by

        TALES FROM THE OTHER SIDE  ( of the world )

                       By Audrey Sanderson.

 

Audrey, East Leeds lass now settled 40 years in Australia, relives for us the traumatic upheaval of uprooting her young family from the familiarity, family and friends of East Leeds to start a new life in Australia.

A ten pound tourist is one of the nicknames for English immigrants.  A tourist implies a holiday.  While some       ‘ poms ‘ did treat it like a 2 yr. holiday thousands liked the place so much they decided to stay in this place calledAustralia.

It’s over 40 years since we stepped off The Castel Felice Ocean Liner owned by The Sitmar Line.

Why did we emigrate?  My husband was working 7 days a week and after paying tax on overtime we were ₤2 10/- better off than if he’d worked 5 days a week.  With 2 toddlers and a mortgage we never seemed to be getting any further forward than we were when we first married.  No child minding centres in the 60s.  If mother wanted to return to work a neighbour/ friend or grandma looked after the children.  My parents were elderly, husband’s parents lived too far away and all our friends were in the same financial position as us.  In the freezing winter commercial T.V. bombarded us with what a great life anyone could have inAustralia.  A neighbour of my mother-in-law had lived inSydneyfor 30 years.  She’d taken her 25 yr. old son back toEnglandto live to show him what her life had been like many years ago.  About the same age as my husband he and Les became friends before I met him.  The idea had always been at the back of his mind after hearing Les’s tales of growing up in a beach front house, easy going life style and couldn’t wait for his mother to get fed up with living in a tiny house and freezing winters so they could go back. 

 At first I wasn’t keen on the idea of leaving.  I had my life planned out or so I thought.  We had a semi detached house with big bay windows, 2 apple trees and flowering shrubs in the back garden with a creek running along the back fence line.  The front garden was typical of its day with a square of lawn edged by small flowering plants and a privet hedge.  We’d built a carport at the side of the house and had pink roses climbing up a trellis along the fence dividing us from the house next door.  We loved the house and the neighbours, shops, schools, a church and an excellent bus service a short walk away on theSelby Road.  We had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins and close friends.  I had visions of living in that house well into old age.  Never did like the freezing cold winters even as a child I didn’t particularly enjoy playing in the snow.  Great fun the first day when the snow was white and fluffy but not when it froze into a dingy grey icy blob.  It took ages to dress two toddlers in warm leggings, overcoats, thick socks and fur lined boots just to go to the shop at the end of the road for a loaf of bread.  When I could still put both of them in the pram it was like pushing a truck uphill trying to push it through thick snow.  Forget trying to dry the washing outside.  Within half an hour it froze on the line and when brought indoors again it thawed and was just as wet as when it came out of the washing machine.  The clothes airer became a fixture in the kitchen/ dining room. 

The thought of permanent warm sunny weather was appealing sitting in front of a fire listening to the wind howling outside.  “It wouldn’t harm to go to Australia House and ask a few questions “said my husband.  So with the two children one Saturday afternoon we did just that.  Lots of friendly staff and lots of people like ourselves asking them questions.  We came home with lots of information and coloured brochures.  My husband wanted to leave on the next ship.  I had lots of ‘ what if ‘ questions.  After months of deliberating and frequent visits to Australia House we decided to put in an application for a £10 trip to the other side of the world.  After we’d been notified we had been accepted we started making plans to sell up.  We’d never mentioned any of this to parents or relatives.  My husband said his mother would say it was a good idea.  He never did see any farther than the end of his nose.  His mother always had an excuse if he did anything wrong, it was always someone else’s fault or told him not to worry everything would work out fine.  My mother I knew would rant and rave and say I was ungrateful for all the sacrifices she’d made since the day I was born.  Nothing new there I heard it all a million times.  I didn’t want to tell my Dad though I didn’t want to leave him behind.  The first sailing date we got was sometime in May.  We didn’t tell anyone until after New Year 1969.  As predicted the balloon went up with my mother screaming at me.  Dad and me both in tears, my two children crying also, they didn’t know what was going on but didn’t like everyone crying.  My husband said it was better for me to tell my parents and he’d pick me up from their house on his way home from work.  He was met with a stony silence and we went home.  I told him he could tell his mother on his own because I was sure she wasn’t going to be impressed either.  Used to getting his own way he said she would realise we had a better future inAustraliaand think it was a great idea he’d had.   Of course she would agree with him.  The following night he told her.  The children were in bed when he came in, very subdued.  “Does your mother still think you’re the best thing since sliced bread?”  He said she thoroughly agreed there was no future here for us but Australia is such a long way away and wondered how you are going to cope on your own not knowing anyone while I am out at work.  Same as I do now.  I organised, I made sure the bills were paid on time, I looked after the kids, I washed, ironed, cooked and cleaned, and he went to work.  “She said she’s got a few questions to ask you.  She’s going to ring you tomorrow.”  Of course she will…..after she’s phoned every living relative and told them she is being abandoned and things are not the same since she became a widow.  I’d heard all that a million times before as well.  She phoned when she thought I’d put the kids to bed for their afternoon nap.

