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Who Are They?
I travelled on the SS Asturias with my family in November 1947 - my father, Hugh Wilkie, mother Georgina and older sister Isobel. I was 8 ˝ years old at the time. I always thought we were Ten Pound Poms but have learnt recently that ex-servicemen were able to migrate for Nil and of course my Dad had served in the 2nd World War.

We came from Rothesay, Isle of Bute on the west coast of Scotland via Glasgow & London & left the island on 1 November. So I had my last wonderful Halloween experience as a child the night before as in those days it wasn’t recognised so much in Australia as it had been in Scotland until it was popularised in the U.S.

 I remember leaving Southampton at night & hearing The Maoris’ Farewell being played. I can remember it was a bit stormy going through the Bay of Biscay that night as I think my Mum was a bit sea sick, though sailing was smoother once we rounded Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t remember getting off in Malta though I remember seeing it from where we were moored as we were anchored off the coast. My sister thinks that my Dad did get off for a visit. I can remember Port Said at night as I think the crew were putting hoses on the hawkers who were trying to climb on the ship to sell their wares. My memories of the Suez Canal are a bit hazy as they get a bit mixed up with pictures I have seen of the desert and Sphinxes and Pyramids etc & would love someone to describe what I really saw. I think it was rough going through the Red Sea again and my memories of Colombo where we did get off the ship are mainly of many beggars in the streets.

We stayed in a cabin of 8 women in E deck so my Dad was in another cabin of all men. I think we had 2 dining rooms and 3 sittings for each so there was a lot of passengers on the ship. (By the look of the information on the Shipping List I got it looks like there was well over 1000 passengers.) The earliest sittings of meals may have been for children. I can remember seeing quite a few boy orphans though they seemed to be generally kept separate from us. I realised they were a group of boys travelling separately from us but only read about them & saw programs on TV many years later.

The reason our journey was different was because of the troubles in India as the country was partitioned in August 1947 and became two dominions – India and Pakistan, and there were many clashes between the Moslems and Hindus. On 23 December 1947 the last Moslem refugees from India crossed into Pakistan and it was estimated that 400,000 people, both Moslems and Hindus had been slaughtered since Partition while a further 100,000 suffered from starvation and exposure. Our ship had been scheduled to call into Bombay but this was bypassed and our next stop was Colombo in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Apparently our ship offloaded all passengers in Fremantle instead of sailing on to Melbourne etc because it had to urgently head back to Bombay to pick up lots of British who wanted to get out of all the troubles there.

 Our journey was fairly unique and actually only took 25 days as we sailed from Southampton on 14 November and everyone disembarked in Fremantle, Western Australia on 9 December no matter where they were going. I do remember our migrant camp in Fremantle – it was a very isolated camp on the Swan River and it was surrounded by gum trees & quite large ant hills which we found very strange. The mosquitos had a great time with all the new blood there and we all had plenty of bites. They used to dab some sort of yellow liquid on them so we all looked rather peculiar. We did occasionally take a bus into Perth and went to the pictures. I remember once we arrived and the lights were already off & the movie about to start. My Mum whispered to all of us to hang on to our “sweetie” papers & not drop them on the floor. Then when the lights went on we were amazed to see litter all over the floors so that was something the Aussie kids obviously didn’t bother about. We all had meals in a dining room and I remember the traditional Christmas dinner we were all served. It was about 110’F in the shade so we all felt the heat not helped by the hot dinner served at midday even though it was delicious. My mother from then on never cooked a hot Christmas dinner midday when the weather was as hot as that, which was most Christmas Days in Melbourne.

Our family was actually heading for Melbourne & had to make the journey there in January 1948 on 4 different trains as you did in those days. I notice on the two page Shipping Lists that I have that others were heading for Sydney, Tasmania and South Australia. On our trip to Melbourne we changed trains at Kalgoorlie, Port Pirie and Adelaide and arrived in Spencer Street Station a few days later to be met by my father’s brother & his wife and daughter. Uncle Bill migrated to Australia in the mid twenties & he was our sponsor. Our train trip was rather uncomfortable as we had no sleepers. I remember seeing from time to time when the train was crossing the Nullarbor quite a few aboriginals hanging around the train.

I did the trip again with my husband and 3 children in January 1975 in the Indian Pacific straight to Sydney which was much quicker & more comfortable as we had sleepers.

Being so young my memories are not so clear about everything & I would love to contact someone else from that journey who could tell me their experiences.

I am nearly 72 years old & my parents are long dead of course. I do hope that someone else from that particular voyage can share their memories with me.
Christine Caligari
October 2010
 

If you remember Christine's family she would love to hear from you - please contact us and your message will be forwarded.
 
 
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