Saturday, June 28, 2014
It did not take very long for me to get to know all 16 boys who were emigrating to Australia with the Big Brother Movement. The reason for this was that we only had two cabins between us. Also, there was an Escort Officer who was to accompany us on the journey to make sure we didn’t get into any sort of trouble. He was also available to give us as much information as possible on our new home.
Our daily routine consisted of getting up at 6 O’Clock every morning. At 7 O’clock we were expected to run around the ship at least 5 or 6 times. After that the Escort Officer took us all for P.T.which consisted of push-ups, pull-ups and various other exercises which were meant to keep us sound in body and mind, in other words, it stopped most boys from going nuts while we spent 7 weeks at sea.
The food on board ship was remarkably good as far as I was concerned. Every day there was a change in menu and we had at least a couple of choices as to what we would like to eat. The dining room was quite large so the mealtimes were broken up into two sessions. Tables were allotted to everyone so no one had to worry about missing out on a meal or fighting for a place at the table.
The Aurelia was registered in Italy so all the ships crew, including the waiters were Italian. Our waiter, who served us throughout the whole trip a small, handsome man called Usepi. No matter what the conditions were like at sea, Usepi always had a kind word for all of us boys and he usually wore a good smile on his face.
“What it will be today Boysss?”, he said as he handed us all menus. “The roast-a the biff taista very the good-a and the fish-a is not a the bad-a.”, he’d say in his thick Italian accent.
It was on the second evening that we entered the Bay of Biscay. I had only ever been on a small fishing boat before and not that far out to sea, so I couldn’t see the land. When the ship started to roll around from the 20 foot high waves I found it very exciting. The large ship would roll up to the top of a giant wave and then down the other side it would go. Sometimes it would roll sideways as it went up and down. On many occasions our plates of food would go sliding off the table if we did not hang on to it. Glasses of water and wine would spill all over the clean white tablecloths. Some people would be throwing up as they tried to navigate their way down the steps to their cabins.
Myself and a few other boys went upstairs onto the deck to see the size of the huge waves. When the ship rolled down the side of a big black foaming wave all we could see towering above our heads was a wall of water. It was not long before a deck-hand spotted us hanging onto a railing. He came over to us and yelled to us to go back inside as it was too dangerous to be out on deck tonight. Just as were going back inside a large wave crashed over the side of the ship and drenched us all through. Gallons of water hit the top deck, then ran off the sides as the old ship reared up and rode another wave.
When we got back down to the dining room where the other boys were still sitting and hanging on tight to the table, it looked as though a herd of cattle had run rampant through the place. The floor was covered with broken glass. Broken plates of food, knives, forks and spoons were sliding all over the place and to top the whole scene off, people were throwing up everywhere.
“Look at that old girl over there chucking up her guts.”, said a Liverpool lad.
“Oh look at that young bint.”, said a Geordie boy. “She just heaved it all back on the tablecloth.”
“Have a butchers hook at that small kid over there.”, said a London Cockney lad. “He’s just having a big yawn all over his mothers lap!”
I had never seen so many people throwing up all at the same time. The dining room scene made us all laugh like hell. Then all of a sudden, one of our boys came stumbling towards us us on his way out to the toilet. His face was white with a slight tinge of green around the bottom of his jaws.
“Look out boys!”, said a Midlands lad, “He’s going to try and dump it in our shoes and turn-ups!”
We gave him as wide a berth as possible.
“Let’s go and help him. He looks really sick.”, I said.
“Bugger you Titch.”, said the Liverpool lad. “You can help him if you like but I’m not risking him chucking up on mi good drain-pipe trousers. I bought these especially for the trip and I’ve only had ‘em on once and already there’s some warm bile and carrots stuck to ‘em!”
That evening, as I lay on mi top bunk, I could see the giant waves out of the porthole window that was level with my pillows. The Aurelias’ engines growled, hummed and vibrated all night long. It was a bit hard to rest that first couple of nights but after about a week at sea it began to feel really good going to rest and listen to the nonstop sound of the ships droning engines. Those first few nights were the worst weather we experienced and from then on it was quite a pleasant trip.
Every morning I would look out of the porthole and all I could see was water. Every evening before resting, all I could see out of the porthole window was more water. The movie out of that window never changed for about 12 days at sea.
During the day we lads would amuse ourselves by playing table tennis and coyts out on the top deck. We had a golden rule that was agreed upon before we played ping-pong. Whoever smashed the ball over the side into the ocean had either to go get it or buy another one. Since the first option was out of the question the latter one was always enforced. Although the balls were not very expensive, some lads lost quite a few shillings of their spending money on that trip. At the end of the journey we were all skillled ping-pong players.
Some days, all we would do was sit around in the deck chairs reading magazines, smoking fags and drinking fizzy pop. One of the Escort Officers’ rules was, no Little Brother was allowed to consume alcohol on board the ship. This did not stop some of the older boys who were 18. They promptly told the Escort Officer to “go to hell and back!
“We’re not fucking kids, so don’t try to bung it on with me or I’ll give you a fucking good stoush.”, said Bob, the Liverpuddlian. A few days later Bob and the Officer had a big scuffle so the Captain of the ship had Bob thrown in the Brig until he sobered up and cooled down.
There was a geeky, red-haired boy who was part of our group. We all called him ‘Ginger’, as a nickname. Ginger was always bragging about how tough he was. One day as he lay on his upper bunk bed with his arm hanging over the side, a couple of the older boys gave it a right good whack on their way past which resulted in a broken arm for Ginger. From that day on I wouldn’t say he was quiet but he never bragged out his toughness any more and his arm remained in a cast for the rest of the trip.
Life on board ship really suited me. I loved the wide open spaces and at nighttime I would sit out on the deck in one of the chairs. The air, although cold at times, was fresh and pure just like the air and winds on my beloved Yorkshire Moors.
