Life of an Irish Family in Australia in 1967
We were an Irish family who had been living in Britain for a few years. We emigrated to Australia with the £10 assisted passage scheme. There were my parents, my older brother who was twelve and us four girls. I was the eldest girl at ten and my sisters were nine, seven and five years old.
Arriving in Adelaide in South Australia
We left Southampton, England in April 1967 on the Castel Felice. We disembarked at Adelaide in May 1967. We had all enjoyed a wonderful few weeks on the ship before a stopover of two weeks in a hostel in Adelaide in South Australia.
Then we traveled to our new home in a small town called Lamaroo about a hundred miles away. My father has secured a job working for the South Australian Railway and a house to go with it.
First School in Lamaroo
When we attended the school in Lamaroo it was really very different to what we were used to in England or Ireland. Even though we were aged between twelve and five years old we went to the same school. Most of it was made up of prefabs.
We did have our own classroom and our own specific teacher for each year, but I seem to remember always going to and fro from one classroom to another. The teachers were mainly men and all wore these Australian shorts.
My School in Lamaroo
I always had women teachers before this so it was a bit of a shock at first. All the teachers were very good though. As soon as we got there we were called English Poms. We had to explain that we were not English but Irish even though we had been living in England when we emigrated.
We made friends very quickly because the kids were fascinated with our accents and wanted to hear about our time on the ship the Castel Felice.
God Save the Queen
At the start of every school day the bell would ring and all the kids from the school would run into line in the huge school yard. Then there would be a flag raising ceremony and the British anthem of God Save the Queen would be sung by kids and teachers.
At that age I did not know too much about our Irish history except bits I had heard my parents talk about. But that very first morning when that Australian flag was raised and all the kids were standing to attention I was amazed. I had never experienced it before so that was my first shock.
I did not know any Australian history at that time or how the country was connected to Britain so I could not understand why this was happening. The main reason for my horror though was that I was expected to stand to attention at this flag and sing God Save the Queen. It did not help either that a portion of it was showing the British flag. That was the only part that I could see every morning.
I was just a kid and could not really understand my feelings but I did know because I was Irish there was no way I could do that. We were at that school for just over a year and I never did sing it. I had to stand there all right but pretended to sing the words by moving my lips.
Now I was ten and my sister nine when we attended the school in Lamaroo but it was only years later when we were adults and looking at old photos that we spoke to each other about this. She told me that she too did not sing it and hated that part of the school day as much as me.
A great place for all of us children. Once a week the priests from different religions came in to the school and all the kids had to go to whatever class their religion was. It was our bad luck that the Catholic priest was an old Irish one and was delighted that we were there. He constantly asked us the religious questions expecting us to know them just because we were Irish and had just come over. Those classes were a nightmare.
The school was big into outdoor sports which was normal in Australia. I must admit it was a learning curve for all of us because our schools in England did not have much of that either. We did everything from netball, cricket, football, rounders, running, shot put, the long jump and the high jump. My favourites were the long jump and the short races.
We had a sports day every few months which was always a great day for us all. Another thing the school had which nearly killed me the first time was a cross country race. I have no idea how long this was but I do remember half killing myself trying to finish it the first time I ran it. Once I was used to the outdoor activities though it was great fun. My first school in Australia was full of different experiences and happy memories.
First Christmas in Australia
We were on our summer holidays from school in December. The heat was very bad and hard to get used to at first but like everything in life we adjusted well. We arrived that year and experienced one of the worst droughts the country had suffered in years. Every house had a huge water tank in the garden that caught the water when it rained. It did feel strange for every one in the family that Christmas was arriving in the summer.
Santa Claus Arrives by Helicopter
My two youngest sisters who were seven and five were very excited to hear that Father Christmas or Santa as we called him was going to be at the park in Lamaroo a week before Christmas. So mum brought them and the rest of us older kids went down for a look. I was fascinated when a helicopter arrived and out came Santa. This was the first helicopter I had ever seen. My two little sisters queued up with all the other little kids and got to speak to Santa and received a small gift too.
The Swimming Pool
Our parents decided that we were all going to have one big present between us that year; A swimming pool. Our immediate neighbours who also had five children around the same age as us also got the same type of pool as us for Christmas. It was a round one that measured twelve feet across and was three feet deep.
Oh we had great fun on Christmas day in the pool. We all got in and dad joined us. We created a game where he would hold one of us at a time and run round and round the pool. We all wanted to have a go, shouting at him to go faster, poor dad was exhausted.
My mother took lots of photos and after a while she went back into the house to prepare our Christmas dinner. We may have been in Australia in the middle of a heat wave but mum carried on preparing for the full traditional Christmas dinner.
We stayed in the pool all morning and dad kept calling mum out to leave the preparations for the dinner till later and come in for a swim. She said she would soon. Eventually dad got out of the pool and went to get mum.
Christmas Day 1967
Our house was in the middle of the huge garden so it was possible to walk right around it. We heard mum laughing and screaming as she ran out of the house with dad chasing her. They ran around the house as mum kept saying ‘I warning you Peter don’t you dare’ Dad had told mum that if she didn't leave the dinner till later and come into the garden and the pool he would throw her in.
Mum finally had to stop running and they were laughing beside the pool. Mum promised she would come in for a swim soon but dad got hold of her and they both fell back into the water together. Mum was fully clothed.
We were all in the pool at the time too so with the big splash we all got covered in the spray of water. Mum got out of the pool laughing and then joined us when she changed. Then we joined a load of neighbours for a Christmas day game of cricket. The heat was very bad so not many runs were made. We all did more laughing and talking than playing cricket.
I don’t remember that Christmas night but mum says we did eventually have the traditional Christmas dinner very late and we children went to bed exhausted. We have lots of photos of that Christmas morning because my parents were very good at taking photos as we were growing up. They certainly bring back some wonderful memories of my first Christmas in Australia.
I have very fond memories of my first school in Australia in 1967. At that age the idea of leaving Britain and immigrating to live on the other side of the world in Australia was an adventure with no worries at all to me.
My parents were very brave to take a chance especially with five very young children and no family out there at all for support. Their courage and the £10 Assisted Passage Scheme made it possible. Once my father got the job and house with the South Australian Railway we were on our way to a fantastic experience.
The trip out there on the ship the Castel Felice was amazing and once we arrived in Australia too. I have wonderful memories which I will treasure for the rest of my life of the experiences of life in Australia as an Irish child in the 1960’s.
Memories of my Father Peter Reid
I asked my parents about their memories so I could record them here too. My father worked for the Railway in the London Underground and he tells some amazing stories about that time. He was able to get a job in the South Australian Railways because of his experience there.
With the job came a house so that is how he was able to bring his young family out to Australia. To read his account of this time click the link below
Memories of My Mother Christina Reid
She tells us what it was like for her as a mother of five young children on the six week voyage on the ship. How she managed keeping an eye on us all and keeping us safe. There is a great story where my 12 year old brother thought our parents had been left behind when they took a tour of Port Said.
To read her stories click the link below
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.