Off to Australia

Off to Australia



The Patterson family emigrates to SW WA in 1922


Speaker: Alex Patterson
Date: 1987, speaking about 1920s
Topic: A trip from England to Australia, and the Group Settlement Scheme

We arrived at Tilbury; we got on the tender (which is a ferry if you like to call it, or a lighter) which took us out to the ship in mid-stream, loaded with suitcases and baggage and what-not. I was the first one up the gangway, leading the Patterson family on its way to Australia!

Generally speaking the voyage to Australia–looking at it through the eyes of a child–was a very exciting time. It was my first experience of ever being on a ship; plenty of children to become associated with and of course the usual mischief developed … playing practical jokes on other children and even adults. But generally speaking it was a very nice trip.
The ship which we sailed on was the S.S Balranald and she belonged to the P & O Branch Line. Some of her sister ships were known as Bendigo, Baradine, Bara Boul, Benalla, and strange as it may seem, practically all of the ships in that particular line were named after goldmining towns in Australia.

At that particular time there was a nomination scheme operating, but my father, with his usual independence and that, he decided that he would stand on his own feet and we did pay our own passage to Australia. Just making a comparison and that–and it does make interesting listening–the cost of the passage from London to Fremantle was ₤64.00 each for my mother and father and ₤32.00 each for myself and my brother, which, when you look at it today, was not too bad for a six weeks journey. At that particular time of arranging passages I was twelve years old and my brother was eleven. I had turned twelve years old in July of the year we sailed (we sailed on the 2nd of November 1922), and I can well remember my father saying to me, ‘Now remember, son, that as soon as you get on board of that ship your name will be Bob (which was my brother’s name) and Bob will be Alex.’ Now the reason for this was so that he would not have to pay the full fare for me, as I was actually 12 years old. So I took my brother’s birthday which was the following February, and which made me yet to reach 12 years old. And this was probably one of those incidents which I remember very, very well. A smart young officer at the head of the gangway said to me, ‘Berth number Sir?’ Remembering what my father had told me I said, ‘The 7th of February.’ And he said, “Excuse me, I meant cabin number’

And of course there were a lot of migrants on the ship as well; some who were going into the Group Settlement Scheme and who were availing themselves of the ‘assisted’ passages for this particular land settlement scheme. But we didn’t investigate this until we arrived at Fremantle.

Well it was a nice warm day, 11th December 1922, and here we were, putting our feet into Australia, not knowing a soul and willing to face everything.
After negotiating the Customs successfully we made our way to the Fremantle Railway Station, with our hand baggage, heading for Perth. On arrival at the railway station (of course we were all pretty well loaded), as we would do in England we looked around for a porter–or perhaps they were on your back before you even looked for them–but it didn’t appear to be that way in Australia. Dad saw a man dressed in what he took to be porter’s clothes and he just called out, ‘Porter.’
This man he turned round and Dad said to him, ‘Would you mind carrying my baggage?” And he looked at Dad and said ‘Carry your baggage mate,’ he said, ‘no bloody danger!’
Well this actually was a bit of a shock to us. We hadn’t been in Australia more than a couple of hours and to be treated like this by an arrogant porter made us a little bit doubtful as to just what civility and assistance you know we would be likely to receive.
But anyway we battled on. In going back to the porter again for just a few moments, of course another thing we were shocked at was those words ‘bloody danger’. Well ‘bloody’ to us … well it was a blasphemous word, but we soon began to understand it formed just about every second word, or came into almost any conversation, and if you didn’t say it then you weren’t a ‘dinky di’ … So we did get over that.

We got into the train which took us to Perth.
The following day, my father and I, we set off by train for Busselton. We left my brother and my mother in Perth. We left Perth at about 7.30 in the morning, arriving in Busselton at 3.30 pm. It proved a very interesting trip, and perhaps we were fortunate because, in our carriage, we had a Constable Reid who had been up to Perth evidently on some business and was returning to Busselton. At that time of course Busselton only had two policemen.

Anyway on the way down, as we’d pass through varying types of country, Constable Reid was explaining the vegetation and the different types of soil to us and what the activities were and what they were producing in that particular area. He was pretty well informed on these little things because he was a farmer’s son. As I said previously, he was describing the vegetation. He would say ‘Well that is a red gum tree and they’re known as marri; that is a jarrah … see that one there, that’s a banksia, and oh there’s a little black boy there.’ And as we went along ‘Oh there’s a bigger one there. Did you see that?’ Of course I would take him literally as my nose was pressed against the glass of the carriage window but I looked around and I looked around and was damned if I could see any little black boys around! Finally I gave it up and I said to Dad, ‘I can’t see any little black boys there Dad.’ So that was just another touch of humour. But I soon learned what black boys were when you had to dispose of them!