As soon as we sailed into warmer waters we would see all sorts of ocean life. One day we saw a large school of Flying Fish. They would literally fly about 3 or 4 feet through the air as they swam along side of the big Liner. Someone said they were after the scraps of food that were tossed overboard after each mealtime. On another occasion I saw a school of wild porpoises that jumped and frolicked in the clear blue water. They looked very much like they were smiling as they swam and played for hours on end. Sometime they would all dive out of sight and then come up out of the water on the other side of the ship. When we raced over to the opposite side they would make their laughing sound as they lept out of the blue water. It was like they were saying HA! HAA!, we fooled you stupid boys.
Some of our evenings were spent in the lounge bar. The ship had its own Italian 5 -piece band that used to play for a couple of hours every evening. On quite a few occasions I played my trumpet with them. I only knew a few Italian songs and they knew 2 or 3 Jazz songs but all in all everyone enjoyed themselves and we all had a good time.
One evening, as we all sat around a few tables listening to the band and watching some of the other passengers dance, a boy in our group decided to get drunk. Just for a joke, some of the other lads spiked his beers with some hard liquor. Towards the end of the evening he became quite violent so the Escort Officer and a couple of the ships crew had to muscle him out of the lounge and tie him to his bed for his own sake. Even at the bests of times, he was not what I would call a stable-minded boy and the overindulgence of alcohol didn’t do anything to enhance his intelligence. From that night onwards the cocktail bar staff were under strict orders from the Captain not to serve more than 3 drinks to each boy who was 17 and over. Thee oldest boy in our group were 18 and I was the youngest at 15. While I may very well have been the youngest and smallest there was no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that for sure I displayed the most intelligence.
Our first stop on the journey was to be Port Said. Although we were not allowed to disembark, we stayed there for a day while the ship loaded up with fresh fruit, food, meat and fresh drinking water.
The native people who live in Port Said would row their small boats over to the side of the huge liner. Their boats were full of all the junky stuff that tourists are notorious for buying. Standing in their boats they would throw up a rope with a basket tied to the end of it. Whatever some of the passengers wanted to buy was placed in the basket and hoisted up the side of the ship and over the rail. The money was then put in the center of the basket and sent back down to the man in the small, loaded-down boat. One of our boys decided he would like a small trinket he saw in one of the vendors small boat. The vendor placed the item in the basket and sent the trinket up the side of the Liner, on the rope. Once the money was in the vendors hands it got really sticky, he did not want to give it back. So the boy ordered another item from the boat. The vendor tied the large leather suitcase to the rope and the boy pulled it up on deck.
“Two more English Pounds!”, said the native.
“Fuck you!”, yelled the boy and took off with the suitcase.
The Arab vendor was furious. He climbed up one of the ships large thick ropes that anchored it to the buoys. In his teeth he gripped a large sheath knife and I could hear him cursing and swearing in his own language. As he climbed over the ships railing the older British immigrants, who up till that point had been having a good time, all scattered in various directions when they saw the knife between the mans’ teeth.
‘It’s just like watching a pirate movie’, I thought, as I backpedaled away from the angry vendor.
“Someone get the Captain!”,yelled one of the passengers.
The man ran between the crowds of people and made his way down the first flight of stairs to look for the boy. The Purser and a couple of Dock Police caught the man and muscled him down the side of the ship and back into his small boat.
“I’m not finished with that thieving Arab bastard yet!” said the boy.
“What are you planning to do about it?”, I said.
“Come with me and I’ll show you.”
Three of us boys followed him as he made his way back down to our cabin.
“What are you up to Dave?”, I said as we all trooped into the cabin.
“Just watch this, Titch.”, he said to me.
He walked over to the bunks, then climbed up on the top one. He opened the porthole and stuck his head out.
“Just as I thought. Get me a large jug of water, Titch.”
After I filled up the jug I said, “What are you going to do with this ?”
“Open that other porthole and stick your head out.”
Looking out of my porthole I could not believe my eyes. Straight below me about 20 feet down and 10 feet to my right was the Arab vendors small boat. As soon as I saw the boat I knew what Dave had in mind.
“When I throw the jug of water on the thieving bastard, pull your head in Titch and close your porthole.”
Dave emptied the large jug of water all over the Arabs’ head and we pulled our heads back through the porthole and closed it tight.
“That will fix the bastard!”, said Dave. “And just for luck, I’ll give him another.”
The large jug was filled to the brim with water again. Then Dave opened he porthole and instead of dropping the water first, he yelled down to the vendor, “Have a drink of water you thieving Arab bastard!” As I watched from my porthole I saw the large jug of water hit the Arab right on his head.
“I fucking kill you white bastard!”, he yelled up to Dave.
“Your mother fucks donkeys, you Arab bastard”, yelled Dave.
Now this little interchange really got the Arab mad. He pulled his knife out of his belt and threw it straight up at the porthole window where Daves’ head was hanging out of. As Dave pulled his head back in, the knife bounced 2 inches from his right ear.
“Fucking hell, that was close.”, said Dave. “I felt the wind of that knife as it bounced off the side.”
“I think that’s enough Dave. Someone is going to get hurt really bad if you don’t stop now.”
“OK Titch, perhaps you’re right.”
“It’s not worth getting a knife stuck in the middle of your head.”, I said as we closed the portholes.
“Let’s go back upstairs.”, said Dave
When we got back to the top deck we very carefully peered over the side from another position, further along the rail. The Arab vendor was still cursing and screaming while shaking his fists at the other passengers.
The Arab vendors’ boats pulled away from the big liner. The ships large tie-off ropes were removed. The monstrous large diesel engines slowly droned back to life and once again we were moving.
