We left England on a cold, foggy, miserable November day in 1964. I was 11, closer to 12, and the eldest of four children born in Kent, the Garden of England. My father was a carpenter and joiner and had secured a position with a company in Maryborough in central Victoria, so we came to Australia as ‘Ten Pound Poms’.
After flying from England to Australia, we were collected by company representatives and had a long car journey of about 100 miles (161km) to get to our destination. We had never seen such vast areas of uninhabited land, mile upon mile of golden fields with a scattering of sheep or cattle. Each town we drove through caused a murmur of excitement, then disappointment as we drove out the other side.
Someone on the plane had told my mother that Maryborough in Queensland was beautiful, but she thought Maryborough in Victoria was a ‘shanty town’. Mum was very relieved to find it was a beautiful old town with lovely homes and wide streets.
We had spent the previous eight months living with my aunt and her family in London waiting for our flight to be allotted. London was still rebuilding from the bombings of World War II. The house next door had been bombed and the site was still littered with rubbish. London was a cold, dark, depressing place. Then, suddenly here we were, transported to this wonderful land. The sun and warmth was glorious, everything smelled so fresh and clean, and space was everywhere.
While Dad had to start work straight away, we had the luxury of a week off school and explored the parks and gardens, the shops and attractions of our new home.
The town had a GJ Coles store. Everything was set out on counters in aisles and the ladies behind the counters took your money. Mum sent my brother David and I in to get icy poles for all of us. In England an icy pole is called a lolly or an ice lolly. What Australians call lollies, we called sweets and therein lay a problem. The icy poles were kept in the fridge behind the counter so you had to ask the assistant for what you wanted. We asked for five lollies. She pointed to the counter and told us to choose what we wanted. I told her (very politely) “No thank you we don’t want sweeties we want ice lollies”, to which she replied indignantly, “They are all nice lollies”. Fortunately I spotted a sign above her head advertising icy poles and asked for them by name.
Two days after our arrival, David and I were in the main street when the town hall clock struck 11. Suddenly everything stopped. The cars propped where they were. People stood like statues. One man had one foot on the road and one foot on the footpath. “What’s happening?” David whispered. I was terrified, I thought aliens had frozen everyone. Then a little dog appeared and came running over to us. It was so normal I forgot to be frightened. The dog wandered over and sniffed at the man on the kerb, we thought it was going to wee on his leg, and started giggling, but the man never moved a muscle.
Suddenly a bugle call rang out and everyone just carried on as if nothing had happened. We rushed home to tell mum about this strange happening and it quickly dawned on her it was Remembrance Day, she had completely lost track of the dates. We had Remembrance Day in England, of course, but we were always at school and they had a special assembly service for it. That first week is etched in my memory.