Memoirs of an Irish Father in Australia in 1967
An Irish Family in Australia in 1967
My parents had been thinking of immigrating to Australia with the family on the £10 assisted passage. Jobs and houses were promised in all the adverts but they were still worried with having five small children if this would work out for them.
But then they saw jobs for railway workers in South Australia advertised in the papers. My father applied for the position and got it. The job came with a house in Lamaroo in South Australia so my parents felt secure enough to take the chance.
My mum, dad and us five young children immigrated to Australia in May 1967. Once there my father started work for the South Australian Railways in Lamaroo.He shares his thoughts and memories of working and living in Australia during that time.
My father says:
'I was born and reared in Stoneybatter in Dublin Ireland. Straight from school. I worked as an apprentice for Smith and Pearson for eleven years. I was married to Chris and had three small children when we moved to London.
We both worked hard and were able to buy a house there. After a few years of working in various jobs and two more children we moved back to Ireland. Jobs were not very easy to get in Dublin by then so I started a vegetable business. We went back to London and I got a job working for the London Underground.'
Working on the London Underground
‘I was 29 when I got the job in London. I worked on the night shift in the London Underground, starting at twelve at night and finishing at seven in the morning. The last train stopped at around one in the morning and then they knocked off the power, you couldn't go down until then.
We worked in gangs and we had our own stretch of line to look after. Anything that had to be done had to be done then. You couldn't hold up the trains even for a minute or there'd be murder.
Blokes Got the Sack for Holding Trains up
Sometimes you'd put in a new sleeper or rail, or you'd tighten the bolts. It was always pitch dark so you had to make sure the lamp was alright. It kept going out on me one night but that was my own fault because I didn't make sure there was enough oil it before I left, so I had to keep pumping it up.
It was very important to do the job right otherwise there could be an accident. We had to be off the track by four thirty because the trains started up again and the power was on. We'd have our Lunch then at Four Thirty in the Morning. After that we'd clean the tracks near the platforms. We'd wait until the train pulled out then we'd clean the track just underneath the platform.
The signalman would blow his whistle when a train was about to come in and we'd jump back up again. The side of the track we were on wasn't powered up. We had to pick up all the rubbish that the customers let fall but you usually got money there too. When the people dropped it down there they couldn't go after it. When I was on track inspection I'd get a lot of the money then, it was mostly coppers but once or twice I picked up a ten shilling note.
Suicides on the London Underground
I worked on the Bakerloo Line. The section of the track that we were responsible for was from Elephant Castle, taking in Lambert, Waterloo, Piccadilly, Oxford Circus and finished at Regents Park. One night I was with another bloke on the track, there'd been a suicide the day before.
Cleaning up The Bodies
The body was gone but there were still bits of flesh and clothes on the track. We had to go down to clean it up; we'd put sand on it and scoop it all up. Another time I was on the platform in Oxford Circus with the ganger, we were waiting for the last train to pull out.
Now the place was always packed for the last train so I didn't notice anything wrong. But the ganger was experienced and let a roar at me to get out of there. I just looked at him I didn't know what was wrong. So he gave me a shove and told me to come on. We went to a different platform and then he told me what happened.
There was a bloke that had just thrown himself under the train as it came into the station. If we'd stayed it would've been up to us to help clear up the mess after the ambulance and police had been.
Christmas was the Worst Time for Suicides
People just couldn't cope. But they must have been in a bad way to kill themselves like that, the trains made a terrible mess of a body. I was on the night shift for a couple of years and then transferred to the day shift. I was there for over five years.
Moving to Australia
There were plenty of adverts in the papers in those days wanting people to emigrate to Australia and loads of jobs advertised. We were thinking about it for a while and then a job came up for the railways. I had to apply for the job first and when I was accepted for that then we had to go to the Australian Embassy to be accepted there.
We left on the Ship the Castel Felice from Southampton in April 1967. We were in Adelaide in a hostel for a couple of weeks. The Railway Company man advised us to buy all our furniture there because it would be cheaper and where we were going was very small. Then the Railway Company paid for a taxi to collect us.
Emigrating to Australia
Lamaroo South Australia
We went to a small town called Lamaroo which was over a hundred miles from Adelaide. The railway had a few houses set aside for the workers; I think it cost a couple of dollars a week. It was a nightmare journey but worse was to come. It was dark when we arrived and the electricity wasn't on. We'd just driven all that way, I had five young children and my wife wasn't well. But we got through it.
The kids thought of it as an adventure, but my wife Chris was very ill with a throat infection for a few weeks. The houses belonging to the Railway were all in a group, there were ten of them. The wife of the foreman came round and looked after Chris and the kids while I was at work.
Our Railway House in Lamaroo, Australia
Working for the South Australian Railway
We were responsible for thirty miles of track and there were eight or nine in a gang. We had to do any job that came up but mostly we were putting in new sleepers. That was hard work in the heat.
