Thursday, 28 July 2011

40 years

Forty years ago today we (my Dad and Mum, my sister and I) arrived on the shores of Western Australia having left Southampton on the 4th July - Pommies in a new land. All I knew about Australia, besides the fact that gooney birds had hilarious landings, was that it was hot and there were snakes and spiders everywhere. I cut my doll's hair so that she wouldn't be hot and had nightmares about the ground writhing with snakes and my body being crawled over by spiders.

We travelled on a Chandris Lines ship called the Britanis (you can read a bit about it's history here and see photos of her sinking here). Besides being revoltingly seasick on the first morning and chucking up in the doorway to the dining room I think we had a fairly happy time on the ship. My sister and I were free to roam the ship or stand on the stern and watch the flying fish. We were always on the lookout for porpoises but I don't remember seeing any.

We travelled via Las Palmas. Dad and Mum bought quite a few souvenirs from this place. A Spanish doll with a lovely red and black dress, salt and pepper shakers (and maybe a sugar bowl) made out of pottery in tones of brown with black stick figures, and a tablecloth (I think). These travelled with us and Mum probably still has them tucked away in her cupboard.

The party that they threw for crossing the Equator was great fun with all sorts of antics and acts incorporating a King Neptune, bikini-clad mermaids and kippers. There was a guy (maybe King Neptune) walking around the edge of the pool with a bowl of water and an egg whisk and he was whisking water at the people that happened to get the front row view of the entertainment. One feisty lady wasn't to be beaten (no pun intended) so she ducked under the rope and pushed the fellow into the pool. That's the way I remember it anyway. Maybe it was all part of the act. :)

There was a fancy dress party too and my sister and I were dressed up as old ladies. Our hair was powdered to look grey and we borrowed hats and necklaces from other passengers. I remember not really wanting to go to the school they had for us little kiddies to learn all about Australian currency, flora and fauna but we endured knowing that there were other more fun activities planned.

The only other stop that I remember is Cape Town in South Africa. We caught a cable car to the top of Table Mountain. I remember seeing beautiful wild flowers growing in the little rocky crevices. And being cold!

Just before we left England my grandmother gave me a pink glass globe light shade that she had designed.
I carefully carried it in hand baggage so that it would survive the trip over. I still have it, although it hasn't seen the light for a few years now.

It was the middle of Winter when we arrived and Australia was neither hot nor crawling with creatures when we were greeted by my Mum's second cousin, Aunty Margaret, and her husband, Gene, who promptly pinched our cheeks in a way that I forever after intended to avoid.. All our warm clothes arrived weeks after we arrived. I have no idea how we got by but we did.We stayed at Noalimba Migrant Hostel. We were only there for a few weeks (I think) and my sister and I managed to get the chicken pox.  We went to Bateman Primary School during that time. I don't remember much about that school except that I was in grade 3 or 4 but I was up to the grade 7 spelling book. It was red.

It was while we were at the migrant hostel that I became familiar with some of the native flora. The berries that looked like blackcurrants were not blackcurrants and I thought I was going to die cos I ate a few and then was told that they were poisonous. My sister and I came across some puffballs that we carefully approached sincerely believing them to be snake eggs. Eventually, a local kid kicked one open to prove that it was a fungus.

Oh the joys of those first few months in Australia. By Christmas we were living in Hamilton Hill - a small community consisting mainly Italian migrants with a few Pommies and Australians in the mix. Many of the English migrants didn't make it through the next two years. The culture shock pushed and the homesickness pulled and they ended up going back where they came from. Not us. We stayed.

In those days we didn't have a telephone but Mum was an avid letter writer and she kept in regular and consistent contact with all our rellies in England. Being able to tell them that we went to the beach for a swim on Christmas Day or that we drove 100km for a picnic were a couple of the novel things to write home about.

Our first barbecue was an experience to be written about too. Some friends took us to a park and cooked us sausages on an open grate that was conveniently placed in the shade of a Eucalyptus tree. Most of the sausages ended up being severely overcooked. Not wanting to waste a single morsel Mum ate a lion's share of the solid charcoal sticks. I'm not sure that I even ate one. :)

I am pleased to be an Australian citizen and have never used the privilege of having dual citizenship for myself to go back to England. I have pleasant childhood memories in England and that is all. A few years ago now I drew a mud map for my daughter of the village I lived in and she was able to navigate around Colerne and take photos and videos for me. I don't have plans to go to England either - I'd rather travel around this great South land and see all the wonders of this country.

So there you go - 40 years, and loving it!


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