THE GREAT ADVENTURE - MY JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA
2nd January 1927 - St. Enoch Station, Glasgow, Scotland
Everyone I knew seemed to be there to see me and wish me well - boys I had gone to Camden Street School with, cousins, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts, my two older brothers, Robert and James, my sister Nan and her intended husband Alex, all our neighbours who had known me for all of my fifteen years. All there to kiss me goodbye and to shake my hand and wish me the best of good fortune. It made me feel very important, all brought about by my pestering of my Mum and Dad after reading the letters we received from my brother William and sister Mary telling us what a wonderful country Australia was. All this was the result, and I was about to commence a journey that would alter my whole life. What ever was at the end of this journey must be better than the outlook I was leaving behind, the idleness of the great depression, the grey sunless districts of tenements; there had to be something better than this.
I was accompanied to London and Tilbury by Mum and Dad and with the first boarding whistle we duly took our places in the carriage. I was allowed to lower the carriage window and that was the moment I realised I would never see many of those friends again. People I had known, and who had known me all my life, neighbours and friends whom I had been in the habit of seeing and speaking to daily, my sister crying on the shoulder of her boyfriend. Stewart Newall felt anything but important at that moment, rather that I had taken their friendship and goodwill and in return given nothing but a casual good-bye. I'm sure that I grew up while watching these faces disappear as the train gathered speed. I remember hearing my father telling me to stop crying "This is what you wanted - its too late to do anything about it now so you just have to make the best of it".
I don't recall any part of the journey to London, but we arrived at 7am on a cold January morning, stiff, sore and hungry at Euston Street Station, where a policeman asked Dad if he could be of assistance. On being told I was going to Australia and that we would like some breakfast, he duly escorted us to a Lyons café. He told Dad he would come back and see us on a bus that would allow us to see parts of the city and then put us down at the station in time to catch a train for Tilbury.
On arrival at Tilbury we were informed that my parents could come no further than the end of the platform as the vessel was at anchor midstream and I would be taken out in a steam tender. This upset both Mum and Dad and I can remember looking back and seeing my father with his arms round Mum's shoulders and both crying. It was to be many many years before I would shed another tear and then and only then would I know the anguish of the loss of someone you had loved a long time and come to take for granted.
On arrival aboard the SS Berrima, I was taken to the Purser's Office where it was explained to me that being the only minor on board I was under the guardianship of the Captain. I must not leave the ship at any of its ports of call without a written authority signed by the Captain. I was then taken and introduced to my cabin, shown my bunk and issued with sheets, towels, soap and informed that the said articles were to be placed outside the cabin door once a week for replacement.
The rest of my cabin mates were apparently on deck and as it had been one hell of a day for me, I lay down on my unsheeted mattress, turned my face towards the ship's side and proceeded to ask for forgiveness, with promises that never again would I cause such misery. I was doing a pretty fair job of my recriminations and I hadn't heard anyone come into the cabin until someone said "Come up on deck son, and say goodbye to England". It was the steward who had brought me down to the cabin and whose friendship I was to treasure during the next 62 days.
My cabin mates spent most of their time playing cards or at the bar, and as a minor, I was not permitted to join them even though it would only be to watch. Rules were rules and had to be obeyed, and so my vocal chords didn't get much exercise. I knew how many steps it took to completely circuit the main deck and so my legs got more than their fair share of movement. In my deck travels, I had found the instrument by which the ship travel distance was logged. This was logged and registered every day at noon by Seaman Coulson with whom I made a point of meeting there at noon every day. Under his instruction I kept my own private log daily and thus was able to inform my cabin mates how many knots we had traveled and the speed of the ship for the 24 hours past, even to converting the knots to miles, thanks to Seaman Coulson's instruction.
It was during one of these loggings as I was entering the date, I realised it was the 9th January. We had been six days out of London and I was 16 years of age. Coulson duly wished me many happy returns, but warned me not to expect a birthday cake as they didn't bake them on this ship, not even for the Skipper. They didn't have to worry because my dear old Mum had made me one and it was in my cabin trunk under my bunk.
We cut it that afternoon and strangely enough nobody would go to the bar or games room. The steward brought down tea pots of tea and it was surprising how many friends I had; the chaps from cabins on both sides came in to wish me a happy birthday and the lonely drought was broken, thanks to Mum's cake. It is a true belief that news travels fast on board a ship because I had First Class passengers stop and wish me a happy birthday - me an immigrant traveling steerage. That more than anything else helped to heal the wound of my departure.
We had a four hour stop in Las Palmas to take on water, then it was off on the long haul to Capetown, where I tasted my first cup of coffee served by a white turbaned Indian. I have tasted plenty of coffee since, but never anything like that cup.
I had been taken ashore for breakfast by a cabin mate, with the Captain's permission. We had a lovely fish breakfast in a place in Arderley Street in the centre of the city and after a couple of cups of the great coffee, we left to go back aboard. As we got out onto the footpath we heard a ship's siren and on asking, the horse drawn cabby what ship it was, Jock McGivin my host, was informed that it was the P & O liner Berrima, signaling departure. That cabby was promised double fare if he could get us to the wharf before she pulled out, but alas she was midstream when we got there. We were taken out to the ship on the pilot's launch with orders to report to the Captain when we cleared Capetown. We hadn't disobeyed orders, only taken too long over a lovely meal. I'm pretty certain that the "Old man" took Jock's generous invitation to breakfast into consideration - his only comment to me was "Did you thank McGivin?" When I replied that I hadn't had time, I was told to get down and thank him NOW.
We now had the longest part of our trip to make and our next stop would be in Fremantle, Australia. The days during this part of the trip seemed never ending, but eventually we arrived and discharged our cargo and passengers booked for Perth. Then on to Adelaide and Melbourne, where I said good bye to Jock McGivin. I never saw him again, but still retain his likeness. He was eleven years older than me then, so if he were alive today he would be 99. He was one of the many kindly people I have met in this life.
On the morning of 6th March 1927 at 9.30 am the SS Berrima entered Sydney Heads and presented me with a picture that I have carried in memory for seventy two years. A glorious sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky and a panorama of colour - with lovely green grass lawns surrounding beautiful homes with the red terra cotta tiled roofs. Manly ferries tooting as they passed and their passengers waving to us, other ferries of all shapes and sizes, all making their way to some destination.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge - just the two pylons on either side of the stretch of water. How did they expect to suspend the panels, seemingly in mid air and get them to meet dead centre? We now know they did and little did I know that I would spend the next four and a half years assisting in its completion.
After the dismalness of Glasgow, what I was seeing now must have been the world's best kept secret. My feeling then could be summed up by "I say to myself what a wonderful world".