Richard (Dick) Steell

Ship name / Flight number: Fairsea

Arrival date: 01/12/1963

Some 4 months after leaving school the big adventure was about to begin. The Big Brother Movement had instructed our group to meet at Waterloo station, on the morning of October 27th, 1963, where we would join the boat train to Southampton.

The only train that would allow this connection departed our village, Yatton in Somerset, at around 2 am. That coincided with the change from daylight saving to standard time. British Rail staff were very clear that the train departure was on standard time not daylight saving time. The advice was wrong and it had long departed when we arrived at the station.

The South West of England was shrouded in heavy fog. There was no public transport that would get me London, let alone Southampton in time for the 11.15 am sailing. A family friend came to the rescue and mid morning saw me united with our group and our escort officer breathed a sigh of relief that the last of his 15 Little Brothers was accounted for.

The m.v. Fairsea looked massive & majestic to my teenage eyes. Her all white hull and superstructure towered above the wharf and I was excited to finally start my big adventure (at 13,000 tons the Fairsea was a modest size, even by the standards of the day). I was assigned berth A in cabin 543 with three others. Low cloud obscured the morning sun and we bid a chilly farewell to the UK as the tugs manoeuvred into Southampton Water for our 5 week journey south.

By evening we entered the Bay of Biscay, which lived up to its reputation for large ocean swells. Our table at dinner was thinly populated, as was the whole dining room, as motion sickness claimed its first casualties. No shortage of food for those of us fortunate enough to not suffer.

The next day we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and could see the rock in the distance. Our first stop was Port Said but travelling on Documents of Identity we were denied the opportunity to go ashore. Bum boats came alongside plying their wares. Negotiations were conducted with much shouting and gesticulating until a price was agreed. At that point money and goods were exchanged using a rope between the deck and the bum boat. One of our group negotiated to swap his jacket for something, that escapes me now, but foolishly sent the jacket down and received some worthless trinket in return. No consumer protection available there.

The Fairsea joined a southbound convoy and we slipped through the Suez Canal with good views of what little there was to see on the banks. We anchored in the Great Bitter Lake until the northbound convoy passed us and then continued our journey finally passing the town of Suez before entering Red Sea.

Our second and final port of call before Australia was the Aden Protectorate (now the Republic of Yemen). We anchored in the harbour and lighters ferried us to shore. The P&O liner Oriana was also in port and we now realised how small the Fairsea actually was. None of us were prepared for the scenes that greeted us in Aden. Beggars, some clearly crippled at birth, crowded us every step of the way. “Sixpence to you 2 Bobba to me, you give” was a familiar plea. After some heavy negotiation I bought a 35mm camera and promptly disposed of my Box Brownie. We returned to the ship, elated with our purchases but somewhat sobered by what we had seen and the realisation of just how fortunate we were.

Jeff, our escort officer, was an Australian returning home after working in England. He did organise some early morning exercise but otherwise pretty much let us do our own thing. Provided we conducted ourselves in an acceptable fashion and remained on good terms with the Master of Arms we were free of too many rules. Days were spent swimming, sunbaking and checking out the female passengers. Most nights some form of entertainment was arranged including dancing, a fancy dress ball (yours truly took out second prize) and the inevitable bingo. Shipboard romances blossomed and any thoughts of having to start work and forge a new life in a strange country was far from our minds.

We were graced with the arrival of King Neptune and his court to induct those crossing the Equator for the first time.

November 22nd ended with the ship ploughing through a major storm off the west coast of Australia. With the ship rolling to 38 degrees and waves as tall as the ship we were confined to the enclosed decks. Seasickness was rampant so sleeping in the cabin was not an option. Although we were unaware of it while we battled this storm far more dramatic events were unfolding in the United States. We awoke to the news that President John F Kennedy had been assassinated, in Dallas Texas. The news cast a sombre cloud over the ship as we made our way into Gage Roads to berth in Fremantle. Our mood soon lifted as we boarded a chartered bus for a tour of the 1962 Commonwealth Games facilities, Kings Park and finally a barbeque at the house of a Big Brother.

