RDP: Migration


Migration is such a contentious subject today. So many people fleeing war, starvation or oppressive governments and it seems that few countries want them. These people undertake journeys so hard and so scary and with so little chance of finding acceptance in a new country that I’m sure it is not undertaken on a whim. Leaving everything you have ever known is hard, especially if you are poor and faced with no other choice.

LE Eithne Operation Triton
Of course even the people who left their homes of their own free will did not always find migration easy. I’m thinking about the ones who emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the USA in the decades after World War II.

When we first lived in Australia we heard of many cases of British migrants who came but went back to England because one or more family members were homesick, they didn’t like the place they were living  or missed their friends and family back at home. Some ended up going back and forth two or three times before finally deciding where they really belonged. Many members of mum’s family emigrated, mostly to Australia but one branch to South Africa. Mum brought Naomi and I here on her own. That could not have been easy even though we were going to be with family. I was eight, Naomi six.

In those days many migrants to Australia came on subsidised fares as after the war there was a big push to bring new settlers here . “Populate or Perish” was the cry. Not all the migrants were British although a large proportion were. I’ve written before about former workmates who came from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Poland and practically every other country in Europe.

Here we have Aussies, English, Polish, Italian and Greeks all working together.

Some of my former workmates at our Christmas Party circa 1990

A lot of those post war  migrants came as indentured workers, they worked on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme or for the Commonwealth or State railways systems or roads in other out of the way parts of Australia.  I mentioned one in my previous post who worked at Maralinga when the British were testing bombs there.

The “Ten Pound Poms” and their fellow migrants often lived in hostels when they first arrived. Some of these were probably war surplus pre fabricated buildings like Nissen Huts. Imagine spending your first Australian summer in one of those! Later those same hostels housed waves of Vietnamese “Boat People” who came to Australia as refugees after that war  and later again Albanian refugees from Kosovo although I think by this time the Nissen Huts had been retired.

Former Main Roads Migrant Camp in Narrogin, Western Australia (exterior)
Eventually those migrants that stayed bought houses, raised families and became Aussies, Aussies with funny accents but Aussies just the same.

Two former Australian Prime Ministers were “Ten Pound Poms” or their parents were. Julia Gillard, our first and only female PM and ironically, Tony Abbott the man who vowed to “Stop the Boats” both came from the UK.

The Header of this blog shows the Sitmar ship Castel Felice. She carried many migrants, including us from the UK and Europe to Australia and New Zealand. Below are a couple of links to migrant stories.



Serendipity Photo Story #8

Nights at the Theatre

His Majesty's Theatre Perth- creative commons
His Majesty’s Theatre Perth- creative commons

This post was inspired by Marilyn’s Photo Story prompt “A Face In The Crowd”. I usually find that Marilyn’s photos or stories send me off on a slightly different path and today was no exception as the story of her granddaughter’s high school graduation started me thinking about  the first theatre performances I ever attended. I’ve never been to a graduation ceremony, mine or anyone else’s.

I do like the theatre though. One of my aunts had a love of amateur theatre and when we were children my sister, cousins and I were taken to see her perform in musical comedies two or three times a year. I for one thoroughly enjoyed it. It was my introduction to live theatre and even though the actors and musicians were all amateurs and some were certainly better than others it was very entertaining and at ten or twelve I was not overly critical.

There were actually some good performers in the Northern Light Operatic Society, the little company that my aunt was a founder member of. A lot of them were British migrants like us who had done similar things in England and wanted to continue in their new home. I just looked them up and found that the company is still going. The first performance I attended was “Quaker Girl” in 1966 and it was in fact the groups first ever show. My fourth grade teacher Louise Appels I think her name was, played the leading role.

I remember that my mother did not always share my enthusiasm although she would dutifully attend one show each time to see her sister sing. She used to say “It’s just people dressed up.” She preferred to watch a good film. Years later though, when my sister and I took her to some professional productions she thoroughly enjoyed them so I think that what she really meant was that it was not real to her because she knew it was her sister and friends dressed up and pretending. She couldn’t take them seriously. For me that aspect of it was quite interesting. I saw teachers from my school get up and transform themselves into characters which made them very different from the people I saw in the classroom or the playground. My cousins became involved  when they were a bit older and my aunt pushed me to try it as well but I never would. I now think that she thought it might help me overcome my shyness but it was too big a step for me to take. If she’d suggested I get involved backstage or in some other area I might have felt differently. Backstage always fascinated me. I enjoyed it when we older kids were occasionally taken to a Sunday rehearsal and would watch lines being read and dance numbers practised. We’d get to go backstage down steep stairs and narrow corridors to dressing rooms that didn’t seem big enough to hold so many people. I saw that grease paint looks really peculiar in natural daylight.

