Jim Greig’s Story 31 May 2005
Exactly 54 years ago I and eight young workmen arrived at North Shore. We were on a two year contract to build Kings Wharf – now Lascelles Wharf.
We set up camp in a paddock behind the phosphate works in Walchs Road which consisted of four tents – three to sleep in and one as a kitchen and dining room and waited seven weeks for J C Taylor’s to build us a wooden hut camp.
We were all broke or near to it – I had three shillings and four pence after six weeks on the “Cameronia”. We all got a sub of three pounds and spent the rest of the first day in the Corio Hotel and got pissed. It was a wet and miserable winter and we all cursed the ads we had been told about sunny Australia. Corio Bay was the coldest place I had ever been and it was not long until I was in Isings buying my first pair of long johns. As a matter of interest beer was seven pence a glass and a pot was ten pence.
We had a bit of a battle setting up our piling frame. It was a 100 ft steel steam driven frame and weighed 30 tons and nobody had a crane in those days but we got there in the end.
About two weeks later we were up at Ted Smith’s Post Office collecting our mail and Mrs Smith asked us what we thought of Australia. “Not much” was the answer. We worked to 5.30 pm and the pub shut at 6.00 pm. She arranged with Jack Segar of the Caledonian Hotel for us to go there in the evenings – and kick the back tin gate and call out “Scottie”. We had some great nights there.
Five of the original nine married Geelong girls and stayed in Geelong and brought up families – of the others one returned to Scotland, one went to New Zealand and unfortunately got electrocuted in a crane accident and one got drowned at Lascelles Wharf while leaving a party aboard one of the phosphate ships. I was 22 and the youngest of the nine that arrived on 31 May 1951. All of them have since died.
I returned to Scotland when the job finished with Thelma and my six month old son and worked there for almost a year before returning to Australia.
I only had a few days notice when leaving in 1951 and it was quite a shock for my Mum and Dad. I said, “ta-ta, see you in two years”. It was a promise I kept although six months late but they were delighted to meet Thelma and their first grandchild.
The original workmates who came to North Shore with me were:
Sandy Walker – last heard of in Traralgon
Bob Bruce – married in Geelong – two sons
John Campbell – married in Geelong – two sons, three daughters
John Ritchie – returned to Scotland after two years
Leo Flanagan – married in Geelong – no children
Peter Robson – married in Geelong – one son, four daughters
Walter Drisco – last heard of in WA (1953)
Rick Ginty – died in N.Z. electrocuted in crane.
Some facts on Kings Wharf.
It was approximately 1000 ft long with two approaches. There were 1100 piles – the piles were turpentine trees from New South Wales. They varied in length from 70 ft to 90 ft. The 90 ft piles were needed on the bay side of the wharf. They came by rail and were unloaded in a paddock opposite “Super Cheap” which is now Ford’s panel shop.
The Melbourne Road was a single highway and a police escort was required with Blakiston’s trucks to get the 90 ft piles around the North Shore Road corner.
The piling frame was 35 tons and close to 100 ft tall with a 10 ton steam hammer – the first of its kind in Australia. It was not a drop hammer. It sat on top of the pile and lifted itself up 4 ft and dropped every few seconds. Most days we drove 4-6 piles a day.
It was a big job getting them out there as they were heavier than water and would not float. Oil drums had to be tied to them.
Looking back now I realise it was a good time to come to Australia. It was a much better place than it is today as far as work is concerned. We had a good time and one of the highlights of the week was our trip to the “Cally” on a Saturday night and the last bus home. It was happy times then and no violence or trouble. Leo Flanagan would give us his monologue of Dan McGrue. We would then go through a medley of Scotch and Irish songs finishing off with “On Top of Old Smokey”. The last bus leaving from George Hooper’s corner in Gheringhap Street became very popular because of our sing song with many of the picture goers waiting to get on it and join in the fun.
It was the good times and Australia was a better place than it is today.
The firm that had the contract and brought us to Australia was JOHN HOWARD & company, LONDON.