CHAPTER 47 ( Another excerpt from VEST'S memoirs 'Waving Goodbye To a Thousand Flies')
Back to Australia.
After much preparation, our house sold for more than we expected. We said our good-byes to our relatives and hoped all would be well. On Independence Day, 1971, we sailed from Southampton on ‘Brittannis,’ a 22,000 tonne Greek liner. We had the option to fly out, but a thirty-one day cruise seemed the best idea, especially since it would be a new experience for the family.
The journey to Australia was great – good accommodation, food, and entertainment. Mary’s 37th birthday was on 5 July. Even after delivering five healthy sons, she was still beautiful (and still is the love of my life.) Our boys were well behaved on the ship. We met an ex-Navy man and his wife and family with whom we are still in contact to this day. When the ship called into the Canary Isles, we all went ashore and nearly lost Christopher, who decided to go sightseeing on his own. The next stop was in Dakar, West Africa, where a very sick person was taken ashore by the ship’s crew.
The ship arrived in Capetown on a Saturday night. It was late, so we decided that the following morning we would go to Table Mountain. We were off the ship by seven o’clock am. At nine o’clock, we had arrived by cable car at the top of Table Mountain – 3,549 ft or about 1,100 metres high. Getting on the cable car at the bottom was okay, but when getting off, that gap which was moving at the top was scary. After our descent, we fed the pigeons in the park and walked back to the ship. My family walked on the ‘white’ side of the sidewalk while I walked on the ‘coloured’ side of the sidewalk. On passing a white springbok copper, I called out “jambo bwana” (happy meeting you) in Swahili. He replied with a two-finger salute. We arrived back at the ship for lunch and were off to Australia with the ship in a stern sea most of the way.
On 16 July 1971, I turned 45.
Our arrival in Fremantle, Western Australia on 23 July 1971, was uneventful, apart from quietly going through customs and smelling our way to the local fish and chip shop surrounded by homesick Poms. We were in the serving line when a person approached me and said, “Lend me ten bob, sport.” I turned to Mary and the boys and said, “We have arrived.” My first words to an Aussie in twenty-five years were “Get stuffed.” My family informed me that I was a very rude daddy.
Our next port of call, Port Adelaide, was not at all awe-inspiring; we stayed only a few hours. The ship then called into Melbourne and unloaded a large number of Greek and Maltese immigrants. We travelled to the city on a dilapidated dockside tram that had been delightfully adorned with many rude four-letter words and other startling pornographic pictorial statements. We then trudged the streets. It was different from what I remembered. After finding the fairground at Luna Park closed for the winter, we went back to the ship for Steven’s fourth birthday party.
Sydney, 4 August 1971. We were here at last! Although it was cold and windy, I did my level best to inform the family that this was the worst scenario and things would get better. Memories from twenty-five years ago came flooding back, but I put them aside and focused on the future.
We left the ship and cleared customs. Our hold baggage was sent on later to the hostel where we would be staying. After the luxury of the ship, the hostel was a letdown. As time went on, I let the family know that this was a temporary situation. Getting out of the hostel became a priority.
At the Villawood Hostel, about ten families of differing ethnic origins were waiting outside the manager’s office. The manager was a polite Italian migrant with a flair for English. Although alphabetical order is the normal way to go, that day, it seemed the Z’s, U’s, Y’s, and Q’s went first. My friend’s family and ours – the E’s and S’s – were last. A seven-foot tall, blonde, middle-aged Prussian bimbo announced to the manager, “Ve now haf the last of the Queen’s relatives.”
I replied, “You must be the Whore from Stalag Four.” Then I said, “Sig heil” with an erect middle finger. The manager said he would speak to her later and that I must be more tolerant. I replied, “I am always tolerant when it suits me.”
Having sorted out the cockroaches and settled into our Nissen hut, we went to the main dining room. A good selection of poorly cooked but sustainable food was the normal fare. The only problem was that the knives, forks, and spoons had to be washed outside the mess hall under a cold-water tap. We made other arrangements.
The nights were cold (mid winter in Sydney) and the showers thirty yards away. Despite the English shower and soap joke, we were more frequent users of the showers than most people.
The second day after we arrived, we were visited by friends who had lived one house up from us in England – Ron and Margaret Ryan. We would see a lot of them in days to come.
The next day, we decided to take the train into town from Leighton field Station. A recently arrived migrant announced the destination for the next train in a strange, garbled form of Strine, a badly spoken, Aussie Brumby English. Two old geezers sitting close by noticed that I was having difficulty understanding it. One of them said, “When youse been ‘ere’ a bit more, sport, you’ll learn English.”
I looked him squarely in the eye and replied, “Now isn’t that nice to know, you silly old fart.”
One of the boys said, “You’re being rude again, daddy.”
Later in the day, when we called into a local shop to buy a hot water jug, William sat on the glass display shelf. I snatched him just in time. I had no idea glass could bend.
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