Authors: Jimmy Barnes
lasgow Central was where we left from in 1961. I remember looking around and wondering what was going on. Where were we going? The place was smoky and dirty, just like the rest of Glasgow, so we felt right at home. But Mum and Dad and everyone around us was crying.
Some people were just going away for a little while, normal travellers going about life, going on holidays or off to work. Not like us going across the world into the unknown. But as frightening as our future was, I still knew that we wanted to get out of there as fast as we could. We were saying goodbye but all the while our eyes were looking at the train, hoping it would take us somewhere good, to a better life â anywhere but here.
âYou better get on before it leaves without ye,' one of the family said, obviously trying to get rid of us so they could go to the pub. They didn't have to tell me twice; I just wanted to get on the train and go. I got the feeling we were all looking back over our shoulders hoping no one was coming to make us stay. Granny and my aunties all wanted us to go. Not because they didn't love us but because they wanted us to have a chance at a
new life. Maybe they did want to get rid of us but they never let on.
âMake sure you write,' Granny said. I don't know why because I'm not sure she could read. It didn't matter anyway; no one ever wrote to anyone in our family. Mum never wrote to them and they never wrote to us. It was like the bond between us was broken the minute the train left.
I don't remember much about the train trip, I might have slept the whole way. Trains have always had a calming effect on me. Or maybe it was such a relief to get away from our lives that we all passed out. It was sad for Mum and scary for us and probably confusing for everyone else in the family. Was life really that bad in Scotland that we had to go around the world to Australia? Yes, and if we could have gone further we probably would have. So it was a train trip to England and a six-week cruise to sunny South Australia.
SWAN James Ruthven Harvey born 5 April 1929; Dorothy (nee Dixon) born 26 March 1934; John Archibald born 15 March 1952; Dorothy Dixon born 30 April 1953; Linda Dixon born 23 July 1954; James Dixon born 28 April 1956; Alan Ruthven born 2 November 1960; travelled per STRATHNAVER departing Tilbury on 7 December 1961 under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. (
National Archives of Australia
The ship we sailed on to Australia was the SS
, built at a cost of Â£325,000 in 1931. Our ship, like everyone and everything else that went through World War II, had seen better days by the time peace came. It was battered and beaten but it had survived. After a good coat of paint and a refit she was ready
to serve her country again, this time taking immigrants to new lands far away.
When we first laid eyes on the ship we thought we had died and gone to heaven. âThis has tae be the best ship anywhere in the world, it looks like a floating palace. We'll be travelling like kings', kids,' my dad said as the ship came into view. He was always an optimist. But it was a palace to us. Remember where we'd come from. Once on board we found that it had places to watch movies on deck and places to eat. It had everything. It was a palace. This trip was going to be fun.
One thousand, two hundred and fifty-two passengers squeezed into what, when I look back at it now, looked like a large tugboat or one of those ferries you see sinking on the news.
The ship left from Tilbury on 7 December 1961. It was a rocky start, with most of the guests on board getting very seasick for the first week or two. Some were sick the whole way over, but the first week or so was hard for everyone. In fact, my only memory of the first week is the smell of vomit and the sound of whinging Scots and English people.
âThey don't make the food like at home. The weather's bad. I wish we never came on this fucking ship.' And so on. They both sounded as bad as each other; whinging is whinging, I've found.
Dad's optimism soon faded. Our cabin was so small he had to step outside the door to change his mind. The seven of us were jammed into a room the size of a wardrobe for our luxury trip to the lucky country. Alan was only about one year old so, as you can imagine, no one got a lot of sleep.
âOpen the window, Dot.'
âIt's no a window, it's a porthole.'
âI don't give a fuck what it's called, open the fuckin' thing up. It stinks in here.'
âIt stinks oot there too. Have ye walked in the hallway lately, ya lazy bastard?'
âI didnae smell anything when I came in last night.'
âAye, but you were stinkin' too. Stinkin' fuckin' drunk.'
