Memories of an Irish Mother Living and Working in Australia in 1967
My family of 7 Immigrated to Australia in 1967
These are the memories of my mother Chris, who used the £10 assisted passage to immigrate to Australia with her husband and five small children. I was ten years old at the time.
Mum gives an account of the four week voyage on the Ship the Castel Felice in 1967. And her views on the ten pound poms when she stayed at the Assisted Passage Hostel in Adelaide .
This is mum's story in her own words
Leaving Ireland for London, UK
When I married Peter in 1953 we stayed in Stoneybatter, Dublin for a few years and I had my first three children there. We moved to London in 1957 and I had my next two children there. There was no work in Dublin at the time and everyone was leaving Ireland to move to England. We had no choice really. Peter went over first and stayed with his sister in London.
Working in England
He looked for a job in the factories over there but it was hard. A lot of jobs had a sign which said, ' No Blacks, No Irish Need Apply.' But he managed to get a job and saved some money so that I was able to join him with the children.
Soon we had some money saved and borrowed some too so we were able to buy a house in London. It was very cheap at £1,150 because there were sitting tenants living in the upstairs part. We lived downstairs which had two rooms, a scullery and a garden. The mortgage was £2 a week. Peter left the job in the factory and started work in the Underground for London Transport.
The South Australian Railway
We were in London for a few years and the tenants had moved out too so we sold up and moved back to Dublin. But the job situation was still very bad so we only stayed a while and then went to live in Manchester.
Ten Pound Assisted Passage
That was when we were thinking of moving to Australia on the Ten Pound Assisted Passage. We had seen the adverts for a while but with five small children it was too much of a risk. Even though they promised there were plenty of jobs and houses out there we still hesitated. But when the job for the South Australian Railway came up which included a house we knew it was safe to take the chance.
No Disabled Children Allowed
When Peter was accepted for the job we applied to Australia House for the £10 assisted passage. We went for an interview in Manchester and when we passed they asked us to come back and bring the children. I only brought the eldest three. But they wanted to see all five of them so we had to go up again.
I didn’t understand why at the time but I realise now why they insisted on seeing all the children. They wanted to see if any of them were handicapped and to make sure they were white. We didn’t know that at the time but I suppose we should have really. We had to put up with a lot of that already because we were Irish and living in England and a lot of foreigners were also in that position especially if they had dark skin.
We had six months before the ship left for Australia so we had plenty of time to prepare. Our parents came over from Ireland to say goodbye which was very hard on everyone. We sold our house in Manchester and when the time came we got the train to Southampton and boarded the ship, the Castel Felice in April 1967.
The Cabins on Board Ship
We were allocated a six berth cabin for myself and the four girls and Peter and my son who was twelve were put in a cabin with two other men. But they came in with us because the children were small; the youngest was five so they were able to sleep in a bed together. The cabin was very small with the three lot of bunk beds and a wash basin in between.
We had to use one of the toilets on the landing which was shared. But we got by really because the ship was very big and there was plenty to do for the children. They would be tired by the end of the day and sleep grand at night. The three older children were able to go about the ship on their own during the day and made friends with the other children on board.
Food on the Ship was Fantastic
They had the four youngest children in the children’s sitting and I would stay with them while they ate their meals. Then the two eldest minded the younger ones while myself, Peter and my son had our meals at a later sitting.
The food was always lovely. Now that was the set meal times but every single night they had a buffet that anyone could eat from. All the food was free. When they had an Italian theme I tried Pizza for the first time in my life. I always remember that, it was gorgeous.
Port Said in Egypt
We went through Port Said in Egypt because it was open then, actually our ship The Castle Felice was the very last one that went that way on the route to Australia. The British Army were there. But the children were not allowed off the ship as it was too dangerous.
They warned us that the people were fighting for their Independence and there might be trouble. But we decided to go anyway and left the Children on the Ship. We had to get into small boats to go on land. They told us at the first sign of any shooting we were to run back to were the boats were immediately.
We got a leaflet to tell us what cost a lot of money in Australia and what were the best things to bring over with us. We had brought three trunks with us but wanted to buy some electrical stuff on the way. They also said that we could be conned when shopping and we were to watch out for that. I wanted a Murphy Richards Iron.
So I made the man at the stall show it to me and then he packed it. But when I got to Australia it was a Murphy Richards box but not a Murphy Richards iron. It was not a nice place really it was warm and dusty and smelly.
