I was born in August 1942 in Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. I was the third of four children: Nancy who was born in 1933, Harry in 1935 and then there was a long gap to me and finally Mavis who was born in 1944.
My parents were William and Margaret. William was eight years older than my mother; he had been born in 1903 and she in 1911. They gave me my name because it was a family surname on my father’s side.
Our family lived near the big ferry terminal in Larne and we were good friends with the Ramsey family who migrated to Australia in the late 1940s. Before they left John Ramsey sold his milk round business to my father. The Ramseys sent back messages of how much better life was in Australia and when they offered to sponsor us my parents decided to become ‘£10 Poms’ and in 1950 we set sail from Glasgow aboard the ‘Cameronia’ on the long trip to Melbourne. I can remember the tearful farewells when a big Humber Snipe taxi arrived to take us to the ferry.
On the ship we were separated. I was in one cabin with Mum and my sisters and Dad and Harry shared another cabin with some other men.
All on board were migrants heading for a new land.
Life on board was an adventure for a nine year old boy. We were escorted through the Suez Canal by a British warship and had our first time ashore at Aden. Our next stops were in Colombo and Fremantle and then it was on to Station Pier in Port Melbourne where we arrived in February 1951 and were met by the Ramseys. Because we were sponsored we did not have to go to a hostel and we set up home in a shed at the back of a house in Werribee that was rented by the Ramseys.
I remember waking up there on my first morning in Australia to see the sun shining. I was so excited that I immediately wanted to run outside to play. A less pleasant experience awaited me when I came in to have breakfast. In Ireland I had been used to covering my toast with a thick layer of chocolate spread and so I confidently dipped my knife into a jar of a dark sticky substance to cover my toast. However I quickly realised that it tasted nothing like chocolate. That first mouthful gave me such a shock that it took me 20 years before I ever tried to eat Vegemite again.
Dad worked at Carters, a big poultry farm, and the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works sewerage farm and it didn’t take him long to realise he was no longer in Ireland – there were snakes in Australia, and lots of them! He was amazed by one of his fellow workers whose trick was to grab snakes by the tail and then crack them like a whip. He never tried that trick himself.
After a few months Mum and Dad decided to make the move to Geelong where there were more employment opportunities. They both got jobs at International Harvester – Dad on the assembly line and Mum as an office cleaner – and rented a home from Roger and Myrtle Hall in The Esplanade. My parents and the Ramseys bought two blocks of land in Pine Avenue from the Halls. The adjoining blocks both backed on to the Halls’ properties in The Esplanade.
Dad and John Ramsey started building their homes after work each day and at the weekends and when they reached a liveable stage we moved in. The same set of plans was used for both homes but they were built as mirror images. When we left The Esplanade house, relatives of the Halls, the Hawker family, moved into the home we’d vacated.
I soon made friends with the local boys of my age. Some of them were Ian Robinson, Barry Kapolise, Jim Sillitoe and Wisnom Nelson. Wisnom was the only son of Bert and Beck Nelson, an Irish couple who were related to Bill Nelson who lived at 3 Phosphate Road. Bert was a security man at Fords and Beck worked in the perfumes department at Myer in Geelong. They moved from their home near the shop in Seabeach Parade up to a house in Spruhan Avenue, Norlane.
In the evenings when I came home from playing with my mates Dad would knock off his building activity and ask us what we wanted for tea. I remember that tinned fruit was a very regular dessert. Dad had to be the cook because Mum started her office cleaning at the Harvester at about four o’clock.
I was enrolled at North Geelong State School where the head teacher was Mr Phillips, known by the kids as “Pop” Phillips. We travelled to North Geelong on the Bender’s “army” bus.
About this time Harry had become an apprentice electrician and Nancy was working as a stenographer in Geelong. She met and fell in love with an Irishman named Paddy Welsh. They married and moved to Wellington in New Zealand. Nancy is still living there but sadly both her husband and son have since died.
I graduated from North Geelong to be among the first intake of students at West Geelong Technical School. A couple of years later Mavis was among the first girls to be admitted to West Tech and she went right through the year levels and later became an industrial chemist and then a teacher. Mavis married Ray Howe in Geelong and their children are Danielle and Derek. They now (2011) live in Grovedale.
When I left school I started an apprenticeship with Belcher’s In Geelong where my boss was Alf Farrell, the son of the North Shore postmistress. We didn’t get along and I was also unhappy because I was required to work on Saturdays which interfered with my opportunities to play footy. I played cricket with the North Shore Presbyterian team but my main love was footy and I first started playing for the Norlane Under 15 team and we won a premiership. When North Shore started an Under 18 team I managed to get a clearance and played under Basil Gamble’s coaching. Basil also got me a job on the bagging floor at the Phossie. It was heavy, boring work and I was glad to find a job with Birmid Auto in the new industrial estate west of Seaforth Parade. I became a laboratory assistant there and improved my qualifications over two years by travelling to study at night at RMIT in Melbourne. I was then, in 1963, offered a pay increase to £25 to work in the laboratory at International Harvester.
At the Harvester my paymaster was Ron Sudden who is now my neighbour in Matthews Street, Corio.
During this time the Ramseys shared a winning Tatts ticket with Geoff Barker who boarded with Bob Ingles at 5 Phosphate Road. The Tatts first prize was £10,000, a huge sum in those days. The Ramseys sold up and moved out and we did not hear from them again.
Harry married Marie Goggin, whose brothers were all very good footballers, and they had Mark and Suzanne. Mark was a successful athlete, running second in the Stawell Gift. He is now manager of the Norlane Aquatic Centre.
In 1965 I married Marion Sykes who lived in a house in North Geelong that backed onto the railway line. All of those houses were demolished to allow for the widening of Melbourne Road. We had three children: Sharon, Kristen and Marcus.
Business at the Harvester was going badly by the start of the 1980s and many people were taking redundancies. I applied but was told that my work was still needed so I was left high and dry when the company went into liquidation in 1983. I did eventually get some money from the receiver in dribs and drabs over the years but in 1983 I was an unemployed 40 year old and, with the economic recession at that time, I couldn’t find a job. This stressful situation contributed to the failure of my marriage and Marion and I divorced in 1984.
The corner turned for me when I bought a run-down concrete testing business that I managed to transform into a successful operation, running it until I retired in 2002.
After getting back on my feet financially I bought a house I’d always admired, the Phossie manager’s residence on the corner of The Esplanade and Phosphate Road, but have since moved on.
Harry and I played footy for North Shore for many years and although we usually reached the finals we never played in a premiership team. After I retired Gordon Hynes joined North Shore as playing coach and the club entered a golden age of success. I became Chairman of Selectors and enjoyed immensely working with Gordon to establish North Shore as the pre-eminent team in the Geelong Football League.
In 1999 I married Margo Frost (Garrity), who had been born in Glasgow and came to Australia in 1976. Every second year Margo and I buy around the world air tickets and stay with her sister in Glasgow and my cousins in Larne before returning home via America. Those trips have been highlights in our retirement.
Looking back I am grateful for my parents’ decision to bring us to Australia and for all the hard work they put in to provide for us until we were independent. My Dad could be hard – I remember him once giving me a whack on the backside because I’d played footy on my way home from Sunday School (to his way of thinking you were expected to respect the Sabbath Day) – but he had a good Irish sense of humour.
Sadly his hard work took its toll on his health and he died in 1972 at the age of 69. Mum lived until 2000.
My children have provided me with four wonderful grandchildren.
Sharon has Brittany and lives in Breakwater; Kristen and her husband live in Los Angeles and have a daughter, Lola. Marcus and Rebecca have Lexie and Fletcher and live in Wallington.