We sailed later that day with a now reduced complement of passengers. A situation that was repeated as still more disembarked in Adelaide and Melbourne. We left Station Pier in Melbourne with both a sense of disappointment, that this trip of a lifetime would soon be over, and excitement, tinged with apprehension, that we would soon make landfall in our new home.

We passed through Sydney Heads shortly after dawn on December 1st, 1963.We got up early, packed our few belongings and wolfed down breakfast so we would not miss anything as we arrived in Sydney. However, apart from harbour ferries and the odd cargo ship there was not a lot to see until we closed on the Harbour Bridge. The first day of summer delivered blue skies and a warm breeze as we slipped under the bridge and berthed at Pier 3, Walsh Bay. Amid much shouting, loudspeakers blaring out instructions & kids crying we somehow got marshalled amid this cacophony of sound and were processed through immigration and customs. We must have all looked pretty innocent because each of us was promptly cleared and we boarded a chartered bus that would take us to Homebush and our temporary quarters at Gunning House.

Only two of the group were destined for rural work so Chris Smith and I were able to do a bit of sightseeing in Sydney before going to the training farm. The Opera House was under construction and while the structure had emerged from the foundations the now world famous sails were some years away. The tallest building in the CBD was the old AMP building and the Big Brother Movement office was in Macquarie St. I remember travelling on the so called ‘red rattler’ train with the doors open to get some air in the non air-conditioned train. No focus on safety in those days.

After two days at Gunning House we were picked up by a Mr Defoe for transfer to the War Memorial Training Farm. I remember travelling down Parramatta Rd, past numerous car yards, selling a surprising number of American cars, through Parramatta and onto a gravel road and what to us appeared to be bush.

My experience working on a dairy farm during the school holidays in England led me to be placed nominally in charge of the dairy. It was an early start but rewarded at the end of milking with a mug of coffee made with cream from the top of the churn heated with the steam nozzle of the cleaner. Little Brother version of a cappuccino.

Day 1 involved mustering sheep – on horseback. I had never ridden a horse before but the boss said that was not a problem as the horse knew what to do. Several days of hanging on for grim death, while being plagued by more flies that I knew existed, proved the accuracy of his statement about the horse but did nothing to endear me to my chosen career. Despite this introduction I did enjoy most of the work but a tense relationship with the boss and the desire to rekindle a shipboard romance made me restless.

A little under two weeks I was told I was to become a jackeroo on a sheep property in northern NSW. Armed with a rail warrant, I boarded the Glen Innes mail train, departing Central station at 9.15pm and told to get off at Armidale where I would be met by my new employer, Mr Molesworth. I don’t recall being given any information about the train trip so took no food and naively  assumed it would take a similar time as coast to coast trips in the UK. My travelling companions were a family of 4, I think Greek or Italian, and spoke no English. The train had no food or drinks for sale on board, was not air-conditioned and no corridor in our carriage. The family kindly shared their food with me.

Some 14 hours later we finally pulled in to Armidale and I stood on the platform with suitcase and guitar nervously looking around. I must have stood out like a sore thumb because a craggy looking guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was the Pommie from the Big Brother Movement. I said “Yes, are you Mr Molesworth?” “Nope, I drive the mail car, I’ll drop you off”. It was a Peaugot 203 station wagon with 3 rows of seats towing a trailer. I was seated in the back row alongside a guy who had clearly taken the edge of his sobriety (to be diplomatic) and seated behind 2 Nuns. My seating companion kept tapping the Nuns on the shoulder and telling me they were salt of the earth. Thankfully he dozed off and slept until we dropped him off.

Armidale to Dorrigo is not that far even on poorly maintained gravel roads but after stopping to drop mail at numerous properties on the way and have a cuppa and cake at some it was late afternoon before we reached the property ‘Wilmot’.

