Life before Australia 15



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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’.

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.

Brian Lee

  1. My view of England was shaped by novels from schoolgirl stories, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, DH Lawrence for starters. I’ve only been there three times. Loved it all, but I don’t think the image I had exists. I didn’t expect the traffic and the variety of accents.

    1 REPLY
    • True Vivienne but I stayed up in Bronte Country and many of the villages haven’t changed a lot. I even visited my Dad’s old school which was still the same…. No doubt had lots more mod cons. I found it all very quaint.

  2. I think most Queenslanders don’t like accents in my experience!

    2 REPLY
    • We don’t like accents? What do you mean? That we can’t be bothered translating, or we think that people with posh accents are ‘putting on the dog’ or what? I am a Queenslander and I find accents interesting and if possible, I will ask people where they come from etc. I now have an English grandson whose accent has a hint of his father’s Yorkshire thrown in.

    • I didn’t say I didn’t like the variety of accents. I hadn’t expected it.

  3. Went to live in New Zealand ??? How did he end up in Australia ?

  4. Nice post Brian and very honest about your misconceptions, laughable now but at the time they would have sounded quite reasonable

  5. My first memories of Australia were of a hot, dusty, end of summer in a migrant hostel outside of Elizabeth, SA. It seemed to me at the time to be full of Poms who hated “Australia” and were waiting out the 2 years before they could return to Britain without having to pay back their Assisted Passage money. Even as a 13 year old I couldn’t understand how they knew anything about living in Australia, and the Australian way of life, while living in huts, eating in a communal dining room, and sharing showers & toilets, sparated from normal Australian life

  6. I had an educated woman ask me in all sincerity if Kangaroos delivered my mail. I thought she was joking and answered accordingly – she could see neither the irony, nor sarcasm, of my reply.

  7. While you in England were learning about the Dandenongs, in our class in Queensland we were rattling off that ‘the Witham, the Welland, the Nene and the Ouse’ flowed out of the Fens. I often wondered why.

  8. We all grew up with weird conceptions of other places. Ihad no idea what a city looked like.

  9. Before leaving England in 1974 we attended an information night for prospective migrants and even there they showed a kangaroo hopping off a tram in Bourke Street Melbourne, they said all big companies had a crèche attached, so child minding would not be a problem and the milkman came during the night as after 6am the milk would start to turn sour. Surprisingly, nothing was what we expected but we are still here and would not want to live anywhere else.

  10. I arrived in Australia in 1966 and I was sure I would see kangaroos hopping down the street and Koloa bears in every tree and I would probably have to do my schooling by two way radio or have to ride a horse to school. How wrong was I.

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