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Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 12 Oct 2012 05:00 
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Tony & Malcolm Jump Ship
An account of the time when Malcolm H & Tony D jumped ship at Brisbane on Thursday 18th July 1957

Along with a former shipmate, Alehouse I joined the Adelaide Star at Liverpool in April 1957. Alehouse and I had sailed together on another Blue Star boat, the Dunedin Star and we became good pals, so I was sure this trip on the Adelaide Star would be a breeze … I was looking forward to some good laughs, neither Alehouse nor I took life too seriously … we were here for a good time, if not a long time?

As usual in those days it was a young crowd, I suppose the average age of the deck crew would have been around twenty four, and the Catering crew would have been about the same; usually when someone married they swallowed the anchor and it was new entrants from the Sea Schools that kept the ships sailing.
The amount of testosterone surging through the veins of us young bucks virtually guaranteed a carefree devil may care four months away … I had recently met a young lady with a pair of enormous knockers, so I was looking forward to a speedy return … I had her address and every intention of writing to her, I’d also given her my Blue Star address so the possibility of some long distant fore play was a prospect.

It’s almost fifty years ago so bits of memory do tend to fade, I know Alehouse and I were in the same cabin and the same watch and I can’t be certain of this but I believe Sylvester (his nickname) was the third member of the watch, whatever he became a good shipmate and a good laugh … the three of us got on well together.

We sailed from Liverpool on Friday 26th. April 1957, bunkered at Tenerife on the 30th, we sailed from there en route to Adelaide, arriving on Wednesday 29th May after an uneventful passage.

Adelaide was to be another story in spite of the fact that we were only in port for twenty four hours. Alehouse and I got the normal two pound sub, that’s all we were allowed even when we had lots of money in the ship, I think the companies were afraid of the crew skinning out … anyway; we had our sub and somehow managed to meet two very attractive nurses from the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I don’t think we took them anywhere but I do remember I finished up with my girl in a secluded doorway and Alehouse and his lady were in another doorway around the corner; the petting was great but frustrating, I tried very desperately for a knee trembler but there was no joy … Alehouse, who had told me on the Dunedin Star that he was a year older than me, got my respect and I followed his lead … he told his girl that he was the Mate on the ship, so I told my girl that I was the 2nd Mate. We told them we were sailing the following afternoon and they promised to be there to see us off … if view of the porkpies we’d told them their news was a bit of a worry but we kissed farewell and returned to the ship.

The following afternoon the crew was called to “Stations” and Alehouse and I went aft to our station, under command of the 2nd Mate.
Dressed in our minty working gear, cut down dungarees and shirtless, we were both busy hauling in mooring lines and coiling them on deck … we never noticed the girls standing on the dock until the 2nd Mate asked us if we knew them … taken by surprise I replied that they were our girlfriends and joined by Alehouse stood at the rail, as the ship eased off the dock, and waved to the prick teasers. The ship was well off the berth when one of the girls shouted something and the 2nd asked what she had said … I didn’t know, or at least I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly so I told him that she shouted, “Don’t forget to write” … he told me she hadn’t said that, then called across through the loud hailer and asked the docking master to allow the girl to use the hailer … The docking master passed the hailer to the young nurse who raised it to her lips and repeated her farewell … as clear as a bell her message resonated across the still water, I hope you both f’ken drown you pommie ba**ards … what could we say, there was no mistaking the message, obviously the girls weren’t impressed with our porkpies?

The departure was a giggle, at our expense, for a couple of days and then forgotten when we sailed for Geelong. Alehouse and I got to work with the wharfie’s loading frozen rabbit from the back of a Railway wagon to our ship … shore pay! It was just what we needed at that time; we worked with the wharfie’s for the three days we were in Geelong, on the third day we sailed around the corner to Melbourne’ station pier.
I remember there was a migrant ship on the other side of the wharf from us, it was full of young Italian men and they couldn’t wait to get ashore … I remember sharing a cab with a couple of them, one of whom spoke English, and he was telling me how excited he was to be in Australia … like me he’s probably a grandfather now with lots of little grandkids, and no doubt he still makes his own wine, or Grappa, Salami’s etc. for the whole family, that’s unlike me but then again unlike me he is probably very wealthy … those Italians and Greek migrants worked very hard and lived for the family.

