Kenneth Gemmell (now Evans)

Ship name / Flight number: Asturias

Arrival date: 29/08/1949

Farewell to old England for Ever

 The day of my big adventure had finally arrived. I left the house, early in the morning, with mum and dad, who accompanied me on the tram to Lime Street Station. We stood together on the platform, saying our goodbyes. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes and my mum was trying to give me some last minute advice, but her voice, I noticed, was beginning to crackle as she did her best to suppress her tears.

“Now don’t forget to write Kenny” she said finally. “Have a good time son” said my dad, awkwardly, not quite sure what to say. Soon, they were gone, as the train pulled out of the station on its journey to London.

I placed my small suitcase, containing my few possessions, up on the rack above my seat and settled down, beginning to feel excited and a little nervous at the enormity of the situation.

I was seventeen years old and off to Australia with the Big Brother Movement, a scheme that sponsored youth migration from Britain to Australia. Australia was in need of strong and willing young men seeking adventure and a new life away from a country ravaged by war.

I would be known as a “little brother” and be assigned a “Big brother” who would be my mentor and guide. I would be employed in a rural area and receive a placement on a farm in New South Wales after a short learning course in Sydney. I had been through a selection process in Australia House, London where I had to produce a formal certificate from my school in Liverpool stating that I had completed my education. I also had to sign an agreement binding me to accept the instructions of my Big Brother and not to leave any employment without his permission. I was expected to work hard, not drink or gamble, avoid bad company, write to my parents once a month and visit church occasionally. I was also required to open a bank account and try to save a regular sum each week.

I was excited at the prospect of life in Australia. Of course I was sad to leave my family, but not Liverpool which had been badly bombed during the second world war and was a shattered city. Prospects for a young man did not seem as good as those offered in a sunny country on the other side of the world which had escaped the deprivations of the recent world war. Riding a horse and working on a farm sounded idyllic to me. I felt confident I could manage on my own, as I had already survived the experience of being an evacuee and away from my family for four years during the war.

I changed trains in London and caught another train bound for Southampton where I would board the SS Asturias for the long sea voyage to Australia.

I met up with the other little brothers on the wharf, twenty of us altogether and Captain Miller who would be in charge of us all.

My cabin was on D deck, just above the waterline and I was sharing it with three other lads, also travelling with the Big Brother Movement. We all went up on board to wave goodbye to England. Some of the boys had relatives they could wave to as the Ship slowly left the dock and I felt a bit sad and lonely that I had no one to wave to. However, I waved heartily, not knowing if I would ever see my homeland again!

Life on board ship was exciting for a young lad. We loved to run around the decks and also attend

PT fitness classes on the outside deck every morning. I began to enjoy the long days at sea broken up by the various recreational activities and meal sittings, plus morning and afternoon teas. I enjoyed the meals, with the abundance of food after the food rationing in England. I enjoyed the experience of being waited on and looking at a menu to choose my meal. There seemed to be staff on hand to attend to all our needs, even making my bed!

The swimming pool was a great source of entertainment for us boys. Someone in our group thought it would be fun to get passengers to throw coins into the pool, so we could dive in and retrieve them for a nominated charity. We entered into this game with great gusto and some of the passengers complained we were taking over the pool to the detriment of those wanting to use it! At the end of each day the money we collected was handed to the Purser for allocation to a suitable charity.

The passengers were always complaining about our noisy boisterous behaviour, especially in the corridors at night, running up and down in youthful exuberance on our way to bed!

We sailed into the Mediterranean, stopping at Malta to pick up migrants bound for Australia. They all had cabins on the lower decks.

Next was Port Said in Egypt and the entrance to the Suez Canal. Here I saw dozens of little boats with peddlers selling their wares in a floating market, as the passengers in the ship leaned over the deck railings and started bargaining with the traders. A pineapple caught my eye and, after assuring me it was sweet, the vendor threw up a rope and someone began pulling it up with a little basket attached containing my pineapple. I grabbed my purchase and sent the money down to him in the basket. I had a blistered lip after eating that pineapple!

After sailing down the Indian Ocean we arrived in Australia and our first port of call was Fremantle. Our group was met by a member of the British League who took us on a tour of Perth. It was warm and sunny and the sky a brilliant blue and I thought how much I was going to like living in this wonderful, sunny country. Back on board, we sailed on to Melbourne where many migrants disembarked. Finally we reached our destination of Sydney.