Before long,the Purser announced to all the passengers that we would be going through the Suez Canal. He said it would be a wonderful experience for the passengers who were interested in taking photographs.
The Suez Canal was much wider and longer that a Yorkshire lad would have been able to imagine. It looked somewhat like a big river but for the fact there didn’t seem to be any current. Arabs, dressed in their traditional white robes, rode their camels alongside the Canal and at various different locations small dredging operations were ongoing.
Once we were through the Canal and back out at Sea we headed for Aden which was to be our next stop. The weather was now really warm so we boys spent a lot of our time swimming in the ships’ pool. The pool itself was not very large but there was always enough room to have a good time messing around.
Myself and a few of the boys devised some games such as water-soccer, fighting and dunking and diving from the pools’ small springboard. The springboard was a lot of fun and as the days rolled by we all became quite good at somersault diving, back-flips and jackknifes. Throwing a shiny shilling or two-bob piece into the pool and diving down to get it became one of my best games.
On board, there was a German family who was emigrating to Australia with their two teenage children. Their young daughter was about 16 so the older boys were always trying to chat her up. The main obstacle to their success was that she didn’t speak any English. Her older brother who was probably around 17 had a short crewcut, a fat face and weighed about 14 stone. The older boys had a lot of fun trying to teach ‘Fritz’, as they called him, English. As you may well guess, Fritz was not interested in learning the Queens English. He was more interested in foul language and the boys were more than willing to help him in his educational endeavor. For example, sometimes ‘Fritzie’ would come over to our table in the cocktail bar of an evening.
“Hello Fritzie, you big, fat, squat-headed Hun.”, one of the boys would say.
Fritzie had no idea whatsoever what the boy was saying, so he pulled up a chair, sat down and started to smile. One of the other older boys would say, “Hey Fritzie, fucky, fucky your sister.” Fritzie would light up with a big smile and nod his head in agreement, although he had no idea of what he was smiling for or agreeing to.
One evening, one of the boys taught Fritzie to say, in English, ‘Will you please fuck with me.’ He then pointed Fritzi in the direction of one of the younger female passengers. It was quite hilarious to watch really. While the band was playing and the passengers were all dancing, Fritz goes up to this young girl who was about 19, smiles at her and offers her his hand whilst saying, “Would you like to fuck with me?” The young girl got up from her table and red-faced she made a swift exit.
Later, the Purser, whom we all knew quite well by now, came over to our table and said, “All right boys, a joke is a joke but I think this little joke has gone quite far enough. Please see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”
There were quite a few young teenage girls traveling on our ship, but most of them were accompanied by their parents, who kept a good eye on them. While the parents were not looking the girls would eye up us boys as we all sprawled around a couple of tables of a night time. It was obvious from their behavior that they had watched one too many ship-board romance movies. A couple of white lace handkerchiefs were accidentally-on-purpose dropped by our tables when the girls walked past. Seeing as there was no chance whatsoever of being alone with them the white lace handkerchiefs stayed where they were for the cleaners to pick up.
The entertainment staff devised many a night of fun and games for the passengers to play. We all wore paper party hats and generally sat there taking the mickey out of the old couples who were trying to participate in the games and have some young fun.
Our Escort officer had latched onto a very pretty woman of about 30. Each mealtime he would sit at the dinner table with the young woman and her old mother. He was really acting out the part of an English Gentleman by placing the chairs for them as they sat down at the table. For the rest of the meal he would entertain them with his well-educated accent and a few after-dinner stories.
I got to know the daughter quite well over the 7 weeks. She felt quite motherly towards me as I was quite small and only 15. She was a very good-looking woman so I did not mind her attentions at all. Whenever I was sat around the swimming pool, on my own, she would pull up a deck chair and sit next to me for hours. We read magazines and smoked as we lounged away the hours of sunshine.
One day she said to me, “I’d better go now Richard. I don’t want your Escort Officer to get more jealous than he already is. He doesn’t thinks its a wise decision for me to spend so much time with you because of our age difference plus when I’m sat here with you, he’s walking around the ship on his own like a lost hush-puppy.”
One day, the Escort Officer said to me, “Don’t you think you’re spending a bit too much time with Patricia, Titch?”
“No.”, said one of the older boys. “He’s not, but it’s obvious to us that you’re not spending enough time with her!”
We all laughed out loud as he shrank with embarrassment and slithered off back downstairs.
“That told him.”, said the boy. “He’s just a jealous old bastard, Titch. Don’t you pay any attention to him. Paricia seems to like you very much, so don’t let that old fart ruin your good friendship with her.”
By the time we had been at Sea for a month, I noticed most of the passengers had put on a lot of weight. I guess it was understandable really, because all everyone did was eat, drink and make merry. During the day we’d all just lay around on deck like well-fed Sea-lions.
One morning, the Purser announced that we would be passing over the Equator at around 11 O’clock, so for all of those who were interested, there would be a small party around the swimming pool. At 11, King Neptune came up out of the ocean and over the side railing and the party began. King Neptune was really one of the ships’ crewman who had volunteered to play the part and he was really good at it. He wore a gaudy robe covered in shell jewelry, a long wavy beard and wig and a cardboard replica of a trident.
“I am King Neptune.”, he said. “I am King of all the Oceans. I came on board today to give each and everyone of you mortals a ritual bath. So who wants to go first?”
A young man volunteered. King Neptune dipped the large shaving brush into the warm soapy water then proceeded to scrub the man with his brush from head to toe. After this part of the ritual was over, two of King Neptunes’ courtiers grabbed the man by the arms and legs and threw him into the swimming pool. We all had a great old party that afternoon and as soon as there were no more volunteers left, King Neptunes men grabbed a couple of young bikini-clad girls and soaped them up. “One, two, three!”, roared the crowd and into the pool they went.