Alehouse and I got into more than our fair share of trouble as the voyage progressed and we copped a three day logging in Melbourne but it was Port Alma, of all places where we really had a ball; for those who never got to Port Alma, it’s a meat port south of Rockhampton, in Queensland.
There’s nothing at the port apart from some sheds and billions of sand-flies, an old Queenslander house, the sort on stilts with veranda’s on all sides, that served as accommodation for the girls who came down from Rocky to serve the wharfie’s who also came down from Rockhampton with the girls, the girls came by railmotor and the wharfie’s in their special train … they stayed at the Port until the ship was loaded and departed.

We were at Port Alma for six days loading frozen beef and mutton and during that time we became very friendly with the girls, Thursday Islanders who lived in Rocky, we were like the proverbial Wombat that eats roots and leaves … every night when the girls knocked off we’d take some ale over to one of the carriages on the wharfie’s train and when we downed enough we played the old Scottish game of ”Plant the Sausage” … I got a feeling of how the “Bounty” mutineers must have felt when Bligh let them loose in Tahiti … all too soon we had to leave for Gladstone and then onto New Farm, Brisbane.

After our sojourn with the girls at Port Alma we had become reluctant sailor’s … memories of those tropical nights were being constantly replayed in our thoughts … it had been one of those magical times that you wanted to last forever … our brains had moved down to our centre of pleasure, we were beyond rational thought!
We had some great laughs in Brisbane, especially at the Grand Central Hotel that was in Queen Street, the main city street; it’s now known as The Grand Central Arcade, the pub as long since disappeared but it was thriving at that time and Alehouse, Sylvester and I took full advantage of the pleasures it offered.

After one particular night when I, in a drunken stupor, fell madly in lust with a young married lady; her husband, a member of the Royal Australian Navy, was away at sea and she assured me that their marriage was over, so I did my best to console her and help her over this rough patch … they say a standing prick has no conscience and I can certainly vouch for that … I was in like Flynn!
That night, when we were back onboard the ship and still pi**d Sylvester and I decided to return to Port Alma, Well! To Rockhampton anyway … packing a few things in our grips, and after a tarpaulin muster … we were low on cash so I got a five pound loan off Alehouse, which I repaid forty four years later, I also sold my beautiful Doeskin overcoat for another ten quid and we were off … the question was, “Where too?”

To ponder this question we returned to the Grand central, met up with the girls and told them we were jumping ship … The sailors wife suggested we go with her to her parents house, they lived in Norman Park, and Sylvester and I thought that would be a jolly good idea, so off we went. The girls father had a tarpaulin backed truck parked in the driveway and the girl told us camp in there, which we did; the following morning we met her mother, who gave us a meal, helped her daughter pack some gear because she wanted to come with us … by this time Sylvester and I had decided we were definitely going to Rockhampton and irresponsible me told the girl she could come to; when we arrived at Rocky the money was again running out, so I bought a ticket back to Brisbane for the girl and we saw her off on the train … Years later I heard that she and her husband got back together and had three kids … I hoped they lived happily ever after.

Sylvester and I were walking around Rockhampton wondering what we were going to do when who should we bump into but one of the TI girls from Port Alma; she phoned my old girlfriend Thyra Hornung, her father was Chinese, and Thyra asked her friend to take us over to her place. Thyra’s mother was most helpful and said we could stay there until we decided exactly what we wanted to do; we didn’t refuse and I didn’t feel any guilt as I bedded down with Thyra each night … I may have mentioned matrimony?

We stayed four or five days deciding what we were going to do … the money was almost gone so we had to make a move. Finally we decided we would become Boundary Riders, travelling the rabbit proof fence that stretched across the island/continent … we’d heard this was the favourite occupation of Merchant Seamen who jumped ship; Thyra’s brother, a giant of a man, told us to head out to the western town of Winton, so we made inquiries and discovered that we could take a train ride out there costing five pounds each … this would leave us with about five pound, enough to see us through until we saddled up our horses, tuckered up the saddle bags and headed out into the salt bush desert … we didn’t have a bloody clue … just a couple of pommie able seamen out to make our fortune, were we in for a f’ken shock?

Once we’d decided to go it wasn’t long before we boarded the train that would take us to our destiny, we had no idea what the future held in store and we weren’t particularly worried … we were young and full of the exuberance of youth, we knew we would survive … this was just a big adventure.

Roughly it was about 750 miles from Rockhampton to Winton so Sylvester (Real name Malcolm Hellens) and I settled down for the long trip, Thyra’s mother had made some sandwiches and we each had a bottle of water.
It was a diesel Train that ran on a wide gauge track for part of the way then the engine was changed to a steam engine, at that time rail lines in Australia had not been standardized, some states had a wide gauge and some narrow, so it wasn’t always possible to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ without changing engines from diesel to steam ... anyway we were on our way and between snoozes we just sat looking out the window at the monotonous desert landscape … I remember a young guy telling us how green it was since they’d had a drop of rain … to me it was just red soiled desert with a sprinkling of salt bush and Spinifex, it was the most arid country I’d ever seen … a million miles from the green, green grass of England.