What mad game did I think I was playing putting a mad idea like that into her son’s head.  I was never satisfied with anything, her son works his fingers to the bone, and I was taking away the only person she cared about and leaving her on her own.  I told her she was not on her own, she had a sister and 3 brothers and a heap of nephews and nieces constantly visiting.  It had been John’s idea and he talked me into it.  She didn’t believe me.  He would never abandon her if I hadn’t put the idea in his head.  What’s the point?  No matter what I say I’m always going to be in the wrong. 

The house was put up for sale.  Plenty wanted it but couldn’t get finance.  We had to ask for a deferment of our sailing date.  Australia House wasn’t thrilled.  They’d advised us not to tell the real estate agent we were emigrating because they would keep dropping the price hoping for a quick sale.  We told the agent we were moving in with my mother-in-law.  We would have to if the house had sold quickly, she had 3 spare bedrooms.  I would have hated it but beggars can’t be choosers.  We got another sailing date in late June, the 24th I think.  We had 2 months to sell the house.  My mother-in-law was barely civil toward me my own mother constantly told me we’d hateAustralia.  I think she scoured the neighbourhood asking if anyone knew people who’d emigrated and didn’t like the new country.  Made no difference, Australia, Canada, South Africa she knew someone who knew someone who’d come back home because they couldn’t be to be parted from family and friends.  Too late.  The house was sold with one week to spare.  It was one of the worst weeks of my 27 years.  No fond farewells.  All the relatives said we should have visited them to say goodbye.  I had too much to organise to bother about what they thought.  We’d been married for over 4 years and never seen most of them since the wedding day.  My mother cried all the time she wasn’t calling me a traitor.  Mother-in-law ignored me completely.  The night we left on the sleeper train toSouthamptoncouldn’t come fast enough.  

 My mother-in-law and her neighbour came in the big black cab with us to the train station inLeedscity square.  She wouldn’t let the kids go, they were getting frightened with Grandma crying.  My husband was pushing the luggage into the sleeper compartment and I was holding onto my children’s hands trying to prise them away from Grandma.  The neighbour told her to let us get onto the train and we would all have a marvellous time inAustralia, it was a great country.  The guard started closing the doors.  Annie loved being drama queen and started wailing  ” My son, my son I’ll never see him again.”  Husband and two kids on the train, Annie blocking the doorway, I’m on the platform.  The guard told her to stand back and took hold of the door.  She wouldn’t move, I’m trying to tell the guard I had to get on the train.  He told her she was holding up the train and to get on or stand back.  More wailing from her as I’m trying to push past and managed to get a hand on the door.  The guard yelled at me to let go.  I yelled back ” It isn’t going without me ” and pushed with all my might.  Bang went the door, he waved his green flag, blew the whistle and the train started to move.  I never looked back.  I had two little kids to get ready for bed.  They’d never been on a train before so I told them we were going on holiday and going to have a big adventure.  They were fascinated by everything and soon settled down thank goodness.  My husband never had a problem sleeping and snored all night long.  The two kids were restless, tossing and turning in the cramped bunks.  I sat on the floor and cried my eyes out.  I could still feel my Dad’s arms hugging the life out of me and wished he was with us.  Mother and mother-in-law drama queens would wring all the sympathy in the world from everyone who cared to listen how we had taken their grand children away from them.  Was it really going to be everything the people at Australia House had told us it was going to be.  What if the kids can’t settle.  What will happen to us if he can’t get a job straight away.  How long will our savings last.  There had been a last minute hitch with the bank releasing the cheque for the sale of the house.  We’d had to leave the details with a solicitor and the address of the bank inBrisbanewhere to send the money.  He assured us the sale had gone through it was a minor detail and the money would be in our account when we got off the ship.  What if something happens to the buyers and their finance falls through.  Like a lot of other things we’d never done we had no experience of selling a house or dealing with solicitors.  We were very naive and very trusting.  These day I would say too stupid to be let out on my own.  I made damn sure my kids knew how to handle money, contracts, hire purchase agreements, and credit cards long before they left school.  All night these things occupied my brain.  I mentally gave myself a good talking to.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself.  Dad will always be with me in my mind.  The money will be in the bank when we get there.  Must be plenty of jobs otherwise they wouldn’t need so many people to fill the positions.  John will have to take any job and not be picky.  So long as money is coming in at first he can get choosy afterwards.  Please let my kids stay healthy.  No National Health, the man said we had to join a health fund as soon as we arrive as medical things and doctors are very expensive. 

