Ship name / Flight number: SS Orontes
Arrival date: 28/08/1957
The Big Brother Movement Sent me West
An Introduction to The Bush
Mid morning and the heat is intensifying. Dust abounds, layering the encompassing environment and I am alone, so completely alone, except for one distant figure, just visible at the far end of the Condobolin railway station platform in western New South Wales.
Why am I here? That’s easy! I am following the entrenched dream of a sixteen-year-old from Scotland, whose career ambitions sought ownership of a large farm (Oops! I’m in Australia now – It’s called a PROPERTY with paddocks – not fields. So much to learn!) with sheep, horses and cattle.
Why is that patient figure waiting isolated at the far end of the platform when the train has left? Only that figure knows!
What am I doing here – Right now? My instructions were clear. “You will be met by Mr Morgan who will be at the station when the train arrives at Condobolin”. I am looking for Mr Morgan, and my efforts have been doomed as all other arriving passengers had been either met, or otherwise dispersed about their business, and the one remaining figure appears to be female!
What is the distant figure probably thinking? “I’m supposed to find a young emigrant lad who was to come to help on the property. This weedy, (eight stone one to be exact) spindle shanked, slender youngster standing at the far end of the platform could not possibly be the one destined for all the physical tasks ahead!
How did I come to be here at Condobolin?
Well that’s the tale to tell.
Born in Edinburgh in 1940 to the distant bombing of Clyde Bank, my sixteen years of existence, I recognised, had been privileged. With Mum, Dad and my two younger siblings, we enjoyed the benefits of country village living beside the famous Muirfield Golf Course, whilst I benefited from a private school education at Daniel Stewart’s College in Edinburgh. Being surrounded by golf courses and with a fantastic beach nearby, tennis courts to hand and a happy family life, it was surely a rosy existence. So what’s the problem? The missing link was opportunity! With a burning desire, from a very early age, to own my own property, and not having a parental farm to inherit, my options in Scotland were very limited where the ability to work hard and accumulate to the point of ownership would probably be but a pipe dream.
Into my ken came a life-ring in the form of the Big Brother Movement. A non-sectarian, non-religious, non-political organization seeking British youths, between sixteen and eighteen years of age who, if deemed suitable, would solve the labour requirements of the antipodes of both New Zealand and Australia. Opportunities I had sought, and opportunity had presented, so there was no doubt that it should be taken. Yes! There were the gut-wrenching farewells as the family was left behind and my beloved racing pigeons were left to the care of others. Yes! There was the loss of sixteen years of school and village friendships to be abandoned. But Yes! There was adventure on the horizon, and opportunities to be explored outside of my known comfort zone – Come on Australia!
Final disembarkation from the trusty old “Orontes” in July 1957 saw my group of twenty “suitable lads” whisked by bus, either to the hostel in Sydney, for those seeking an urban future, or, for the rest (being the vast majority), the “training farm” at Liverpool, West of Sydney, to be our destination for our first night on dry land. Two weeks of erecting a barbed wire fence was designed to toughen the hands and condition the muscles whilst attending to the designated chores of kitchen support (potatoes, and the peeling thereof, featured strongly) EARLY daily milking of the herd and the required cleansing of the grease traps together with attention to ablutions followed by a 9.30 “lights out” served to condition the mind to the discipline of self-sufficiency and the ongoing prerequisites of life on the land – and adventure! This period also allowed the Big Brother Movement’s powers that be, headed by Frank Mansell, to match up the various and diverse personalities of the current intake with employment most suited to the individual lads.
So here I am, after following instructions, standing on Condobolin Station Platform, wondering if the vague female form in the distance is, in fact, my new boss, Mr Morgan. Our cautious coming together, and subsequent introductions, proves that, in Mr Morgan’s stead, wife Mrs Morgan is my connection with “Brotherony” and life on the land. Before me is a petite lady, most neatly dressed, and with a bearing of authority. The pleasantries culminate in her statement that she has town business to attend to and that I am, perhaps, hungry. I see no reason to disagree, and her proffered five pound note is a means to satisfy that need. Not that I am short of money. Indeed, I have eight pounds of financial security in my Scottish wallet and so felt far from destitute.