âGie us a break wid ye, woman? I just went oot for a drink tae get rid o' the seasickness.'
âAye, by the look of ye when ye got back ye couldnae feel a thing. I don't think you'll feel anything for a week.'
âShut it. And open the window, would ye?'
âI cannae open the window, it's below the water level, ya eejit.'
âWell, I'm goin' up on deck tae get some fresh air. I hear it's good for your health. It's killin' me in here.'
âWell try the air oot on the deck this time, no in the bar.'
Life in the cabin wasn't good. Mum and Dad were at each other's throats after a short time. The ship was not what it appeared from the wharf. The cabin was small, with enough beds for us all to sleep but not enough room to walk around without tripping over one another. We felt like we were in the bowels of the ship and wherever it was, the front or the back, it rolled a lot. If any of the kids woke up the whole family woke with them.
âGet oot yer bed and help me, would ye?'
âWhat? What? What happened?'
âWake up and hold one of these weans. They're no well; can ye no hear them cryin'?'
âI was sleepin'. I couldnae hear a thing. I must be gettin' deif or somethin'.'
âDrunk. Dead drunk, that's what ye are. I'd be better off if ye were deid, ya lazy pig.'
âShut it woman, a man's got tae sleep, ye know.'
âThat's all ye do. Sleep and drink. You're nae use tae anybody.'
It wasn't long before at least us kids got our sea legs and made it out of the coffin we called home. I'm glad we got out, because very soon after that the sewerage backed up. I don't know if it was just our deck or the whole ship, but it smelled like shit and there was foul-smelling water all over the floors on our deck.
âWe didn't have to come on a fucking cruise ship to live like this. We could get this at home,' I heard one of the other parents saying as he walked to the bar.
But it was great to be on board the ship for us kids. The good news was there was a swimming pool. The bad news was no one could swim. You couldn't walk through the pool with your pants rolled up, so that counted out most of the adults. Most of the passengers hadn't been in a real bath never mind a pool. I think one or two people might have drowned, or come close to it, on the trip. But not us, no thanks to my dad, who decided that the best way to teach us to swim was to throw us into the deep end of the pool.
John was first, he was Dad's boy. âStop kicking me son. You'll thank me for this later,' said my dad as he grabbed John by the back of his trunks and hoisted him into the deep end.
âDon't do it, Dad . . .
Blub blub blub blub
,' was the last thing John said until he surfaced screaming for his life.
âAye, there you go son, you've got a lovely stroke,' said Dad as John clawed his way back onto the deck.
âThanks Dad, I'll just take a wee rest while you pass on your wisdom tae the other kids.'
Meanwhile one of Dad's mates walked past. âI tried that with the wife, she kept making it to the side too. Ha, ha! Fancy a drink, Jim? Ye cannae train the kids aw day.'
When I got older I used to get that same feeling â that I was in the deep end and couldn't swim â only I wasn't in the pool, this was life. I called it the salmon syndrome. Always swimming upstream only to get there and die. Cheerful, don't you think? Nowadays I'm much more positive. I know how lucky I am.
Anyway, I'm not sure he'd get away with it today but it worked, and before you could say Dawn Fraser we were paddling
our way across the snotty surface of the pool with equally snotty noses, impressing all the young girls on the ship. Well, I exaggerate a bit; none of the young girls even cared if we swam or drowned and we didn't care about the young girls. That would be something that would confuse us much later on.
I remember it was a big deal for Dad when our ship went through the Suez Canal. He was excited about travelling, I think he really wanted to get out of Scotland and see the world, or maybe just get out of Scotland. He dragged us up on deck to see the canal. Sand, sand, and oh yes, did I mention the sand? That wasn't the most exciting thing for a five-year-old but it stuck in my mind. Looking back, I can't help think that he was just trying to find an excuse to get away from my mum.
âAye, I think I'll take the kids up tae see the sand . . . They'll love it, all kids love sand.'
