My earliest memory. It was 1962. My parents, siblings and I, travelled to London. This was very exciting as most of us had never travelled to the capital, although my mother was a true Londoner, having been born within the sound of Bow Bells. I don’t recall how we got there, or where exactly we’d travelled from, but I do recall one thing. We were going to AUSTRALIA HOUSE.
Our application for immigration to Australia was quickly accepted. In those days, it wasn’t a prerequisite to have a trade or craftsmanship in order to qualify for entry. They merely wanted families, to come to Australia with promises of a new life, new start and better way of living. With four children in the family, we were practically guaranteed (after passing our medicals).
I can only recall a few memories of being on board the ‘SS Orsova‘. We travelled through calm seas and I would feel happy watching and enjoying the waves. I liked watching the night sky too. When the heavens are surrounded by an ocean horizon, even now I remember how big I thought it was. I loved the stars, they fascinated me. Little did I know then what a big part the stars and the universe were playing in my life. We also had very rough seas and felt seasick. My big sister used to say it was all in the mind. She’d go up on top deck and take in the fresh air. I used to think she was mad but mum and dad didn’t mind. I’m sure one of them must have been with her. Rough seas did make for rough tummies, well at least for some of us. I recall that breakfast was quite lavish, and that you could have cereal and scrambled eggs with ham, which was always one of my favourites. Till one day, my little sister was feeling a bit seasick. Everywhere. I skipped breakfast that day.
Now I’m blissfully reminded of fancy dress day! I was looking through my mother’s photo’s for the ‘certificate’ which was awarded for crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge. However, I stumble across a small wallet of hers that she used to keep her Disney passes in (much later stories from the 90/00’s). There are several of those in there but also this snapshot of ‘entertainment’ on board. The fancy Dress Competition ~ The Menu Girl! That’s me… I don’t recall who won, but I had forgotten I was in it. My little sister is the bathing belle beauty to the left.
Landing in Australia, Sydney was the last port of call, after Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. Our first house was like a campsite, army barrack style. Semi-circle, round huts made up of what looked like corrugated iron. We were housed there before being allotted our first home, number 14 Boundary Road, Liverpool, some 20 miles outside Sydney. I remember the house was made of wood and it had a veranda. This was to help shade the sun from overheating us mortals inside. It offered some respite and I do recall evenings on the porch, just playing. A gentle wind would kindly cool you down, whilst the evening sun dropped below the horizon. The house was single storey, had two bedrooms and a kitchen with living room one end. There was an outside ‘dunny’ and we had a tin bath. No surviving pictures exist but in my mind, it is quite clear. It stood on a big plot of land. Dad was afraid it would fall down around our ears any minute, but to me, it was our castle. We were not there very long before we were offered a bigger house to accommodate our needs. I.e., more bedrooms. Without doubt, I recall this house too. It was also wooden, standing on brick plinths and it was painted lilac. I thought we had a castle before but this was a stately mansion compared in size. We had 3 bedrooms, a bathroom and toilet inside the house and a kitchen so big that we had a dinner table in there big enough for us all to sit and eat together. It had a lengthy hallway running from front to back of the house and I remember with vivid recall how we used to clean and polish the linoleum. My big sister would tie rags to our feet and we would skate and slide until it shone new as a pin. To this day I wonder how we didn’t break our necks, that is, if we were using real polish…
Our nearest neighbours were 100 yards away. A family home one side and a farmer the other. His property ran for acres and I remember he kept chickens. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Noise didn’t seem to be an issue, although I can recall hearing a cockerel crow. Across from our house was nothing but country side. It was adorned with yellow flowering native wattle trees and shrubs. The earth was red, dusty and you wouldn’t want to be outside if the winds really blew. Dust was a big problem. I remember that. We were told not to go over there to play because of all the critters that might be about. One day, the Jacaranda tree bloomed. Not indigenous and rare in these parts to bloom at all, but it was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen and the colour matched our house perfectly.
This is a Jacaranda tree. Now you can see why it is so beautiful.
Some of my happiest memories from those days revolve around our pets. Our wonderful dog Skipper and Marmalade the cat. Skipper, was a cross breed collie, with black and brown tan fur. If any chickens got out from the farm, he used to love to chase them, till we’d called him back to us. He was very obedient. Those ‘chooks got a lot of exercise though! Funny now, but it wasn’t for them… Marmalade was mostly ginger, quite petite, short haired and had black and white in her too. She was very affectionate, and when she wasn’t asleep with the dog, she’d be hiding in one of our beds.
Skipper was the most faithful dog ever. We rescued him as a pup from a local dog pound. He would sit and wait at the gate till we got on the bus for school. Then he would chase the bus watching us leave until we drew out of sight. One time he ran with us nearly all the way to Bankstown, some good few miles away. When we got home in the afternoon, he’d be there waiting for us. We’d play ball, fetch and chase! He used to run round the house and then I would run the opposite way. He could run really fast but it was always great fun to catch up with him. He used to stop at the front corner of the house ready to jump up at me when he heard me coming! One time, he hadn’t stopped and I went flying over him. He got into trouble for that, but it wasn’t Skipper’s fault. We were just playing. Likewise, Skipper used to play this game with Marmalade the cat, who was not quite so keen to participate. Generally, she would find the gap in the mesh under the house and hide there until Skipper gave up. Still, they would eat at the same place in the kitchen and they would sleep in the same room. They would never fight. There was mutual respect. They were good mates.
One day we were playing in the front yard when my sister started screaming that Marmalade was stuck up a tree, having been chased there by three dogs who had appeared from nowhere. The barking was intense and Marmalade climbed higher up the tree. She looked very frightened and was out of reach. I ran to the house to get my dad and Skipper came charging out across the road to where the dogs were. There wasn’t a dog fight, but Skipper stood his ground and gnarled and growled at the dogs. With my dad now there, my sister and I, Skipper had run them off. Marmalade was still up the tree but we couldn’t coax her down. We left her and went back inside and kept a safe watch. Dad said if she didn’t come down, he would fetch a ladder from somewhere. This scared me. I wasn’t sure if a ladder would reach. Only minutes later, though, Skipper had saved the day. As we looked out the window, we could see Skipper waiting at the bottom of the tree. Marmalade was edging her way down the bark. She landed right beside him and he nuzzled her. As we came to the gate, Skipper was escorting Marmalade back across the road. So it seems, although he could make her life a misery at times with all the cat and dog chases, it was their game and no-one, no dog, was ever going to come between them. Skipper was my hero and Marmalade’s too.
I do have very fond memories of Australia, but it was sadness that bought us back to the UK. Four years and six months later, we were making plans to return.
My Great Grandfather was dying. Work was drying up, there was redundancy on the cards. Money was tight and times were tough. Most of all, my parents were homesick. I was too young to remember anything of the UK and my first infant years. The decision was made to go ‘home’. Grandfather wired us the money for the return (£1,000) and our journey on SS Aurelia was booked. We packed our trunks and took as many of our possessions as we could. Space was limited. Not much made it back. It was 1967.
When I think of Skipper and Marmalade now I can be so moved by the memories that I cry. We all hated having to leave them behind. To this day, a little bit of my heart is broken. I was only 6 years old and it was my first experience of grief. Marmalade had been found a home and Skipper had gone to live on a sheep farm. I have never owned a dog since, but cats, well, that’s another story…