The wages was $43 a week but if you worked on a Sunday you got paid an extra $20 for that. The Railway was the lowest paid Job in Australia but you could live comfortable on the wages all the same. I was never chasing my wages and always had a few dollars over.
Ten Pound Poms
Some of the workers were not too friendly because they thought I was a ten pound Pom. I explained I was Irish but it didn't matter to them. I just got on with my work and they soon forgot about it and we worked well together. In May the heat wasn't too bad but once it got closer to Christmas the heat got terrible.
Drought in Australia
We had a tin roof on the house and us like eejits opened all the windows until a neighbour came in. She told us to close all the windows because all we were doing was letting in more heat. On the railway we could stop working when it got higher than hundred degrees out. This day we were up the track so we went into this grain shed which was empty to get some relief from the sun.
You couldn't sit down to rest yourself because it was too hot, but every now and again you just had to because you were exhausted. We'd be taking salt tablets and loads of water. The roof was very high and after a while I noticed these things kept dropping from the roof, so I asked one of the blokes what they were. He told me they were the bats; they were dropping dead from the heat.
A Transfer to the Adelaide Railway
I only came across a snake on the tracks once and one of the other blokes knocked its head off. But I'd never seen such big ants. I didn't understand about the ants at first. When I put my lunch down the blokes let a roar at me and told me to pick it up or the ants would get it.
We'd be playing cards on our break in the bush and you'd always keep one eye open for them. You could be away from them and hundreds would come after you to see what they could get, they'd carry anything away.
Then You Had The Flies
There were all over you and if you brushed them off your face they'd just stay there, they stuck to you.
Now Lamaroo wasn't what I was expecting. It was way behind the times even by Ireland's standards. But I had a good job, a lovely big house with a huge garden that you could grow anything in.
My wife also had a good job in the hotel, but I wanted to get on, to see a bit of Australia. After about a year I got a transfer to the station in Adelaide. We were in another railway house and I stayed there for further year. I wanted to leave the job on the railway then but had to wait till I got another job. The house we were in came with the railway job.
Enjoying Australian life in the 1960's
Then I got a job in a factory that made chipboard. It was an extra $20 a week more than I got on the railways and all I was doing was standing at the end of the conveyor belt and stacking them on the pallets with another bloke so it was a lot easier than the railways.
We rented a lovely four bedroom bungalow; it was only $9 a week. I was doing that job for a while and they wanted to promote me and put me upstairs to mix the stuff. It was extra money and a good job, but by this stage we'd already decided to come home.
We weren't ready to go for a few months but I had to tell the manager, it wouldn't have been fair to let them train me for a few weeks and then leave. First of all we were thinking of going to Western Australia, only it was too complicated to go there and get a house. There wasn't much in Western Australia then, well not where we wanted to go, that was Kalgoolie. But it picked up a lot a few years after we left; there was a lot of mining there.
So then we decided to go to Canada. We were going to go direct to Canada from Australia but we changed our minds again and decided to go home to Dublin first to see our families. By coincidence it was the Castel Felice, the same ship we had come out on.
We left Australia in September which was our summer and arrived in England in November 1969. Just over $2000 it cost. I was glad we were coming home but I didn’t know whether I was doing the right thing or not. Oh but I remember when we landed in Southampton.
Oh God, I sensed that my whole life had ended. It was one of those dark miserable mornings, raining and all the buildings were dark and I said to myself, Jesus what have I done. It all hit me. I had left the lovely open spaces, when I saw it all ah Jaysus I nearly got sick. It just hit me what I'd done.
Then we went on to Dublin. We stayed with my mother for a few months in a terraced house, two up two down, which was hard after all the space we were used to. I got a job and we rented a three bedroom house. We were saving to go to Canada but then decided to go back to Australia. We worked and saved for a few years because we would have to pay the few thousand to get back there,
But only a few months before we knew we would have enough money the Australian Government changed the rules and would only accept skilled labour into the country. That was in 1974, so we left Ireland two years later and settled in England again. We moved back and forth from there to here every few years until we finally settled back in Dublin in 1989. I had various other jobs along the way during this time.
I'm retired now and living in a seaside town with my wife Chris an hour from Dublin in Ireland. We have plenty of space here and enjoy the sea air. I often wonder where we would be if we stayed in Australia or had managed to get back there the second time.' Peter Reid.
My father enjoyed his retirement. He died of cancer on 31st July 2012.
Australia Welcomes Immigrants
Memories of a New School in Australia
In the article below Lorraine, who is Peter's eldest daughter, recounts her memories of living in Australia in 1967. She goes into detail how she got on in the school in Lameroo and the first Christmas Day the family spent there
To read her stories click the link below
A Young Family Emigrates to Australia
Christina is Peter's wife and she tells the story of the six week voyage on the Castel Felice Ship from the perspective of a mother of five young children. She also gives us an insight into the horrors and joys of moving to a new country
To read Christina's story of emigrating to Australia click the link below