Stretford, Manchester, England
Tilbury Docks, London, England on 6 February 1955
Sydney on 14 March 1955
Fairbridge Farm School village & farm, Molong, NSW (child migrant scheme near Orange) for eight years
Boarding house, Dulwich Hill, Sydney
Fairbridge Farm agricultural/domestic trainee
Dental clerk, leather trade apprentice, bus conductor and driver, fibre glass moulder, labourer, postal worker, line marking business, prison officer (Sydney); stationhand near Nyngan (north-west NSW); coal and steel industry (Illawarra region, NSW); army conscript; swagman; truck/coach driver for Flemings, Caltex and Pioneer.
I was born in Kendal [in England's Lake District]. At six months, I moved with my mother to Stretford in Manchester. Dad was a labourer and things were tough. It was after the war and there were rations. There were quite a few of us; I have eight siblings. It never occurred to us we were poor because everybody else was. I tell people we were as poor as church mice. We were that poor the church mice moved out, ’cause there was nothing for them to eat either!
My parents did break up and I ended up in children’s homes. It never bothered us. They were terrific – one overlooked a park. You didn’t have to do anything. Meals were already there. Syd and Graham, my half-brothers, went to another home. My parents got together again and we ended up in the same little house. Then [with] Stewart, the four of us ended up coming to Australia.
Enid Knight, the social worker, visited the family and told them about Fairbridge [Farm in Australia]. Fairbridge Society sent my parents some promotional material saying how great [it] was. It looked so good. They were things we couldn’t possibly have got in Manchester. The education, it was up on a farm, plenty of clothes, plenty of food.
We had to do formal tests for the Fairbridge Society. They asked us to draw a picture of our house to show we did have some co-ordination. [The house] is still there today. It never left my mind. I’ve still got an affection for it.
Syd was ten; Graham, nine; me, eight; and Stewart, four. We were quite excited because we were going on a boat. We were a bit of envy in the street! One thing my mother was told – she repeated it to us when we left – was that if we didn’t like it in two years we could come back. She does say that in her letters.
My parents went to the train [station] in Manchester and Enid Knight took us to London, then Knockholt, the Fairbridge Reception Centre [in Kent]. It was a very large manor house and still exists today. We were looked after by Matron Guyler who treated us well. Heaps of food – it was the sort of food my parents could never have afforded. Every day we had TV which was something we only saw in the shops. I’d never seen so many clothes in my life. But most of those clothes were later taken off us.
We were there from 12 December 1954 until 6 February 1955 when we got on the SS Strathnaver [from] Tilbury and sailed to Australia. There were 22 in the party [and] we had four escorts to look after us. We used to do an hour school every morning.
Loved the journey. We couldn’t believe the ship, it was huge. I started to think how far were we going from England [and] nearly everyone was seasick in the Bay of Biscay.
The first [stop] was Port Said – little boats came alongside. Men were selling from them while the ship travelled up the Suez Canal. It was the first time I saw a rifle. They had soldiers on the boat, armed, to keep anyone from getting on. We weren’t allowed to get off because we didn’t have a passport.
A magician came on called the ‘Gilli Gilli Man’. There was one trick that fascinated me. He had an egg and he held it in his hand, splattered it on the deck, and when we looked at his hand there was a chicken there. The silly things you remember! You got things like this all the time. You were never lacking something to do.
We did visit Fremantle, Adelaide and Melbourne – we went to all the zoos! Everything was terrific and people looked after us. That was our final tea party before we got off in Sydney. When we arrived we were introduced to Woods [the principal] and other people from Fairbridge. As soon as I saw Woods I had an awful feeling. We had to have a medical in Sydney. Graham didn’t want to take his trousers off. He said, “No, I want my own doctor.” He took off, Woods got hold of him, took his belt off and flogged him. On a front lawn in public. That was our introduction to Fairbridge, Molong on 14 March 1955.