I was just twenty two and Sylvester was about twenty, we had no idea what the town of Winton would be like, I imagined a small town with a shopping centre, a couple of cinemas and a few pubs … we were soon to find out.
It was night time, hardly any dusk it seemed to go from daylight to dark. After travelling for what seemed like forever we had pulled into a tiny station … it was just like the sort of place you would see in a cowboy movie and that’s what it reminded me of; we had to find a place to sleep. Luckily we were the last passengers off the train, in fact from memory I think there was only about three other passengers and they had been picked up by friends … fortunately for Sylvester and I there was a freight train laid up in a siding, sort of open backed wagons, so we decided to climb into one of these and get our heads down.

We got our first experience of a desert climate, during the day the sun is baking the earth but at night the temperature plunges, it wasn’t too bad when we first got in the back of the wagon … we had picked one that had a pile of collapsed cardboard boxes, so we lay on these, laughing and joking as we relived the adventure to date. Soon the temperature started to drop so we covered ourselves with the empty cartons but all to no avail, it was bloody freezing and we just prayed for sunrise which couldn’t come too soon. I remember Sylvester asking me why I was giggling and I just said, “If only our friends could see us now”, I must have been thinking about the lads on the ship but most likely I was think of the girl with gigantic breasts who was waiting for me back in Liverpool.

Daylight came as fast as the curtain darkness had fallen, a very brief twilight and the sun was high in the sky … it wasn’t too soon for us, the sun warmed us and our spirits rose.
We headed into town to suss the place out and what a town it was … it reminded me of the movie “High Noon”; all wooden buildings, wood sidewalks and bat wing doors on the pubs, the only brick building in the town was the North Gregory Hotel, another pub that had been built by the towns people … the main street and only street was extraordinary wide … we found out later that it had doubled as a landing strip for American war planes during the Second World War.

On the way into town we noticed this soup kitchen, probably intended for down but not yet out people like Sylvester and I.
We went in and ordered a bowl of soup each, I think it was Minestrone, it was filling and nourishing, full of bits of pasta and Balotti beans; it was the first substantial feed we’d enjoyed since leaving Rockhampton and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Once finished we went for a stroll down the main street and asked one of the local braves how you went about getting a job as a Boundary rider … he told us he didn’t know but suggested that we go over to the Stock Agents, Dalgety’s and ask them if they had any work for Jackaroo’s (Ranch hands)
Taking his advice we wandered across the wide dusty road to Dalgety’s office, sauntered inside and, doing my best impersonation of John Wayne, talking out of the side of my mouth I asked the clerk if he had any work for a couple of Jackaroo’s …I was wearing a light blue suit, with finger-tip draped jacket, pegged pants and one inch thick creped soled, suede shoes … as the clerk pondered my question he stared at me like I was something he’d just picked up on his shoe. “Can you ride a horse?” he asked a question to which we both answered, “No!”…he then told us there was no Station work unless you could ride a horse. That was it, our chance to be cowboys had just flown out the window but we weren’t dejected, we were confident enough to disregard our critical financial situation, we just sauntered back across the dusty street, through the swinging, bat-winged doors and propped ourselves against the bar in one of the pubs … we had a beer and took stock of the situation, deciding that our first priority was to find a warm place to sleep.

Sylvester suggested that we have a look at the Show Ground we’d passed on our way into town; he said it had a small grand-stand that we could probably sleep under. We wandered back to the Show Ground and sure enough there was a grand-stand that looked promising … we decided to get back to town, buy some food then make a camp under the stand. We bought a couple of pieces of steak, two small Vienna loaves and two pints of milk … we then set off back to the stand.
When we got into the Show-Ground it was just getting dark, we went around the back of the stand, which was boxed in, found an open door and slipped through. We were over the moon, this was fantastic, we could live here for weeks, and we felt our luck had taken a turn for the better … We were just about to see if we could get into the shower room when this big ba**ard pulled up in a Land Rover … he told us to collect our junk and go away, or words to that effect … he told us he was going for the law, so we’d better move. He didn’t need to tell us twice, we legged it and went back to the freezing cold of the railway wagon … what a blow! We spent a restless night trying to keep warm and get some shut eye and we were delighted when the sun started to rise in the heavens.
Before going back into town we found a piece of flat tin sheet, we built a small fire, threw the tin on top and fried the two pieces of steak … we then pulled the guts out of the small Vienna loaves and stuffed the steak inside … it was a wonderful meal washed down with a pint of milk … once our hunger was sated we headed back into the town to plan our next move.