Dawn came slowly.  My head throbbed as if I had a massive hangover.  I washed the children’s hands and face and got them dressed.  A steward brought us tea, toast and cereal with a jug of milk for the children.  Sleeping beauty wanted a cooked breakfast.  I told him to stay in the bunk until the kids had eaten as there was no room for him to strut about.  ” The tea will be cold by then”  Tough, it’s not the Ritz.  I got dressed and took the kids into the corridor.  I was in no mood to listen to him whinging.  After 10 minutes back into the compartment we went.  He still wasn’t dressed.  ” If I was you I’d get wriggle on.  You have 15 minute before we pull into the station and unless you want to board the train to the quay side in your underpants and singlet I suggest you move quick bloody smart.”  Of course it was my fault because I’d made him stay in the bunk while the kids had been fed and dressed.  ” I’m not arguing, get dressed, shove everything into the overnight bags and be ready in 5 minutes.”  I made a last check we hadn’t left anything behind as the train pulled into the station.  I always did the organising but did expect him to help with the bags.  He gets off the train, started walking down the platform.  The steward helped lift the kids to the platform, took the two overnight bags and helped me to the platform too.  He looked around ” Are you on your own?  I’ll try to get a porter to help you ”  I thanked him for his help but said my husband would be coming to help as I had the tickets and he wasn’t going anywhere without us.  He came blustering down the platform telling me to hurry up.  The steward shook his head.  Right! New life style.  New beginning. Let’s get one thing straight.  I grabbed the lapel of his jacket ” You have humiliated me in front of the entire train full of people.  Pick up a bag, hold Martin’s hand, walk at his pace and head for the ticket barrier.  I presume you know where it is seeing as they wouldn’t let you through without a ticket.”  He wanted the tickets.  Not on your life.  He’d lose them.  No need to worry about the rest of the luggage it was all labelled and would be taken care of.  The platform for the train to the quay side was jammed packed.  We had to pick the kids up and carry them.  No reserved seats, you sat where you could get a seat.  We got two together and had to sit the kids on our knees.  Sat opposite was a lady and man with their chid sat on the husband’s knee.  My head was still throbbing and I wanted to go to sleep.  The lady asked if we wereAustraliabound.  I said we were and were they going too.  Her husband said he thought to entire train load wasAustraliabound.  She asked if we knew anyone inAustraliaand where was our final destination.  I said we didn’t know a soul and we were going toBrisbane.  She said they also were going toBrisbaneand she had a brother and sister-in-law who’d lived there for 3 years.  Very nice at least they would have someone to ask things if they didn’t understand anything.  We didn’t see them again once the train stopped.  Another mad scramble and queues a mile long.  We were English we were used to queuing.  Eventually we stepped onto the quay.  The ship was enormous.  A brass band was playing.  Hundreds of people waving to friends already on board, officials everywhere directing us where to go.  I made John carry the overnight bags while I held onto both kids’ hands.  Martin clutched his black and white panda, Linda a pink fluffy bunny rabbit, they wouldn’t sleep without them. I had a child on each hand, a large handbag over my shoulder and a fist full of papers, tickets and documents.  Still not bothering to make sure we kept together off strode the new £10 tourist towards the gangplank.  Same as at the train station, no ticket, no admittance.  I took my time.  There were hundreds of people behind me the ship wasn’t going to leave for ages.  I had to walk slow 2 and 3 year olds don’t have long legs.  They were not used to large crowds and lots of noise.  So long as I held onto them they weren’t scared.  The man in uniform at the gang plank kept looking at John as if he expected him to try boarding again.  Maybe with relief at getting us all to this point and knowing in a few minutes I wouldn’t have to check and re-check anything a dozen times making sure we had everything I started to smile.  The brass band helped too.  Both children were smiling and I thought ‘ It’s all been worthwhile ‘  reaching the gangplank John started to take the paperwork from my hand.  The uniformed man grabbed his arm and gripped it tight.  He let out a yelp.  I said quickly he was my husband.  The man scrutinised the thick papered travel document we’d been issued with.  We had to use that instead of passports.  He told John in no uncertain terms to stay with his wife and family and not create anymore problems we weren’t the only ones getting on the ship.  Gang planks aren’t made for toddlers and again we made slow progress.  Half way there two crew members came and asked if they could carry the children.  The kids loved it, they could see a lot more than other passenger’s legs they’d been looking at before.  I spoke to John over my shoulder   ” In future you’d better behave like Prince Phillip and walk two paces behind me and that way you won’t get lost or into anymore trouble.”  He didn’t answer but stuck to me like glue.

