momentous day in two significant ways.
We set sail and went through the Bay of Biscay in very good weather. Our first port of call was Algiers. What an eye opener. We docked and a few of us lined the rail waiting to go ashore. Below, on the wharf, were several youngish Algerians, somehow we started giving each other cheek and the mob below started waving knives at us. Luckily, they had gone by the time we got off the ship.
We went up the Casbah, in a group. The place was amazing for someone as naive as I. The Casbah is on a hill and stepped all the way up. On the way up the steps one of the boys banged a piece of iron sheet that was leaning against the wall. Next minute an angry man popped out from underneath and starting yelling at us. When we reached the top we were amazed to see people sleeping in the streets. A short time later a water truck came buy hosing the streets sleepers and all.
Travelling through the Suez several burnt out tanks were still sitting on the bank, reminders of WW2. Our next stop was Port Said. The trouble in the Middle East would not allow us ashore so the shore came to us. The bum boats hit us with a vengeance and set up shop on the decks. I bought some useless trinkets that didn’t last long. I did notice people next to the tables were helping themselves and passing whatever they took to someone behind.
Left: Somewhere in Suez. Next, we came to Aden. It had a beautiful main street, go back one street and all the unimaginable sites beheld the eye. Filth poverty etc.
Colombo was next. We all went ashore and again more cultural shocks. Self mutilated beggars lying in the streets. We had a great time at Mt Lavinia and the swimming was unreal. A couple of us nearly had our heads knocked as a fishing boat came up onto the beach. We set sail that night. Next morning we were staggered to find out we were heading back to Colombo. Some sort of engine trouble kept us there for another 3 days. I tried to sleep on deck one night, but it did not work for me. Not much fresh air in the cabin and the port holes were closed most of the time as we were on the lowest deck.
Left: Mt Lavinia Hotel
South through the Indian Ocean. Mid way across we were all ordered to put on our life jackets and go to boat stations. There was a fire in a boiler room. We were not allowed to back to our cabins for the rest of the day. We sent out an SOS and I think it was the Orcades came to our aid. In those days there were many ships going Australia’s way. ( A side issue. One of the jobs I had in Melbourne employed a young English chap who had been a steward on the Orcades the time it came back to rescue us). Fortunately we were able to keep going at reduced speed. The whole trip took us 6-7 weeks.
There was an epidemic of scarlet fever on the ship. A day or so before we docked at Freemantle WA I felt like I was dying. Aches and pains and the worst sore throat I had ever had. We were all taken on a day trip around Perth by a ladies group and when we returned to the ship I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with scarlet fever. I was immediately put into isolation at the stern of the ship. I stayed there alone until we docked at Sydney where I was put into the children’s ward of a hospital. I spent the next 10 days there amongst screaming kids. During this time I celebrated my 18th birthday.
In hospital I was given a cup of tea after breakfast, shortly after a nurse would come and take my temperature. Every morning my temperature was up so they would not let me out. I finally awoke to the fact that the tea was causing my high temperature. The next AM no tea. Temp OK so I was released. The manager of the BBM in Sydney picked me up and took me to their hostel in Homebush. I was there for a few weeks. Luckily some of the boys I came over with were still there so it made it a little easier for me.
They eventually all moved out to other areas and I was left with another shipment of guys. For some reason I was picked on by a few of them and my life was hell for a while. I was physically weak from being sick and had no idea how to handle such situations.
Before I left the UK it was arranged that I would work in a laboratory on a husbandry farm just outside Sydney. Coming over on the boat I discovered most of the lads were going to work on farms. So muggins decided that he would go on the land. Big mistake.
When my time was up at the hostel I was sent to the training farm. I was there about a month from memory. I had my first ride bare back on a horse at the farm. I came thundering down the paddock. We came to a fence and the horse went one way and I went the other. Fortunately, I was not hurt. Probably not going that fast but first time!!!
Again, I was picked on. This time by the Irish foreman. He was twice my size and for some reason wanted to punch my head in. I have no idea why I upset him. The problem was never resolved, I think the bosses son came to my rescue in the end. We were all ready to face up. He would have killed me if we had started the fight. One of the chaps that I came out on the ship with was still at the farm and we both left at the same time to go to our first job which was about 20-30 miles apart.
