Worthing, Sussex, England
Southampton, England on 9 August 1964
Port Adelaide, South Australia on 10 September 1964
Elder Park (Adelaide) for 5 days
Elizabeth Fields, Adelaide
Making sewing machines at Pinnocks factory, Elizabeth, Adelaide
Hella Australia Pty Ltd; telephonist for Telecom (PMG Sydney)
My name is Margaret Mort-Yates. I was born on 18th July 1935 in Worthing, Sussex in the UK. My dad’s name was Charles Yates, my mother’s name was Etty Mort; that is where my name came from. I had a sister, Jennifer, and a brother but he died of cot death. I have a couple of stepbrothers, a stepsister and a half-sister.
In 1939 during the Second World War, Dad was in the Eighth Army and went through North Africa with [Field Marshal] Montgomery then all the way up to Italy. He was a frontline gunner. After six years fighting in the war, he did not have a scratch on him. When I went back to England in 1997, he told me that he was part of the army that liberated Belsen [concentration camp]. I asked Dad what Belsen was like and he said, “You never forget the smell”.
Of all the things that have happened in my life, being evacuated from Worthing during the war was the most significant. Owing to the threat of invasion in 1941 when I was just six years old, I was put on a train with all these other children, with no family. My father was in the army. My sister was in hospital with scarlet fever which left my mum and me, but I don’t know why she did it. I think I went to a place called Mansfield, I really can’t remember. I was given to this couple that had no children. I think they thought they were getting this nice, little, blue-eyed, blonde thing. I still had a very broad Lancashire accent [through my family] and you must remember that in England in those days there was no television so accents stayed within “groups” and this couple couldn’t understand me. I think I lasted a year with them. I hated the school; the classes were so big and I was right at the back.
They decided to give me to the Dr Barnardo’s organisation. When Dr Barnardo’s started to look at my situation, they found out I wasn’t an orphan and did have a father. He got compassionate leave and came to see me and I said, “Take me home, Dad”. He went to see his parents in Moss Bank, Lancashire. My grandfather had just retired from being a gardener and he said, “No granddaughter of mine goes to Dr Barnardo’s. Bring her up here, lad”. That is where I spent most of the war years.
My mother and father divorced after the war and my mother remarried. I went back with my mother and the family moved around the UK quite a lot because my stepfather was a warrant officer in the RAF. I was living at Polling in Sussex at a radar station with my family in the 1950s and that is where I picked up this glass piece. At the radar station, there were four wooden towers and transmitting blocks and receiving blocks. The glass piece is Pyrex (heat resistant glass) and came from this big tower. It had guide ropes that came down and went through the hole in the glass. I found it broken on the grass and really loved it. I suppose I was about 15 when I picked it up. I am nearly 74 now so I have had this glass piece for nearly 60 years.
I later worked as a waitress in a café. I had been to art school and wanted to be a window dresser. I got a job as a window dresser and the apprenticeship was for five years but I didn’t go ahead with it.
My stepfather then got a transfer to Scotland so they sent me to work in a hotel in a live-in position and I was all on my own again. I met my husband, Peter Still, then and we got married [when] I was 18. We had four children.
I hate rain so that is why we moved to Australia. I can remember one winter in England in particular – there was so many winters like it though! The bathroom was upstairs and the only tap we had inside was a cold water tap because the pipe was so far underground it didn’t freeze. We were frozen in for six weeks. If you got your blankets near the wall in the bedroom, they would freeze onto the wall. When the thaw came, the pipes upstairs sprung and there was water everywhere. It was terrible. I thought then, “I have had enough of this. I want to go somewhere where there is sunshine”. I was very excited when I got this letter dated 21 April 1964, from the Office of the High Commission of Australia. It told us that the ship that we were going to be on was the Fairsky and that we would be departing on 9 August 1964 from Southampton and arriving in Port Adelaide on 10 September 1964.
Before we left, we visited a lot of places including Worthing Beach. [It] isn’t sand, it is all pebbles. I saw this pebble and I said to myself, “I really have to have a bit of England”, and picked it up. So, wherever I go now I have always got a piece of England with me.
We came out as ‘ten pound Poms’. We didn’t have a work contract but we came out on the understanding that if we went home before the two years was up we would have to pay the Government the money it cost to bring us out. I brought all my household things. All my china and little bits and pieces. Brambles, [our freight company], gave us several large crates and we were allotted a certain amount of space on the ship. I didn’t bring any furniture. I had some big cedar chests I would have loved to have brought with me.
