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U3A Writing: Home Is Where You Find It

John Plater recalls his arrival in Australia as a £10 immigrant.

For more memories visit www.u3answ.org.au/ Click on Remember When.

London was in the grip of a marrow-numbing cold spell that you know will bring snow; the sooner the better, for once that insulating blanket of white is in place the temperature will rise a bit, the light will improve a lot, the ordinary will become beautiful and some ugliness will become temporarily shrouded.

It wouldn't last, of course. Heralded by occasional drips from sometimes quite beautiful translucent icicles weeping their brief lives away, the white blanket will soon become gray and tawdry. Not that we would care. After all the very bleakness of the day emphasized the astuteness we had displayed in opting to leave it all behind. As surely as the vapours we expelled as we toiled up the steep gangway with out cabin luggage, so were dissipated the doubts of yesterday. With my wife Gwen and our son Stephen I was off to Australia.

It was not the climate alone that drove us from the land of our birth. The war had been won, our uniforms shed, the dying notes of the final victory parade were no more than a distant memory, but the drabness had remained. We had become tired of austerity. How then were we to refuse the offer of a tropical cruise to a land where the sun always shines at a cost to us of less than one month's pay? Not that we could expect much luxury for ten quid per adult passenger, but we were agreeably surprised by the amenities and cuisine provided aboard a war-time troopship now on its second-last voyage before the one to the breakers. Mind you, the lusty young, recently wed couples who formed the bulk of the voyagers were not happy to discover that most of the four berth cabins had been converted into twelve berth, gender separate dormitories. Some may have submitted meekly to enforced celibacy on the high seas while others set out to prove that love does indeed find a way, and if a few Australian baby-boomers were conceived aboard the Royal Mail Steamer Ranchi I would not be at all surprised.

We enjoyed an unscheduled four days of warm water bathing at Mt. Lavinia, Colombo, as the engineers coaxed tired engines back into life for the final leg to the Antipodes – an unlooked for holiday that would have been appreciated more by those of us less anxious about their dwindling financial resources and trepidation at what might lie ahead.

At Bonegilla we were frightened by things that went bump in the night and turned out to be possums. We also learned what a whingeing Pom was after complaining about the rain, it being the first they'd had up that way for many months. “Send it down Hughie! Drown the whingeing Poms!” cried the citizens of Albury and Wodonga. Hughie, whoever he may have been, sent it down all right. It turned out to be the wettest winter since Federation, in Ballarat, and when you live in a corrugated iron hut it gets so you hear every single drop.

But the hostel was waterproof, the tucker agreeable, and the tariff low enough to allow us to start saving for a proper home. The promised job was waiting and the natives were friendly when we stopped whingeing and learned to call a catch a mark at the “footy”. Mind you, when you have juggled the round ball on your toes since infancy you're not likely to start cuddling an oblong one at twenty-five, are you? Assimilation is all very well but you don't have to be daft about it.

I built our house in Wendouree with the help of an Australian brickie, a Dutch plumber and an Italian electrician. Gwen cleverly provided our son with two dinkum sisters. We paid off the mortgage and agreed that our voyaging to the underside of the world had proved to be a pretty smart career move. But, not having been inoculated against the dreaded nostalgia bug that afflicts so many expatriates we sold up and went “home” after twenty years. It didn't work. You do not shrug off twenty years in another land without pain. We got homesick again, this time for Oz.

London was in the grip of one of those marrow numbing cold spells you know will bring snow when, after precisely one year in England, we returned to a home without inverted commas.


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