Time to move on. I was allotted to a Jim Hamilton from Narromine. A town of about 2000 people in Central New South Wales. The trip on the train was freezing as we had to cross the Blue Mountains. It was winter in Oz. The only heating on the train was hot bricks. They were brought aboard at the stops we made along the way. I was a sick as a dog on the way and remembering vomiting out the train window.
I was met at the station by Jim Hamilton and he told me that his farm was 40 miles from town. It had been raining through the night and the dirt roads were covered by water a lot of the trip. So much so that we had to leave the road completely at times and drive on the grass verge.
(I was told that Jim Hamilton came to Australia with the Dreadnought Scheme. He worked for a farmer called Jack Richardson. He apparently had wicked way with the boss’s daughter and as a result she became pregnant. Hamilton was ordered off the property by the boss, he jumped on his motorbike. He was about to take off when the daughter said “if he is going so am I” and jumped on the back of the bike. Before they had reached the boundary gate her father caught up with them and stopped them. He subsequently gave Hamilton 10,000 acres which he farmed).
We finally arrived at “Hazelwood”. My room was a shed about 10 ft by 10 It may have even been smaller. No electricity. It had a galvanized iron roof and vertical boards for the walls. There was no ceiling and the inside walls had a four foot sheet of Masonite (not sure what you call it in the UK, if you have it that is) running horizontally four foot high. The rest of the wall I could see daylight through the gaps in the boards. I cried my eyes the first night. I could not believe what I had come to. There was no heating, and my light was a kerosene lamp. In winter the water froze in the bowl I had inside.
Left: Home Sweet Home
The shed was about 50 yards from the house. He had a room, unoccupied, which was part of house. A previous lad he had lived there. Because that chap had made a mess of it he would not let me near the place.
My job was that of general slave. I had to milk the cows twice a day. Go out rabbiting. I would take a pack of dogs, ranging from fox terriers to greyhound types. A cut lunch. A shovel, an axe and a pick. The greyhounds would chase the rabbits down the burrows and the foxies would start digging. I had to block up as many escape holes as could and start digging them out. I would pull them out and break their necks and throw them in a heap. I would kill hundreds in a day. After a few months of this I was allowed to skin them and sell the skins. To reach the most rabbit infected areas I would sometimes ride one of the horses. I would set off with a pick, shovel and axe on my shoulder. The surcingle broke one time as I was mounting the horse and I ended on the ground with the tools on top of me.
Other jobs were cutting down trees and make fence posts. Working in the shearing shed. I used to help bale up the fleece. The most delightful job of the lot was to have to walk the boundary fence that run along side the creek or stream. When the water rose it would leave rubbish along the fence. I had to clean the rubbish off the fence. One time I was shovelling away and I spotted a small brown snake. They are poisonous, I killed it with a shovel and picked it up to put it on the fence about 20 yards away. As I was walking to the fence something touched me on one of my calves. I just about had a heart attack, My immediate thought was I had been bitten by a snake. I looked down and one of the dogs had just touched me with his nose. I put the snake on the fence and within minutes a kookaburra had whisked it away.
Whilst on the subject of fences, I also had to walk the fences and dig out all gum suckers that were close to the fence line. Gum suckers are sprouting gum trees that can grow to 50-60 ft high.
He had two sons. One lived on the farm and the other was away at school. The youngest was a spoilt brat. Wanted everything and created a scene unless he got it. I nearly killed him twice. He wanted to shoot the rifle I had. I said no. I was about to pull the trigger when he walked into the line of fire. Another time he insisted on sitting on the bonnet of the tractor I was driving. Of course, he managed to fall off luckily he didn’t go under the wheels.
It was here that I became very sick and ended up in hospital. If I remember correctly, it was kidney related and the same thing has got me again today.
I also had to cut up firewood and take it to the house. One day I was wheeling a barrow load of wood to the house and some fell off. I said a few choice words and looked up to see the wife standing in front of me. Next day I was told I was leaving. I never asked him why. He took me into town and I got a room at a local hotel.