We were shown to a cabin on B deck.  Very compact with 4 bunk beds, a baby cot and a small sink with a mirror above it.  The young man said the cabin was for the lady and two bambinos, the gentleman had to follow him.  We were told this may happen if the ship was full.  Our suitcases were in the cabin so I pushed them under one of the bunk beds.  A knock on the door, another steward with a lady a few years older than me.  She introduced herself said she had a husband and 2 teenage sons who had had to join the deck with men only cabins.  Another knock on the door yet another stewed and a pretty girl of about 19.  She was very shy explaining she was travelling with her parents who had a cabin for 2 so she was in with us.  We all wanted to go up on deck to see the ship cast off.  Lots and lots of noise, people shouting and waving to friends on the quay, streams thrown from every direction and the band still playing.  It was all very exciting, like something out of a movie.  Until……The gap between quayside and ship grew wider, the noise of the engines louder, the band music got fainter and the sounds from the people on deck was a lot of muffled crying, not very many smiling faces as we watched the shore getting farther and farther away from us.

The Australians returning home were a jovial lot  ” Come on sport cheer up.  You’re going to the land of plenty.  You won’t recognise us 6 months from now.”  It wasn’t said to anyone in particular, just a general comment.  I tried to smile, they meant well trying to cheer everyone up but their cheerfulness made some women cry more.   We had to free ourselves of millions of streamers and try to find our way back to the cabin.  John had to get his clothes and towels to take to his own accommodation.  He was not thrilled at all having to share a large cabin below the waterline with  5 other men.  I told him not to complain we had been told it could happen.  I then had to sort out our sleeping arrangements.  The baby cot was supposed to be for Linda.  A new born would have been hard pushed to sleep in it.  When I asked the steward if there was a larger cot he said it was a standard size for children under 2 yrs. of age.  She was 1 yr. 11 months.  I asked if I could have another pillow and I would put Martin at one end of the bunk and Linda at the other.  Like every other mother with small children hoping they didn’t start crying in the middle of the night and keep everyone awake.  All the children adapted far quicker to their new surroundings than any of the adults.  After 2 days we were getting used to the regulations of the ship and made friends with the people we shared a dining table with.  I still swap Christmas cards with one couple who shared our table and we now write about our grand children.  They didn’t stay inAustralia.   On the voyage we bumped into the couple who had sat opposite us on the train on our way to join the ship.  They were friendly with the other couple who shared our dining table.  We kept in touch after we got toBrisbaneand although we don’t live near each other now we still phone and of course now we are smart old ducks we email each other. 

We missed seeing the first man walk on the moon surface.  I think we were in theIndian Oceanwhen it happened.  it was like being in our own little world.  Nothing to see but water in any direction.  It made me stop and think what it must have been like for all those brave men who had sailed in uncharted waters hundreds of years before in smaller ships than the one we were on not knowing what to expect.  We had as much food as we could eat, hot showers, lots of crew to look after us, a movie theatre, swimming pools, lots and lots of entertainment.  Not a lot of privacy but Hey we were receiving 5 star treatment and it had cost us £20 for a family of 4. 

Linda had her 2nd. birthday on the ship just before we arrived inAustralia.  Sitmar the Italian shipping line looked after all the passengers very well.  They made a birthday party for her and all the kids at the table received big presents.  I’d asked the purser if I could pay for a birthday cake and have it served at the evening meal.  Children under 12 had separate meal times and all the kids on their table were about 3 to 7 years old.  After the main meal, just before desserts were served all the lights were dimmed and the happy birthday tune came over the loud speakers.  The maître d’ held a cake with lit sparklers and walked the entire length of the dining room followed by 10 waiters all carrying brightly covered large packages and all singing ‘ Happy Birthday ‘  The parents loved it.  Some of the real little kids were scared because it was dark.  Linda was one of the scared ones and I had to hold her in my arms.  We didn’t realise it was for her until they stopped at the table.  The crew, being Italian adored all the kids.  My eyes were popping out of my head I hadn’t expected anything like this.  I thought a simple sponge cake with two candles for which I was more than happy to pay for but all this!!!  How was I going to afford it.   The dining room lights went up and the rest of the kids with help from the waiters started opening presents.  I think the crew enjoyed it more than the kids.  The next day I went to see the purser again.  I thanked him for the party and embarrassed asked how much it was going to cost me.  Not a sophisticated ocean traveller was I.  Big smile ” Madam, Madam, we treat all our passengers like family.  Your little girl had a birthday we gave her a party.”  Still embarrassed I said ” We are immigrants not full paying passengers.”  ” No Madam.  You are a passenger like all the others.  We do not have personal details, everyone is treated the same. Only on this voyage are you an immigrant.  I too was once an immigrant.  You will do very well inAustralialots of others have.  It was our pleasure to see all the children having a good time.” I could have kissed him.  