Anyway we arrived at Harvey–I think it was somewhere around midday–and I’ve never seen anything like it. As the train was pulling in to Harvey (well it hadn’t stopped before the carriage doors flew open) and, well, talk about an attacking force … person after person jumped from the carriage, down onto the track, through a grass paddock and were heading for the Harvey pub! My father though, didn’t bother. The paddock they were crossing looked to me to be pretty wet. We stayed in Harvey for about 20 minutes. The engine then gave a couple of toots, but nobody appeared. Anyway in about two minutes time they gave another couple of toots and there was just a rush from out of the pub like bees out of the hive and they tore across the paddocks, through the fences, up the bank and into the carriage; slammed the doors and we were heading for Busselton.

We arrived in Busselton about 3.30 pm and it had proved a very interesting trip. We did look around for some accommodation; we asked the Station Master at Busselton where we could get accommodation for a couple of nights. He said, ‘Oh, if you look over there; go up the platform a bit, look just around that big shed (that was the ‘goods shed’ and it’s still there today), you’ll see a house there … now that’s known as the Busselton Boarding House.’ Well it’s still there today and it was known as Pettit’s House.

We didn’t go there (it didn’t look a very attractive sort of place) and so eventually we settled on Sussex House. Every time I look up at Sussex House and at a particular window, I remember there was an upper verandah before, above the streets. They were compelled to pull that down owing to certain bylaws–when verandah posts were abolished–but that was of course in later years. When I look up there I can still see the window and remember looking out of that and getting my first glimpse of Busselton.

I can remember just across from Sussex House there was another boarding house known as Stone’s Flats and there was quite a few people sleeping out on the veranda at the time. It was probably about five or six o’clock in the morning when I heard this pitter patter; pitter patter and could hear horses feet coming down the street … and it was the milkman. Well I learnt later that the milkman’s name was O’Meara, commonly known as Sharkie, and unfortunately the poor man was stone deaf. The boarders in Stone’s Flats–who had evidently done it many times–would call out to the horse as he was going down the street, when of course Sharkie would be standing up in the cart, and they would yell out “Whoa” … and of course the old horse would stop dead. Poor old Sharkie would go over the front and finish up with his nose somewhere under the horse’s tail. Then he would curse the horse and say “Gi’dyup…!’ And that was the first time then that I knew that there was such a word as a ‘bastard’ and I was getting on pretty well and learning quite a lot about the Australian vocabulary. He would then give him a lash with the whip and start him off again and the boys yelled out ‘Whoa!’ and of course the same thing happened. I did find out later that this was the usual thing; the early morning joke on the poor old chap.

The next day we went to the Group Settlement office which was situated between the existing railway goods shed, as it is today, and the railway crossing which goes down to the Butter Factory on Peel Terrace.
We reported there and I believe a gentleman by the name of Mr Pullin was the officer in charge at the time. We were fortunate that there happened to be a truckload of material which was required for the building of the settlers’ huts going out there that day and he said if we didn’t object to a rough ride then we were welcome to go out with it. The driver’s name was Jack Donovan and I know it was a Rio truck.

Anyway, after an extremely rough ride; getting your backside pinched between the timbers and what-not that was stacked on the truck, we arrived at the site of the camp. It was approximately three or four miles out from Busselton and there were already men on the site and there were half a dozen huts already erected waiting to receive the settlers.

We had a look around and went back to Busselton by the same way we went out, which today is known as Queen Elizabeth Avenue. At that time the road of course was nothing like it is now, being just a narrow track with a limestone/cobblestone sort of surface. When we got to probably about 100 or 200 yards on the Busselton side of the bridge over the ‘cut’ there, it was just a swamp. In the winter time it was practically impassable. Of course this was December and it was quite passable then.
We were satisfied with our inspection. We returned to Perth and began to organise our move to Busselton. This incurred a bit more shopping and we decided to purchase a few more things. The list included two tents, stretcher beds; one double and two singles, a camp oven, iron saucepans, two hurricane lamps, galvanised bath tub, some hand tools such as a saw and a hammer, an axe, a tomahawk, a spade and some rope. Most of these we got at that well-known store of Bairds, usually known as the ‘farmer’s store’, which has supplied many farmers in Western Australia and given valuable services to the agricultural community over a period of many years, until it was taken over I believe and entirely remodelled by Myers.

On the 20th of December we tied up our loose ends in Perth and we accepted the challenge and left Perth for Busselton with the determination to succeed. Dad at 44 years of age, my mother at 38 and two sons 12 and 10 years of age … all armed with willingness … but still I would suggest with a hell of a lot to learn.

We often take a drive past our old property and my mind goes back to those first few months in 1922, sleeping in a tent, in the bush; a full moon overhead, lying in bed watching those shadows from the foliage of the trees overhead forming those fantastic designs on the roof of our tent; never two the same. There’d be a call from a distant curlew, a chirrup from a close-by cricket; disturbing our thoughts as we tried to probe the future. Such is the Australian bush, ever changing but always appearing to be the same. Over our life time it has woven us into its magic spell, to hold our hearts and memories in its never-relaxing grip, with a great and lasting love for a wonderful country!

The stories you read from this 'author' are selected excerpts from our collection of verbatim interviews, many of which you can listen to on SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/user-211102606-633834252


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