There were few English/Scottish lads there so it was good. We all met up with a guy who had jumped ship in Sydney. We became good mates and shared a room. I managed to get a few odd jobs around the town. I worked for a survivor of the Burma railway. I had to go bush and live in a tent and build fences. We had to cut the posts dig the holes and string the wire. We would put up a mile in about 10 days. We actually ended up doing a job for my old boss. We used to sleep in a tent. My blankets were wheat bags sown together to make a wagga, I think it was called. My boss at this time was a Burma railway survivor, he never talked about it to me.
One evening at the evening meal, in the hotel, I made the comment about not wanting a bloody bone in my soup. I was thrown out on the spot and spent the night on a park bench. I managed to get digs with a local women who ran a boarding house(?). She had several kids all by different fathers. She had a current live in lover. One evening he came home drunk and accused me of having it off with the landlady, his women. He would not listen to me and started throwing punches. I locked myself in the bathroom. He broke down the door and came at me. I punched him somewhere in the head and went into the back yard. Of course, he followed me out. I think I hit him 2-3 times more and laid him out. My right arm was jarred all the way to the shoulder. He left shortly after that incident.
After several more useless jobs I landed a job in the local emporium in the furniture department. I had a good boss and stayed there until the ship jumper and I decided it was time to move on. We wanted to go further into the outback but discovered there were no jobs. So we headed south and ended up on construction site as labourers. We helped to start building a tunnel for a hydro electric scheme at Mt Beauty. We came close to getting killed, or at least serious injured here. The guy who looked after making the tea etc rolled a large log down the hill to top up his wood supply. We were working on the hill and the log barely missed us as it rolled down. We did not last there long as we headed about a better job further south.
This time it was building an earth dam at Eildon Weir. The largest dam in the southern hemisphere. Aussies are great at using the term ‘largest in the southern hemisphere’.
This was a great job and I started to save like mad to return to the UK I wrote a 5 page letter to my folks telling what a lousy place Australia was. I was talked or rather written out of that notion and stayed. We worked three shifts 12 days straight. I managed to save quite a bit. The saving came some time after I started there. Before that we used to head to Melbourne and blow all our wages over the weekend. When we finished night shift AM Friday our next shift was afternoon Monday. So we had a good break. The dam was about a three hour drive from Melbourne. I worked there as a laborer, jackhammer man, even learnt to drive bulldozer, Cat D8.
Like all good things they come to an end. So off to Melbourne to live. By this time my mate and I had split up. He had found a woman and taken off with her. Can’t remember where. I caught up with him years later, after my Mum and Dad came out here. He had got married and some other mates and I went to see him. I did not hear from him again for a while. When we did catch up he wanted to head off somewhere again and I arranged to meet him a week later for a beer. His wife had died in childbirth, and I did not go to see him. I had met Bev (who became my wife, now late ex) and didn’t feel I should shove off again. Also Mum and Dad had not been out here long. Quite some time later again I decided to make contact only to find out he had committed suicide.
Once in Melbourne my first job was spray painting in an electrical appliance manufacturer. I lasted there for about 2 weeks. I managed to get a job in the laboratory at Shell. I walked out on that one too. It was the other side of town. Cannot recall the reason. Sold used cars for a while.
Other jobs in my career advancement stage was a sales clerk with a chemical and scientific instrument company. That’s where I met a chap that was on the Orcades that came back to rescue us when we had the fire, small world. I then went to an electrical wholesaler. Left there to join the police force but did not go on with that either, biggest mistake of my life.
I then served for three years in the Royal Australian Navy Reserves. I had one rough trip with them in a 75 foot vessel to the north coast of Tasmania.
I then started with BP in their lab. Needless to say I did not mention that I worked at Shell. One day the chemist I worked for at Shell appeared in the place. I kept well out of the way.
I married whilst at BP. Our first son was born in Nov. 1964. After 6 ‘/2 years I thought it was time for a change and tried to get the job of relieving installation superintendent. Not having the experience did not help so I did not get the job. A few months later the boss came to me and asked if I was interested in a BP depot superintendent’s job in a town called Bairnsdale. 175 miles from Melbourne. I took it and shifted down in about Sept. 1966. Laura our daughter was born whilst we were there. Good town made some friends. Bev’s Dad died whilst we lived there and mine became very sick. We had the call one night that he was not expected to see the night out. Mad drive to town and a night I will never forget. Pop died about 12 months later but fortunately we had transferred back to Melbourne before he died.
