Caravanning and RVing in Australia

Murphy Down Under

Chapter 9

Someone had to die or retire before you could get advancement in the England of those days so many people, including ourselves, looked towards either Australia or Canada for a better future.

Hating the cold, Canada had no appeal for me so we applied to Australia House and in due course were accepted for the ten pounds immigration scheme and, after fond and sad farewells in Yorkshire and from my family down south, we found ourselves at Tilbury Docks waiting to board the old P&O Orontes.

We had thought to leave Murphy behind but it soon became obvious that he was taking a hand in the weather we encountered as soon as we sailed. We were allocated a dining table with some people we didn't meet for a week! 'Mal de Mer' had got them and although we sometimes saw the husband gathering slices of bread from the breakfast table to feed his miserably sick family, it wasn't until we had safely passed through the Bay of Biscay and were well into the Mediterranean that we met the people who we have numbered among our best friends from that day onwards.

The Lambs - Harry and Ivy, sons Paul and Phillip and daughter Jayne - recovered from their sea-sickness and we spent a lot of time together during the rest of the voyage.

During the rough weather when the Orontes rolled and pitched alarmingly, the stewards put ropes up in the corridors and ledges around the tables to prevent the sliding crockery falling off and one lunchtime a particularly big lurch alarmed us and we rushed back to our cabin to check on Jackie who we had left in her cot. Our fears were well founded as Murphy had tipped her out of the cot and she finished up jammed under one of the bunks. Fortunately she was unharmed and suffered no discernible ill effects.

We had hoped to leave Murph behind in England when we started out new life in Australia but when we arrived at Station Pier that bleak wet, grey morning of the 6th of April, 1959, we had a feeling he was already in residence.

The warm welcome from Vi's sister Mary and her husband 'Strick', plus friends of the family, Clifford and Gladys who had also come to meet us, made up for the wintry conditions and we were soon on our way to Highett.

Cliff drove a Hillman and lent it to me a few days later to go for an Australian driving licence. Of course I had studied the peculiar turning procedures used in some of Melbourne streets and could answer the questions with no trouble. Putting it into practice was another thing altogether.

Having passed the test, the three of us - Vi and I plus Murphy - set off for a look at the city and all went well until I decided to keep out of everyone's way by using the left hand lane in Swanston Street. I should have remembered that lane was the Right Turn Lane and so we found ourselves heading east along Flinders Street. A left turn at what must have been Russell Street, then another left and we found ourselves driving back down Swanston Street in the opposite direction to the way we had intended. "OK Murph you win," must have been our thoughts as we scuttled back down the Nepean Highway to Highett. He hadn't finished with us though as we had a flat tyre before we got home and had to get the puncture mended at Moorabbin.

My experience as a foreman motor mechanic in England didn't count for much with the CES or whatever the government employment agency was called in those days as they found me a job as a lube operator - about as far down the scale as you can go in the motor trade.

Declining this, I scoured the employment pages of the 'Age' newspaper and after a series of aptitude tests found myself as a trainee cash register technician.

The very first morning, I was working away when the morning tea came round and the tray of drinks was put on my bench. Thinking there was no rush, I finished tightening the screw I was putting in and then looked up to see a mate of Murphy's disappearing with the last cuppa. You had to be quick in that place!

Six months commuting between Highett and Russell Street to work didn't thrill me and the job, despite the extensive aptitude tests and fidelity bond, wasn't very interesting so I cast around for something more challenging.

I found this selling food mixers door-to-door on a commission only basis. The sales spiel was that this new mixer was about to be released on the market and selected homes were being given special pre-release deals as part of the advertising campaign. All lies of course because the same line was used for years with no general release ever taking place.

I did pretty well at this - mainly because I chose to work on my own in better class areas while the rest of the team went with the supervisor to housing commission estates where the TVs were the only things not regularly repossessed. In fact I won the salesman of the month award the second month I was there and not only was presented with a mantel radio as the prize, but earned enough commission to cover the deposit on a new VW beetle.

Murphy was only resting because the beetle presented an opportunity he couldn't resist. During one week, I had spotted some land for sale at Upway in the Dandenong hills near Melbourne and after lunch on Saturday I said, "Let's go look at the blocks. It's raining - but that's good, as it's best to look at land in the worst conditions."

The land was at the bottom of a large hill and the flat area at the bottom had been bulldozed. "How will we get back up?" Vi asked. "Don't worry," I replied with great confidence. "A Volkswagen will go anywhere!" So it will - but getting back is a different matter! After turning round, we struck a soft patch and became hopelessly bogged with the car sitting on its underbody.

By now it was raining again, the creek was rising, Vi was running out of nappies and milk for Jackie who was still a baby then, and I set off in search of help. Chris in the meantime was insisting he could see wolves down by the creek in the deepening gloom.

A tractor was bogged in the backyard of the nearest house about half a mile away, but the owners kindly came back in the rain with me to fetch the family and, after giving us some lovely hot soup, took us to the Ferntree Gully railway station to catch a train back to Prahran. Not a lot of conversation took place on the journey and next morning - alone - I went back and, with much jacking to put the back wheels on boards, running forward off them and repeating the procedure many times, I was able to reach a more solid road and return in our lovely new, mud-splattered VW to the city.

We didn't buy land at Upwey!

One day while selling on the Mornington Peninsula, I spotted an old empty house at Merricks and although it had no electricity or running water, I felt it would be much better than the cramped sleepout we called home at that time. I also saw a job for a motor mechanic advertised at Moorooduc and went to enquire about that. Within days we had rented the house and I had a new job.

We had no furniture so I spent a day in various Melbourne auction rooms and successfully bid for a enough furniture to set up house. Most of it was only seen from the back of the sale room but by good luck it all matched fairly well.

My new employer, Phil Parnell, was kind enough to lend me an old lend-lease Chevvy truck and I set off for the city to load our new possessions. Getting the furniture on to the truck wasn't too hard as the auction rooms staff gave a hand but the fridge was a different matter.

I had bought a Silent Knight kerosene fridge from a second-hand shop in Prahran and the only staff there was the elderly lady who ran the shop. When I arrived at the shop with my truckload of furniture there was just enough space for the fridge but how to get it up on the tray was the problem. Murphy of course made sure that every passer-by I approached had either a bad back, a crook heart or was in too much of a rush to help. Finally I snared a reluctant helper and the beast was loaded. It could have been a good fridge - but it wasn't! It either froze everything in it or the wick carboned up and it de-frosted. A delight for our friend Murphy who honed his skill with it in order to plague us in later years when we had similar refrigeration systems in caravan 3-way fridges. 

Chapter 10