Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland
London, England on 10 February 1968
Sydney on 12 February 1968
Mayfield (Newcastle) for 12 days
Flat at Mayfield West, Hunter region, NSW
Shop worker at Titans engineering firm, near Mayfield
Crane chaser and turner at Titans; cook at Lingard and Morriset hospitals; cleaner.
My maiden name was Lily Weir. I was born on 18 December 1940 in Airdrie in Lanarkshire, which is now Strathclyde, in the Scottish central lowlands.
I am an only child [and] my mother wasn’t married when I was born. Mum and I lived with my granny at first. It’s funny because everybody’s granny lived across the road, but I lived with mine. All the family lived close. That’s how Scotland was then.
I don’t think my mum was totally Scottish. I always remember that she had shiny, tanned skin and in Scotland, you don’t have shiny, tanned skin! And she had black, black hair. My granny adopted her when she was a baby. You see, my granny had five sons and no daughters. So, she adopted my mum and 14 months later, she had a daughter of her own.
Mum’s sister couldn’t have any children so she adopted a child, my cousin, Christine. I go back to Scotland and stay with Christine in Airdrie. Although we are not remotely related, we are as close as sisters. She is the only girl cousin I have.
When my mum passed away, I was 19 and registered her death. I obtained her birth certificate three years ago. She was born on 28 April 1918 at 4.45pm in the poorhouse in Airdrie. I think that is sad. Years ago, though, that is where unmarried mothers went.
My husband, Gerry, and I married in Scotland and we had three children. Mary was eight, Garrett was four and Morag was two when we left to come here. The only reason we decided to come out to Australia was to get away from the Scottish weather. It was bitterly cold the year before we left home. In those days, we didn’t have double-glazing or central heating.
My husband had also just done his national service in Germany and they had nice summers there. When he came back to Scotland he was a bit unsettled and he thought there would be better places to live. We applied to go to Pretoria in South Africa and I said I wouldn’t go because it was a police state, which it turned out to be. Then he applied to go to Connecticut in America and I [didn’t] want to go there; I didn’t fancy America.
We went into Glasgow to the Australian High Commission and they showed us some pictures of a place called Geelong and I said I wasn’t going there either. I didn’t like the look of it one bit. Then he showed us Newcastle with the beaches and everything and I fancied that. We came out as “ten-pound Poms” sponsored by the BHP on a two year contract.
We went on the train from Glasgow to London and flew for Sydney on 10th February 1968. We never brought anything from Scotland, not even a clothes peg, just our wee bairns (children). We had to buy everything. We brought our suitcases but didn’t have any summer clothes.
We stopped over in the Philippines and I thought I was going to die. It was 12 o’clock midnight and I am sure it must have been 40 degrees. I have never felt heat like it in my entire life.
We arrived in Sydney on 12th February 1968 during the day. I got off [the plane] and expected everybody to look like the actor Peter Finch because he was the only Australian who I knew anything about! The only thing I remembered about Australia from school was the teacher showing us a map of Australia; I thought it looked like a little scotty dog and it still does.
We were met [at the airport] by people from the Immigration Department. We were taken in a car to Central station in Sydney and caught a train [to Newcastle]. I will never forget that, it was horrifying [arriving in Newcastle]. We got off at Hamilton station and I can remember looking across the road at a pub. I can remember saying to my husband, “Is that a pub?”, because it looked like those pubs in the American westerns. I remember thinking that it should have had horses tied up outside. The pub is still there and it is called the Sydney Junction Hotel.
People from BHP met us at Hamilton Station and took us in a taxi to the Mayfield hostel. I think I got the biggest shock of my life at the hostel and although there were lots of nice people, I cried all the time. We stayed twelve days at the hostel. The mosquitoes were awful. The staff used to come around every evening with tanks on their backs and spray the ceilings to get rid of them. The hostel was next to the swamps.
We then went to a flat at Mayfield West. I can remember going to a shop called Mackies and buying about ten [bed]sheets that cost 75 cents each.
But, I had to get used to things. One day I went into a shop in Mayfield and asked for a purn of white thread and the [shopkeeper] looked at me and said, “Pardon?” The lady standing next to me nudged me and said, “It is called cotton, a reel of white cotton”.
And another day I went into the butchers and I said to him, “Could I have a pound of links please?” and he said, “Pardon?”, and I said again, “Could I have a pound of links please?” and he said, “We don’t have any.” And I said, “Yes you do, the window is full of them.” My links were his sausages.
My husband didn’t like [BHP]. He didn’t like the conditions and he didn’t like wearing a hard hat. We had to buy the contract back from [BHP]. I can’t remember the cost, but it was big money.
We bought our first house nine months after we got here. It was in Grindall Street, Mayfield. My children went to Mayfield West Public School and my husband worked from five in the evening through to three [am] and I worked during the day at Titans engineering firm.
I worked there for about twelve years in the conveyor shop. Most of the men working there were from Cessnock, near Newcastle, and were all good men to be working alongside. The boss taught me to be a crane chaser and turner; he put me on a little turning machine and I would turn all these things. It was very interesting work.
Nine years after arriving in Australia my marriage broke up.
It was just too difficult and too demanding then to be working full-time with children in high school and everything. So, I went to work part-time. I was a cook at Lingard Hospital and then at Morisset [hospital]. I just did cleaning after that as it was easier, just a couple of hours here and there. I remarried an Australian 27 years ago in 1982.
This violin belonged to my dad and is a fourth generation violin. I was the only child and I brought it back from Scotland about seven years ago now, after Dad died. My dad was actually my stepfather and he was a musician. As well as the violin, he played the Dulcimer (a huge, string instrument) and the accordion. His sister [Betty] was a violinist too. Dad played with the Royal Scottish Academy. At home, I used to lie in bed and request songs on the violin and my dad would play them for me. I would love lying in bed and listening.
My mother used to make me practise violin every night, every single night, for as long as I could remember. I was never interested and I would cry. When they were teaching me, all the other kids were outside playing and I was nearly hysterical. I would refuse to do it. It’s silly now when you think about it because there are a lot of people who are trained violinists.
On a Sunday evening, we would go to Dad’s little village called Darngavel, just outside of Airdrie to listen to the Palmcourt Orchestra play on radio. Darngavel is not there now. It is one of those little villages in Scotland that has just disappeared. That was how I spent my Sunday afternoons until my grown-up years. I never found it boring; I found it fascinating. I’ll always remember the Palmcourt Orchestra for the rest of my life.
I am pleased that I came out here and to be honest it is a better life; a much easier life for children. But, I am always in a quandary. I am always in two places. If you did not have the money to go back all of the time I think it would be better. [Going back] you get to know your family, you get to know your friends all over again and you get to know their children. Although I am not rich, I have gone back quite a lot; for the last 11 years, I have been back every year. I think that if you weren’t capable of returning like that that you would be much more content.
For the first time I bought something on ebay a few weeks ago and I went to the building society to make the payment. The [cashier] said, “Lily, you are an Australian citizen aren’t you?”, and I said, “No I’m not.” I was embarrassed because I had to say it in front of everybody.
I keep saying that I am going to take out Australian citizenship but I forget. If we become a republic, I will have to do it. I love this country, I have a very good lifestyle; I have no complaints about Australia.