On August the 5th. We disembarked onHamiltonWharfunder a cloudless bright blue sky inBrisbane.   This is it, our new country.  Very excited to see what it looked like we’d been on deck since 5 a.m. watching as the liner edged its way into the mouth of theBrisbaneRiver.  Couldn’t see much as it was still dark.  As we’d stopped in all the major cities sincePerththere was only about 200 immigrants left to disembark.  The rest of the passengers were either Australians returning to Brisbane or passengers going back to Southampton who had joined the ship at the various ports we’d called at on our way round Australia.  Some were immigrants returning and wanted to tell the new comers they wouldn’t like Oz as Aussies didn’t like poms.  We had been warned this would happen but it was up to ourselves whether we made a go of it or not.  You can’t please everybody and we’d had plenty of time to change our minds long before we put our house up for sale.

 Once we’d arrived I knew why some were called whingers.  ” It’s not like it was back home ” I heard lots of times on the immigration camp where we were housed.  From the wharf to the camp we travelled by coach.  Granted the bus was not exactly modern but it got us to where we were going.  The houses? were certainly an eye opener.  Not a house at all but army huts as used by the Australian army.  Not the Ritz but clean and a roof over our heads.  All the packing cases and cabin trunks with our worldly possessions were stored in a locked building.  We were shown to our house? and told where the facilities were.  The canteen, shower block, toilets and laundry room a short walk from our little wooden house.  From the outside I thought our accommodation was small.  Smaller still when I realised it was for two families.  Our neighbours in this little semi were German.  They didn’t speak English, we didn’t speak German.  We smiled and nodded a lot to each other.  My son was 3, my daughter 2 yrs. old.  We had lived in a quiet cul-de-sac inLeeds.  The house we sold was a semi but of the big bay windows, nice garden with apple trees and a creek running along the back fence variety.  Our new semi had paper thin walls.  I’m not exaggerating you could hear the people next door breathing during the night.  The first night none of us slept.  We’d had lots of information from the people at Australia House inLeedsbefore we left.  What they didn’t tell us was there is no twilight inQueensland.  August was still winter time and the sun sets around 5:15 – 5:30 p.m. By 6 p.m. total blackness.  We’d packed our entire household belongs into crates etc. the only thing not packed was a torch or a flashlight.  All meals were plentiful and free but had to be taken in the canteen.  Daylight when we went into the canteen at 5 p.m. pitch black when we came out.  We got lost on the short walk back home.  We also found out immediately the sun goes down the mosquitoes come out to feast.  We were getting eaten alive.  One moaning husband carrying small son, one scared wife carrying crying small daughter.  We did find our abode then had to venture out again to the shower blocks to bath the kids and dress them in pyjamas.  Showers of course, no baths.  My little girl screamed the place down.  She didn’t want to go in the room where it was raining.  Great.  We’d been inBrisbane6 hours and already had got lost, eaten alive by insects, living in the back of beyond and surrounded by all nationalities who couldn’t speak English.  I turned the shower off and tried to quieten her down.  She’s stopped screaming but was now sobbing.  Of course with all the noise other women had come running.  Lots of sympathetic looks but no conversation.  A young woman with a Scottish accent asked what was wrong with the bairn, was she ill?  In my thickYorkshireaccent I said she was used to having a bath, not a shower and thought it was rainwater. 

