John Harrison-Brown

Ship name / Flight number: Asturias

Arrival date: 07/04/1952

I first stepped ashore in Australia in Fremantle about 30th March 1953, as part of the Big Brother Movement from England. When we arrived in Perth, we were entertained by a group of young ladies from the Victoria league. A tour of Perth and environment, culminating in afternoon tea in their base that was in the Victoria Park. Tables in length of the hall covered with every conceivable creation of tea, cakes, sponges, cream tarts, that one could imagine. Coming from postwar England and its food rationing we thought we had fallen into paradise.

On our return to our ship, the young ladies shook hands as we thanked them for their hospitality. One of our lads thought himself the ant’s pants and moved to kiss one of the young ladies. I can still visualise the graceful pirouette that took the young lady out of his reach with an extended hand to bid him farewell.

A week later our next stop was Port Melbourne and news of a further reception by the Victoria League was met with great enthusiasm. Reality was a total disappointment, the elderly lady that greeted us was less than friendly, and after brief announcement of the day’s activities, she departed from us.

I have never liked Melbourne since that day although I have visited a number of times since.

We finally reached Sydney on about 12th or 13th of April and we disembarked. Unfortunately, the Ranchi, the previous ship bearing Little Brothers, had only reached Sydney about a week ahead of us, and had several mishaps on the way over.

Consequently, I was left in Homebush while the rest of the boys destined to become farm hands went to the training farm in Fairfield. After a couple of weeks, I was transferred to the farm. As I was the last to come in, I got the leftover in bed. Cyclone wire mesh with a horsehair or coconut fiber filling was not a comfortable bed. After a variety of activities, some of them unpleasant, I was finally shipped off by train to Deniliquin, to be employed by a settler farmer. It was not the most pleasant of life events, and unlike many of my companions from the Asturias, I learned that employee and master were two separate entities.

I was later moved down to another farm a few miles down the road, and whilst my arrival was a day of calamities, I was well accepted, but after six months, a decision was made that farming was not a suitable employment for me. However, Eric helped me get a job as an orderly in the Deniliquin Hospital.

I thoroughly enjoyed my work there, but unfortunately, as a result of a needlestick injury, I was infected with Staphylococcus B, resulting in a painful abscess, and equally painful penicillin injections, which meant I had to leave hospital work. So, I began a series of different employments. First in a grocery store where tea and sugar were weighed out into paper, bags and butter, weighed and wrapped. Deliveries were by horse and cart in the afternoon.

I have my first ever experience in getting drunk after playing records at a community dance. The next day at work was the day the farmers came in for their supplies. Calculators had not been invented so all adding up in farthings, halfpennies, pennies, shillings, and pounds were all done in the head, up to 3 dockets worth. Try doing that with a hangover.

From there, I joined the PMG as a linesman for a couple of years. Post holes were dug by hand with a bar and shovel, poles were lifted by manual labour, and the aid of Pikes Long poles with spikes in end and the pole when seated in hole the dirt was rammed in with a crowbar the same way as done on a farm. I transferred to Bega near the south coast. I spent my 18th birthday cooking, 20  Galahs for my line gang as it was my turn to cook.

Shortly after a job became available at Bega Hospital as a Surgical Dresser, I grabbed it with glee. During a visit to Sydney, I met a young lady called Myrene. To be closer to her and moved up to Sydney and became an orderly at Concord Repeat Hospital.

This type of work did not sit well with Myrene ‘s dad so he got me job selling life insurance. I was appalled at the, to me, unethical measures expected of me to acquire business. My resignation from that company two month later, also meant that Myrene So back to Concord and I graduated to being a fireman at the hospital fire control unit, complete with its own fire tender. In between this, I had received a Christmas card from Hazel who I had met a couple of years earlier, at a young people rally at Leeton. Being an English gentleman, I naturally responded and thanked Hazel for her card. I think this interchange also contributed to the separation from Myrene.

My involvement in scouting resulted in me getting an invitation to Peat and Milson Island mental hospital to demonstrate some scouting skills. Apparently, my interaction and rapport with the patients resulted the superintendent, inviting me to take up training as a Psychiatric Nurse, which are subsequently did.

Hazel and I had been corresponding frequently since my previous engagement. Subsequently, I asked her to marry me and sought her mother‘s approval.

Talk about long distance romance. Between the time we first met, and the time I asked her to marry me, we had only met together four times. Each time was a 600-mile round-trip, but it was worth it.

The day before the wedding day, my two workmates, who I had asked to be my groomsmen, opted out, and two of my wife’s cousins were recruited to fill the gap.

Our first home was the rear half of my landlady‘s house. It comprised of three bedrooms, bedroom, kitchen, living room and bathroom. Before leaving for the wedding, I had painted the bedroom and living area. I painted the bedroom, battleship grey with a pink feature wall. When Hazel saw that I was forbitten ever to paint another room. She also advised me that she was not a galah!

Towards the end of a pregnancy two of her sisters arrived for a visit. No local hotel was available, so accommodation had to be worked out. One slept in Hazel’s bed, the other one slept in the living room on the stretcher and I slept in the bathtub. Coming back from taking Hazel to the hospital in Hornby, about 20 miles away I lost a piston in my car. When I rang the hospital next evening, I was told that we had a son, and that if I was quick, I could come and see my son. It took some persuading to get the nurse to understand that I was some distance away but would be up to see her next day.

