Last week Barry answered the how, what, when and why he lives in Australia. In this letter from ‘Downunder he talks about the impact his eldest brother has had in his life. Also, there is a brief mention of Milton United FC, plus a little story about Bucknall cubs and scouts.
My first reconciliation of such behaviour goes back to the late 1940s when we were living in 17 Millward Road, Bucknall. At the time he was in the army and stationed in Aldershot. On this occasion he was on a weekend pass. I was seven years old. When my sister Jocelyn came to tell me I was playing with some mates near Bucknall brook. We raced each other home and on arrival found Thomas sitting opposite dad in the front room, in the place where later we would put our first television set – with its double doors – and bought just before Elizabeth’s coronation. Mum was making the usual cup of tea.
He chatted to mum and dad, gave my sister a doll, and took a photograph of me sitting on a boulder in the garden outside our front door. Then, he was gone again. Mum said he’d gone to see some friends before returning to barracks.
We would not see Thomas again until April 1960 when he met us off the SS Orsova in Fremantle, Western Australia.
It was during that fleeting visit home that Thomas suggested to dad and mum that it would be good for me to enrol in the cubs at Bucknall 3rd City down at Trent Bridge. So off I went, met with Messrs. Ellis, Tyler and Ledgar, and duly became a ‘wolf cub’.
Mr Ellis was in the electrical business. Mr Tyler was courting the cub mistress – who lived in Corneville Road, Bucknall. Jimmy Ledgar? Well, he played soccer for Milton United FC and was a member of that team when it had a bit of a run in the FA Cup in the early fifties.
My memories of those cub and scouting times plus camping days remain indelible on my psyche for all time. Jimmy Ledgar was the ‘fountain of all our scouting knowledge’. That’s what we cubs and scouts chose to believe. He would call our camping trips ‘jolly jaunts’. If he said it was going to rain during camp we’d pack our wet weather gear and vice versa if he said it would be fine. It didn’t matter that it would rain, hail or shine, or whether Jimmy was right or wrong about the weather. We soon forgot what he said because we had such great times. Except for one, especially remembered occasion in Silverdale.
Jimmy would vary our camping trips to give us a variety of experiences, and knowing that some of our grandfathers, fathers and brothers had worked down the pits he suggested we camp nearby and visit the Silverdale Drift coal mine, and possibly the local tin mine.
Now Jimmy, one time soccer player for Milton United FC, and Assistant Scout Master at Bucknall 3rd City, told us to meet him and the other leaders on the corner of Cheapside and Piccadilly in Hanley. I can still remember travelling in the back of small truck to Silverdale via Etruria and Newcastle in what was described as ‘suitable weather of light drizzle in windy conditions’. Well that’s approximately what Jimmy said, and we were not about to argue with him. The Silverdale Drift and tin mines were our targets and a little light drizzle was not going to deter us.
Trouble was, the light drizzle gave way to torrential rain for most of the weekend and it became one of those ‘jolly jaunts’ where all our efforts were spent trying to keep dry, dodging soggy cow pats, and eating cold food – mainly beans – straight from cans. And no, we did not get a chance to visit the Silverdale Drift or tin mine. Mind you, Jimmy was known to be a bit of a wag. So who knows, there may not have been such places to visit in the first place.
Where was I? Oh yes, Western Australia, April 1960.
After several days in the state’s capital city we headed out to Mount Magnet – a gold mining town in the Murchison approximately four hundred kilometres north of Perth. My brother Thomas was one of electricians at the Hill 50 gold mine. Gwen, my sister-in-law, worked part-time in the town’s hospital.
Dad and I duly started work as labourers at Hill 50, my sister obtained employment with the town’s grocer, and mum set about making a home for us. During our first day we were called separately to meet the Hill 50 management team to firstly receive their welcome, then to talk about pay and other employment conditions. Dad was called first. Then it was my turn.
I remember sitting in a small office opposite three senior Hill 50 personnel – the General Manager, the operations manager, and the paymaster. With true ‘Aussie’ enthusiasm yours truly was welcomed to Oz. Then it was down to pay and other matters and how did £13.10s a week sound for starters – with a review after three months. Conditions included a 40 hour five day week, double time for weekends; two weeks leave, plus public holidays.
That bit about £13.10s a week stunned me into silence. My mind was in such a whirl that I could neither nod nor mutter my agreement. You see, prior to coming to Oz I was working for the Co-op Dairy in Sneyd Green starting 5am daily, working 10 hour days six days a week, only one weeks annual leave, and definitely no public holidays. All for a weekly pay packet of £3.7s.6d.
It seems my silence was taken as being less than happy with their offer. After a whispered conversation the three gentlemen straitened in their seats, looked at yours truly in silence for a moment or two before Mr Lou Checker, the General Manager – a tall and rotund man – spoke softly and said…”OK Barry, we’ll make it £14.”
Still I couldn’t answer.
There was another whispered conversation. This time it was the operations manager who spoke. Mr Sainsbury, a smaller and much slimmer man compared to Mr Checker, starred at me and said somewhat firmly…”Look Barry, we are prepared to go to £14.5s, but no higher. Take it or leave it.”
Somehow I must have managed a nod and a mumbled thank you.
Still stunned by what had just taken place I found myself being warmly welcomed into the Hill 50 family with sturdy handshakes, a promise of career opportunities via tertiary education, and many other benefits that would be offered by the company over time. To this day I cannot remember whether I walked or stumbled out of that interview. And whilst those three gentlemen seemed puzzled by my initial silence and mumbled thank you, they appeared more than pleased to have bought my labour for £14.5s.
I was absolutely delighted.
For three months or so I had been doing general labouring duties in and around the mine surface area when Mr Sainsbury came by to see how I was getting on. In the conversation he said something like…”Barry, we think we know why you were somewhat quiet during your welcome interview. Tell me, what were you earning before you came to Australia?” When I told him he too was initially stunned – just as I had been during my interview. Then he started to roar with laughter, and was still laughing as he walked off towards the main administration building.
The next day I was promoted to work in the stores department.
See you later…
March 11 2003