Fifty years in Oz

On this day, 50 years ago, I first arrived in Australia.

We travelled the long way round; 36 hours in the air from London via New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Fiji and Melbourne, then to Adelaide.

We were travelling from the middle of an English winter and I wondered how I would cope with the heat of a South Australian summer.

In those days, the plane stopped to refuel at each interim airport and we had a chance to get off and walk around. At each stop the temperature was hotter than the previous one and each time I thought “Yep, I can handle this.”

The last leg was a domestic flight to Adelaide on one of those aircraft where the rear exit stairs drop down from the back of the plane as an extension of the centre aisle so you emerge under the tail.

It was a hot day and as I stepped onto the tarmac of the old Adelaide terminal it was like walking into an oven. It was like the time I worked in a foundry when the furnace was going full blast. The air almost seared your lungs as you breathed in. I wondered how anyone could survive in this, until I realised I was standing directly behind one of the jet engines that was still pumping out masses of heat. After that, a normal, hot Adelaide day was a relief.

Over the several months of the migrant application process I had filled in a total of 78 forms. On several of them, in answer to the question “Do you need accommodation on your arrival in Australia?” I answered a definitive “No”. And on dozens of them I put the actual address where I would be staying.

Nevertheless, after we disembarked the aircraft, we were greeted by a very nice woman who said she was there to take us to the migrant hostel in Woodville.

I explained that we didn’t need to go to the hostel. Ann was an Australian citizen returning home and although I was a migrant, our accommodation was all arranged as I had confirmed many times previously.

She was quite insistent, to the point of grabbing my arm and trying to pull me towards a waiting van. I stood my ground. Pointing to a group of people standing at the gate I said, “See those people over there? That’s my wife’s family. We’re going to stay with them.” And much to her consternation we walked over to join them.

It was the first time I’d met Ann’s Adelaide family and they drove us back to their family home where we would be staying until we found a place of our own.

Immediately, my new brother-in-laws whisked me over the road to the pub. One said to the barman, “A schooner for our Pommy brother-in-law”.

“Oh, you’re a Pom”, said the barman. “How long have you been in Australia?”
“Twenty minutes”, I replied.

“What do you think of the place?” he asked.

I must have given the right answer because not only did I get an ice-cold beer, I’m still here in this astonishing country fifty years later.

A couple of weeks later, in my new teaching job, I got talking to one of the other new teachers and we realised we had arrived in Adelaide on the same day. He and his wife were staying at the migrant hostel while waiting to move into a new house that was being built.
I told him about the incident with the welcoming party and the attempt to drag me to the hostel.

He said, “Oh, so you’re the mysterious Ian Short! They are still laying a place for you in the dining hall.”

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