We got on the train, the Forbes Mail. It got into Molong very early in the morning, it was just light when we arrived. Graham got a walloping on the train off Mrs Woods because he didn’t want to sleep in the luggage rack. Graham was the bright one in the family and it just didn’t seem right. We weren’t in a position to do anything about it. Things were starting to look crook. I was frightened. “I’d better keep my mouth shut” – that was what was going through my head.
We got off the train at Molong. We got on this bus which is now in a museum. Should have been in a museum then!
When we got to Fairbridge, things got worse. They split us all up. I was sent to Blue Cottage. My cottage mother was Da Freitas. I can still remember her opening the door. She had one of those voices that cut you in half. She was the most sadistic person I’ve ever come across.
I wasn’t there for very long. I contracted acute rhematic fever. Da Freitas reckoned I was malingering [although] it reached the stage I couldn’t walk. She used to belt me with a stick to move faster to the hospital at Fairbridge. I went to Molong Hospital for a few months and [had] the best birthday of my life. All the nurses brought me presents. I was treated ever so well.
When they told me I had to move back to Fairbridge, I bawled my eyes out. My heart sunk when we pulled up at Blue Cottage. I absolutely loathed it. Da Freitas would belt the living daylights out of you with a riding crop on the bare backside. And it happened to everybody, it wasn’t just me.
Everyone knew about the floggings. The principal used to give a public flogging. You used to cop it off him on the stage in front of the whole school in the dining hall which was highly illegal.
It was very regimented. To a certain degree it’s got to be that way, I can understand that, [but] it was the type of work you did. It was chores around the garden, used to have Saturday muster in the morning – all sorts of cleaning around the village. Any age, from four years old upwards.
[The] primary school was on the farm site itself. Few children were from outside Fairbridge [and] we went to school in bare feet. I could hardly read or write. Most teachers were good to us. Miss Boughton taught kindergarten, first class, second class, third class. There would have been about 40 kids. How could she have possibly taught those kids and grades? It just wasn’t possible. I came out of primary school into high school with very little education. I ended up in a class known as “General Activity”. The biggest part of that class was from Fairbridge Primary School.
I saw [my brothers] at school. I couldn’t read much so when letters arrived from Mum, Syd would read them to us. We got those on a regular basis. After time, one of us wrote back, said we hated it and wanted to come back.
At one point she said she wanted us back but then that was the end of the communication. It stopped all of a sudden. We thought she dumped us like a dirty rag unaware the letters were being taken away. We didn’t know why [then] but I found this out about ten years ago when [I saw] the files and correspondence between Woods and the director of Fairbridge in London.
All our mail was opened. We were never allowed to post a letter sealed up. We were treated worse than prisoners; even prisoners don’t get their mail read these days, at least they can ring their families. We weren’t even allowed to touch the phone.
I started as a [farm] trainee when I was 14. You used to get a shilling a week until you’re 16, then two shillings as pocket money. When you got paid one shilling, another shilling went into your bank account. We did a number of jobs and you used to change them every month. [At] the dairy you work seven days a week. You started at three in the morning to get the cows in, do the milking, have your breakfast at seven for an hour, back up the diary again, and continue cleaning up – the pigs and calves have to be fed. Then two days a week you slaughter the sheep for the village, between 10 and 14 sheep. Plus the slaughterhouse had to be scalded (??), the milking machines had to be pulled apart completely.
I run away from the farm school in 1963 [when] I was 16. Once I reached 17, I would have been sent to work on a farm and I didn’t want that to happen. I’d had enough at that stage. Australia and Fairbridge are worlds apart. People were so good to me, there was no lack of work. I could barely read or write when I left Fairbridge [and] it restricted you, [but] it was never a worry until later on [when] I needed to fill in application forms.
So I run off to Sydney and met a former Fairbridge fella. He got me a little boarding house in Dulwich Hill to hide me away. His mother found out and the police came round looking. I wasn’t using the name ‘Bayliff’ and got myself a job as a clerk in the big dental hospital near Central Station in spite of my lack of education. When I think of it, the dentist probably fancied me because I was cute!