One of my supervisor drove me up to see Hazel the next afternoon. Fathers were only allowed to view the baby through the nursery window and hoped the infant being shown to you was indeed your offspring.

Taking mother baby home was also a circus by today’s standards. Father was loaded with mother’s suitcase and anything else that had been brought to her. Mother followed then the sister caring the baby. Father was watched as he put the luggage etc in the boot then got into the seat behind the wheel. Only then was a baby handed over to the mother and her door closed and I was free to drive off. When I got home, it was the first time, I held my son.

After graduated from my Psychiatric Nursing, I undertook General Nursing, which meant I moved to Cessnock, because of my previous nursing, I only had to do two years instead of three years. After graduation, I worked in Singleton and Cessnock hospitals where a daughter and son also arrived.

Before Christmas 1965, I was invited by a previous Cessnock matron to join their hospital in Port Kembla as a nurse tutor. I accepted the position and had a delightful time there. At the matrons request I even put a musical concert together.

In 1996, we moved to Papua New Guinea (PNG) where I worked as medical assistant in remote areas of New Brittain and Bouganville. I became a master of improvisation.

During our leave from Bougainville, I took the family over to England to meet their grandmother. We also visited various places in England and Scotland. For our transport I bought a 1960 Jaguar for £250 and before we came back, I sold it for £200.

Back to Port Moresby I found I was the deputy superintendent of the National Psychiatric Hospital and responsible for teaching PNG nurses about psychiatric nursing. The curriculum was a mess so I re-wrote the whole thing to a standard acceptable to the nurses board and begin teaching as well as many other duties. The initial classroom was a shocker, a corrugated iron lean, in which it was an absolute hotbox.

I obtained materials designed, and with the help of hospital staff, build a brand-new classroom that was airy and comfortable to teach in. I ran four classes and never had a student fail.

I was involved with Scouts and organised a contingent from all over PNG to attend the Scout Jamboree at Woodhouse in South Australia. It was a massive logistic exercise, getting Scouts to travel by third tier airlines to regional capitals, and then by larger planes to Port Moresby. The same exercise occurred on our return.

A month before we returned to Australia our third daughter was born. She was a beautiful baby born at home with her siblings, except for the eldest son, who was in high school. They each played a part in the birth, getting a dish of water for me to wash my hands, newspaper to put under the towel to protect the bed. Sonya was a normal smooth delivery. After her bath, I spotted the abnormality and recognised that we had a Down’s Syndrome baby. After cleanup and a cup of tea for the mother we went to the port Moresby Hospital to have a check-up by the maternity ward staff and our GP.

A month later we returned to Australia to start a new phase in our life. A small problem occurred at Brisbane Airport when there was a debate with customs and immigration over the babies nationality. I finally convinced them that Sonya was born in PNG which was a territory, at that time, of Australia, same as Darwin and the Northern Territory.

We stayed with friends whilst my eldest son and I flew up to Cairns to pick up our car which had come by see from Port Moresby. I then bought a trailer to put our luggage on and we left for Hazel’s home in Tamora. Whilst there we had a letter from the WA Health Department, telling us that we had been assigned to Kalgoorlie with the Community Health Team.

My eldest son and I made the drive across to the Nullabor with a trailer load of belongings via the old highway. It was rough, dusty and unsealed, and when we finally reached Eucla, we were covered in alkali dust. When we finally reached Kalgoorlie, we were initially housed in Coolgard until the house was ready for us in Kalgoorlie.

Our time was in the Goldfields, which was a terrific experience as we spent most of the time working with aboriginal families. Accompanying Fred Hallows on his glaucoma surveys and treatment was an awesome experience. On occasions I was also the duty nurse on the RFDS. Midwife qualifications were necessary, so I was accepted into the King Edward Hospital in Perth, my midwife training and formalise the skills I had already learned in PNG.

I worked in hospitals in Kalgoorlie and Norseman before moving to Harvey as a deputy matron. I stayed at the hospital until retired after I had achieved a total of 50 years of nursing.

Following that I trained as and became a volunteer ambulance officer. At the time I am writing this story I am still with ambulance service, but now in a logistic role and on the road as emergency technician.

Last year I was promoted from member of the Order of St John of Jerusalem to Officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

From virtual nobody I think I have been able to be become somebody of value and achieved that, which I would never have dreamed of as a lad in England.



I had written two poems shortly on my arrival in Australia. The first was written in April 1952 whilst at the BBM training Farm at Cowpasture Road, Cabramatta. It was written as I remember on one of the hilly slopes overlooking the buildings of the farm when I was feeling the loss of all that I knew in England.


Who has lain on grassy bed,

and watched the moon raise her head?

Throughout the long long night

To shed her silver light


Who has heard the noises of the night?

Made by creatures small and out of sight.

And who has welcomed Dawn

First light of another morn?


The second poem was written in October 1953 on a farm near Deniliquin.


Mopoke! Mopoke!

Lonely bird, solitary cry

Flitting between tree and sky

Mopoke! Mopoke!

What song of utter loneliness

What creature of the wilderness

Leaves the imagination

A mood of desolation!

When I look back at  those times and recall the journeys I have made since then and what I have achieved in my life I have a feeling of pride.


I hope you enjoyed the read.



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