There was an awful lot of poverty too; we could see that people were living under the grating that we were walking on. We went off the main road and ended up in a side street and there were people sitting there with their legs off and arms off. It was a shock and we got out of there quick enough.
The Children Were Terrified
We were on the last boat coming back and hadn't realised what the poor children had being going through. The two eldest had been watching the boats arriving back to the ship and as every one of them came back without us they were panicking. They thought we had missed it and the ship was going to leave without us. They were delighted when they saw us on the last boat.
Hostel in Adelaide
We stayed in the Assisted Passage Hostel for two weeks. We had an introduction by this man when he was bringing us to the hostel and he said we’d get meals there that would be the best food we had ever tasted. We were expecting something great but it was just ordinary food. I felt that was very condescending as if to say we weren't used to good food.
The Accommodation Was Very Bad
The room we were in was very small and there was no privacy. The wall and even the door only went two thirds up to the ceiling so everyone could hear you and you could hear everything that went on in the rooms all along the corridor.
The Whinging Poms
We had to do the washing by hand outside in the yard in troughs. I was just getting on with it, maybe because I knew we had a house to go to and Peter had a job waiting. But when I was doing the washing out there all you could hear was the English women giving out. They'd be saying, ‘This is an awful place; I don’t know what we came here for.’
Some of them were looking at their money to see if they could go back home and they only there a week. I know the hostel was bad but they knew it would only be for a little while. I don't know what they were expecting, but they should have given Australia a chance.
Adelaide South Australia
Adelaide was very backward really which did Surprise me. I had the impression that it would be modern but even in Ireland we were way ahead of them. I remember going to the phone box and it was one of those real old ones and I thought it was very funny, me trying to reach up to the mouthpiece.
The people in the job Peter had in Lamaroo advised us to buy all our furniture and stuff for the house in Adelaide. We got everything in the main street and had it sent down to Lamaroo.
A Wonderful Time
Now on the ship it was all people who had availed of the assisted passage. The entertainment was great for the kids. There was something going on all over the ship for them everyday. They had parties, a cinema with children’s films, a club, fancy dress parties etc
But the food was fantastic and we were treated very well. When we crossed the Equator they had a big play about King Neptune. They made friends and so did we so even though it took weeks to get to Australia the time just flew in.
We all got off and went on a bus tour. It was our first sight of Australia. A lot of people got off at Freemantle to live there but we stayed on till we disembarked at Adelaide in South Australia.
New Life in Lamaroo
Then after two weeks at the hostel Peter’s job sent for us and they paid for a taxi. It was a hundred miles to get there. It was a long journey with five children and I wasn’t feeling too well either.
The Railway House
It was dark when we arrived at the house and there was no electricity on either. The house was one of ten in a group that belonged to the Railway. The neighbours gave us candles and we got the kids to bed.
There is one thing the adverts and posters never mentioned about Australia which was a major shock, the insects and flies. As sick as I was I stayed up all night with Peter in the one bedroom we had put all the kids in that first night. There were hundreds of insects all over the kids as they were sleeping.
Daddy long legs we called them. They were all over the children sticking to them. Oh I can see them even now. We were horrified and stayed there pulling the insects off.
There was only a wood burner for the cooker and oven. I had never seen one before and didn't know how to use it. It wasn't working properly and had to get a man out to fix it. But it was ok because he took some of the electrical goods I had bought on the way over in exchange for money.
I had brought a small electric two ring cooker with me. I used that till I was well enough for the neighbors to show me how to work the wood cooker. When I got used to it was great to cook on.
I was very ill for a few weeks with a throat infection but the neighbours were fantastic. They helped me with the children and the house and we all soon settled in to our new life in Lamaroo in South Australia. The kids started their new school and made friends too.
They loved the outdoors and we had a huge garden because the house was in the middle of a big patch of land. Peter was working for the Railway and with the children in school I was able to get a job as a waitress in the local hotel. We had taken a chance by emigrating to Australia. But because we were able to use the £10 assisted passage to emigrate it cost us very little money.
Our adventure in Australia had begun.
Memories of a 10 year old who Emigrated to Australia
Lorraine recounts her experiences of attending a new school in Australia in this article. What it was like compared to her other schools in Ireland and England.
She describes in detail the family's first Christmas day in their new country during a heat wave. There are lots of photos for you to see as well. To read this article click on the link below
Emigrating to Australia in 1967
My father also recounted some of his memories to me and I have written them down in this article. He tells what it was like to work for the Railway in the London Underground and the railways in South Australia. To read this article click the link below