As I am led from the station, with my worldly goods enclosed in two suitcases (Expanding!), I am most convincingly impressed by the sleek, black, Jaguar car awaiting. Black, indeed, in spite of the settling dust’s efforts to camouflage the paintwork! The snack is timely and the appointed rendezvous time is upon me and so Mrs Morgan and I are westward bound on the Lake Cargelligo road, with the town bitumen, but a memory. After driving for a considerable time (Sufficient distance should I have been in my native Scotland, to have reached the edge and fallen off. Distances are so much greater here!) the vista ahead is blurred by a great cloud of rising dust. Closer now, and its source proves to be a large mob of “wild” (So I am informed), Queensland cattle, on the way to the railway siding at Kiakatoo.
The edge of the mob is made ragged by beasts breaking away and trying to head for the scrub. A bit more determined, are the galloping dervishes of stockmen who, time after time, are turning the truant cattle back into the mob. As I peer in wonder at the action scene ahead from the passenger seat of the Jaguar, a lone rider comes galloping directly up to the car amidst swirling dust astride a foaming, sweat streaked steed, with a flow of brilliant red blood layered down a muscled chest. “This is your new chap from the Big Brother Movement – Stuart! Stuart. This is Laurie Morgan”. And so, with this introduction, I meet my new boss. The meeting is brief as Mr Morgan’s departure from the droving team puts extra strain on the efforts of the remaining stockmen, valiantly trying to persuade the mob towards the railhead.
As the dust clears and the mob passes, we are able to complete our journey to the property, “Brotherony”. I am excited, and not the least bit dismayed when dropped, worldly belongings and all, outside my hut. This to be home for the next year and four months. The small, single roomed fibro shack, sports a gauzed verandah at the front, and proves to be the quarters for another two employees. As proof of seniority, the cool verandah is claimed by pint sized (As jockeys are!) Englishman Dennis Osborne, Mr. Morgan’s thoroughbred stud groom.
The diminutive interior is to be shared with Keith, a carpenter employed to repair the missing timbers of the shearer’s quarters which had been consumed by a recent mouse plague. In short measure I have stowed by belongings, changed into what I think is appropriate work clothing (My discovery that bib-and-brace overalls and commando boots with rugged screw-on soles and a sheath knife to deter wild animals, turns out to be a source of amusement for dinkum Aussies!) and I now make my way up to the homestead to present for work. It seems that Mrs Morgan has driven back to the galloping stockmen with life-saving drinking water, and my search for someone, anyone, reveals the cook, Nina Brennan, as the only human within Cooeee! “I’m ready for work! Is there anything to be done?” Nina intimates that usually the milking is done at this time and I am directed, bucket in hand, in the general direction of a paddock where perhaps I can find something that looks like a milking cow. In short measure I am at the tail end of two cows, which are most anxious to get to the source of their calves plaintive calls emanating from a small cow shed. With a full two weeks of experience, finger and thumb stripping the last vestiges of milk from a dairy herd in Scotland after the machines had done their job, I feel confident that I can wring a bucketful of milk from the Jersey cows in front of me. With the big black Jersey yielding three parts of a bucket, I feel that it is time to tackle the dear little dun coloured beast.
So! With the bucket part full of milk firmly between my legs, I squat with head into the cow’s flank, and grasp the milk source with both hands. It seems that this is the signal for violence! This “dear little cow” turns into a fiendish thrashing machine, and I find myself upended on my posterior, clagged in the slop on the floor with milk everywhere but in the bucket. Within the bucket is a decent quantity of the slop from the floor, left by the thrashing rear hoof of the cow. With tears in my eyes, fearing instant dismissal, and with my career path in tatters, I make my way up to the house kitchen to report my misadventure. The men are now back at the station, drinking tea in the kitchen, as I make my dripping entrance. My appearance is brief as I flee to the sanctuary of my quarters and spend a restless night of misery. A new day brings an unexpected and welcome surprise. I am a hero! Nobody can milk the smaller cow, and only the big cow supplies the milk for the station. My adversary tolerates the two calves but flattens any human approach.
And so I meet the great Laurie Morgan, horseman extraordinaire, who is yet to achieve world equestrian supremacy with two gold medals in the Rome Olympic Games. An important relationship of teacher and pupil has just begun, and this impact has influenced the rest of my life.
Penned By J. Stuart Gearey – “Orontes” 1957.Contact Little Brother