The New Australia bobbed gently in the harbour at Southampton. Staff, hurriedly conscripted with the promise of a new life themselves, busily prepared it for the onslaught of another one-and-a-half thousand ‘ten pound tourists.’
Don unfolded his lanky frame from the back seat of the green and black Austin 7, wiping the sweat from his brow. His father strode to the boot of the car, and pulled out a box. “It’s all seven volumes of Spurgeon’s ’Treasury of David’. Study them well.” Handing the box to Don, the older man picked up the two big bags and set off for the ship.
Parents and son stood on deck together one last time. Goodbyes to other family members had already been made. His brother had emigrated ahead of him to Australia.
Was it worth it? Emigration tears families apart. Yet British winters were cold. England was regularly at war. Don had done his compulsory two years in the medical corps of the Royal Army. He’d witnessed the suffering inflicted in the name of protecting queen and country. This was Don’s chance to change his destiny.
Don reached into his pocket and pulled out a sparkling ruby ring. “Mum, this is for you. Remember me.” The petite woman slipped the ring onto her finger, swallowed hard and looked down at the well-worn timbers of the ship’s deck. Drops of water splashed at her feet.
It was a year earlier that 21-year-old Don had put the forms in the mailbox there in southern England. Then on a damp December day, Don had made his way through the pea-soup London fog for an interview at Australia House. “No umbrellas needed in Australia,” the cocky young interviewer had declared. “Nor bicycles. Everybody drives cars.”
All through the summer of 1957, Don had checked the mail, waiting for THE letter. A week’s notice was all he could expect. His ten pounds had been accepted. Passage to Australia had been promised.
The fateful moment arrived. It was August 16th, 1957. Don’s parents walked down the gangway, leaving him aboard the New Australia. Alone.
Don made his way down, down, down to Deck D. He found his bunk in a crowded cabin with five other enthusiastic, if somewhat smelly, young men. All dreamt of a bright future. First, though, they must endure the six week journey. Waves would crash against the portholes of their cabin. Staff would rush in and fasten extra covers over the portholes. The journey should not have been so long except that strife at the Suez Canal forced the vessel to travel around Africa’s tumultuous Cape of Good Hope.
As they passed the notorious Shipwreck Coast of Southern Australia, many passengers succumbed to seasickness. The disgusting shared bathrooms, ankle deep in seawater, became even more putrid. The demand for the tea/coffee (both drinks mixed together in one pot) dwindled away to nothing. Yet nothing could dampen the hopes of these new Australians.
That September spring day dawned bright and clear in Sydney. The New Australia made its way into the harbour under a brilliant blue sky. It docked by the trademark Harbour Bridge, opposite a grassy knoll where some dreamt of building another Australian icon. The ship disgorged multitudes of hope-filled passengers, eager for this new start. Don collected his belongings from the hold of the ship, hoisting the sodden box containing the ‘Treasury of David’ onto his hip.
Squaring his shoulders, Don stepped ashore. His brother’s grinning face was visible beyond the barriers. The strong Australian sun warmed his body. The future was bright.
The new Australian had arrived.
Many adventures lay ahead of Don, not least of which was his marriage to a plucky Australian woman and, with her, years of public health work in Papua New Guinea. His parents later emigrated to Australia although, unlike Don, they travelled by airplane. They too spent years in Papua New Guinea, as missionaries, before finally settling near their sons in Australia for their twilight years.
Don’s decision to emigrate to Australia is one he has never regretted. His decision to leave behind his umbrella and bicycle, however, was ill-informed. The ‘Treasury of David’ never did recover from the voyage. Don’s mother treasured that ruby ring for the rest of her life. His wife now wears a similar ring.
Fifty years have passed since Don made this fateful voyage - a voyage which would affect generations beyond him.
Don is my father. We are Australian. This is his story.
It was worth it.
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