Sixty years ago this morning – it is 7am in Toronto, so say just over sixty years and twelve hours ago – our parents dragged my sister Elizabeth and I up on deck to stare into the (June) darkness at a flame. The flame was the Kwinana Flare, the flare or waste gases from the Kwinana oil refinery south of Fremantle. After that we were bundled sleepily back into bed. My parents were excited; we were not!
Later that Sunday morning the SS New Australia nudged into the wharf on the south side of Fremantle Harbour. In the drizzling rain a lone bagpiper wailed his way up and down the wharf outside the crude custom shed. My dad took one look and said to my mother “Let’s go back”.
I’m so glad that they didn’t.
Around ten o’clock a chap named “Robbie Robinson” came on board accompanied by a lady, and we were delivered into the hands of the lady who held our hands as my sister and I walked down the gangway to the shore.
I recall stepping onto the shore, but not being filled with any great emotion. I do remember that I was babbling on about how hot it was when we passed through the Red Sea.
My parents arrived dock-side after identifying our baggage. We were passed through customs and then driven in a car to the Point Walter Migrant Hostel where, it turned out, we were to stay for two days and nights.
I can’t recall that we went to church that morning, but I know that we went to church that night in Mosman Park. I can remember too my stubborn dad refusing the offer of a lift home, because I remember standing in the dark (with my family!) on a wind-swept street (June, Wintertime) in Fremantle, waiting for the bus for the second leg of our public transit trip back to the Point Walter hostel.
Perth in those days did not have a good public transit system, and this was a Sunday night, not peak-hour weekday schedules.
We all must have been over-exhausted and the more so because of my stubborn father. I often say, but only partly in jest, that my mother was happily married for ten years, but that the next forty weren’t so good for her.