Our next stop on the long voyage was to be Aden. On the morning we arrived, four small tug-boats came out to meet our Liner. Long, thick ropes were thrown down to the tugs and securely fastened. The tug-boat pilots were experts at maneuvering the large ship through the small channel and into the docking berth.
That afternoon, about lunchtime, our Escort Officer called a meeting in one of the cabins.
“We’ll be staying in Aden for a few days boys while the ship takes on more fuel and supplies for the rest of the journey. We will not be stopping again until we reach Freemantle, Australia. Everyone will be allowed to leave the ship this afternoon For those of you who decide to go, do not forget you travel document and be very careful walking around. Do not go anywhere by yourselves because foreign ports can be quite dangerous and we don’t want to lose anyone.
“Where’s Liverpool Bob?”, said one of the boys.
“Bob will not be allowed to leave the boat as he has caused far too much trouble. The Captain and I agreed it will be better for him to stay on board.”
Our group of boys did not like this decision so a loud roar of disapproval erupted from everyone of us.
I really enjoyed myself in Aden for the few days we were there. We just wandered all around the streets looking at the old buildings and watching how the local people lived. Nighttime was quite an eye-opener for me. At one point we looked past a large building with round, stone pillars. All around the outside wall of the building were hundreds of street beggars who were sleeping in small groups on the ground. They had no possessions whatsoever except for what they wore and an old dirty old blanket to keep them warm.
At 15 years old I had never seen anything like that in my whole life. It reminded me of the times when mi mother used to say, “You have no idea how lucky you are my boy. Some people don’t even have a bed to sleep in.” I could now see for myself, first hand experience, that her words were true.
One of the other things I noticed was the lack of dogs in the streets. Instead of street dogs, the dirty streets were crowded with thin, scrawny-looking goats. My heart and compassion were working overtime as I walked those streets. The more streets we walked around, I had the distinct feeling that I had lived in this place at some other time. Plus the fact that wherever we walked I kept recognizing certain buildings and people. I was not brought up with the concept of reincarnation so I had no explanation as to the phenomena that was happening to me. Sometimes I would lapse into a trance-like state as I stared down certain streets or up at the surrounding hills.
“Are you alright Titch?”, said on of mi pals.
“Oh yes.”, I said as I came back to the present. “I was just seeing an old movie go through mi mind.”
At one of the street-vendors stalls I saw a triangular,red piece of jewelry that was edged with silver twisted wire. In the center of the red triangular stone was a few strange markings. I do not know what it was about that piece of jewelry but it felt like I’d owned it before and intuitively I was very attracted to the marks and symbols on it, so I bargained with the Arab vendor and bought it from him for about 5 shillings. I wore that triangular medallion for the rest of the voyage and when we got to Freemantle I packed it up carefully and sent it back home to mi mum.
That evening, back on board the ship, all the boys were displaying the cheap wrist- watches they had purchased from the street vendors.
“Look at this!”, said Angus. “This cost 5 Quid in Aberdeen and I got it off one of those Arabs for 10 Bob. It’s a pretty good deal, eh?”
Eight hours later the watch had stopped and refused to go again. After Angus prized off the back with his small penknife, he discovered that all the jewels had been picked out of their sockets. The 17 jewel watch was now a no-jewel watch and no matter how much he shook and banged it,the watch refused to go, so out of disgust and frustration he threw the watch over the side of the ship and into the dirty harbor waters. Four other boys bought themselves a flash-looking watch but within 8 hours they all ended up in the same place.When one boy bought a watch on the street, he said to the vendor, “Does it go or have all the jewels been taken out?”
“No, no this first-class watch. You listen Mister.”, he said
The vendor put the watch against the boys’ ear. The boy smiled as he listened to it tick away quite nicely.
“OK, I’ll take it for 10 Bob.”
He handed the street vendor 10 Bob and the vendor gave him the watch and then disappeared in a flash. When the boy put the watch up to his hear it was as dead as a Dodo. Just for the hell of it he took the back off and when he got it open there was no trace of innards in it
Later on, the boy was telling one of the ships’ waiters about the watch. The waiter started to laugh.
“Why are you laughing?”, said the boy.
“I’m-a sorry young-a man but I got caught like-a that before myself-a. Those Arabs have a long thumbnail and they’re very clever at making a ticking sound with it between the winder and the case.”
We all had a great laugh over that one.
The Aurelia Liner was now refueled and restocked with food, fruit and water. The 4 dumpy tug boats pulled her back out to the harbour exit and once again we were headed for the high seas.
For the next 10 days we never saw land as we crossed the Dead Sea.
By the time we had been at sea for 7 weeks we were all glad to see the West Coast of Australia. Our first port of call was Fremantle. I felt a lot of excitement as we got closer and closer to land and at long last the Australian tug boats made their way out to the liner. Once again the Ships large ropes were thrown down, then fastened to the strong, little tug boats. The tug Captains navigated the big, old liner into the inner harbour and then pushed it into its berth where it would remain for 24 hours.
Our long journey was just about over now and Freemantle was where a lot of the immigrant passengers disembarked. Patricia and her mother had some relations in Freemantle and she also had a school-teaching job that had been arranged for her before she left England.
I said my goodbyes to her and her mum and watched as they walked down the gangplank onto Australian soil. I felt a bit of sadness arise inside my heart as I waved to them from the top deck. All I seemed to do in the last couple of months was say goodbye to people, not knowing whether I would ever see them again.
As soon as all the disembarking passengers were safely ashore, the Pursers said that the remaining passengers could disembark now but not to forget the ship was due to leave Freemantle the next morning on its way to Melbourne. That afternoon a few of us boys each put in some money and paid a Taxi man to drive us around Freemantle so we could at least have a glimpse of the place before we were due to sail.