A few weeks later, a fella I met on the bus got me a job at Ford Sherrington in Surry Hills as an apprentice in the leather trade. I was there for a few months and loved my job. The police almost caught up with me and I was in Marrickville by then. Once I knew they were close I did what I didn’t ever want to do: I got myself a job in the bush to be out of the way.
I worked on a property 60 miles from Nyngan. I had all the experience from Fairbridge. I was a stationhand and used to sleep in the shearer’s quarters. Fairbridge caught up with me there, believe it or not, because I was using my real name again. They didn’t come after me though – it was too late by then.
I run into Syd in Nyngan! I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years. He and two Fairbridge fellas were going back to England. We were going to Perth [to] jump on a ship – gosh, we must have been naïve – [as] stowaways! Syd had a 1938 Chevy which broke down on the Nullabor Plains. We waited four days for a hitch [and] got to the Arcadia in Perth [but] we couldn’t get near the darn boat.
Syd and I hitchhiked back to Sydney. It took us a couple of weeks. Because of our rural background we had no trouble getting a job in the coal mines in Mount Kembla [in the Illawarra]. It was all horse-drawn, there was no mechanisation. I hated it. Left there and me and Bobby [from Fairbridge] hit the track as swagmen.
I eventually came back to Wollongong and got a job at the steelworks, then moved to Sydney as a bus conductor. It was good money. I lived at Petersham in a little bedsit with another Fairbridge bloke. Then I did fibre glass moulding which I enjoyed. Syd was working there.
Then I got called up. 28 September 1966, I went to the army. Hated it. Back again in an institution, wasn’t I? It was like being in Fairbridge all over again. Graham and another Fairbridge fella, Kenny, did recruit training with me for about 10 months. Kenny and I played up so we ended up in infantry. Rifle fodder. I hated it. It wore me out. I didn’t like being told what to do.
We went over in July 1967 to Vietnam. I was there during the Tet Offensive in February 1968 – the big push from the Viet Cong in the north. I hated being there, I just wanted to get home, back to Australia. I vowed I’d never leave Australia again and I didn’t until 1999.
I came back in June ’68. My hearing was buggered in Vietnam. I was told I was partially deaf when I was doing my final discharge. I got used to it over the years and can lip read fairly well.
Truck driving was a good paying job so I did that. I got a semi-trailer licence. Things went pear-shaped in this country in 1974 and there was no work for us. No redundancy [pay] like there is today.
[That year], they were winding up the Fairbridge Society – they were changing their name to the Fairbridge Foundation – so they had to clear their books [and] they sent you what was in your account. [Although] I didn’t, a lot of the kids that left had to send half their wages back to their Fairbridge account. It [also] held your trainee [earnings] and anything else that people sent out to you.
I ended up with $1.22 after all that. I didn’t want to cash it. I couldn’t because it made me angry. $1.22? I knew there was more in there than that. We were also sent our bank book. We don’t know how much was in [the account] because all the pages were cut out. Everybody was the same. You didn’t know at what point money was taken. Once again it shows you the deceit of the Fairbridge Society.
What was never taken into account was the bursar. [He] was a gambler who ended up doing 18 months in jail for embezzling Fairbridge [and] the kids’ accounts. The records show Fairbridge Society were reimbursed through the insurance company for the money stolen. The kids at Fairbridge didn’t get a cracker.
I got another job with Jones Brothers, heavy lifting stuff. I was only with them two weeks and there was a massive electricity strike and [they] stood me off. Kenny, my mate in Vietnam, was in the post office and he got me a job as a telegram boy. I was 28 years old and must have been the oldest telegram boy in Australia! Then I got a job as a postman and a lot more money.
In the meantime, I got married the first time. I had a wife to think about and a new house. I was a postman in the morning and a government bus driver in the afternoon. Then I started a line marking business while I was doing those two jobs.