” Come with me hen.  I’ll show you what I did with mine when we first arrived.”  She took me to the laundry room.  All those years ago it was common practice to have deep concrete trough like sinks in laundries.  So Linda had her first bath inAustraliastood up in a concrete tub.  Her mother had a quick wash as I couldn’t leave her with a complete stranger while I had a shower.  She really would have screamed the place down.  No entertainment on the camp.  It wasn’t Butlins of the outback.  No radios, no T.V.  Everything was silent by 8 p.m.  Everything that is except for the nocturnal wild life.  Something else the people at Australia House forgot to mention.  Wacol, the name of the suburb was way-out on the fringes of the city back in 1969.  Nothing but trees.  In this day and age Mr. and Mrs. Average couldn’t afford to buy in a suburb like that.  Back then I wished I could have heard a corporation bus or a train passing by on a main road like we had when we lived inDunhill Crescent.   Too late now, you’ve burned your bridges.  I seemed to be waking every few minutes of that long first night.  Owls hooting, fruit bats screeching, possums landing on the roof and when it was silent I could hear the family adjoining our wall breathing and snoring.  I didn’t know what the furry or feathered nocturnal visitors were until I asked someone in the canteen the next morning.  That’s also when the whinging poms introduced themselves.  The idea of the immigration plan was to get people working as soon as possible.  Every day for a few hours there was qualified people to answer your questions.  Employment being top priority, then houses, schools and transport.  Only one parent went to the hall where the professionals were, usually the husband and Mum stayed around the camp looking after their children.  My husband armed with references etc. went to the hall and I with the other women and children.  I was like an avalanche.  I don’t know where they lived in the camp but they all seemed to know who was English, French, German, Italian or Greek.  Little groups of them singled out the new arrivals.  First question ” Where did you live inEngland?  What does your husband do for a living.  How many children do you have.”  When I’d answered them first one then another told me how we could stay on the camp for 2 years, not pay anything and then go back toEnglandwhen you’d saved enough for the fares.  I hadn’t been here 24 hours yet.  Some had been there on the camp for nearly 2 years.  I asked if they didn’t want to move out and get a place of their own.  Why? they said ” The government is giving us board and lodgings.  Why would we want of go to work when we can have a nice long holiday?”  I asked what they did all day and did their children go to school.  Because they said they had no money the government paid for the schooling and all kids went on the school bus, again provided by the Australian tax payer.  It was nudge, nudge, and wink, wink “Once your husband gets out and about there are heaps of casual jobs he can pick up for cash in hand wages.”  I felt like reporting them to the authorities.  I wasn’t a banner waving, jump on a soapbox kind of person but they’d come here for next to nothing, their children were getting educated, they’d lived rent free and 3 meals a day for nearly 2 years and thought it smart to cheat by not declaring wages.  I couldn’t get away fast enough.  These people had cars.  Didn’t the authorities wonder where they got the money to buy petrol or new clothes?   One very naive little woman grew up very fast.  My husband got a job in the city but had to travel by train.  The nearest train station was 1 mile from the entrance to the camp.  As new comers we were on the outer limits of the camp, another half mile for him to walk.  Not a happy chappy at all.  We stayed on the camp 2 weeks before getting a flat in the city.  There again the immigration department was very good to us.  They stored all our packing cases etc. until we were established.  I couldn’t leave the camp fast enough.  My two littlies couldn’t handle the noisy canteen and were not eating at all.  Plenty of food for everyone but no chef.  Anyone who said they could cook got the job.  Very conventional when it comes to breakfast and still am.  Bacon, eggs, beans on toast type of fare not stewed up mincemeat on toast or fried fish or savoury boiled rice to start the day.  We had cereal and fresh fruit but hardly a staple diet for two toddlers.  You never knew from one meal to the next what was going to be dished up.  Greek and Italian food is very nice in moderation and also we were not talking haute cuisine.

The big move. 

The daughter of my mother-in-laws neighbour had lived inLondon.  My husband had met her long before I met him. We didn’t know they had returned to OZ until they managed to find us.  We were still on the camp when I met them for the first time.  Originally fromSidneythey decided to try living inBrisbaneand were renting a house close to the city.  They were a sociable couple and made friends easily.  They knew an elderly couple who had an enormous house they’d converted into flats.  They didn’t object to small children so long as we didn’t have any pets.  We moved into a fully furnished 2 bedroom flat with a big lounge, small kitchen and joy of joy a bathroom with a bath and a shower. 

Brisbaneis a very hilly city and two ways of getting to the local shops.  The owners who lived on the premises told me the quickest way was straight down the long street and I would be there.  They of course had a car.  I had two toddlers with short legs not used to walking in the heat of the day.  Down this long steep hill, up the other side and we were amongst lots of small shops.  No big shopping centres back then.  I bought milk, bread, a few veg and meat.  I walked back the same way and we all had a sleep once we got inside the flat.  When my husband came home from work I said we would have to do a big shop on the weekend and catch taxis.  There was no way I could make two little kids walk that distance every day to buy bread and milk.  Margaret and Eddie came to see if we had moved in O.K.  Eddie called me a numbskull and showed me the other street to walk to the shops.  Flat as a pancake and the top end of the street with more small shops.  We were all very relieved and I had the best nights sleep since arriving inBrisbane.  Then the real living in a new country started.  I had to learn to call food by different names, know what cut of meat to ask for, what kind of fish to order in a snack bar.  And yes, the shops were not like they were inEngland.  No good asking for a piece of beef for roasting, blank look from butcher.  In the snack bar you don’t ask for fish’n’chips.  There is a list of all the fish they sell and it’s all warm water fish.  Beautiful once you know what to order but for a lass who only got cod or hake from the local chippy not much bloody good.  What the hell was sweet lip, snapper, golden perch and prawns the size of a small crab.  Didn’t take me long to sort out what was what in the fish department, yummy, yummy.  The meat was something else.  Apart from a Greek fruit shop owner all the other shop keepers were very friendly and patient with me.  The first ‘ joint ‘ of beef I roasted was as tough as old boots.  No idea where on the animal it had come from.  It looked very lean and smelt delicious while cooking.  The roast potatoes and carrots were done to perfection as was theYorkshirepuddings.  Didn’t know any other way to make a roast dinner so did it the way I’d always done it.  Could not work out why the meat was so tough.  Couldn’t afford to throw it out so chopped it up and made a stew with it the next day.  Everyone enjoyed it.  I tried a different butcher shop hoping for better meat.  One of the first things that made my eyes pop was fruit and butchers shop windows packed to the maximum in every city the ship had stopped at on our way round Australia before getting to Brisbane.  Before selling up and leaving my local shops had a few joints of meat, a tray of sausages, and plenty of plastic parsley decorating their windows.  The Green Grocers window had a small amount of apples, oranges, tomatoes and a few veg on white cardboard trays.  The fruit shops here were like an Aladdin’s cave with lots of bright coloured fruit I’d never seen before.  Veggies with strange names, giant sized pineapples and coconuts.  I’d only seen proper coconuts at fair grounds where you tried to knock them off their perches with a wooden ball.  I looked in the butcher’s window and thought I saw a piece of beef similar to the one I’d bought before.  The name of it meant nothing to me.  I could tell the difference between pork, lamb and beef but not the names of the cuts.  I asked the friendly butcher why two pieces of beef looked the same but had different names.  He smiled ” I married a lass fromYorkshire, she didn’t know either.  Which one have you tried?”  I pointed to one.  ” How did it turn out?”  I could tell he knew I’d done something wrong.  No good getting huffy I’m never going to find out if I don’t ask.  I don’t think the immigration people cover questions on how to shop.  ” That’s called silverside and the one next to it is topside.  You boil one and roast the other ”  I could feel myself going crimson.