What I remembered most about Freemantle was that it was a really beautiful city. The single-story Bungalows were not cramped together and every suburban house had a really beautiful flower garden growing in the front.
At evening time we went back to the ship for dinner, then we walked around the docks and checked out the pubs and club scene. The youngest members of our group did not go into the bars. We were content just to look at the buildings and shops and whatever else there was to see.
When we arrived in Mellbourne and unbeknownst to us boys, the Big Brother Movement had booked a couple of city tours for us. The Australian bus driver showed us all the old colonial buildings and the beautiful Botanical Gardens. We also saw the first house that Captain Cook was supposed to have lived in.
It did not take much longer before we arrived in Sydney. Mi mother had kept in touch with Bruce Whipp and that evening he and his family came to the ship to pick me up, as promised. His promise to pick me up and show me around Sydney was the only link with England I now felt I had left. We drove over the Harbour Bridge to the Northside and back over the Bridge and then out to one of the Suburbs where Bruce and his family lived. Bruce had a very big house with lots of garden space, so I said to him,
“You must be really rich now Mr. Whipp. This house must be worth a fortune.”
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say we’re rich, mate, but we’re not too bad off. Life is a lot easier for us now that we’re living in Australia.”
I told them all about my trip but it was nothing new to them as they had made the very same voyage a couple of years previous.
“Wow! what’s that sitting on the stove Mr. Whipp?”, I said.
“He had a good chuckle to himself as he watched my surprise.
“It’s called a possum, mate. It’s a wild one. If we leave the kitchen window open, of a nightime, he comes inside and drinks his saucer of milk every evening before we hit the sack.”
“I’d like a pet possum.”
“There’ll be thousands of ‘em where you’re going mate. You won’t need to have a pet one cause there in just about every tree there is.”
I only visited Bruce Whipp and his family for about an hour because it was quite a long drive back into Sydney and he had to work in the morning, but I was so pleased that he’d kept his promise to me. It meant a lot at my age, connecting with someone from my past. When we got back to the ship I thanked them very much and said my goodbyes again.
“Don’t forget to visit us sport, if ya ever comes down to Sydney again.”, said Bruce.
“I will do Mr.Whipp and thanks again for meeting me.”
“No worrys sport.”, he said as I watched his white Holden station wagon pulled away from the curb.
That evening as I lay on mi bunk in the ships cabin I shed a few tears. I don’t really know why but that’s how it was
The following morning we all said goodbye to our Escort Officer. He was not a bad chap really, and I felt quite compassionate towards him as he walked off down the gangplank. It must have been really hard for him, at times, trying to look after 16 young, headstrong boys who had just left home and were sampling their sense of newfound freedom.
At around 12 O’clock on the 23rd of April, the Big Brother Movement sent a large, single-decker coach to pick up all of us boys with the exception of Liverpool Bob who did not want to be sent out to the Bush to work. It was decided that he would work in Sydney as a mechanic so the Big Brother Movement could keep a good eye on him until he reached the age of 18. After 18 the BBM would no longer assume responsibility for any of us boys. I never really saw any of the BBM Directors so it felt like we were on our own, after they found us our first job in the Bush.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
(I’ve only been resting about an hour,
when I hear Defoes’ loud Australian voice
booming and echoing through the Army-style barracks.)
Get out of those fart sacks you pommy fucking bastards! It’s time to eat, that’s if you mummies little darlings are not too fucking tired! (As he walks down the line of beds he says;)
Who the fucking hell took it upon themselves to clean up the fucking outer-dairy-yard without fucking asking first? Which one of you pack ‘a pommy bastards did it?
I did. (in a nervous voice.)
What do you mean ‘I DID’, you little fucking pipsqueak? Who the fucking hell helped you?
No one. I saw it hadn’t been done and it needed doing. I’m the one to blame.
(Defoe strides down the shed and stands in front of me.)
Show me you hands.
(I open mi hands. There are about 6 or 8 blisters on them.)
I would not have believed it unless I saw it with mi own eyes. Perhaps I misjudged you, ya scrawny looking Pommy bastard. That's what I like to see.
(He roars as he stands in front of me, looking back down the line. Then he turns to me.)
Good lad, you’re going to make it in the bush. Now go outside and piss on your hands. That’ll heal your blisters and toughen ‘em up. Where’s that ugly little bastard called Morris, and that big curly-headed pufta called Dave? Ah, there you are. You two can take the little bastards job in the kitchen and if you can work as good as him I’ll git ya a job in the Bush. Now fucking move you limey bastards, ya dinners getting cold!
(After the meal we all sit around a bit. Some of us talk and some of us write letters home to our families. At about 9 O’clock the lights in the large Nissan hut are turned out and we all try to get a good nights sleep.)
(Early the next morning I can no longer rest so I get up and dress myself in mi work clothes ready for my first days work. Just for a joke I grab mi old trumpet from under the bed. I pop the locks, put the mouthpiece in, then with a great lung full of air I blow the morning Reveille.)
Oh shit! Put that fucking trumpet away Titch. It’s only 5 O'clock!
(A few seconds later 2 or 3 pillows come flying across the room in my general direction. Then a large work-boot with a rubber heel bounces at my feet.)
Alright boys. Just a little joke, but don’t let Defoe catch you in bed ‘cause he’s likely to do anything, you know.
(At 6 O’clock we were all in the kitchen tucking into a large plate of lamb chops, eggs, bacon and toast and a tin mug of piping hot tea. Defoe comes into the kitchen, gets himself a large plate of breakfast, then disappears back outside again. After breakfast we all go back to our beds for an extra few minutes lay down while our big breakfast digests. It is not long before Defoes’ big, rough head appears in the doorway.)