By that stage I didn’t like to be told what to do by anybody and I had a big argument with a [bus] inspector. I was at Newtown [in Sydney] and he tried to suspend me. I said, “Nah, you can stick your job up your arse”. I pulled the brake on, turned the motor off, jumped out the bus and went home. I left the bus right in the middle of Newtown Bridge – there were no traffic lights there then – full of passengers in peak hour!
My first wife and I busted up and I passed on the business to Kenny and he still does it today. I moved to Canberra and did coach driving full-time and loved it.
I [have] a really good second marriage and two lovely little girls from it. I was away too much and needed a proper job and be home more often. My wife said to go to TAFE to do English. I was in my 30s. I enjoyed it. If I had those skills earlier in life I would never had done the jobs I did. I started to read more books. I became more self-educated. It improves your confidence. It’s a pity I didn’t do it earlier.
I took on the Corrective Services and stayed there for ten years until I retired six years ago. I was a prison officer.
I stayed in touch with my brothers. The British Government said they’d provide a fare to child migrants with family so the four of us took advantage in ’99. I was able to remember exactly what our house was like even 45 years later. I loved it there. I always declared one day I would walk down the same road again. When I [did], it was absolutely tremendous. Couldn’t believe I was there.
There was about 60 relatives at a reunion ’round the corner from our street. It was terrific but you realise you missed out on the family thing. I had brothers and sisters and they had grown-up kids.
My dad died in 1984. My mother was still alive [but] when I got off the plane I didn’t know what she looked like and she didn’t know what I looked like. We’d become so distanced by that stage. In those 45 years we had barely seen each other, spoken or sent photographs.
When I went back I got these files. I’m a very curious person when it comes to what people have to say about me. Some of the [comments] were terrible. Enid Knight refers to me at one point as “a black sheep” because I was born illegitimate!
That’s when I realised [my mother] had tried to get us back. She did a lot of writing. She wrote to everybody [but] we were not receiving the [letters] from 1955 to ’59. I was unaware Fairbridge knew my parents were trying to take us back home.
When I found out I said, “Why didn’t you tell us that you’d been doing all this?” She said, “You’d probably not believed us.” And you know, I probably wouldn’t have. I’m glad I found out myself. But you know, it’s one of those things, isn’t it? Done. You can’t do anything about it.
What kept me going at Fairbridge? Leaving. Looking forward to leaving. Just getting out of there. It’s done. Doesn’t bother me anymore. I know the truth now so it doesn’t really matter.
One very good thing was the friendships made. We were all in the same boat. Molong reunions are every two years. For some, Fairbridge was the best thing since sliced bread. There are also those who the longer it is since they left Fairbridge, the better the place gets. Well, it’s not going to get better for me.
[The site] is falling apart and it’s sad. I’d become quite depressed to see how it had gone to waste. The history of Fairbridge was something to do in retirement. I know David from school and we did the CD-rom, History of the Fairbridge Settlement, Molong.
I think David’s book, [The Forgotten Children], was a good forum for those like myself to be able to have their say. There were people who had it worse than I did. A lot have locked stuff in their mind [and] I think they need to talk about it. It’s like self-counselling and [for them to] realise they’re not the only ones who felt bad. A number have been in contact with David and myself and now they’re getting to know some of the other Fairbridge people.
Matron Guyler from Knockholt, her son, Michael, read David’s book. His mother visited here and Michael said [she] was absolutely devastated. She saw how terrible, hungry and cold all the children looked. What happened to all those good clothes they left England with? She criticised, strongly, the terrible conditions at Molong to the Fairbridge Society in London in the early 1960s. This is in the Fairbridge files in the UK. They didn’t do a thing about it. Fairbridge knew.
Andrea Fernandes, NSW Migration Heritage Centre on 15 January 2008
With assistance from David Hill.
Visit the Fairbridge Heritage Project page for information on the CD-rom, The History Of The Fairbridge Settlement, Molong, by Ian “Smiley” Bayliff and David Hill and the publication, The Forgotten Children, by David Hill.