Gildeskål, northern Norway
Italy in 1952
Sydney on 11 December 1952
My father-in-law’s home in Broken Hill.
My husband was a builder.
I was born Gildeskål, not far from Bode in the northern part of Norway, on 20 March 1919. I am one of 11 children so I had a big family. We had a little farm before and after I got married. We had a few cows and sheep and I looked after them. I was used to doing physical work. My husband was a builder and I was married for ten years before we came out here.
My husband’s father was a crew member on a tanker from Norway to Australia around 1926. He jumped ship at some port in Australia and ended up in Mildura where he got a job on a river boat and saved the money to get his wife and sons over here from Norway. He ended up working at the power station in Broken Hill.
It took a long time before he had the money to pay for the tickets. When the time came to bring his wife and children over to Australia, they had to be checked by a doctor in Norway to make sure they were healthy enough to come. The doctor discovered that my father-in-law’s wife had TB (tuberculosis). Then the Second World War started and by the time the war ended, [his sons] were grown up and married with families.
Living was very expensive in Norway after 1945; cities were bombed and bridges were burnt. It was very harsh. They came to Australia because their father said there’s a better living here than in Norway. One son, Gunnar, his wife and two children and my husband Arvid (Bill), our children, Elsa and Asbjfrn and I all came together. If we didn’t like we would go back to Norway. We talked about it a lot.
We sold everything we had and bought tickets for the eight of us to come to Australia. I brought out mostly clothing and a sewing machine and not very much, we had little else. I used to make clothes for the children and made my own dresses.
We came in a ship called Sydney and landed in Sydney on 11 December 1952. We travelled by train from Norway to Sweden, then down to Italy [and] went straight on the ship. The trip was good. We paid for our own tickets so we had our own cabins and ate in the dining room. It was an Italian ship so we got two litres of wine with every meal! One night there was music and dancing and then the next night there were films. There was even a swimming pool on the ship. It was a big ship; 800 passengers. Those that didn’t pay their own way were at the bottom of the ship; 24 beds in one big area. We were lucky [with] the weather; there was only one day windy [with] big waves.
We came by train from Sydney to Broken Hill just before Christmas; it was 17 December. I tell you there was no air cooler in those days! We loved to go to the butcher and stand in the butcher’s shop for a while! The heat was a big shock. One day I was so hot my father-in-law put me in the bathtub and turned the shower on.
I settled well because my father-in-law bought this block of land for us to build on and we started to save more money to build. My husband [and father-in-law] built this house themselves with a bit of help from me and his brother. I was doing everything: helping with the cementing, putting nails in the roofs and painting and so always was helping. I was used to a lot of work in Norway so I was a good worker. We moved in [present family home] in 1954 [and] lived at my father in-law’s place until we could move in.
Our neighbours moved in a few months before we moved here and we have all looked after each other since – 50 years. In 1956 our second son, Peter, was born.
There were more Norwegian families here in the early days and we celebrated 17 May – Norwegian National Day. We rented a hall and had a Norwegian flag on one side and the Australian flag on the other. We had music; one of the Norwegians played the piano accordion and we danced. We wore a Norwegian costume. Mine represented the northern part of Norway and I gave it to my daughter, Elsa. She still wears it to Scandinavian gatherings in Canberra where she now lives and works [at the Norwegian Embassy]. I made the costume with the sewing machine I brought with me from Norway.
We prepared food the Norwegian way for our celebrations but we ate similar to Australians. We ate a lot more fish in Norway. There was not much fish in Broken Hill when we first came so we had to change and eat more meat but I still cook some meals the Norwegian way.
My husband had been in the merchant navy and had travelled to America and England before we married so he had a pretty good understanding of English when we came to Broken Hill but I didn’t know anything. We went to night classes at the high school for a little while but I understood and spoke English better as the children and I became part of the community. The Norwegians already here treated us very well and helped us. Most of the time I had someone who would go with me to the doctor.
The children learnt quicker than me; my oldest son, Aussie (Asbjfrn), was six when we came and my daughter, Elsa was nine. They spoke no English when they started school but Elsa still came fourth in her exams at the end of that first year. All three of my children have done well.
I visit my sons in Adelaide but have not been to Canberra for eight years. Elsa, my daughter visits me as often as she can. When you have lived to 80 there is not many left around you. I do get lonely but as long as I can look after myself I will stay here. I love this house; we built it ourselves! I think in Broken Hill there is a lot of help if you need help; that is not a problem.
We came from the northern part of Norway and the winter over there was very hard; snowing began in October; storms, snow and frost and long, hard winters. I don’t miss that. All that snow; shivering and shivering. No, I don’t miss that.
3 May 2006