We were sitting on the wooden side walk, our backs against the wall of the pub when we noticed this big Aboriginal, dressed in jodhpurs, wearing high heeled riding boots, a denim jacket and a large Akubra cowboy hat … crossing the street, he seemed to be heading straight for us, in fact he was. He paused before us and asked us to come into the pub for a beer … we said we had no money and he replied saying, “I didn’t ask you if you had any money, I asked you in for a drink”… not wanting a blue we accepted his invitation and were soon breasting the bar supping a couple of schooners.
It turned out that our benefactor was a drover who had been paid off because he had Ring-worm on his hands and was heading home to the town of Ayr, which was on the coast of North Queensland. After we related our plight he suggested we make our way to Ayr where we would find work in the sugar-cane industry … we agreed with him saying we would hitch a ride there but first we would have to get some cash.
This guys name was Danny-boy and he really was a benefactor, in fact he was the first Australian to help us … he was leaving on the train later in the afternoon, so he gave us his swag … a canvas ground sheet, a pillow and a couple of blankets … this time our luck really had changed; he also gave us seventeen shillings which helped swell our coffers. We saw Danny-boy off on the train, sharing a bottle of sweet sherry with him before he left and we promised to repay him when we got to Ayr … we then went to a spot he had told us about; there was a thermal spring there and someone had rigged up a shower. After a hot shower we set up the swag and had a best nights sleep since leaving Rockhampton.

When the sun was up we reluctantly crawled out of the swag, had another shower then headed back into town. We were both strolling along the wooden side walk, past the two pubs with the bat winged doors, intending to go to the butchers shop to get more steak, when we both became aware of the local sheriff pulling up alongside in the town’s only cop car. The passenger side window rolled down and he beckoned us over and leaned across so as to address us … He told us that he was aware we were in town looking for work and informed us that there was no work to be had … he said he wanted us out of town and told us to jump into the back seat of the patrol car. When we were settled he asked us if we had any gear, we told him we did and that it was hidden in the bush not far from the Show Ground … He then drove us there, told us to get our gear and then he dropped us outside the Show Ground and told us to stay there and he would organized a ride to the coast; Sylvester and I were slightly perplexed, we looked at each other and started to laugh … how lucky were we, a couple of ship deserters getting fixed up with a ride to the coast by the local cop; someone up there surely liked us.

Just after lunch a Gilbarco truck, that serviced and checked petrol station pumps, pulled up and the driver said the cop had asked him if he would give us a lift to the coast and he had agreed … he told us he would drop us off in Townsville which was roughly 800 miles east of where we were… Malcolm and I were delighted; once more our luck had come good.

Neither Sylvester nor I knew how to drive but we weren’t concerned, the young driver seemed confident enough and told us we would be in Townsville in about twenty hours, the roads were unsealed and you had to look-out for bulldust which was very fine dust that filled potholes and made them difficult to see, for that reason we would be pulling over in the evening as it was getting dark to camp until daylight when we would be off again; late afternoon we also had to beware of kangaroo’s on the road.

Big red Kangaroos can be well over six feet tall and if you hit one, even at a slow speed, they could wreck the vehicle. It is not uncommon for a Roo to go through a car window and seriously injure passengers and the driver; some drivers have been killed when involved in this type of accident. The worst time of the day is early morning and late afternoon as the sun is getting low on the horizon, the kangaroo’s jump out onto the road and freeze, especially if the headlights are on, they just stare at the vehicle and you have to be very lucky not to hit one.

After hearing all of this from the driver Sylvester and I became more attentive of where we were going but not attentive enough as we all failed to see a bulldust filled pothole that we hit at speed, how the driver managed to control the vehicle I will never know.
I was sitting in the middle and to this day I can still remember him singing out to me to pull on the handbrake, he didn’t have to tell me twice, I almost pulled it out of the floor of the truck.
Once we stopped the three of us just sat there, that was too bloody close for comfort, how the truck didn’t roll over I will never know.

Once over the initial shock we all piled out to survey the damage. Sylvester and I knew little about the mechanics of motor vehicles so when the driver said we had sheered a ‘U’ Bolt on the front axle and ripped out the hydraulic line that supplied the brakes; it meant nothing to us.

