My Life: The First Australian Chapter.
Images I have never lost over the years.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Farmers shotgunned the parrots from the sky
My Life: The First Australian Chapter
It brings tears to my eyes when I read of the fate of the once great liners which plied their trade of passenger service between the United Kingdom and the United States across the Atlantic, or eastward, through the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and then the mighty Pacific to Australia and New Zealand.
I was fortunate to be a young man in the era when these ships were still being used as the main transportation between England and Australia; before aviation came of age and made the long transit impractical, and when a thirty-day passage was still extremely inexpensive.
I decided to emigrate to Australia in 1965 and booked passage on the SS Himalaya, a smallish P & O liner of 28,000 tons. She had just been converted to a one-class ship as was the fashion in the late 1960’s, she also had new stabilizers and a special “Thorneycroft” funnel-cap that was supposed to stop smut being carried down to the after weather decks and getting in the passenger’s faces.
I booked a double cabin on one of the lower decks, port side (left); it cost me just £200: this for about 30 days at sea with all found except the booze (wine at dinner was free, though!). I was not much of a drinker back then anyway, in fact, was just about discovering the joys and disasters of getting legless in the swinger’s pubs of Broadstairs in the mid 1960’s.
A crowd had assembled at Tilbury dock that long ago December afternoon to see the ship off. Streamers were spider-webbing between ship and dock; the ship’s starboard rails were crowded as passengers tried to make out the faces of loved ones on the dock. My then girl friend, E…, was there with my business partner in our little scamming scrap metal and haulage company, Clearers Limited. Sorry, Mickey, never did meet again, did we? My 3-month-old son was home back in Broadstairs in care of my mother; I little knew it would be 38 long years before I saw you again, T----,as I had no idea you were soon to be adopted and the plans your mother and I had hatched so avidly in the short weeks before I sailed were found to having been writ in water.
The events during the long trip to Australia has faded in the mists of time. I did meet one very special girl from Perth, P----, who was returning home after the traditional two-year break to see the mother-land. Shipboard romances are so bitter-sweet; the cares and responsibilities of life on dry land seem so far away. It must be rather like wartime affairs: so heightened by the artificial circumstances and the knowledge there might be no tomorrow.
Two new friends, Ron, an Australian, and Tom, a fellow émigré from Torquay, and myself, were much amused by the sweet young things who had tearfully bid husbands and sweethearts adieu on the dock a couple of days previously, but were now competing for the attentions of all the eligible males on the ship - and that included the ship’s officers! But no blame should be accrued. Romance at sea, by necessity, blossoms quickly: no one wants to be alone as the tropical sun slips beneath a quiet horizon and the sounds of marimbas drift up from the dance salon below. But the passion just as quickly fades, as the lines are put ashore at the ship’s destination, telephones spring to life, and the needs of real life return.
We arrived in Sydney harbour just before Christmas. One of the great sights of this planet is sailing through Sydney Heads, the majestic guardians of the huge harbour revealed within. Many times afterwards, and some time later, I would look out from my condominium in Vaucluse and watch cruise ships and other great vessels arriving, to be dwarfed by the Heads and the great natural harbour within.
Tom and I had become great pals by this time and decided to find a flat together somewhere on the beach. Beach to many in Sydney means Bondi, and we were no exception, finding a cheapie rental in the “Concrete Jungle” on a cove just to the south of Bondi. The day the caretaker was showing us around this cockroach infested monstrosity, a plate glass window from above shattered on the patio of the flat we were inspecting. Fine! Seems just right for two hormone-fuelled Pommies looking for fun and adventure in a new land.
The “Jungle” was party time 24/7: the semi-crazed Lithuanian caretaker, Max, wandered around carrying a large billy club, attempting to keep order. Most of us just laughed at him. He quit after two Kiwis rode a motor bike into his third floor flat, smashing the door in the process and sailing out again with his curtains as a flag. This was the sort of place the Jungle was and three months was enough, especially as by then E--- had my son back in England adopted; she had moved on and wasn‘t coming to join me; we had met two smashing Yorkshire lassies, M----- and S-----, and decided to move in together, beginning several of the happiest years of my life.
I often wonder, looking back to my two periods of living in Australia, why I ever left the first time. The reason was, I suppose, I had found the United States and Mexico, taken as a duality, definitely the most exciting area in the world to live and explore, although many of you will dispute this having found places like Brazil and Africa.
But Oz is special; very special. The native wild life will captivate you: until you have seen a hundred kangaroos travelling along the desert skyline, bouncing along as if they are made of flubber; watched, entranced, as six week-old dingo pups emerge from a roadside shrub and commence to play like two kittens; gaze in amazement as a thousand grey and pink Galah parrots take to the sky from a cornfield; then recoil in shock and disgust to see these gorgeous creatures being blown out of the sky by farmers with shotguns; hearing the almost human cries of the abandoned mates as they wheel and dive in misery. You realize then that this is a very different place than cold old Europe, the world’s sad cinder you left behind. Yes, Oz was different: kind and welcoming, but also cruel and harsh at times. And I think again as I pen this trite article: Australia, how could I have ever left you?
I did stay in Australia for 5 years before setting sail for the States, and I did return many years later, only to leave by decree this time. Perhaps I will publish more on my life in another hub if I am not boring you to death.