My name is Bob Mitchell and I was born in Scotland. Mum (Marion) and I were abandoned by my father, Stanley when I was only 2. I attended 3 schools whilst living in Scotland, those were Lugar, Prestwick and Dreghorn. We left Scotland on the 24th of May 1963 and sailed for Australia on the 25th of May 1963.

 

We arrived at Fremantle WA on the morning of the 13th of June 1963.

 

My Fairbridge story started in the summer of 61 (sounds like a movie title) northern hemisphere time that is. Around then was the first time that I found out my Mum was thinking of emigrating to either Canada or Australia and not sure which state in Australia (Victoria or WA). I know that for the next 12 to 18 months I was not a happy chappy knowing that I would be leaving all my relations and friends. I did have one ray of hope and that was my Granny was still alive. Mum would never leave while she was still with us so fate stepped in and Gran passed away leaving Mum with only one decision seeing she had decided on Australia well I do believe she did select the right choice and we were WA bound only 3 months after dear old Gran passed away.

 

Up until we boarded the train in Kilmarnock bound for Southampton via London of course, any mention of emigration and I was inconsolable, crying, screaming and defiant. You see I was not going to go. Anyway once on board the train something must have twigged that no matter what I say or do I am off to Australia, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the journey, a journey of a lifetime no doubt, when my mother starts blubbering and sobbing. Of course I didn’t at the time realize what a huge decision she had made and I can remember quite vividly saying, “that all these months leading up till today that any mention of emigrating and I would just lose it now that we are going I am fine with that fact and you are now crying like a baby”, it was a huge moment for her, leaving her brothers and sisters and their families behind, coupled with the prospect of not seeing them again, I reckon she had every right to break down.

 

We had quite an uneventful trip to London, I do however remember stopping at Leeds sometime in the wee small hours of the morning and mum buying me something to drink. After a change of trains we left London and headed to Southampton. As the train weaved around the wharf and was slowing down I can remember asking mum where’s the boat and her reply was we have stopped right next to it. I couldn’t believe how big this boat was but I nearly broke my next trying to see the top of it. The ship was the SS Canberra.

 

The 20 day trip on this ship was the best experience that I had had up until that moment in time, for instance my mum had been taking me to swimming lessons for 12 months at the indoor baths in Kilmarnock and I had not as much floated once but 4 to 6 days into this voyage and I was diving into the pool and swimming on my own. I used to absolutely love swimming in the middle pool at night. Other things that I picked up was how to play some different card games, I also became quite good at chess but the best was getting sneaked into the disco/night club by some of the older kids. These were what I would later find out to be Blue Light or teenagers dances but it didn’t matter I loved it.

 

My fondest memory of the trip (although it wasn’t at the time) would have to be when the “Gali Gali Man” who was a magician, came onto the ship the night we sailed through the Suez Canal. Mum thought she had tucked me in for the night all snug and locked away in our cabin, while she went out socializing at one of the entertainment venues on board, however I had other plans I wanted to see the “Gali Gali Man” so I got dressed, went up to the Function Centre and sat on the floor in the front row and watched in amazement the tricks this man performed. It was nearing the end and the Gali Gali man came over and selected me out of the kids sitting on the floor to help him with a trick that involved flags and string which I pulled out of his mouth it was great stuff but my Mum had not been there to see it. Just as well coz I might just of copped a hiding. Anyway as we were on our way up from lunch the next day 1 of mum’s new friends said to her that there was a great photo of your son on the notice board, of course I cringed and was frog-marched to the notice board to have a look. I was unaware of anyone taking photo’s otherwise I would not have volunteered my services, needless to say I got a couple of quick smacks before mum bought the snapshot and it holds pride of place in my photo album..

 

The last leg of the voyage was from Colombo to Fremantle and turned out to be very hairy on 2 occasions, firstly we were hit by a monsoon while swimming and I had never seen the deep end of the pool until that day, we quickly got out of the pool and headed for the change rooms, secondly the morning we arrived off Fremantle we had to go through the custom checks and beside the fact that I had a little difficulty justifying my presence on board the ship, because of the number of passengers getting off the ship actually listed to one side for a short time and it was scary to this little 10 year old Scotsman.

 

Well we finally arrived on shore in Australia and after what seemed forever we were welcomed by Mr. Brayn and led out of the Terminal to his Holden station wagon, while on the way to the car we passed this huge sign which read “WELCOME TO SUNNY WESTERN AUSTRALIA” well it was absolutely teeming down. The weather didn’t stay glum for too long so when Mum and I were joined by John Cockram his sister and his mother for the hour or so trip to Fairbridge, the sun was back out. Unlike other new comers we were not shown the sights of Perth or Fremantle first but rather taken direct to our new home.