It seemed posh to be going to the theatre too. It was the sixties and people still dressed up a bit to go out at night so we wore our good clothes. We would always meet people that we knew in the foyer, schoolmates with their families, teachers or friends of my aunt and uncle who would talk to my uncle while we kids bought ice creams or sweets or looked at the production photos to see who we could recognise.

Of course being amateur productions sometimes things would not go according to plan but it didn’t seem to matter and I can’t remember seeing any major disasters. I do remember one hilarious moment during a performance of “The New Moon” however. It was at a dramatic point in the story and the audience was listening intently. There is revolt on the ship New Moon and the captain cries “Is this mutiny?” from somewhere in the audience comes the voice of a small child “Yes!”

The whole audience dissolved into laughter and even the cast were having a hard time keeping straight faces. In true show business tradition though they pulled themselves together and went on with the show.

Further Reading:



Ghosts Of Christmas Past – 1965

An Ending and a Beginning

December 23rd 1965. I am eight years old, my sister is six. Mum wakes us so early it seems like the middle of the night. Sleepily we get dressed while she makes us breakfast but for my sister and I this is not an ordinary day. Today is the day we have talked about for more than a year. Today is the day we go to Australia.

Soon it is time to go.  I wear my red winter coat; my sister looks pale in her dark blue one that used to be mine. Uncle Johnny comes to take us to London in his car and we set off in the dark and the fog. We rarely travel by car; he has to stop on the way so that I can be sick.

By the time we get to Waterloo Station I feel better though. I like stations and I want to see the train we are going on. I catch a glimpse of one enormous steam engine but mum and dad are not really in the mood to stand around looking at trains. They have adult things like luggage and tickets to worry about.

The train we are to travel on is the boat train to Southampton. It’s full of other people going to Australia as well. It’s daylight now but grey and miserable outside as we speed through unfamiliar towns and countryside. On the train I discover that the special bar of Galaxy chocolate that I was saving to take with me has been forgotten. I’m disappointed as I’d saved it on purpose. I’d never had Galaxy chocolate before and had been looking forward to trying it.

As we approach the docks mum and dad start talking about the ships they can see. One of them says “There’s the Queen Elizabeth.” I want to see it too because “The Queen Elizabeth Family” is one of my favourite books but I can’t make it out in the jumble of cranes and funnels in the distance.

At the terminal dad kisses us all goodbye. He won’t be making the journey with us. I’m not that upset. Dad goes somewhere to watch the ship’s departure and cries as his family sail away from him but I don’t know this. The adventure is beckoning.

The ship’s name is Castel Felice. We go up the gang-plank the way mum said we would and down to our cabin. It’s on D Deck, it’s tiny and it doesn’t have a porthole. I’m really disappointed about that. I feel cheated that there is no porthole to look out of and then I wonder if we are under the water and that’s why we don’t have one. There are four bunks and a wash basin in the cabin and a kind of closet for our clothes.  A young woman comes in, she is to share the cabin with us, she seems very glamorous to me, her name is Pamela. I have one top bunk, Pamela has the other. Mum and my sister have the two lower ones. We meet our cabin steward, an olive-skinned young man with black hair and brown eyes. Like most of the ship’s crew he is Italian. He doesn’t speak a lot of English but he smiles and is friendly.

Castel Felice
Castel Felice

Later that afternoon the ship sails. Everyone stands on deck to wave to the people on shore. Streamers are thrown but the paper ribbons can’t keep us tied to England. We move off and mum takes us inside to explore the ship. First though there is lifeboat drill and we all stand about wearing cumbersome orange jackets for what seems an age.

Dinner time comes and I’m upset to find out that we are expected to go to the “Children’s Dinner” with all the other children. I don’t like being with a lot of strangers and I don’t like the food much either. Mum puts on a nice dress and wears lipstick to go to the adults’ dinner. She leaves us in our cabin with books and toys and tells us not to worry, she won’t be too long.

When she comes back she puts us to bed in our bunks. By this time the sea is getting rougher and the ship is rocking. Mum says we must be in the Bay of Biscay. I am seasick, my sister is seasick. Pamela comes in and she is seasick too. For the next day and a half mum is kept busy looking after us while feeling seasick herself. The only drink she can get the steward to bring to the cabin is grapefruit juice. It tastes nasty and I rename it “sickfruit juice”.

By Christmas Day we all feel a bit better and mum makes us get up, wash and go on deck to get some fresh air. There is a church service, people are singing Christmas carols; the man with the microphone tells us about some people on a previous voyage who were really good singers . They went to live in a place called Elizabeth.  That’s the place we are going to, my grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins are there and they travelled in this very same ship. My aunty is a good singer so I wonder if she is one of the people the man is talking about.  Later there are presents for all the children. My sister gets a pretty doll with long brown hair, a blue pinafore dress and a white blouse with thin red stripes. I get a sewing set. I’m not happy, I got three sewing sets for Christmas from relatives before we left home and I don’t even like sewing.

So that is Christmas 1965. A month later we arrive in Australia to start a new life.