” Never mind dear.  Never be afraid to ask.  Us butchers are a friendly lot.  Only too happy to show off and tell you how to cook what you buy from us.”  He gave me little booklets that were on the counter.  All the cuts of meat for lamb, beef and pork with diagrams where on the beast they came from and what was suitable for roasting, grilling, stewing and of course barbecuing.  I studied those little books as though they were a life line.  You could also buy a complete side of an animal.  All butchers advertised it on their windows.  The most economical way to buy meat but you needed a large ‘fridge or a large family to buy it that way.  In the flat we had an old fashioned ‘fridge with no storage space in the door.  Buying meat in bulk would have to wait.  I did ponder on how I would chop it up if I did purchase a whole side of a beast.  I didn’t ask the man, I’d save that for when we moved into our own place and could afford a large ‘fridge.  We’d lived in the flat a few weeks and I’d bought groceries I was familiar with.  Longing to try some of the bright coloured fruit I ventured into the Greek fruit shop.  The shop keeper was Greek not the fruit.  His accent was difficult for me to understand, he was a man without much patience.  I knew how to cut up a pineapple but no idea what a rock melon or paw paw was.  The butcher had said I had to ask, so I did.  ” What is this yellow thing with black seeds?”  All smiles he said it was a paw paw.  My fault, I should have asked if it was fruit or veg I asked ” What is it?”  He gave me a funny look ” Mad’ am ’tis a paw paw.  Look it say paw paw, that’s what is… paw paw.”  Trying a different tack ” What do you do with it?” meaning do you cook it. peel it or what?  ” Mad’ am You Eat it.  You wanna buy or leave my shop.”  Charming I’d never been asked to leave a shop or shouted at because I didn’t understand.  An elderly lady customer yelled at him ” Pull yer neck in.  When you first came here you couldn’t spell paw paw and I showed you how to cut it open for display.  Stupid bastard cut it across instead of down.  Give the girl a chance.”  My God!  It sure isn’t like this back home.  I thought he was going to throw everyone out of his shop but they all started laughing, the owner included.  She took me in hand ” Anything else you want to know?” and started telling me what various fruits tasted like and if they needed cooking, sugar added and how to serve them.  She asked how long I’d lived here.  I coloured up again ” Is it that obvious? I’ve been here two months but only recently dared to try new fruit and veggies.” She laughed ” Your accent is as thick as Yorkshire pudding, only she called itYorkshirewith emphasis on the I.  You’re as white as a lily and your beautiful children are dressed all wrong.”  I bristled, have a dig at me. Leave my kids alone.  She said they had lovely clothes and looked very sweet but to get rid of the Crimpaleen  material  because in the summer it holds the heat and they’d sweat like pigs.  Me, in all my innocence ” Does it get hotter than this in the summer then?”  She laughed until tears ran down her face ” O you poor cow, you don’t know what your in for ” and laughed her head off again.  She was right.  I did buy the paw paw.  Peeled it, discarded the black seeds, chopped it up and sprinkled sugar on it.  Me and the kids loved it.  The husband didn’t like anything unfamiliar so I told him a was a new kind of peach.  He didn’t like the smell of it so I told him parmesan cheese smells as if something has died but it tastes lovely at least give it a try.  He was never over fond of paw paw but it was years before he found out it wasn’t a kind of peach.  My biggest disaster was in the new veg department.  I’d heard of pumpkins being fed to cattle inEnglandand only ever seen one in the Cinderella pantomime when it was turned into a coach by magic dust and a drum roll.  I did ask Margaret and Eddie the friends of my husband how to roast it.  Margaret said ” You can roast jacket potatoes can’t you?  Just roast pumpkin the same way.  It doesn’t take as long but there’s nothing to it.”   I bought one about the size of a soccer ball.  So far so good.  As I was going to bake it whole I put it in the oven first.  Only a small oven so I cooked the rest of the veg on top of the stove.  Grilled lamb chops, steamed veggie, mashed potato and the pumpkin for dinner.  Everything else was cooked, the pumpkin wasn’t.  It had been in the oven an hour and was still as hard as when I’d first put it in.  We finished the meal, the pumpkin still rock hard.  I left it in the oven and switched it off.  Margaret came round the next day ” How did the pumpkin go?”  I said I must have done something wrong it was still rock hard and had been in the oven for about 3 hours.  She started smiling ” Tell me exactly what you did.  Nobody can ruin pumpkin unless it’s burnt to a crisp.” 

