Brisbane in 1964 (it’s greatly improved since) struck me as like a frontier town in a cowboy film. Shops with verandahs and you could imagine horses fastened to their hitching rails. It all seemed very alien. Quite soon a friend invited us to tea. To me that meant cups of tea, cucumber sandwiches etc. But in Australia it meant dinner and I found about 10 people present all come to meet this new arrival from England. England at this time was still referred to as “Home”. In my own mind I was a near penniless migrant with no job and no discernible prospects but I was seated at the head of the table and my opinions sought. As I wasn’t wearing a jacket the hostess “tactfully” suggested that as it was warm the men might like to remove their jackets. Bloody ‘ell! From Brisbane we travelled to a small country town to meet Lorna’s parents. He was a scientist, a plant pathologist who advised the local apple growers. This was the only time I met him but I liked him.
The highlight of his week was to go to the meeting of Rotary. I was given the rare honour of going with him as his guest. When I managed a theatre I spoke quite often at Rotary meetings as the guest speaker. They were rather formal, a bit stuffy. I thought I knew what to expect but I was very wrong. There was a piano and we stood while somebody played the English national anthem, which was also Australia’s national anthem at that time. The meeting was American in style with a Serjeant at Arms who made corny jokes and fined people. After the meal we had community singing. I remember one song in which we all had to tap our saucers with our spoons in time with the music. I found that pathetic but my father- in-law, a cultured, well-educated man, seemed to be enjoying it.
There didn’t seem to be much in the way of jobs in Brisbane and we decided to move to Sydney. We arrived by bus in the early morning and looked around the city centre. There were tall, European style stone buildings and I felt much more at home. In England I’d seen photos of the proposed Opera House and I looked forward to seeing it. But it hadn’t progressed far by that time and was just a building site.
When my elder brother migrated to Canada he was given advice by relatives of his wife that he should get a haircut and acquire a Canadian accent. The haircut was easy but I never managed the accent. In the early days I’d go into a small shop and in my best imitation say “G’day” and the British migrant shopkeeper would say “What part of the Old Country are you from?”
I can understand why migrants do well in a new country. You are desperate enough to push yourself and do things that you wouldn’t have the nerve to do at home. I went the rounds of the public service broadcaster, the ABC, and got a little work doing a weekly radio broadcast on a magazine program and writing some radio documentaries for schools. But the pay was so small that I realised I couldn’t live on it and I’d have to get a job. In London I’d supplemented my earnings from teaching prior to flying out by getting a temporary job at the London office of a big, multinational oil company, Esso. I wrote to them in Sydney and got a job in Field Accounting. I had to give up my broadcasts because I wasn’t available in the daytime but I kept on with my radio scripts. The job was menial and ideal because when I put my ledgers away in the cupboard at night all thoughts of work disappeared instantly. I wrote on the bus to and from work, in the Botanic Gardens at lunchtime and, using shorthand which nobody else could read, I was even able to jot down odd notes at work.
A production company in Melbourne advertised for a writer and script editor. I didn’t fancy my chances but I applied. Several weeks later I got a phone call at work from Lorna. There was a telegram from the head of the company “Please phone. Hector Crawford.” I couldn’t make an interstate call from work but I was able to slip out to a phone box. There I made a reversed charge call. This caused consternation and there was a long delay before I was put through. Hector said they were very interested in my application (that’s why it’s taken you so many weeks to respond, I thought) and could I send some samples of my work. I felt sure that that would fix it but I sent off some scripts.
Again a delay of several weeks than the same pantomime of a telegram asking me to call, the same consternation at the other end etc. This time he offered me a three week trial at 40 pounds a week (I think I was getting about 28 as a clerk) plus all expenses paid etc. “And if it doesn’t work out, well, we’ve blued our dough.” That seemed like a generous offer, at the very least experience that you couldn’t buy for money, and I accepted. There was one small problem. I didn’t have any holidays due and it wasn’t the kind of job where you could ask for 3 weeks unpaid leave.
I had to give my notice in. I considered what would happen when the trial failed and I had to come back. It might not be easy to get another congenial job. I decided that I was not too proud to admit failure and grovel for my job if it hadn’t already been filled. On my last day my supervisor called for attention in the tea break, said I was going off to a big career in TV and handed over a present. As I was going to Melbourne they gave me an umbrella. (Sydney people have the fallacious belief that there is more rain in Melbourne. Sydney’s average annual rainfall at that time was twice that of Melbourne’s. But because of the changeable nature of Melbourne’s weather it probably rains more often.) That did it. My bridges were burned. I couldn’t go round asking people how much they’d given in order to return it. next