I asked the driver what we should do and he said the best thing to do right now is get out the swags and turn in on the side of the road; with a bit of luck another truck would come along and we could possibly get some help.
After the shock we boiled the Billy and had a mug of hot sweet tea, and then it was into the swag to await the morning?

It was a restless night, none of us got any real sleep, it could have been because the adrenalin rush we got from the accident, I do know we were lucky not to have been killed.
I remember thinking, as I was lying there waiting for sleep, it would have been on the conscience of the police sergeant had we been seriously injured, or even killed. He did us real favour by allowing us to leave, he could quite easily have arrested us but he didn’t, we were safe and no harm was done.

The driver had a big water container on the back of the truck, a must when travelling in the outback, we were able to have a wash down and the driver made some Damper with self raising flour, salt and finely chopped onion, it was all mixed with water to form a dough then placed in a cast iron camp oven that he buried in the ashes of the fire we had built. Soon we were sitting around the fire with pannikins (tin-mugs) of hot, sweet black tea and lump of onion Damper … I guess this was my first experience of bush life and I liked it; we were now ready to face an uncertain day.

Having a breakdown in the bush can have serious consequences, the golden rule is ‘never leave your vehicle’ once missed someone would come looking for you and if you remain with your vehicle they would find you; I have a lot more experience now and never take long trips for granted.
I always take extra fuel & water, a spare fan belt and emergency tucker, yet almost every year there is a story in the newspaper where someone has broken down and left their vehicle to find help only later to be found dead.
After we’d had our Damper and a cigarette the driver crawled under the front of the truck and soon wriggling out, he confirmed the ‘U’ bolt had sheered from the axle, it was all the same to Sylvester and I we didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

He went to the back of his truck and started rooting around in his big toolbox and like a magician he produced a short length of chain and a ‘D’ shackle, back under the truck he was grunting and uttering a few choice words then he emerged telling us he had made a temporary repair that might hold but one of us would have to sit holding the hand-brake just in case? It was going to be a real slow trip from this point on.

The 3 of us got back into the cab, I didn’t realize it at minute but I made the mistake of getting in before Sylvester, not only was I next to the driver I was also next to the handbrake; the driver pointed this out and told me to hang on to it if he and if I tell you to apply it you’d better move faster than a speeding bullet; he said if that chain slips we will lose all steering and with that he started the engine and gingerly moved ahead as I sat there hanging on to the hand brake awaiting further orders.

The driver was right about one thing it was a slow ride and a couple of times I had to pull on the hand brake, the driver would readjust the chain and off we would go again.
I was pi**d off for being stupid enough to get back in the cab before Sylvester. None of us had much sleep the previous night and I felt pretty shagged, I am
certain the driver must have felt the same but he never complained; it was a drive from hell for him but he just drove stoically. I was pi**d off because Sylvester was leaning against the cab door, snoring his head off and I was jealous but as usual nothing is really as bad as at its blackest moment, I said nothing even though I knew if I had asked him I’m sure he would have given me a spell hanging-on to the brake but I didn’t ask, so I got what I deserved.

It was well into the late afternoon when we arrived at a place called Charters Towers, the driver informed us that this was a head quarters of the Flying Doctor and a centre of education with many posh boarding schools and colleges catering for the children of wealthy station owners, the kids got an opportunity to experience the delights of civilization such as unlimited hot showers and plumbed lavatories, things they didn’t have on the farm, out there they relied on rain water tanks and bores, the lavatory was usually a dunny down the back away from the homestead and shared with snakes, spiders and green tree frogs.

Charters Towers was also the centre for the North Queensland ‘School of The Air’ from where lessons were broadcast via high-frequency radio to outlying Stations (Ranches). The teachers would communicate with the kids on HF Duplex radios, that allows one to talk over the top of another, at the start of lessons the teacher would bid the students “good morning” and the kids would all depress their microphone button at the same time and acknowledge the greeting, it’s just like being in a classroom but the students were miles apart, some more than a hundred miles away.

We had a meal at Charters Towers and by the time we left it was getting dark, the driver and I were sparking up a bit, he told us we would be in Townsville in about five hours and we were out of the desert, there would have been a lot more to see if it was still daylight, there was more lights and buildings as we drove along, an indication we were getting closer to civilization.

Around about midnight we were in Townsville, however it was pitch black and there was no moon. The place, as much as we could see, was an anticlimax, it seemed sparsely populated. After a while the driver stopped the truck and said, “Well guys this is where we part company, thanks for your help and I am sure you will find work in the Sugar Mills, the cane cutting season has just started and they’ll be looking for workers.” We thanked him and jumped down from the cab and as we bade him farewell the truck drove off into the darkness.