We said goodbye to Captain Miller, his job was finished. He had delivered us safely to Australia. He probably breathed a huge sigh of relief. It had not been easy keeping an eye on twenty young lads, some still only boys. A bus took us out to a training farm at Bossley Park, off Cowpasture Road, near Liverpool where we were to spend the next six weeks learning all about farm work.

The adventure in Australia was just starting.


Poultry farm at Goolma

Affer spending six weeks at the training farm, it was time to be sent out to my first job. This was to be a farm hand on a poultry farm in Goolma. I was driven to Liverpool station where I caught a train into Central Railway Station in Sydney and from there I caught a train to Mudgee. I felt a little apprehensive on the journey, not knowing what lay ahead.

I was met at the station by a young man in his thirties whose name was Ray Griffith. He was the owner of the farm and he drove me in his truck back to his homestead at the farm.

The little town of Goolma consisted of a pub, post office and general store. It is a tiny farming community in the Central West of New South Wales, located on the Dubbo Road, linking the towns of Mudgee, Gulgong and Wellington. Most of the surrounding area is agricultural with farms producing cereals, wool, cattle and lambs. I noticed the country was mostly flat and the grass lush and green. The bright blue sky seemed to stretch for ever. It was Spring and the weather was warm

We were greeted by Ray’s wife, Julie when we reached the farm and I also met their little daughter Jessie who was about six years’ old. I was shown my room and after an evening meal I retired for the night as I had an early start the next morning.

At 6.00am Ray knocked on my door advising it was time to go to work and together we walked up to a fenced area that was the poultry farm. My job was to make up a bran mash and feed it to the chooks, tipping it into the troughs as they milled around my feet.

The Griffith farm was only a smallholding, no more than fifty acres. The land had been part of a bigger farm that belonged to Julie’s dad and he owned the adjoining property where he ran sheep and also grew wheat.

Ray advised me what my duties would be and showed me how to make chaff from the bales of lucerne. I had to use an old fashioned Chaff Cutter and this chaff needed to be mixed into the bran mash. We then went back to the homestead for breakfast. Breakfast was a cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs. Good use was made of all the cracked eggs that could not go to market and every morning the eggs were dished up in one form or another.

After breakfast I resumed my duties in the chook pen, filling up the troughs with clean water and collecting the eggs, washing them and placing them in crates which were taken every second day to the Goolma Station to go by freight train to the Egg Marketing Board in Sydney for grading and distribution.

Every day, after lunch in the homestead I had to clean out the poultry cages and tidy up generally. I also had to do general maintenance work and inspect the hens and make sure they were in good health, letting Ray know of any problems. Sometimes, if the hens were not laying, their heads had to be chopped off and this was another one of my unpleasant duties. These chooks would end up on the dinner table as a delicious chicken dinner. I also had to feed the local feral cats who were always hanging about, but they did a good job of protecting the chooks at night from prowling predators. They were fed with the many broken and cracked eggs that were an inevitable casualty of life on a poultry farm. There were also big goannas that liked to come and feed on the eggs the hens were laying out in the yard and I had to try and frighten them away by throwing sticks at them.

My days at the poultry farm continued to follow this same pattern ending every evening with a nice hot meal cooked by Julie back at the farmhouse. There wasn’t much to do in the evenings, just relax and get to bed early for an early rise the next morning. The Griffiths seemed to spend a lot of time drinking in the evening and some evenings I joined them, getting quite drunk by bedtime.

On the weekends there was time to spend swimming in the dam and Julie sometimes brought little Jessie down to play in the water. Poor Jessie had been bitten on the finger by a mosquito prior to my arrival at the farm and Julie had treated the sting by plunging Jessie’s finger into some antiseptic liquid. This proved to be quite lethal as it stripped all the skin off her finger down to the bone and the poor girl had the top of her finger amputated. However, it did not seem to hinder her in any way and she was able to use the stump quite adequately.

Sometimes I would help Julie’s father on his farm and I enjoyed the chance to help bring in the wheat harvest. Afterwards we all went down to the local pub where we celebrated by getting drunk. Drinking was a new experience for me as up until my journey to Australia I had never tasted alcohol. But the inevitable boredom of life in the country meant there was very little else to do for recreation. It seemed to be part of the culture of the place.

I spent three months at the farm in Goolma, but in the end Ray had to send me back to Sydney as he could not afford to keep me on.

Once back in Sydney I went into the office of the Big Brother Movement and they arranged for me to stay a few days at the YMCA while they looked for another placement for me. I looked forward to starting another chapter in my new life in country New South Wales.

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