My voyage to Australia
Submitted by Alfred Gauci
Most of thetowns and villages in the south of Malta were in ruins. Jobs were scarce andthe Admiralty Dockyard was shedding off thousands of excess labour. In a smallisland this was devastating. Mum and Dad began to think that there was nofuture for growing children in Malta, and so, they decided to emigrate toAustralia and try their luck there. On the 11th March 1946, our mother wasissued with a passport bearing the number 30366. Uncle Gejtu Camilleri, herbrother, was married and lived in Australia. He had agreed to sponsor ourfamily. A large number of Maltese had applied to emigrate to Australia throughthe Assisted Passage Scheme that would cost them 10 pounds. Mum and Dad had forsome reason preferred to pay the full passage for 2nd class berths, forthemselves and the three children, and if I am not mistaken, this amounted toaround 250 pounds each. The wages at that time was about 1.50 pounds per weekfor a qualified tradesman. On the 4th of January 1947, dad resigned from theDemolition Department, presumably because they were informed of the date ofdeparture to Australia.
It was onWednesday the 26th of February 1947, that we left for Australia. I was 7 yearsold, but I remember how our neighbours came to see us off, and wish us goodluck. We were taken to the Grand Harbour, where in the middle, the 'Empress ofScotland' was berthed. She was a big, beautiful ship, with her bow alreadypointing to the entrance of the harbour. I had never seen anything so big.Hundreds of people were near the customs, seeing family members off. There werelots of crying and hugging. We were ferried alongside of the ship, and had toclimb up a gangway to board the vessel. After a few hours, the ship slowlysailed out of the harbour and out into the wide-open sea. Soon the Islanddisappeared from sight. This ship was a proper passenger liner, and everyonehad cabins and privacy.
The firstpart of our voyage took two days, and we arrived at Port Said in Egypt onFriday 28th of February at 5 p.m. These dates and exact time, are taken frompassports and dad's notes. The next morning after breakfast we had todisembark, because the 'Empress of Scotland' was only commissioned to take usto Port Said. We were lodged in some small hotel, and spent some days waitingto board another ship to continue our voyage. To us children, this was anadventure. Our parents and most of the Maltese thought differently. No one hadinformed them about the change of ships. However during those few days, ourparents used to take us sightseeing, and to have rides on camels. I remembergoing down narrow side streets, filled with small shops selling bronze pots,carpets and statutes made of ivory or wood.
On Mondaythe 3rd of March, a rickety bus took us to Port Said harbour, from where weboarded the S.S. Misr. This ship was totally different from the Empress ofScotland. It was much smaller and the crew were not European. My vision of theaccommodation is still, that most of the passengers were accommodated in largeopen spaces below deck, in crowded groups of twenty or more, without anyprivacy. The women and children were put together in one area, while the menwere given another area. I can still visualize the iron two-tier beds or bunks,and hammocks strung up between the heads of one bed and another. The Misr, wasmore of a troop ship, then a passenger liner. The ship's kitchen was not faroff and could be seen from our bunks. To us children, this situation meantnothing, in fact we liked it and did not mind, but to our parents and the otherfamilies, be they Maltese, Greeks, Italians or whatever, this must have been avery bad experience, which had to be endured to the end of the voyage. Theluggage containing clothes, money, jewellery and documents were kept locked allthe time and stowed under the beds. That night at 8 p.m. the ship left PortSaid and arrived at the entrance to the Suez Canal the next day. The journeythrough the Suez took some time, because the rules of war were still prevailingat that time, and if naval vessels were in the area and wanted to use theCanal, the passenger ships had to give them priority and make way.
By Wednesdaythe 12th March at 2 p.m. we had gone through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea,and reached the Gulf of Aden. We had passed Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalion one side, and Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the other. The Misr then entered theIndian Ocean and sailed down the African coast. I must say here that during thefirst two days at sea, we suffered from seasickness, but after that we were allright. On Wednesday the 19th of March at 1 p.m., we crossed the Equator. Thedays were extremely hot, and we children spent most of the daytime playing inthe makeshift canvas swimming pools, although at that time none of us couldswim. The nights were very hot as well, and it was impossible to sleep in thebunks. So we either slept on deck, or below on the top of the holds, were therewas refrigerated food stored. I do not know if anyone can recollect thefollowing incident. One day my brother and I, saw a woman passenger who wasreclining in a wooden deckchair in the shade. She tried to rearrange theposition of the deckchair while she was still sitting on it. Her finger gotinto the crosses of the deckchair, which acted like a cutter or scissors. Thedeckchair collapsed with her weight, and I saw her screaming and holding up herhand, while her finger was lying on the deck. She was taken to the ship'sdoctor immediately. I later saw her again with a bandaged hand, minus a finger.
The shiparrived at Durban on Friday the 28th of March at 7 p.m. It had already been amonth since we left Malta, and we still had a long way to go. The passengerswere allowed to disembark from the vessel. I remember that we went for walksalong the shore somewhere, and sometimes our parents even hired a rickshaw thatwas pulled by man instead of horses. We also had time to visit the nearbysurrounding towns and villages, and roamed around the streets. Their way ofliving and their culture is totally different from ours. All we saw was povertyall around, although I could not understand why, at that time. On Sunday the30th March, at noon, we left Durban on the final stretch to Australia.