We probably ended up at the bar. By the way, there were lots of times I thought were special one-on-one times with Dad, that in reality were times when Mum forced him to take me somewhere. But it doesn't make any difference; he made them special and they were all special to me. They still are.
I think that the trip was a new beginning for my mum and dad. Once they got over the seasickness they both tried really hard to make things better. They never belted each other around on the ship as far as I could see, so that was good. Dad didn't go missing like he always used to. I guess he could only go so far. I think I saw them kissing a few times too â very romantic. There is nothing like a romantic sea cruise to fix a relationship . . . but this was nothing like a romantic sea cruise.
The food wasn't great but coming from our background any food was fine. Scotland in those days wasn't known for its culinary delights; we ate mince and totties (boiled potatoes) or
chips. There were so many people on board and they all wanted to be fed at once, so it got very busy in the dining rooms. I seem to remember one or two sittings for breakfast, lunch and dinner and at first not really knowing what to do or when to go, but we worked it out. After that we tried to be first in line, ready to eat every meal they offered us. There was no shortage of anything, it just wasn't good. But we were happy to be eating and we were kids; we'd eat anything really. Most things they served on board were exotic to us. Pasta was exotic, fresh fruit was exotic. Anything that wasn't made of mince or potatoes might as well have been roast wildebeest; it was all gnu â sorry, new â to us.
We ran everywhere we could around the ship. Some places were off limits and obviously they were the places we wanted to go the most â to see the engines and inside the life rafts. We wanted to go anywhere that was dangerous, I guess. But the crew always seemed to be right there every time we turned a corner and we could get away with very little.
The first stop I remember was at a little place run by the British, a port called Aden, in Yemen. We eagerly lined up and went ashore. We would have gone anywhere to get off the ship for a while. Not only that, but it also looked exotic and different from any place we had ever seen. The first thing we noticed was that it was hot. Glasgow didn't get this hot unless it was burning down. Aden is also said to be as old as history itself and the way it smelled confirmed that for my parents. They moaned and complained their way around the port, looking for mince and totties or at least a pub. But they never found either.
Later on, when we returned to the ship, Dad had bought these beautiful stuffed camels with mirrors on them to take to our new home. I remember a fight breaking out between Dad and a couple of the ship's crew after they refused to let us bring the camels back on board. There is an old Scottish proverb I believe:
Never get in the way of a drunken Scotsman and his camels
Dad wanted to kill them, until one guy insisted on cutting one of the camels open. A couple of guys held Dad back and a couple held Mum back, which was a good thing because by this point she wanted to belt Dad, so he was very lucky. The camels were stuffed with used blood- and pus-covered bandages.
Dad was shouting, âWhen I get ma hands on that salesman, he'll need they fucking bandages.'
Mum, in the meantime, wanted to kill Dad even more when she saw this. âYou wanted tae put them on my fucking mantelpiece, ya eejit?' The romance was back on good old Glasgow terms: sex and violence. âIf you don't fuck off oot ma sight, I'm gonnae kill ye.' These were courting words where we came from.
My folks weren't the only ones wrestling with the customs guys. Everyone bought the same things. That's a lot of bandages and a lot of camels left without humps. You would think that the crew could have warned us before we left the ship. Dad was sure they were getting a cut â bad choice of words â from the crooked salesmen. They were all foreigners and couldn't be trusted. I mean, we had known so many Scottish people we could trust in our lives, hadn't we? I'm sure there were a couple of blokes on the ship saying to themselves, âWe've got a load of bandages in Glasgow, there must be some way I can start a wee business like this at home. Now where do we find camels?'
Next stop was Bombay in India. Now, no one told my dad that cows â or coos as they are known in Scotland â were sacred in India and were not to be touched. Our coos never walked around the town; well, not the ones with four legs anyway.
âWhat do coos do in toon anyway? Are they meetin' up wi' other coos and goin' oot tae catch a picture or somethin'?' Dad said.
Apparently they could go wherever they wanted to in India, which was nice for them but a shock for some of the tourists. It wasn't long until a rather large coo walked in front of my mum.