Alright you Pommy fucking bastards,on your fucking feet. Time to go to work! Who blew that fucking trumpet this morning?
Get it out and play me a tune, Squirt.
(I pull out the trumpet and play Defoe a couple of Trad songs, then just for fun I play the theme music to the Lone Ranger. Defoe seems to love the trumpet and when I put it away he comes over and says)
Why do you want to work on a farm in the bush ,squirt?
‘Cause I can’t get it out of mi head. Ever since I knew it was possible for me to come out here to Australia, that’s all I ever wanted to do.
I’ll get you a job in the Army Cadets and after that you’ll get bumped up to the regular Army. You’ll make real good money and you won’t have to go through any shit in the Army band. You could make yourself a real beaut career out‘a music, Squirt. So have a good think about it, alright?
I can tell ya right now Mr. Defoe, I don’t want to join any Army band. I just want to get out to the Bush and work on a farm.
Just think about it.
(He turns and walks out of the Nissan hut.)
(That day we all busy ourselves milking cows, driving tractors, cleaning the place up and whatever jobs one generally does around a farm. In the afternoon Defoe says to us boys)
Can any of you lot ride a horse?
(A couple of the boys raise their hands).
Go and catch old Patches over there and saddle him up. You can all take turns in riding him. It’ll give you a bit of experience in case you need it some time.
(Patches is a big, strong-looking black & white Gelding. One of the boys throws a saddle across him and is trying to do up the cinch.)
Not like that ya Pommy bastard!. Go back in the barn and get me a saddle blanket.
(As soon as the boy returns, Defoe places the saddle blanket over old Patches back.Then he throw the Aussie Stock Saddle on the top of the blanket as he says,)
Don’t forget to pull the far side stirrup iron over the saddle,’cause if ya don’t, when ya throw the saddle over him the stirrup iron will hit him under the guts and that’ll spook him and make him kick. This old horse has seen more Pommy bastards then any other horse alive in Australia today and he’s not particularly fond of ‘em. So watch him cause he’s not afraid of kicking and he doesn’t mind biting a piece of Pommy arse now and again. Once the saddle is in place, once you’ve got the cinch up tight, walk him around a bit because he’s a cunning old bastard. He’ll puff his belly out to make you believe the cinch is tight and when you go to mount him he’ll let the air out and you and the saddle will go arse over head in the dirt,OK? Now after you’ve walked him around a bit, if he still keeps his belly puffed out ya give him a real good swift kick in the guts like this.
(Defoe kicks Patches right in the guts and in turn Patches kicks up both of his back legs high in the air and Defoe pulls hard on the cinch .)
Now you’re ready to mount, so watch carefully or you’ll get bit on the arse. You always mount from the left-hand side, and make sure ya hold the far-side rein tight so he can’t bite ya. Ya put ya left foot in the stirrup and then ya swing ya leg up and over in one easy movement like this.
(Defoe is now looming above us as he sits astride Patches.)
Ya give him a good, firm dig with the heel of ya boot, then away ya go, mate.
(After he walks Patches around the yard for a while, he gets off.)
Alright Squirt, hop on ‘im and have a go mate.
(I’d only ever ridden a donkey on Blackpool Beach as a kid for sixpence a ride but I take a deep breath and with great determination I stride up to Patches who put his head down as soon as he sees me approach him.
Grab those reins tight, Squirt! Pull on the far side one until he lifts his head up again!
(As I pulled on the rein, Patches swung his massive head around and tried to bite my bony little arse.)
Look out Squirt! The mean old bastard will have a piece of ya arse if ya not careful mate.”
(All the boys laugh. Patches knows he’s the center of everyones attention, He swings his head around for another go at my arse.)
That stirrup iron is too long for ya Squirt, so adjust the strap like his mate. That’s good enough mate. I’ll do the other side for ya.. Git up on him and watch out for the cunning old bastard. He’s likely to do anything. You got to be thinking one step ahead of that old bastard ‘cause if not, he’ll take over and run the fucking show on ya!
(I mount Patches just like I’d seen on the cowboy shows. I give him a couple of good kicks with the heel of mi boots and Patches starts to walk around.)
Good on ya Squirt.That’s the idea. He’s real hard in the mouth so you’ve got to ride him and show him who’s boss ‘cause if not he’ll take over. Oy! open that gate ya curly-headed pufta so the Squirt can go for a ride in the cow paddock.
(Dave opens the gate and Patches and me ride through into the paddock.)
Go down to the bottom of the paddock and keep ya wits about ya.
(Down the sloping paddock me and Patches ride.)
This is a piece of cake!
(Cowboy Dick rides along with one arm down at his side.)
What a great life it is, riding the Bush Range in Australia. Maybe I’ll get misen a job droving cattle around the Bush now that I can ride a horse.
(We reach the bottom of the long paddock. I’m still fantasizing misen as a cowboy. I almost pull out one of mi imaginary six-guns that are slung low at mi hips. Just then Patches turns around, totally unexpected, and takes off back up the paddock at full speed. All I can do is hang on as mi new bush hat flies off mi head into nowhere. Faster and faster Patches gallops up the field. I’m shit-scared but at the same time the excitement of the gallop is amazing.)
Oh oh! Now what do I do? 30 or 40 yards ahead of me is the barbwire fence where all the boys stand cheering and yahooing.
Ride the old bastard!
(The fence now looms dangerously close and my fantasies are long gone. All of a sudden Patches applies the horse brakes and I see misen flying through the air, headlong over the fence. The next thing I remember is Defoe pulling me up onto mi feet. The back of mi head has a throbbing, dull ache in it and mi arse feels like someone has just kicked it with a size 10 boot.)
