By Adrian Crawford, 67. Mt Barker, SA
My name is Adrian Crawford and I live in Adelaide, South Australia. I’ve been a storyteller since I was six years old, though it took me to my twenties to truly discover that. I am a published author, feature film scriptwriter, actor and director in my retirement.
I was eight when we set sail from England for Australia in 1963. Before we left, I recall going to Australia House with my mother and watching this film about ‘Australia on the Sheep’s Back’. So, that’s what Australia is like, I thought! Sheep stations and little else. Indeed, Australia House told us to bring out our electrical appliances as it was highly unlikely they could be purchased in Sydney. Ridiculous!
There were farewells to my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. I remember on the wharf at Southampton as we were about to board the MS Aurelia asking this tall guy in this army great coat what the time was. It took ages to get his attention, and when he did answer, it was in such an Australian drawl that I didn’t understand a bloody word!
Ah, Genoa, Italy. Fond memories indeed. My Mum and I went exploring. As my Mum has no sense of direction whatsoever, we, of course, got lost. I wasn’t paying attention! So, my Mum approached a policeman for directions, pulled out her Collins Italian/English dictionary and began flicking through its pages. Il battore (the boat), dovre (where) trouvere (to find), she asked. With a slight smile on his face, the cop waited a good thirty or forty seconds before finally he answered. “Why certainly, Madam, just take the first street on the left, second street on the right and you should find yourself safely at the ship.” His English accent was i-m-p-e-c-c-a-b-l-e. My Mum conveniently forgot all about this incident. Many years later, I found out that many Italian policemen back then were University graduates. I reckon we had found one.
Viva Italia! Now we all know that we should never sink into cultural stereotypes, but what happened to us next was straight out of a ‘60s movie!
Imagine if you will the scene. Italian Riviera. Two English tourists, my Mum and I wade into the knee-deep crystal clear waters. You could literally count the rocks beneath your feet it was that clear! All of a sudden, we hear a cry of distress from behind us. It was a middle-aged Italian woman on the road dressed in widow’s black gesturing to us in extreme excitement and speaking one hundred miles an hour in fluent Italian. Then from beside her, walked up the quintessential English man. Military bearing. Bristled moustache. Hands behind his back. Phlegmatic to the core. After a little while, this man spoke, his words slow and carefully enunciated in an aristocratic accent. “I think, Madam, that what Madam is saying is that you should not swim there as the main sewer for the whole of the city of Genoa emerges some two hundred yards upstream from where you are currently wading.”
And next, came the Suez Canal. I remember the Egyptian bumboat men selling their wares to us tourists on the ship above. My 15-year-old brother Jon was doing a great job of haggling the seller down for a genuine small wooden camel. Too good in fact! The Egyptian bumboat man then yelled out to my father next to him and asked how much he wanted for Jon as he was such a great haggler. I looked at my father in alarm thinking to myself in my 8-year-old mind, “Is Dad really going to sell Jon?!” My father went, “Hm. Yes, I’ll think about it,” and walked away. And that was the end of that.
But it did become almost the end of us when we got to Aden in Yemen! We English weren’t particularly loved in 1963 some seven years after the Suez Crisis. My father was never physically violent but he had a most shocking temper where all common sense could fly out the window! Our Arab taxi driver kept insisting that two English pounds were the same as one Australian dollar. Of course, it was the other way around. My Dad was adamant that he was right. My Mum was getting really worried and kept urging my father to just go along with it, but there was no way he would budge. As for the taxi driver, he was furious. And 8-year-old me was level with the driver’s waist and had a very clear view of the driver jiggling his curved knife up and down from the sash around his waist. Behind him, an ugly crowd was growing and glaring. Still, my father would not back down! No way. Fortunately for us, my father was an army brat, the son of the artillery equivalent of a Regimental Sergeant Major, and this military policeman materialised out of nowhere. “Move along,” this sergeant commanded.
“But … But!” my Dad cried.
“Move along, now.”
It got through to my Dad, and we lived to see another day.
I recall the crossing of the Equator with the Captain playing Neptune and getting dowsed with water.
But there was one last big adventure on our voyage — we got to Freemantle Harbour and learnt that a gale was soon to hit the Australia Byte. The Captain decided to run the gauntlet of the gale. And halfway across the notorious Byte, what happened? We got hit — hard. I reckon I was the only one who was having a ball! I remember running up and down the corridor, giggling at the long queue of green faces lined up for the toilets. To me, it was sooo exciting! The boat rose and rose up until a peak, then whoosh, we would go down again and up the other side! Such fun! And then my Mum spoilt it all by insisting I go back to my bunk and not move under any circumstances unless she said so. “Oh, Mum!”
Finally, we berthed at Circular Quay, Sydney after five weeks at sea. I was so looking forward to the Aboriginals chasing the kangaroos down the wharves. What a huge disappointment to find nothing of the sort!
And so, began our new life in Australia with soon a burning heatwave on the Hay plains — 47 degrees in the shade, and a Sydney bushfire at our doorstep. But that is for another story …