We had no idea where we were and once again we were down to our last few shillings, 10 bob at the most; we were on our own and had to find work as soon as possible and on top of this we were 80 miles north of Ayr where the sugar-mills were and what we hoped would be our salvation?

For now walked along the dark road, there were houses to the side but hard to see because it was so dark and there was no street lighting, in fact it was obviously quite late because there was no traffic.
We were both quite hungry and we joked about finding an apple tree … Stranger than fiction, suddenly we both saw what appeared to be an orange on a branch overhanging the road, we both tried to reach it but it was just a bit too high, so I told Sylvester to get up on my shoulders, which he did and got the fruit but turned out to be a bush lemon and inedible; as sour as a pregnant nuns face.

What a come down, we decided to have some sleep and we crossed the road which like most country roads, at that time, was unsealed but tentatively felt our way into the bush until we found a soft piece of ground where we laid out our swag, we were in the tropics so it wasn’t cold, and we were soon in a sleep of exhaustion.

We were really shattered and slept soundly only to be awoken in the morning by the squawking of seagulls. We both sat up at the same time only to discover we had setup our swag up on the local rubbish tip.
We needed to find someplace where we could get cleaned up, or we’d have no chance of getting a lift. We eventually found a Garage and Roadhouse where we were able to have a shower and tidy ourselves up a bit; we also had a meal, a smoke and a good talk … It was imperative that we find work today, or at the latest tomorrow, our situation was now critical.

It was still mid morning, we’d had a shower and something to eat and we decided to get on the road and hitch a ride to Ayr which was only 80 mile south of where we were in Townsville. Once out on the road we didn’t have wait very long before semi-trailer pulled up for us, the driver told us to throw our swag behind the prime-mover; soon we were up in the cab rolling south towards Ayr.

The driver, a typical laconic Queenslander, was chatting away to us, giving advice, he said he would drop us off at a little town called Brandon, it wasn’t far from Ayr and it was the home of the Pioneer Sugar Mill where we would probably get a job.

His chatter lifted our spirits and gave us cause for optimism.
Rolling along listening to his description of the places we were passing through the time just flew away and just before midday we arrived at Brandon; we thanked our new friend for his assistance, jumped down from the cab, retrieved the swag and what bit of gear we had and the semi-trailer moved away with a musical warble of its hooter.

Sylvester and I were now brimming with confidence, we felt today was the day we would get a job.
Dropping the swag and suitcase beside us we stood waiting for another ride into Ayr and we didn’t have to wait very long.
A big black Wolsey rolled majestically around the corner and pulled over directly in front of myself and Sylvester.

The driver, in a white shirt and tie, rolled down the window and asked us if we were looking for graft?
Seeing the look of uncertainty on our faces he repeated the question only this time he asked if we were looking for work to which we enthusiastically replied that we were, hearing that he told us to throw our ports in the boot and jump in the car. Once we were in the vehicle he told us his name was George and the general manager of the Pioneer Sugar Mill, he went on to say he would drop us at the Mill office where they would sign us on and arrange accommodation in the Barracks.
This was incredulous; Sylvester and I had to pinch ourselves to be sure we weren’t dreaming. 2 scouses from class conscious Britain picked up from the side of the road by the general manager of the Pioneer Sugar Mill, named George, and given not only a job put accommodation as well.
I could hardly believe it; he was so down to earth, a characteristic we would find amongst all the Aussie bosses, they didn’t dwell on ceremony and they called a spade a spade or a fucken shovel.

George Sutherland the GM of Pioneer Sugar Mill dropped Sylvester and I at the mill office where we were signed on as yard labourers and told to report Gordon Tuffin at 0700 Hrs the following morning.

A young fellow from the office was assigned the job of showing us around and introducing us to the catering staff in the dining room, we were told we would be accommodated over night in the Old Barracks, and then tomorrow we would be posted to more permanent accommodation in the New Barracks.

Sylvester and I were walking around in a state of shock and euphoria all at the same time, all of our worries had evaporated, we were once again masters of our own destiny and life was grand!

We went to the old Barracks to inspect the setup, as far as we were concerned it was a palace but we would think differently come nightfall.
It was then on to dining-room where we met staff, all female, matronly types with the exception of a young thing named Sandie who was about nineteen; a nice age seeing as Sylvester was only 19 and I was 22; little did I realize at the time but I would get to know Sandie intimately, very intimately in about a week’s time.