Jeesus bloody christ mate! What the fuck are ya playing at! You’re supposed to stop when the horse stops! You’ll bloody well hurt ya self getting off a horse that way. Now git back up on the old bastard and try it again.
I don’t think I’m cut out for riding horses Mr. Defoe.
Fucking bullshit lad. You’ll make a fucking good jockey if ya stop eating. Now git back on him ‘cause if ya don’t you’ll end up scared of horses, and if ya scared of horses ya rooted for Bush life.
(Someone catches Patches and hands me the reins. Defoe gives me a leg up.)
Now watch the old bastard. He thinks he’s got it all over ya !
(Defoe is absolutely right ‘cause as soon as we go through the gate into the paddock Patches refuses to go anywhere.)
Give the rotten old bastard a decent kick in the guts!
(The heel of my boots makes contact with Patches sides. He did not take a liking to this command, so he decides to buck. Up on his hind legs he stands. Then he goes down again and at the same time he kicks his back legs high in the air.)
YaHoo! Ride him cowboy!
Show the bastard what you’re made of Pommy!
(I give Patches another good command. Up and down he goes, kicking and bucking for his worth. My arse and knees are now feeling the pain as Patches continues to try to hurl me to the ground again.)
Make the bastard go down the paddock again!
(By sheer willpower I get old Patches to walk forwards and down the paddock again, only this time there are no cowboy fantasies playing around in my head, only the dull throbbing ache. When we get to the bottom of the paddock I am one step ahead of Patches. I now know what Defoe is trying to teach me. Instead of letting Patches run the show, I hold the reins in tight so he can’t have his head. After a few seconds I say to Patches in mi broad Yorkshire accent,)
OK Patches, you fucking old bastard, this time I’m running the fucking show! Now move you Aussie bastard! Yahhhh!!!!”
(Patches needs no command from my boot heel but I give him one anyway just to let him know who'se boss. Off we go at full gallop. I give him another good heel and for good measure I give him a hefty slap on his arse with mi right hand. Yah! I yelled at the top of mi voice as Patches thunders back up the long paddock. We pass my new Bush hat and for a split second I think I might lean down and snatch it from the ground like a Russian Cossack but dismiss the thought at once.)
(Up the paddock we gallop, the barb wire fence is now getting closer. As we get about 10 feet away from it, Patches applies the brakes and this time I lean back in the saddle and pull on the left hand rein with mi feet stuck out at the front. Patches does not like this at all so he gives a few good bucks to show his disapproval.)
You’ve got it all over him now, Squirt. Ride him back here so one these other puftas can show off his horsmanship!
(I dismount and Patches swings his head around to bite my arse and gives me a look of disapproval)
Good on ya mate. We’ll make a fucking good Bushman out of you yet Squirt. Where ya from in England Mate?
I’m from Yorkshire, Mr. Defoe.
Well, in that case mate, I’ll just call ya ‘Yorky’ from now on and you can call me Bill. We can do away with that Mr. Defoe bullshit, ‘cause you’ve earned it lad. Now ya can lean on the fence and watch Patches give that ugly little bastard Morris a good fucking workout. Come on Yorky.
Come here Morris you ugly little fucking pufta! Up you fucking go mate and show us what ya made of!
(It felt very strange at first to call him Bill, but before long, I start to feel what it was like to be called a man.)
(That evening, after dinner, we hire a couple of taxis and go own to Cabramatta to check out the town. The Taxis arrive and we all pile in on top of each other. As we pull out of the farm Defoe appears.)
Keep ya fucking noses and cocks clean. I don’t want any of you pommy bastards coming home with a dose of clap. This is a fucking training farm not a fucking hospital! So, don’t go rooting around ‘cause there’s a few loose sheilas around Cabramatta. And don’t git in a fight with those bodgies and fucking widgies!
Fucking puftas! (He says to himself as the taxi drives away.)
GREEK TAXI DRIVER
Where ya lika go?
RALPH (Older boy)
Drop us off where the action is.
Not a problem mate. We’re overloaded, so if ya see the cops keep ya heads down or I’ll lose mi license.
(The Taxi Driver drops us off in Cabramattas’ main street. There’s not much happening so we buy some milkshakes and walk up and down the street looking in the shop windows. When we come to another café I go inside and buy misen 2 –2 oz. Packets of Havelock rolling tobacco. I can’t pass it up because it only costs 7 Aussie bob a packet. I see an Army Disposal store and I go in. I know exactly what I am looking for.)
G'day sport.What can I do for you mate?
I’m looking for a sheath knife.
No worries mate, I’ve got sheath knives coming out the Yazoo. Have a Captain Cook at some ‘a these, sport. Ya bound to find a beauty in that case. Give us a holler if ya need some help.
I’ll take this one.
That’s a good-looking knife, sport.
She’s got a beaut blade on her. That’ll set ya back 2 quid, mate.
(I pay the man his 2 pounds which leaves me with 15 shillings to mi name)
Look after yourself mate and don’t get that knife tangled up with a ‘Dago’.
What’s a Dago?
Christ, mate. Where the bloody hell have you been all ya life? Did ya just arrive on the last boat?
Yes. I’ve only been in Australia for two days.
Gawd streuth mate! You pommys are coming out here younger every year. I suppose ya all work up at the Big Brothers dairy farm, do ya?
Yeah. There’s 16 of us.
Well sport, a Dago is a greek and another name for ‘em is a ‘Grill’.
Why d’ya call ‘em those names?
‘Cause at the end of a days work they say ‘day go’ and most of them work the milk bars and they’re always grilling something or other. So that’s why they get the name ‘Grills’ from. Ya see sport? Now we’ve also got a lot of Italians in this great country of ours, so we call ‘em ‘Wops’ and the Abos are called ‘Bungs’ ‘cause if ya hit ‘em with the roo bar of the truck they make the sound ‘BUNG’. D’ya get it cobber?
