Little needs adding to the previous story of how we finally ended up on a boat to Australia, sailing first class, dining with an Italian couple and Helvi dancing with the captain. Perhaps I should add as a minor detail that I also won the ship’s chess competition with the final match being played with the ship’s doctor who was supposed to be a very good player. Boasting a bit here, but one might be forgiven. One should never resist the temptation to live off minor triumphs in life as much as possible. You just never know what tragedy might be waiting around the corner!
One other memory just bubbling up right now was the teaching of English to some of the Greek migrants on the boat. There was an Australian immigration officer on-board asking for volunteers teaching English. Helvi suggested I should offer to do just that. I was given a class of Greek people mostly men but also a few young couples. All were eager and keen. I have never met a more joyfully optimistic mob of Greek people. The teaching was simple. I knew no Greek and they no English. It was done by pointing and writing. There is a name for this type of teaching, but I can’t bother looking it up. Time is of the essence, and what is in a name?
I started narcissistically pointing to myself and at the same time saying ‘Gerard’ which was followed by everyone saying their names as well. This then became ‘my name is…followed by the whole class repeating it. The fun really started when progressing to trades, and jobs. Hammering down became a carpenter. Slapping around with a brush, a painter, and so. It turned out many of the men were all of the trades, They were all cobblers, butchers, you name the trade and the same hands would fly up.. This was cause for great hilarity. Talk about a keen lot of people. No wonder so many became successful in Australia.
One could ask why did they chose to leave a country that millions flock to each year, especially with a population so given to spontaneous dance, laughter and happiness? I noticed the same with the Italians. Of course, grinding poverty and unemployment endemic in many Southern Europe countries could be the answer. Even so, there did not seem to be that same expression of cheer and good humour in countries where far better material conditions did exist. Has anyone ever caught public transport in the UK? Those grim faces holding onto their umbrellas as if a stolen stash of gold !
I reflected how within a few weeks those happy Greeks would be drawn to working, saving, and enjoying their new life. Now there would be unlimited plates laden with fetta, lamb and spinach. No shortage for the kids and….own house, even own business, a milk bar called Stavros with photos being sent back to the relatives in Greece. Did the boisterous laughter continue in Australia as then still on the ship? Leave the pensive reflections well alone ‘my name is gerard’. What are you hoping for?
We arrived in Fremantle. Of course on yet another Sunday. We sauntered through the hot lonely barren streets. It was my third Sunday in Fremantle. Not much had changed. The continuation to Melbourne was through The Great Australian Bite. The enormous swell parallel with the boat made even the crew not turn up for meals, let alone the passengers. There were paper bags strung up along the corridors and stairs. Sea sickness is a cruel part of any sea voyage. Even though most passenger boats have stabilisers fitted, they were of little use. Most remained in their cabins, heaving, retching merrily away in private.
Of course, Helvi and I were exempted from all this misery. Proudly arm in arm we would pace the decks. Our faces into the fierce wind. Nonchalantly defiant to Zeus and Poseidon. No sea too rough no woman (or man) so tough! The dining rooms all but for a hardy few, deserted. Tables fastened and piano roped down in the corner. Those few passengers that did turn up ate out of plates that had been put on plastic sheets to give traction, prevent them from sliding about. We ordered bacon and eggs to the pale looking waiter. The Italians absent as was the captain.
After Melbourne, a more normal city and then …Sydney. That beautiful glide through the heads and then to the Opera House in full progress, cranes sticking up as if waving to the newcomers. Finally arriving at my parents place. They immediately liked Helvi. My mother thought we would live in the garage for a while. She had put up cheerful new curtains, a red and white checked cotton strung along the top of the louvered windows, facing the street. We slept there just one night. Next day went to the city including my little apartment in Kings-Cross or Pott’s Point. It had become vacant just before our departure from Finland. Helvi immediately liked it and we decided to live there instead. It was fully furnished, even had all the pots and pans, cutlery and fridge. Even its name ‘Kanimbla Hall’ seemed attractive. It was really a bit of a no choice. I mean, the no-ones land of the suburb, neither country-side nor city. The choice was for city.
We moved in next day. It was so exciting.