I spent the early years of my life in Bristol, in the south-west of England, and didn’t leave the old country until 1959, to live in New Zealand. I was then 23 years old, taking my brand new bride Jacqui with me, for a brand new life, in a brand new (to us) country.
My early recollections of the Australian way of life were gained while I was in primary school, during the war; about a land I never dreamed would one day be my home. At Filton Avenue School (still there today!), Australia Day was celebrated almost as avidly as it is here, with us kids sitting on the floor around our teacher being taught “Waltzing Matilda”, which we always sang with gusto, and being told tales about the Aboriginals, the kangaroos and the Dandenong’s. I have no idea why, but the Dandenong’s are, or were, very popular in the UK, maybe it was because it was just a good, Australian sounding name, unlike Sydney, Melbourne or Newcastle! Maybe it was because a lot of ‘poms’ ended up there and wrote back home how much they were enjoying the life – I have no idea, but I know I was very familiar with the place, long before I came to Australia myself, in 1987.
Our teacher had a somewhat mistaken view of what Australia was like, though we, and I guess she, had no idea of that at the time. According to her, most people in Australia spoke Pidgin English, and I mean everyone, though we were led to believe that the Aboriginals tended to use it more often than the white people. I doubt if there are many kids brought up in England in the forties, who aren’t familiar with “Going walkabout”, one of the few phrases which do actually get used here!
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It was also common knowledge, at Filton Avenue anyway, if not elsewhere, that nearly every street would be liable to have a kangaroo or two wandering about in it, and that wasn’t even in the country – city streets would be just the same, with traffic having to swerve all over the place to avoid hitting one.
And it was well known in school, that a boomerang always came back to you, whether it hit anything or not! I remember there was even a series in one of the English boys’ comics, where the hero used a boomerang for all sorts of crime fighting purposes, but it always came back to him, after it had done its job. We only knew the one familiar crescent-moon shape of the weapon too; all the others I am familiar with now, were unheard of, at least when I was a kid.
Of course, Australia was all desert! It didn’t matter where you went; there was nothing but dry red earth and little else, the ‘outback’ was what Australia was, even in the cities and around the coast, though strangely, everyone in England could tell you about Bondi Beach, another famous spot. I suppose we kids thought of the country as the big desert I’ve just described, but with these ‘oases’, like Bondi, where all the world’s surfers went and everyone had a wonderful suntan!
The more I think about it, the more I am amazed at the weird idea we had of Australia, based on the ‘expert’ information supplied by our teacher. Even when we emigrated to New Zealand, we were fed some odd stuff by the locals, mainly out of jealousy as far as I can make out, because Aussies could buy new Holden cars, while New Zealanders were having to manage on a lot of fairly ancient transport, unless you were lucky enough to possess ‘overseas funds’.
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We went back to England in 1964 and didn’t return to this part of the world until 1987, by which time I am very happy to say, we knew a lot more about Australia and its people. We have never wanted to leave again and have now lived here longer than we have lived anywhere else in the world. We almost feel we can call ourselves locals now, but I daren’t say that out loud!
What are your first memories of living in Australia? What do you remember learning about other countries when you were young? Tell us below.