Lunch had finished but someone from the office had phoned and asked them to put something aside for two new chums and so it was that we had our first meal at the Pioneer Sugar Mill barracks, and what a meal it was. Two courses, a meat dish and sweets and I can honestly say it was the nicest fare I’d had anywhere away from home. The main evening meal, Dinner was a banquet, an entrée, main course and sweets; it wasn’t just that, we actually had a choice of main course and sweets followed on with cake and tea that you could take away to your room. It was absolutely unbelievable the way our situation had changed in just over a week since we’d jumped the Adelaide Star; even then I knew it was the best move I’d ever made.

After dinner we met many of the guys living at the barracks, two of them stand out in my memories, Taffy Chalk, another ship deserter and a Welshman, he told us he was bosun on a Baron boat and jumped in Townsville, he was picked up and did twenty eight days in Sturt Creek prison, once released he was free to remain in Australia.
At that time all Australian’s were British subjects and therefore if you were British you were accepted in Australia but that only applied if you over 21 years old; I was alright but that bit of news didn’t fare too well with Sylvester who not yet turned twenty?
The other character who impressed both Sylvester and I was an Irishman name Gerry Ward. I remember because he was a good guy, he made us really welcome and was later to become a good friend of Sylvester’s.

Gerry ironed out all the little wrinkles regarding life in the barracks, he told us what was acceptable and what wasn’t but more importantly he went guarantor for both of us at the local Menswear Shop, we were able to get some work clothes and a good set of go-ashore’s; that made a tremendous difference for us seeing as we hadn’t brought any gear with us. The blue Teddy-Boy suit I had was given to Danny Boy in payment for the help he had given us but more about that later.

The first night in the old barracks was hell, there was only one other resident and he was an old character, a typical Aussie- bushman, he showed us were the shower and toilets where and that was the last we saw of him other than at meal times.
Sylvester and I were ready for sleep when we got to the room we were sharing, there was two bunks with mattress’s but that was all, fortunately we had a couple of blankets in the swag, we took one each, dragged the mattress’s onto the deck and crashed.

If we were seeking sleep the mosquitoes had other ideas. I knew about gnats and the occasional mozzie but this was different, I was later to discover that this particular species were known as Scots Greys, what’s more they were as big as sparrows and they carried lanterns so they could find you. The itch from the bite was bad enough but the bloody noise they made when they attacked was soul destroying.
We pulled our blanket over our head and body but it was all to no avail, they just kept coming and biting. It was like the Nazi blitz all over again and the mosquitoes were the dive bombers with the screeching siren; I will never forget that first night in the old barracks, it shook my reverie to the core. We got no sleep that night.

The following morning we showered, our bodies were covered in mosquito bites that we were advised to rub with mentholated spirit that took the itch out of them. Once we had done that we went to the dining-hall for breakfast and what a gastronomic fantasy that was, choice of cereal, eggs to order, bacon, sausage, steak and even fish. It was a dream for 2 lads who had come from a ship where everyone was rationed. After breakfast we went to find Gordon Tuffin, the yard boss; we were going to work and we were delighted.

Gordon was okay; he told us to call him Gordon and gave us each a long handled shovel called a banjo, then marked out a rectangle on the ground and told us to dig it out to a depth of four feet.
It was pretty soft digging so we were soon down at a depth where we had to toss the spoil away from the hole. Gordon watched us for a while and said it was obvious we knew nothing about labouring and proceeded to demonstrate how to use a banjo-shovel. He started digging and using his thigh as a fulcrum he bore down on the long handle and with a fluid action tossed the spoil out of the hole.

After watching the action for a minute Sylvester and I got back in the hole and started aping Gordon, he was delighted at our progress and left us to it. When he was out of sight we both cracked up, now we’d seen it all, being tutored in how to be a Labourer… Two jolly sailor boys being brought back to earth!

And so the job continued; digging holes, filling holes and other menial tasks it was easy work, good pay and the tucker was the best we’d ever had.
Sleeping in the new barracks was whole new experience it was like a 5star hotel and it was mosquito proof, we had good blankets and sheets but we still shared a cabin, Sylvester was lucky, he shared with Gerry Ward.
I was in with a guy from London, a real weird character; apparently he had worked in a morgue in England and got involved in post-mortems. He used to tell me how to remove the top of a skull and weigh the brain as if I wanted to know?
He was a bit eccentric and a bit of a worry, I use to read a book at night and ignore him; on the other hand Sylvester and Gerry got on famously.

One day, when we turned to, Gordon Tuffin said he had a permanent job for me.
He took me up to the Cane Crusher, where the little rail trucks tipped the cane to be crushed, there he pointed to a pit between the rails and told me to get in, then gave me a pot of grease and a flat scraper and showed me how to pack the grease boxes on each of the wheels on the little trucks; it was as boring as all hell and I just knew I wouldn’t be doing this for too long.

