New Arrivals Down Under


Everything comes to an end one day. But, at the same time, it is  the beginning of something new.

Paul and Ursula were standing at the railing of the ship that had been their home for five glorious weeks. They felt they were treated like royalty. It was a journey of a lifetime that transported them from the cold war  Europe of the fifties to a new life on an ancient  continent.

They had their girls on their arms and observed the activities on shore. Men in blue singlets were hoisting the gangway into place so a new wave of migrants could get on land.

Only in the morning had a doctor decided that they could disembark because Ursula suffered  a large abscess on her knee which made walking near impossible only the day before. This would have meant they would have continued their  cruise to Sydney. But over night the knee became better.

A cold wind blew from the South and they had to prepare to disembark. For the last time they went to their cabin and collected their hand luggage and the pram for the girls. Nothing was easy but they looked forward meeting and experiencing their new homeland. The future lay right in front of them. “Just walk the plank,” Paul said with a smile to Ursula as she pushed the pram, containing both girls, carefully towards solid ground.

There were people everywhere showing them the way into a large hall for the custom check.  Busy hands were frisking the  luggage of the new arrivals.

“What are they looking for,” someone asked in German.

“Knifes and dirty pictures,” someone answered back in German.

Slowly they moved towards  a table with a stern looking customs officer. Paul had to lift their suit cases on the table and open them for inspection.  He felt terrible, ” just like the East-German police,” he thought. The officer found a couple of rolls of  negatives and stretched them open. He held them against the light to see  whether he could discover some lewd photos. It was his duty to stop those migrants bringing filth into this beautiful country of his.

Paul had a couple of books in his suit case and the officer turned them upside-down hoping, pictures of naked ladies would fall out. What was this obsession with those people?  They could soon proceed and walked outside to a waiting train. The migrants were talking among themselves about their experience with the customs officers.  A man told them, that he saw, how they confiscated a large knife from a Yugoslav man.

Later when the train was slowly departing from the Port Melbourne wharf they were informed that the train would stop at Seymour for a lunch break. The train gathered speed and was soon taking them through the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

While Ursula took care of the children Paul took notice of what passed by the window of the train. He noticed that there were mainly single story dwellings in which Australians lived and he wondered whether they would, one day, own such a dwelling themselves. A house of their own! What a dream.

After about an hour and a half  the train slowed down and then stopped at Seymour. They all felt a bit peckish as the breakfast was only  a distant memory on that beautiful ship, the SS Strathaird. People were happy to stretch their legs and they were looking forward to their first meal in Australia.

When Ursula and Paul wanted to enter the refreshment room at the station, they were stopped by a resolute woman. “No men in here!” she shouted, “only women and children.”

Paul tried to argue with her, as he was used to giving a hand with the babies. Ursula would have trouble feeding them both at the same time. But to no avail. He was told in no uncertain way to go to the other room.

The food was not appetising at all. After the beautiful meals on the ship this was almost inedible. What was most memorable were the grass green, reconstituted peas.

Soon Paul was reunited with Ursula and the two girls. The train continued its journey inland. They passed through an area of a dead forest. For miles there was nothing but dead trees. It was devastating to look at. They could not come up with  any reason for this.

Later on the train stopped for a tea break at another station. Once again they were separated but they coped much better the second time. They felt they had to go through a period of learning and it wouldn’t take that long before they could start shaping their own life. After all they were optimists or they wouldn’t have gone on this journey at all.

At the end of May it is winter in Australia and the sun sets early. Nothing could be gleamed from looking out the window any more. The train came to a hold in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. Shouts were heard telling the new migrants that they should detrain as they were at their destination: Bonegilla Migrant Hostel.

“What? There is nothing out here,” people said. There was no station and they had to climb out of the carriage. Others helped them with the pram. They noticed ,  that it was bitter cold. They were asked to just wait and  get familiar in the dark before setting of to the hostel nearby. Someone out in the front said something. Paul did not take any notice as he was not able to understand English anyway. Instead he looked up to the sky. There wasn’t any cloud in the sky. As his eyes got adjusted to the dark he could see a sight he had never seen before in his life: stars, thousands of them and a band of light – the Milky Way.

He grabbed Ursula’s hand and pointed with the other hand to the sky. While other people were talking and swearing about the dark, they were both in awe and looked in reverence to the starry sky above them. They knew they had arrived at their destination and took the assurance from the impression that they had done the right thing. They decided  then, that they would like Australia.

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10 thoughts on “New Arrivals Down Under

  1. One of the best Peter. Very well told. It reminded me of my parents arrival at scheyville camp. A dreadful beginning. It never left my memory. Nissan huts and the heat….flies and wormy lamb chops.

    • Thanks Gerard, there could be more as we moved trough different hostels. What I remember from Bonegilla is the cold and the bad food. Uta and the children were sent later to Scheyville while I went to Balgownie Hostel at Fairymeadow.

    • Thanks for commenting, Rosie. It was only the first day. Over time we found Australians much more people friendly than we were used from in Germany. We expected some hardship and it was more confusion on our part than anything else. Our war experience helped us a lot in overcoming difficulties.

      I think I will write another blog of our first night and the following days in Bonegilla.

  2. Lovely story Peter. I hope lots of people read this and understand what newcomers feel when they come to a new country. Any change in our surroundings is bound to be difficult isn’t it? I’m happy you have found your place in these”new” surroundings.

    • Thank you Kayti for your comments. Yes, we we found our place quickly in our new surroundings. Australians are are a welcoming lot. In those days we pushed a pram with two girls everywhere and as soon as we wanted to cross a road all the cars stopped for us.

      They don’t do now any more for anybody. It is a pity. For us than was a new language, new surroundings and customs to get used to.
      Thanks for visiting.

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