I suppose I expected to be asked about where I had come from in England, and my journey to Australia. Instead I was introduced to the other jackeroo, also a Little Brother also named Richard, told to be up at 5.30 and to sort out with him chopping firewood and milking the cow. He added in no uncertain terms that I would meet his family later and I was to stay away from his 16 year old daughter.

Fortunately I could milk by hand so did that while Richard chopped wood. After breakfast Mr Molesworth ‘introduced’ me to Smokey – my stockhorse. I told him I had never ridden a horse which didn’t seem to concern him as he told me the horse knew what to do and mustering sheep was pretty straightforward. Several days of hanging on for grim death, while being plagued by more flies that I knew existed proved the accuracy of his statement about the horse but did nothing to endear me to my chosen career. I have never been so sore in all my life. I did finally get the hang of things but never felt fully confident riding.

The work was varied and I enjoyed it. We drenched sheep, branded the few cattle they ran, learnt to kill and butcher a sheep, mend fences and undertake a host of other jobs. However, I was restless. We worked long hours, 7 days a week and frequently worked after dinner until late. We were paid 8 pound 10 shillings less 4 pound 10 shillings for board but there was nothing to spend our pay on so that was not a major issue. Richard and I shared an asbestos cement sheeted room which had space for 2 single beds and a cupboard each. We used a shower and toilet added to the laundry and while we ate meals with the family we spent little time in the house.

When I worked on the farm in England in the school holidays I was treated as one of the family and the boss took time to show me how to do jobs so I learned a lot. Now I felt more tolerated than valued, the boss was often grumpy, expected us to know what to do and never seemed happy. I remember one occasion when was sent to get a wether and bring it back for killing and butchering. The idea was to run one out, jump off the horse and tie its legs then lift it up to sit across the horse. I took so long that the sheep panicked and swallowed its tongue it was so frightened. The boss was not happy and told me so at great length.

I realise now I was very naive and immature and decided I had enough. I had met a girl on the ship so decided I would leave and find my way to Adelaide and rekindle the romance. I gave notice but the boss told me I couldn’t leave without the approval of the Big Brother Movement. Not to be deterred I waited until we had been paid and walked to the nearest road before anyone woke, flagged down the fuel truck and hitched a ride to Raleigh where I got a train to Sydney.

After a day spent on the Intercapital Daylight express to Melbourne followed by a night on the Overland I reached Adelaide only to find the romance was over and she had moved on.

Jobs were easy to find and following advice from a friendly bus conductor I put my age up to 21 and commenced shift work with Chrysler followed by other unskilled jobs.

Later, in Melbourne, with the travel bug partially satisfied I started a new job, declared my true age, started night school, got married and freshly graduated joined aluminum company, Comalco Ltd. During a 21 year career I moved to Perth and finally Sydney, ultimately as General Manager Credit Services with CRA Ltd (Comalco’s parent). I travelled extensively around the world on business which only served to reinforce my view that migrating to Australia was the smartest decision I ever made.

In 1997 I joined forces with a colleague and wrote a software application for credit risk and receivables management. Our timing was spot on and our company grew quickly and we sold out to a public listed Australian group. I continued to work with them until retirement.

With my wife Dianne we live in Hornsby on Sydney’s upper North Shore. We have 2 sons. One is a property lawyer in Melbourne and the other an electrician in Orange. We have 4 grandchildren plus 3 more by marriage. We still travel frequently, both overseas and in Australia, but really enjoy driving around the country on our interstate travels.

For the last few years I have been volunteering in the BBM office and enjoy swapping yarns with other Little Brothers I meet. I respond to enquiries from Little Brothers (LB’s), help out with various tasks associated with LB’s and assist with a project to catalogue the Big Brother Movement archives that date back to 1925. I am easily engrossed by some of the stories I find and they remind me how challenging those early years in Australia were for us. However, I have never regretted migrating and am always grateful for the opportunity given to me by The Big Brother Movement.


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