 ” I scrubbed it clean, then dried it, then smeared cooking oil over it and put it in the oven.”  Prolonging the agony ” Are you sure that’s all you did?” and starting to laugh.  ” Yes, that’s what you told me to do, cook it like a jacket potato and that’s how I cook them.”  She slid out of the lounge chair, was holding her sides screaming laughing on the floor ” Gee you’re priceless.  Been here 2 minutes and found a way of ruining a pumpkin first go.  Didn’t you think to take the top off and scoop out all the seeds an fibres before sticking it in the oven?”  What seeds? What fibres?  ” You told me to do it like jacket potatoes.  I don’t chop tops off and there are no seeds in potatoes.”  She screamed laughing for ages and re-told the tale for years.  It’s a good job I have a sense of humour the amount of times that tale has been told.

                         **********************

Well done Audrey. Perhaps we will revel in more of her memories later. In the meantime over 3,000 of you Australians accessed the site last year surely there must be some other £10 poms with memories to share with us on this site? Why not leave a comment on the site or contact me personally on:

                    peter_wood@talktalk.net

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6 Responses to “”

  1. Dave Carncross Says:

    Audrey, You`ve excelled yourself this time. The pumpkin bit sent me into hysterics. Mind you, when we first got married, my wife and I lived in a flat in Harehills and the cooker was a “Baby Belling“ with only a single flat plate on the top. It took ages to get warm never mind hot I tried cooking some chips and when I shook the strainer all the chips dissolved and fell through into the fat.

    Hope you`ve got plenty more to tell us.

    Dave Carncross

  2. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Hi Audrey
    I agree with Dave, an excellent yarn. As well as the factual aspects ,you’ve managed to bring out the fear and uncertainty involved in such a huge change to your life. But what makes it so enjoyable is the thread of humour running throughout.
    I look forward to the next episode.
    Eric Sanderson

  3. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    Thank you for your kind words Gentlemen. I’m glad it made you laugh and brought back memories of your own. Eric: I made plenty more mistakes because i didn’t understand the aussie dry sense of humour in the beginning.Dave: re- early cooking mistakes. A newly married girl i worked with at Burtons said she was going to make a rabbit stew the previous night for the new husbands evening meal but by the time she had plucked it there wasn’t enough time to cook it. Another girl didn’t know the difference between a cabbage and a lettuce, cooked the bright green one and wondered where it had disappeared to when she lifted the lid off the pan.

  4. Doug Farnill Says:

    Like the others said: “More please Audrey”. I sailed to Oz in late 1952 and spent my last 24 hours in Leeds getting completely drunk with my 3 close chums of several years, and in visiting several aunties and uncles to say goodbye. It being a Saturday I also dropped in to say goodbye to a garage builder and his son who I had laboured for on a casual basis on most weekends. They were miffed that I wouldn’t get stuck in and do an afternoon’s work before I caught the tram with my suitcase to get down to the railway station to go to London. Your recollections are stirring up so many memories of those days, thank you.

  5. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Audrey
    “Plucking a rabbit” – that’s hilarious.

    Eric

  6. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    Eric, I’m so glad my dad taught me how to pluck a chicken, skin a rabbit and replace tap washers, mend fuses and a million other jobs so called men’s work. Doug; Your builder friend sounded a bit like my rellies, didn’t want you leave but seeing as you were there might as well make yourself useful. Didn’t we all know some funny people? I still seem to meet rather odd people, maybe it’s me that’s a bit crazy. Or maybe I see things from a different angle. It’s good to have a laugh though isn’t it.

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