What if I had been blogging when I was eleven…
My novel Quarter Acre Block is based on our family’s experiences as Ten Pound Pommies migrating to Perth, Western Australia, but is not autobiographical. Readers ask which parts are real? Some people say ‘weren’t your parents brave.’
Brave is going to a country with a different language or as an asylum seeker, being invited by the Australian government and given free passage with only £10 per adult to pay for administration costs, is not in the same league. Of course leaving your relatives behind and burning your boats with no job to go to and little capital is braver than staying put…
I needed my mother’s help to get the adult point of view, but the Palmer family are not my family. I wanted the story to be realistic, so the Palmers follow the same journey as we did. The ‘six week holiday of a lifetime’ sounded fun and I was envious of those who had come by ship, crossed the equator and met King Neptune, but the Palmer family had to fly.
I knew no one who had been in the migrant camps: I don’t think my father would have persuaded Mum to go at all if she had to face the prospect of a camp! She hadn’t been in the services during the war and had gone from home straight to marriage, so barracks and camps did not fall within her experience. Dad knew ‘someone from the office’ who had migrated and they sponsored us. The chap met us at the airport well gone midnight and as we drove across to the other side of the little city Mum was already looking out of the ‘station wagon’ in dismay. Once on our own, inside the caravan booked for us, she was soon saying ‘Rob, what have you brought us to’. We hadn’t seen much in the dark, but Mum had apparently focused on endless rows of electricity poles. Full of the whole big adventure I was exasperated that she was complaining when we had only been in Australia two hours.
The friend returned at nine am to take us down to Scarborough Beach. His family had taken to beach life and were living ‘the dream’. My younger brother and sister were terrified of the waves and I clung to a plastic surfboard, too embarrassed to tell their children I couldn’t swim. After that experience the only beach my parents wanted to sit on was Crawley Beach by the Swan River. It was very pleasant and Mum and Dad treated this first week as a holiday, we even had an ice cream every day, unprecedented, though it was not like Mr. Whippy and tended to have lumps of ice. Perth City was small then and you couldn’t get lost. Supreme Court Gardens were very pleasant and down by the Swan River was the wide open esplanade, so far we were living the dream.
After one night in the cramped caravan I had been despatched, or invited, I’m not sure which, to stay with the family of our sponsor. I was to be in the boy’s class at school and his younger sister did ballet, so I had nothing in common with her! I cringe now to think of my prepubescent self wandering around a house of strangers in my flimsy baby doll pyjamas, but all was above board.
After a week Mum and Dad had found a house to rent; as the venetian blinds were closed they didn’t see properly what it was like until Mum pulled the blinds up when we moved in. The only neighbour to speak to Mum was a Dutch lady. It was also time for me and my younger brother to start school, where their summer term was in full swing. This was nothing compared to the reality that Dad had to find a job and a house to buy and our packing cases were not going to arrive… more next week.
Read about the strange year leading up to our departure from England in last year’s blog.
Read more about my novel at my website.
Peek inside the book.