On the journey out, Port Said was our first port and then we came through the Suez Canal. That is one of the things that stands out in my memory. We were the first ship in a convoy and the canal seemed so narrow for these big ships. You would look back and see all these other big ships behind you and because you couldn’t see the water — you just saw mounds of sand — the ships looked like they were sailing on sand. It was an amazing sight. The Suez Canal was closed shortly after that as the Egyptians began scuttling ships.
Then we got through to Aden. I got off and had a look around. Going across from Aden to Fremantle took about 12 days and it was really odd because every time you got up in the morning the scenery was always the same. It was as though we were standing still. The only things really of interest were the dolphins.
My children at that stage were very young. My son was eight and the three girls were about eight months and three and six years old. We arrived in Adelaide early morning and the thing that stood out was the advertising, all these big signs, and all the electricity and telephone cables. In England, a lot of that is underground because of the weather; the snow breaks the wires. I was amazed by all the [visual] confusion.
It was also raining and cold; it was horrible. I had given all my jumpers away. I only had little, flimsy sandals on as they told us it was going to be warm.
When we came off the ship, we went to the migrant hostel on the River Torrens. The first thing I did was to go around to a little café and have a cup of tea with proper cow’s milk because on the ship it was all dried milk. We only stayed five days at the migrant hostel then my husband got a job.
I settled in really quickly and loved it. I loved the climate and everything but my husband didn’t. He missed the English pubs and stuff like that. I was very naïve. You see my husband was a very bad drinker and we came out to South Australia because the pubs shut at six and I thought my husband would come home at six. He would come home at six but he was always drunk.
We had enough funds for our house and to buy furniture. We bought our first house in Elizabeth, South Australia through the South Australian Housing Trust scheme.
My first job was at Pinnocks making sewing machines in the factory in Elizabeth, South Australia. We only stayed there about three years because personally everything started to go downhill. My husband was still with me but we moved around a lot. We went to live in Mordialloc near Frankston, Victoria and my marriage broke up after that. I was on my own with four children in a rented place. They were some really bad years for me. I worked at the time for Hella Australia Pty Ltd. Then my stepbrother and sister-in-law, who lived in Blacktown in Sydney, asked me to come and live with them.
I had my name down with the PMG (Post Master General) in Sydney for a job and I got a job at the GPO as a telephonist. Then I met somebody and we saved up and bought a house at Granville. I was still working as a telephonist at PMG when it became Telecom. I worked there for about eight years. The fellow and I broke up and we split the money and I bought a very old house at Auburn. By this stage, all of my children had left home, but after I bought the Auburn house, they all came back again. Two of my children had been back to England working and my eldest daughter was married and the youngest was in her teens.
I met another fellow and we got married and retired up to the Central Coast. We were in a lovely spot and had a really interesting life. We went prospecting and fossicking and things like that and he was a very keen dancer so we went dancing twice a week. He also liked bowls and was very active.
My mother had a stroke so we went back to England in 1986 to see her. We bought a little old Mini [car] and we travelled around England. It was lovely to see England again. This egg boiler belonged to my Grandmother Mort and my mother gave it to me when I went back. It runs on methylated spirits.
We ended up parting and I had to sell up again. I didn’t have much money left so I came here near to Newcastle and bought this [house]. It was a real derelict old cottage, all the piers were gone, but I did it up. I have been here almost ten years now and I love it here. I can go up the street and it takes me almost two hours to get to the shops because I stop to talk to people.
I bought this little chair in 1997 when I went back to see my father. The old school I went to in Lancashire were selling [their] chairs for two pound each. I thought I most probably sat on that chair when I was a little kid so I paid my two pounds and brought it back here. Every time I look at the chair, it brings back memories of my school days and my life back then.
I am really pleased I came out here to Australia, although as I am getting older I find the heat a bit difficult and I don’t like the mugginess.
When I was thinking about this Belongings project, I went back into the past and I wondered, “Would I have been any better off in England?” And I really don’t think I would have been. I can leave my doors open here with the weather. In England you keep them closed all the time, everything is always closed up there; minds are closed up and doors are shut. I really like the freedom here.