Emigration to Australia (2)

January 26, 2015 at 7:03 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, England, Family History, History, Memoir, Migration | 6 Comments
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Today is Australia Day in my adopted country, where I am a citizen. How appropriate is seems that it is the day to post the Memoir entry about my family’s first arrival here.

The ship New Australia was a rebuilt and re-named steamship originally called the Monarch of Bermuda, owned by the Shaw-Saville Line. After WWII, it became both a migrant ship and a troop ship, carrying British migrants from England to Australia, and then transporting troops to the Malayan Emergency and to the Korean War. It then returned to England to pick up more migrants.

S.S. NewAustralia Harbour Bridge 1955

Dad told me that on the ship, most families were split up, with boys staying with their fathers, while girls and all babies stayed with their mothers. Two families often had to share a cabin. However, our family had one of only two six-berth cabins on the ship to ourselves. It was situated on the poop deck, at the rear above the main passenger decks. Its location meant we had good ventilation in the hot tropical latitudes, whereas those on lower decks often suffered from the heat. Mum, Dad and Peter (8) slept on the three top bunks, and Pauline (almost 7), Sheelagh (almost 4) and I (5) slept on the lower bunks.

Children were expected to eat at a separate sitting to the adults, but Mum and Dad wanted us all to stay together, so they simply brought us to the adult dining sessions. We were all well behaved and nothing was ever said about making us eat with the other children. Dad told me that, though there were play areas for the children and most children played there, although we did go there once or twice, we all preferred to stay with our parents. They entertained us with books, stories and games.

All except Dad were very seasick as we sailed through the Bay of Biscay, which is on the western side of France, and Dad became our nursemaid. Otherwise we were well.

On our voyage from England, we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t know if we stopped at Malta or not, but from the Med, we passed  through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. My brother Peter reminded me that, as the ship passed along the deep canal, our deck was at ground level, and we saw Arabs travelling along beside us on their camels – that would have been really exotic to the sheltered and inexperienced children that we were.

Ship sailing through the Suez Canal

Ship sailing through the Suez Canal

At the end of the Red Sea, the port of Aden was the ship’s last stop before we sailed out into the Indian Ocean towards Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

A memory: We are on a big ship on the way to Australia. We are in a port (Port Said) and there are little boats crowding all around the ship. There are brown people in the boats wearing funny clothes, and they are selling things to the passengers. I can see all different kinds of fruit and other things I don’t recognise. They haul them up in baskets to the ship by long ropes. The passengers send down the money to pay for them. It is very strange, but bright and colourful and noisy.

Port Said "bum boats" selling to passengers.

Port Said “bum boats” selling to passengers.

We reached Fremantle in Western Australia first, and were allowed to land and go for a walk. The bunting that had been put up everywhere for the new Queen’s visit shortly before we arrived was still flying. I remember many years ago Mum saying that they spoke to several people who had come from England years earlier and who thought Australia was a good country to live in. We all got tired on our long walk, as for many weeks we had only the decks to walk around on.

From there, we carried on towards Adelaide and Melbourne, sailing along the southern coast of Australia and the Great Australian Bight, where we could see the great sandstone cliffs far to the north of us. We had been told the Bight could be very rough and Mum dreaded the thought of being sick again, but the weather and the sea remained lovely and calm.

After Melbourne, we rounded Cape Howe and were in the Tasman Sea, sailing north towards Sydney along the east coast of the continent, where we could occasionally see land and sometimes smoke from bushfires. My older sister Pauline had her seventh birthday on that final leg of our voyage.

Everyone was excited when the ship arrived in Sydney and went under the Harbour Bridge, but it was night time so we had to stay on board until morning. We disembarked on the 10th of March, 1954. It was six weeks since we had left England in deep snow. When we arrived in Australia, the temperature was in the nineties, fahrenheit.

SS 'New Australia' sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

SS ‘New Australia’ sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Most other immigrants went to various hostels, but we never had to set foot in one. Dad’s sister Mary and her husband Eric had sponsored us and were giving us somewhere to live until we found a place of our own. I can’t remember it, but I know that, after six weeks aboard a ship, we had to find our land legs again.

We also had to go through the process of immigration, but I remember nothing of that. Like the details of the new life ahead of us, it was Mum and Dad who had to worry about that. Like my brother and sisters, I was looking forward to getting to Aunty Mary’s house at last.

© Linda Visman

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