(he has a good laugh to himself)
Now take you English gentlemen for example. In our country we don’t recognize your class system so we call you blokes ‘limeys’ or better still, ‘pommy bastards’ ‘cause you’ve got skin like pomegranates.
Thanks for the information.
G'day sport, see ya around like a rissole.
(We boys are sitting around on a couple of street benches outside the Post Office. It’s 9:30 at night. The year is 1964. The local kids are tearing up and down the streets in their hotted-up Holden cars. A couple of young girls are walking down the street in their stiletto-heeled boots and hiked-up skirts. They’re absorbed in conversation as they come near to the benches we’re sitting on.)
(One of the oldest of our crew.)
Hello darlings. Where are you two lovelies going?
Root ya fucking boot ya pommy bastard!
Charming, I must say.
Fuck you, ya pommy bastard!
You’re a real charmer with the Ladies, Peter.
How would you like to take those two home and introduce them to your mum?
Not bloody likely! I hope that’s not an example of the everyday Aussie chick.
(It’s getting late so we call a taxi service and head back out to the Farm. We all pile out of the Taxis and pay off the driver.)
Look what I found in Town!
(Opens a brown paper bag and pulls out a small box of fireworks.)
You’d better not set them off here Ralph or Defoe will kick your ass.
Bullocks to Bill Defoe! There’s no bangers, there’s only Fizzers and Catherine
(Ralph walks over to the fence and stuck a couple of Fountains in the cracks of the
fence post. Then he pins 4 Cathrine Wheels to the fence post and lights them all at once.)
That’s it, the shows over! Let’s go to bed. I’m knackered and tomorrow we’ve got to get up at 5.
THE NEXT MORNING
Get out of those fart sacks you pommy bastards. Who the fucking hell was setting off fireworks last night?
(Pulling the bed covers off his head.)
I was. Why? What do you want, shouting your head off at this time of night?
Get out-a bed you fucking yobo before I piss all over ya!
(He grabs Ralphs’ bed covers and rips them clean off the bed revealing Ralphs’ scrawny body curled up in the fetal position.)
Get ya plates of meat on the deck, boy, before I chuck a bucket of water on ya!
What’s the matter?
I’ll show you what the bloody matter is sport! Put ya boots on and come with me!
What about mi clothes?
Fuck ya clothes! You’ve got fuck all to brag about anyway! Come on! Hurry up!
(Ralph puts is boots on and follows Defoe out of the hut. He walks over to the fence post where Ralph had set off the fireworks. We all follow outside.)
(I see what made Defoe mad. Gray smoke is drifting out of the wooden fence post. The whole top of the post is now a large piece of black charcoal.)
Ya stupid, fucking pommy bastard! Look what you’ve done to mi fence post! Had ya have done that in dry bush country we’d have a bloody bush fire on our hands now mate! If ya had another brain in your head, lad, it would be fucking lonely, ya silly yahoo bastard! Go and get ya strides on and after breakfast I’ll show ya where the fence posts are kept. Ya can dig that bastard out and stick a new one in. Then I’ll show ya how to re-strain the fence back up!
(Ralph is standing in his boots and underpants, looking half-asleep so Defoe kicks him in the arse,)
Wake up to yourself, ya sleepy, pommy bastard. Go and get some gear on!
(Ralph gives Defoe a dirty look and takes off at the double, back to the hut to put his work gear on.)
(A few days later Defoe gives 6 of the older boys 5 pounds each
and a train ticket to a Bush town.)
The Cocky will meet ya at the station. Good luck lads’. This is Gods’ own country and with a bit of hard work and a few brains ya should do all right for ya selves.
(Later, after all the boys, except Morris and me, have left.)
What about me and Morris, Bill? Haven’t ya got a place for us to go to yet?
Ya sure ya won’t change ya mind about going in the Army?
Quite sure Bill. I’m itching to get out to the Bush. I’ve been looking forwards to that for 2 years now.
Alright mate. Ya old enough to leave home so I guess ya old enough to make decisions for ya self. You and Morris will be leaving tomorrow morning, so better roll ya swag bright and early.
(It is difficult for me to sleep,‘cause all I can think of is red dust and kangaroos. In the morning I am packed, so I make my way across to the kitchen for some breakfast.)
DEFOE (Enters Nissan hut)
Here’s ya ticket Morris and 5 quid for ya start in life. Here’s your ticket Yorky and here’s a fiver mate. Make sure you look after it, ‘cause you’ll have to work bloody hard in the Bush for a fiver.
Thanks Bill. You’re a real good bloke. You’ve really helped me a lot since I’ve been here.
Root ya boot Yorky. Ya train leaves at 2 O’clock from Sydney Central so don’t go fucking around Sydney and miss ‘em or you’ll be sleeping on the station all night.
(The jackaroos load our cases into his car and drive us both down to Cabramatta station.)
SYDNEY CENTRAL TRAIN STATION
(Morris and I sit around smoking and eating chips waiting for our trains. The train Morris was to take arrived on time and I helped him put his 2 large bags on board.)
Look after yourself Maurice. Keep practicing with your knife and best of luck to you
Same to you Yorky.
(Goes inside train to find his seat.
(There is no one left in my life now to say “don’t do this” or “don’t do that’. All I have to listen to now is the inner voice of silence that lives in the center of my heart.)
(I’m left sitting on Central Station by myself, feeling rather sad as I sit here thinking about all the people I’ve left behind, mi mother, dad and sisters, the 15 lads I’ve lived with for the past 9 weeks, Bill Defoe. They are in the dead past now. ‘O well’ I’m thinking, as I wipe away a couple of tears that are slowly trickling down mi cheek, ‘all I’m left with is what I started out with, myself’)