We were paid fortnightly, Sylvester and I didn’t bother going into town. The town was Ayr and there was a special bus service from Mill every Saturday and Sunday night but we stayed home until such time that we had enough money to pay off our debt to the menswear shop, when that was done we let our hair down.

It was a Saturday night, we showered and shaved and put on our Sunday best, then with Taffy Chalk, Gerry Ward and the rest of the guys we got on the bus to town, we were like a couple kids off to see Santa-Clause.
It was about fifteen minute run into the town and as we stepped down off the bus I could hardly believe my eyes, standing there in a royal blue Teddy-Boy suit was none other than our friend Buddy, he was sight for sore eyes and Sylvester and I were delighted; Buddy had his wife with him; she was in a cheap cotton frock and holding a little piccaninny.
God only knows what he was doing at the bus stop, we never did find out, he might even have been there every Saturday night in the hope that we had found work at the Mill and would eventually be coming into town.
It was so good to see him and we both gave him a couple of quid, and not for the last time, he was there at the bus stop waiting for us every Saturday night after that and we never begrudged him a penny, he was our saviour.

We had some great Saturday nights in Ayr but my job was a hole in the ground, or a pit and I wanted adventure so when a Aussie guy by the name of Reg Boyle said he was going Mackay, where they were building a huge Sugar Terminal on the wharf. Reg said we could make some real money there, the silver-tongued devil got me in, so I decided to go with him.
I’d saved a few hundred pounds working at Pioneer and the plan was that Reg and I would hitch-hike down to Mackay, which was just over five hundred mile south, first of all I had to give notice and do the right thing, I didn’t want to burn any bridges, once that was done we were on our way.

We had no problem getting rides and having a decent bank book helped a lot. I recall sitting at the side of the road at one stage, traffic was quiet so to kill time we set up a target and started taking pot-shots at it with little pebbles.
Reg hit the target and went over to set it up again, I was sitting there waiting for him to finish. He sort stood up facing me with a strange look on his face and very quietly he told me to remain still, I crapped myself, something wasn’t right, suddenly Reg shouted get over here as fast as you can. He didn’t have to tell me twice, I was like a shot out of a gun and standing next to him I looked to where he was pointing and saw the biggest snake I’d ever seen. That’s a king brown said Reg, as calm as he could, one bite from that and you would be at deaths door; he then went on to tell me that when he first saw the snake it was just passing behind me … I never sat at the side of the side of the road again.

Never the less jumping ship in Australia was the best move I’d ever made!

Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 12 Oct 2012 11:05 
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Hi Tony,
Just finished reading your post,it was great! I could almost hear you telling the tale,you have a wonderful way with words,

Post Number:#3  PostPosted: 12 Oct 2012 17:02 
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that is a great read Tony, thanks.

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Post Number:#4  PostPosted: 13 Oct 2012 01:44 
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hi tony,i came very close to jumping ship in of all places port piri,at the time i was on the ashburton.late 1955.of course there was a sheila involved ,but i chickend out,i did live in fremantle with my wife and 3 kids ,we were ten pound poms,we were there 1967 to 73.the wife was so homesick we went back to merseyside but this time 5 kids,[IT WAS THE HEAT] anyway we all had a good meet up in liverpool when you went over from ozzie and i came over from canada. good too see you back on the sailors home site. all the best ,liverbob

Post Number:#5  PostPosted: 13 Oct 2012 06:25 
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Thank you Tony for that tale and could imagine it all the way through. Our paths seem to have crossed on a number of things but at different times. I to was on the Adelaide Star but did not jump of that one it the next one Southland Star that I jumped of. Was a bit more experienced with it as well as it was my third time at staying out here. Like yourself glad I did it. Only had the clothes I stood up in when I did it as well and like yourself found people really helpful out here and managed to get on my feet. Can not thank the Painters and Dockers enough in Melbourne as it was them that pulled me out of the hole I dug for myself. Worse case was working at UDL in Port Melbourne and staying at the Pier Hotel. Working at a spirits bottling place and living in a pub ended up with a touch of a drinking problem. Can to detract from you informative tale and once again thanks for that.

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Post Number:#6  PostPosted: 13 Oct 2012 07:50 
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Great story Tony cant wait for some more :thumbsupp: :thumbsupp:
I think we all had a few problems Les, with the old amber nectar. but we get drunk, we fall over, we get up again NO Problems. :thumbsupp: :thumbsupp:

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