The depot employed a driver and 2 store men and yours truly. I had to control stock and of course run the place. We supplied product to agents who delivered it to all sorts of places and filled up service stations in the town.
In 1967 a job in charge of the oil blending at the BP lube plant came up. As I had the necessary experience I was offered it and took it. It was over the other side of town but was OK. We rented our house when we went bush and the people left it about the time we came back. That worked out well. I eventually became production officer. I had to program the work load for the whole plant. It got to me after a while and I sought a job as a sales rep, with BP. They said I was too old. All up I was with them for 10 years. By this time number 3 children had been born. 1969 a boy. During these ten years I became a process server and private investigator. I worked part time evenings and weekends.
My next career move defies comprehension. I became an insurance salesman with AMP. I must have been mad. I did fairly well but I am no salesman. Stayed there for three years and then took on real estate. Did very well at that. In 1975 we had a change of government, and the economy went caput I was put off and was considering life insurance again when I landed a full time job as a private investigator. Mainly insurance claims but some divorce. Did this for about a year and things became rather quiet so I started looking again.
One Sunday a divorced female friend came around for lunch with her latest beau. They stayed well into the evening. He was security manager for CIG. Now BOC. He wanted an extra body on the road as a cylinder security officer. Our job was to control the assets of the company, that is cylinders. Most of them were in customers hands. We called on customers and did audits and fixed problems etc.. Expense account and company car. I did, for a while, become responsible for the security of all CIG places. But managers and policies change so that did not last. The job took me to some amazing place. I had 5 days in Nauru. Visited oil rigs in Bass Strait. You name it and have probably been there. That is if they had gas cylinders.
In 1995 my marriage was on the way out. I had met Rita (a lovely Scottish lady) and BOC were putting in place all sorts of changes. The policy was out with the old culture and in with the new. So I took a package. I finished up Dec 1995.
In May 1996 I left the family home. In July 1996 I bought the unit I now live in. Rita’s husband died of cancer in the US in Feb 1997. He went back for treatment. My wife got the house and I got my superannuation.
During the last 10 years of CIG/BOC I became interested in natural health. Studied and gained some diplomas. Once again I had a second job. It kept me in pocket money as most of my wages seemed to go on running the marital house!
In 1996, my first Xmas alone I went to the US to stay with Sylvia, my sister. I could not face being in Oz. Prior to going I had been recalled by BOC to work for three months. I had the break in the US and a few months when I got back. I also did some work for the head office security manager in Sydney. That is all over now.
Rita has two sons, both US citizens. Not that you could tell by their accents. Real Aussies and a daughter in Canada. Rita did not move in with me immediately but did a few years ago. She is a PA for a vice principal at Cap Gemini Earst & Young. She and her Mum have just bought a unit in a bay side town about an hour from here. Rita’s Mum moved in at the weekend. Lovely spot. Rita will still be here but we will spend some time down there at weekends.
Ten years ago I studied hypnotherapy and slowly built a practice. I have a good friend, met him at the course we did and we are now “associates”. That is he gives me the people he won’t see. He is a catholic and I feel some of the people’s problems conflict with his belief system. We get on well and it is a good working relationship.
I also sold cheap phone calls door to door and spent some time Gallop Poll interviewing. During this period, I also volunteered at the Glen Eira Community Information Centre in Caulfield Melbourne.
Through someone I met studying hypnotherapy I met a rheumatologist and he used to refer patients to me for heart rate variability testing and autonomic nervous system testing with biofeedback equipment. Covid put paid to that.
Overall, I have had a good and varied life. I have 6 grandchildren. My daughter lives in Perth, and my two sons live close by. I sing baritone with The Australian Welsh Male Choir and have done so for the past 5 years. At 88 years of age health issues are rearing their ugly head. Fifteen years ago, I lost a kidney due to cancer. An incurable lung condition and now my remaining kidney is playing up.
I often wonder what sort of life I would have had if I had stayed in the UK. Hopefully I would have gone into the navy for national service and made it a career. Rita and I have been back to the UK several times last time in 2018 and I feel that was my last trip. I have no family left in the UK and no desire to visit again.
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