 

My first recollection of Fairbridge was passing the Church and being the avid sportsman noticed what I thought was an odd shaped football pitch (Soccer) which had a decidedly down hill look about it and when I mentioned this to Mr. Brayn he laughed and said it was the hockey field, in fact I had never seen or heard about the game. There was going to be lots of new things for me to see in this new home of mine. We were soon outside the cottage that I had been allocated to which was named Hudson and for the next 3 years I would be calling this place home. These 3 years were possibly the most educational in life situations that I would have had mainly due to the fact that we had to be self sufficient and self reliant. My shoes or sandals were the first casualty of my new environment, this made it difficult for the first couple of weeks while tenderly walking to where ever we needed to be. Chaps on the feet were the most common pain to acquire although I also had stone sores on the soles of my feet which blistered and became very tender.

 

Aunty Mir was my first cottage mother and although firm she was very fair. She held a loose reign on all the boys allowing a fair bit of freedom although she made sure the older boys looked after the youngies.

 

I initially found it a pain trying to work out the new lingo that was being used at Fairbridge. For instance I remember Aunty Mir sent her son Mick and me down to the little shop for some lollies, now to me at that time lollies were “ice lollies” so when Mick wanted to buy what I called “sweeties” I argued that he was getting the wrong items. During Aunty Mir’s time I learnt and did a lot of outdoor activities;

 

The art of catching marron with a piece of binding twine and a lump of rotten meat, cooking the marron in the old copper by making them walk the plank before falling into the bubbling water.

Rabbitting which included such skills as, finding fresh runs and burrows, setting the traps without getting your fingers caught in the jaws, taking the pelt off in one piece and of course gutting and cleaning.

Firewood collecting, which meant catching the horse, putting the gear on it and hitching it up to the old cart. Making billy tea was also a big part of the collection process. The selection process of the wood needed for the various functions around the cottage, wood chips, kindling for the copper/hot water system and roots for the big lounge fire. Then of course was the fine art of wood chopping with hopefully a sharp axe.

Task – these were chores and were therefore not pleasurable at the time.

Hiking to places like Happy Valley and Basin Pool was a terrific adventure running round the hills like bushrangers or local natives.

 

Some of the people that I met at Fairbridge I will never forget. They may not remember who I was but they had an influence on who I am today. People I looked up to when I first arrived were Ken Ducker, Kevin and Paul Boyland and Ian Pickering. Ken Ducker, all round good guy saved me from a thrashing from Eric Pringle for that I was very grateful, Kevin Boyland was the bloke who talked me into supporting the best footy side in WA that was in those days the Old Easts. Paul was probably the easiest to look up to he was closer in age and he was very good at sports and hunting, he taught me lots. Ian Pickering was more of a hard man and he impressed with his self reliance and assurance, he wasn’t one to cross.

 

I had some keen rivalries not only within the cottage but also elsewhere. Stuart Law and I were very competitive and from time to time this eagerness got the better of us, also I didn’t come out on top too often. The other great rivalry I had was on haircut nights with a older guy from Glasgow cottage named Nick May, we invariably would be the last to have our hair cuts because we would wrestle each other all on the grass outside George Elliot’s house for hours picking up a bonus grass rash to the back to boot. Gordon Stuart’s made up bedtime stories were also great fun although some of the subject matter did leave a lot to be desired, with septics often filling the storylines. Gordon was also good at directing plays for the cottage to perform for people like Mr Brayn and Mrs Fry as well as our cottage mothers. Lastly Mick Mir, Mick was a bit of a show-off but I seemed to get on ok with him, he also had a couple of little party trick type things he used to do, blow out his tummy and roll it up and down his gut was one, cracking his joints in his fingers was another and then there were his noises he would make from his mouth.

 

I made some gaffs in my time too, a couple that come to mind were when Mr Steele used to take us for boxing, I asked him if he got his bowed legs from riding horses a lot, he looked at me straight and told me he had 2 broken legs with 1 in 2 places, at that moment I wished the floor would have swallowed me up.

 

The other is when I crossed Ian Pickering and ran away from Fairbridge, well I didn’t get very far the 3rd bend I think it was which had a tree on the corner which I sat under. Ian had belted me or something and I probably had deserved it but he was the reason I ran away, this made him responsible for bringing me back which he did on the cross bar of his bike.

 

The opposite sex also became a sought after commodity all of a sudden during this pre teen time. I only ever had 2 what I would deem to be girlfriends at Fairbridge. My first ever girlfriend in Australia was Ann Purdy she was the first girl I ever held hands with and of course had my first smooch with, I used to think she was terrific but it didn’t last long enough because she was fortunate enough to leave. I never heard anything about her or her family ever again. The other was Linda Laird she to me was a little blonde bombshell and as I remember we had an on again off again type relationship. I did run across Linda after Fairbridge but circumstance ended this rekindled friendship.

 

There were great places I used to love going with the Fairbridge kids, as mentioned before places like Happy Valley and Basin Pool, there was also Welly but the best place was the Mandurah camp. At Mandurah we were able to go body surfing at Halls Head, swimming at the little beach, gidgeing for cobbler, fishing of the Mandurah Traffic bridge and going to the open air pictures.

 

There were also times when I would rather of been somewhere else but all in all I do believe that I did get a fair bit out of the old farm and don’t for a minute regret my mothers decision to pick up and leave the old country. My memories of Fairbridge are fond and lifelong, in fact there are still lots of things that could have been mentioned in this story.