They call us Ten Pound Tourists, as that is the migrant fare
From England to Australia, a ship to take us there.
Five weeks upon the ocean without a worry or care;
Dining, dancing, games and fun, relaxing in a deckchair;
Chatting about our future lives with hopeful expectation;
The only little drawback is the sleeping accommodation.
Fourteen men in one cabin, their women in another;
I bunk in with my Yorkshire Dad, my sister with our mother.
When the ship puts in to Melbourne some go on their way
And soon one early morning we are passing Botany Bay.
No one can tell from E deck, below the waterline
But the Purser’s voice assures us that the weather on top is fine.
When he says that very soon we will sail through Sydney Heads,
Fourteen excited men and boys tumble from the bunk beds.
We can hear the girls next door cheering with elation,
Overjoyed at the arrival and an end to separation.
The ocean swell is easing as we enter the harbour’s mouth.
Towering sandstone headlands rise up to North and South.
Hundreds of migrants line the rails like thousands have before,
Wondering what awaits them on this vast and unknown shore.
We see bays with sandy beaches, boats tied up at piers,
The awesome beauty of the scene dispels our nervous fears.
A Manly Ferry toots its horn; its passengers give us a wave;
My sister snaps a photograph; a memory to save.
A Sydney-sider, returning home, starts naming the places we see,
Kirribilli, Woolloomooloo; they are very strange names to me.
There’s Rushcutters Bay, Fort Denison and Luna Park – “Just for Fun”
And the foundations of an Opera House where building has just begun.
The city centre behind Circular Quay and an overhead freeway;
Trains and ferries disgorging people to start their working day.
A huge steel structure looms up ahead and everyone gives a cheer.
It’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge! Hooray! Our new life begins right here.
At Pyrmont Number 13 wharf a welcoming brass band.
Down the gangway we take the first step into our new homeland.
A man with a loudhailer calls “Follow the direction signs!”
Then we wait for half an hour in the immigration lines.
We find and haul our luggage over to the Customs Hall;
There’s a long queue ahead and it’s not moving at all.
At the front someone’s souvenirs are not being allowed to come in;
A knife concealed in a walking stick goes into the prohibited bin.
At the table a uniformed Customs man inspects all our luggage in turn;
He sounds OK, he calls each of us “Mate” but he still looks very stern.
“Tut tut” as he opens my sister’s bag and pulls out a camel skin purse;
He looks askance, her tears well up, we all fear the very worst.
But he puts on a grin and says to her, “Little Mate, She’ll be right”
He puts the purse back into the bag and tucks it out of sight.
We are out of the gate and put on a bus to take us to Central Station;
A train to Brisbane, and then one more, for our final destination.
At the station we pass an old woman rummaging in a bin;
She has an old baby pram and a sack, to put empty bottles in.
“Dearies, can yer spare a shillin’ for a cuppa an’ summat to eat?
Spent the night in the park outside and I’ve nowhere to rest me feet.”
My dad says “Don’t think I can help. You and I are almost the same.
There’s only five bob in my pocket. It’s all I have to my name.”
But he suddenly thrusts five shillings into the gnarled hand held out.
Saying “We’ve coom to start a new life. We might as well start with nowt!”
Tony Crehan 2011
Continuing the story of my boyhood migration to Australia in 1959 following on from previous poems “The Leaving” and “Mal de Mer”.
Featured in Australia You’re Standing In It http://www.redbubble.com/groups/australia-youre-standing-in-it Group on 11/25/11