We now hadto cross the Indian Ocean, which is noted for storms, very bad weather andrough seas. As stated the Misr was not a very large ship. Once we hit the openseas, she began to roll heavily. I remember being on deck with my brotherEdmund, in some very bad weather. The ship was reeling from side to side, andto us, the waves seemed as high as mountains. This is no exaggeration, becausefrom the deck, I remember clearly, that we had to look up at the waves and notdown. We were so terrified at the sight that we went below deck. We sawhundreds of plates falling down in the kitchen and ending smashed up on thedeck floor. Most of the passengers were vomiting everywhere, and they wereeither sitting down or lying down. Only a few could stand and walk, and this,in a sort of drunken manner, swaying from one side to another. What reallystuck in my mind was looking out of a porthole that overlooked the forward partof the ship. The bow would dip into the sea, until it was completely covered bythe waves. I would count the seconds to see when, and how long it would take tolift. I sometimes thought that the bow would not be able to come up again. Thisexperience made me terrified of the sea for many years to come. However we didhave some pleasant days as well. On Saturday 13th of April 1947, we arrived atFremantle, in West Australia, and on Sunday the 20th April, at 7 p.m., wearrived in Melbourne. Disembarkation took two days to complete, since theimmigrants were checked one by one. Finally at 9 a.m. on the 22nd of April,when it was our turn we disembarked, passed through customs and emigration, anddad went to make arrangements for the family to travel to Sydney by train, thatvery evening at 6.30 p.m. I had never seen a train before, let alone ride one,so we were all probably fascinated. There was not much to see during the night,so we children must have fallen asleep. What I do remember clearly is that inthe middle of the night, we had to change trains. We got off the first train atthe station of some town or another, and while mum, the luggage and us childrenwere left waiting on the station platform, dad went to find out which was theother train that we had to board to continue our journey. Dad came back aftersome time, and while he took mum, Edmund and Robert, plus some luggage to ourcompartment on the new train, he told me to wait for him, with the remainingluggage and not to move. I remember having worn a long blue coat, and sittingon the rest of the luggage waiting for dad. The station was not so brightlylit, and I could just make out people rushing from one place to another, fromone train to another, and shadows everywhere. I must say that I was a bitfrightened of being left there all alone in an unfamiliar place. After whatseemed a lone time, dad came back, picked up the rest of the luggage and weboth boarded the second train, and joined the others. We arrived at Sydney thenext day, Tuesday the 23rd April at noon.
Uncle Gejtuwas waiting for us at the station. We all got into his truck and we arrived athis large farm at Old Toongabbie, Parramatta at around 5 p.m. It was nicemeeting aunty Pina and our eight or nine cousins. We lived on the farm forabout three months, and then mum and dad rented a cottage from another Maltesesettler whose surname was Chircop. After the first few days, we started goingto school in the nearest town. We knew no English, not a word, and at first wecould not understand the language, or lessons. But eventually we overcome thatdifficulty. We used to go to school by walk with our cousins. It took us morethen an hour to get there. We used to cut across uncle's fields, enter the bushand walk through the tall trees, ever watchful for snakes. Then we would cometo a long country road that lead straight to the town.
I cannotever forget this beautiful period that we spent in the country. We made friendswith the neighbouring farmers and ranchers. During the weekends, we loved goingto see the hundreds of cows being milked by automatic machinery. After the milkwas processed it would be transported to Sydney. The land was so vast andgreen, trees and grass everywhere. We were amazed at the amount of wild birds,geese, ducks, hawks or eagles, parrots etc. The only bird that bothered us wasthe magpie. I have never seen such beauty in Malta, and will never do. We donot have the space or greenery.
My brother Edmund, mother Salvina holding my Australian-born sisterEvelyn, me in front and my brother Robert on right
We moved to Sydney in late 1947, andwent to live at 94 Stanley Street, near William and Oxford Street, where weused to go to the cinema every Saturday. We were enrolled at St. Mary's collegeat Paddington. We soon made many new friends who were Maltese or Italians andGreeks, including Australians. However there were a very good number ofAustralian boys who kept to themselves and called us Maltese, Italians andGreeks immigrant Daygos. I still do not know what that word means. Thisattitude made us hang about in groups, or you would be pushed around andbullied.
Dad hadfound a job from day one. There were so many jobs available, that he kept goingfrom one good job to a better-paid one all the time. Mum could not speakEnglish very well, but could understand a little. She made friends with acertain Mrs. Carmena Bonnett who did not live far away from us, and who wasalso Maltese. On the 19th of April 1948, mum and dad bought a house from Mrs.Dorothy Corbett. The house was at 207 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, East Sydney,corner with Crown Street. From Saint Mary's Collage, we went to Sacred HeartSchool at Darlinghurst, run by the Christian Brothers. This was a better schoolsince they included a lot of activities besides the normal lessons andsubjects. We used to play rugby, cricket, take part in boxing, plays andsinging, and also swimming in summer. We made a lot of friends here, but hereagain, some Australian boys treated us roughly. One Maltese boy I stillremember was Alex Genovese from Mosta, and an Australian boy named Kief Cafieroand his sister Fay. They are probably in their late sixties like me.
My fatherhad a tenor's voice and used to sing on the Broadcasting Station 2SM PTY. LTD.,on the radio, at Carrington Street. He also went to Australia's Amateur Hour at65 York Street. My brother and I also took part in singing and boxing at school,and I still have the cups and trophies that I won. I also still have in mypossession, passports, documents, letters, school reports, school programmesetc. The hospital at Darlinghurst was my second home. The staff knew me quitewell. Not a week passed without me getting hurt or something. My sister Evelynwas born there on the 27th July 1950. I loved that country; I loved Australia,and still do. But good things must come to an end. My mother got homesick andpersuaded my father that we should return to Malta. He terminated hisemployment with Bell & Kindred on the 8th of September 1951. On the 10th ofSeptember we boarded the vessel 'Largs Bay' from Sydney and arrived in Malta onthe 27th of October 1951. I have always wished to return to Australia, andnearly did in 1977, but that wish will now never materialise.