Peter Smith

Ship name / Flight number: Castel Felice

Arrival date: 14/01/1965

‘My aunty put me on to it’

I was born in Horley, which is near Gatwick airport, in the UK. My father was a quantity surveyor and we moved around quite a bit – maybe that’s why I found it hard to settle into anything when I left school. I needed a change and my aunt told me about the Big Brother Movement, so I decided to give it a go. As the eldest of three children, I’ve learnt to be the trailblazer.

I sailed for Australia on the Castel Felice (which means ‘happy castle’) in late 1964. When I arrived in Sydney in the summer of 1965, I was broke, having spent all my money on the ports we visited en route. Luckily my uncle (who worked for the British Overseas Airways Corporation) happened to be in Sydney, he met me at Circular Quay and gave me ten pounds – I felt so rich!

We were taken to the Karmsley Hills Training Farm and after a few days BBM sent me to Echuca, in northern Victoria, to work on a sheep and cattle property. I helped out around the farm and learnt to ride a horse, round up stock, and milk a cow. But I still couldn’t settle. The farm manager agreed to let me leave and took me to Melbourne. I decided to join the Victorian Railways, where I worked as a fireman, stocking the coal engines. I loved it! Then I was told to work on the diesel trains and I hated it. I chucked it in. In those days you could leave a job one day and pick up another one the next.

I caught the train to Bendigo and got a job at Stramit Industries, making strawboards for houses. This is where I formed a friendship with a Scotsman who asked me if I’d like to go to Adelaide with him. We drove there in his FX Holden, even though I didn’t have a driver’s license. I worked as a grease monkey, serving petrol for a month or so before we decided to travel north to Alice Springs. It was so hot in the Holden that we kicked the windscreen out to let some air in!

I loved Alice Springs – it was like an oasis in the desert. I got a job servicing trucks for the Northern Territory Administration (government) and stayed there for about a year. One day my boss asked me to drive a truck to the client but I said I couldn’t because I didn’t have my license. He took me straight to the Alice Springs Police station and they gave me one on the spot!

Next, I went to Queensland where I got a job rounding up cattle and taking them to market. When I was staying in Winton, an Aboriginal boy did me a favour by killing a snake that was on me bed with his stockwhip. I wanted to buy him a soft drink at the pub, because he probably saved my life, but he said that because he was Aboriginal, he wasn’t allowed in the pub.

After all that drama, I went to Sydney and did the hippy thing for a while. It was 1971, Woodstock and all that. But I wanted to keep exploring, so I caught the train to Innisfail in north Queensland and got a job on a prawning boat. We would also catch mud-crabs, and every week, I’d exchange a basket of Moreton Bay bugs for free rent at the Cane Cutter Hotel. I absolutely loved it there.

I befriended a Kiwi on the boat and he asked me if I’d like to come back to New Zealand with him. I was always up for an adventure so we went to his family home in Invercargill together. I met my wife in this tiny town and we’ve been married since 1977.

Gael and I stayed in Invercargill for about ten years – the longest I’d stayed in one place since immigrating to Australia. Our two boys were born there and we bought a house for only $13,000.

When Gael’s parents were dying, we moved to Hawke’s Bay on the north island of New Zealand. I got a job as a groundsman at a posh girl’s school. About this time, home computers were becoming more popular and I became interested in the ones Amstrad were making. I set up a business called User Friendly Computers, and started selling and repairing computers. I was self-taught – computers were simpler back then. We did quite well out of that, and when we sold the business in 1998, I was able to buy a 30-foot yacht. I taught myself to sail and sailed with a mate down to the Marlborough Sound, which is between the north and south islands. Gael drove down in our car and we lived on the yacht for about six years. I had to sell the yacht when I became sick. Now we live in a place on my son’s property in Wellington.

My parents and siblings didn’t want to emigrate to Australia but I’m so glad that I did. I think Australia was a friendlier place in the 1960s when it had a smaller population (about 11 million people). I’m happy as anything that the Big Brother Movement gave me the opportunity to emigrate to Australia and on to New Zealand.



Castel Felice

Stramit Industries

Southland Times

Amstrad Computers


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