Four Suitcases

By Lesley-Anne, 68. Christie Downs, SA

June 1970

I was 15 years old, and my family was about to leave life as we knew it far behind. My parents had sold the family home and given away most of the furniture. A few precious items that were too fragile to make the journey were gifted to friends and neighbours. Everything else had been packed in cardboard cartons and collected by a shipping company. It would be many weeks before we would see these possessions again.

The day before our departure had been a difficult one. We had been to visit my grandparents to say goodbye.  Everyone was trying to be brave, but the reality was we didn’t know when, or even if we would see each other again. It didn’t occur to me how difficult it must have been for Nanna and Granddad to see us go and for Mum to leave her large, close-knit family. After hugs, kisses and tears all around, it was time to leave. We had to catch a bus back to my aunt’s house. Nanna insisted on coming to the bus stop. Every precious second was one more she could spend with us. The day was cold and windy, and she had left the house in just a light, short-sleeved dress in her emotional state. I will never forget the sight of her sitting in the bus shelter, being very stoic and shivering with cold. My Granddad was a man of few words and even fewer gestures of affection, yet I always knew he cared. I looked up to see him hurrying down the road with his limping gait carrying a woolly cardigan. With a few words of admonishment, telling Nanna how silly she was to have come out without it, he held it out and slipped it over her ample, goose-fleshed arms. The bus came a few minutes later. We climbed aboard; I looked back towards the bus stop and saw them waving their handkerchiefs in farewell.

When I went to bed, four suitcases were lined up in the hallway.

We were some of the last British Migrants to fly the old Kangaroo Route to Australia. It earned this nickname due to the number of refuelling stops, like a kangaroo hopping its way across the world. In 1971, Qantas introduced the Boeing 747, making it possible for a non-stop flight. We were flying on the much smaller Boeing 707 on a journey taking 32 hours. We were only allowed to sit in a transit lounge at each stop while the plane refuelled. The most memorable of these was Tel-Aviv. There were heavily armed military everywhere.  Then, as now, this was a volatile part of the world. Mum and I needed to visit the restrooms. As we got up and walked towards the conveniences, an Israeli soldier toting a machine gun followed us. He escorted us to the door and waited until we came out to make sure we went straight back to the transit lounge. Quite confronting for this 15-year-old kid who had never travelled beyond a couple of counties back in England. Karachi was another stop I remember well. The airport was basic and extremely hot. A man came around with a tray selling soft drinks. The can of lukewarm 7 Up was welcome in the oppressive heat.

Eventually, we landed in Darwin. These would be our first steps on Australian soil. To say we were shocked is an understatement. There were no linked air bridges then. It was out of the plane, down the metal steps directly to the tarmac. The heat that hit us as we descended the steps was like a heavy, wet blanket. As we entered the terminal, we were trooped over squelching sponge mats. These were to disinfect the soles of our shoes. No foreign germs allowed here!

Old Darwin airport was fondly referred to as “The Ol shed” by the locals. There was no air conditioning, and our first impressions were that it was all rather primitive. From Darwin, it was a flight to Melbourne and, finally, Adelaide. A representative of Hickinbotham’s builders, Karl Katchmier, was there to meet us, holding up a card reading “Allen Family.”

Our four suitcases were retrieved from the baggage collection area and loaded into the back of Mr Katchmier’s station wagon. He then drove us to Salisbury East, which was nothing like it is today. No footpaths and minimal infrastructure, and very much an emerging outer suburb. We arrived at our destination, a small single-storey block of units on Smith Road. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and a small open living room/kitchen area, built of grey Besa Block and furnished with just the bare necessities.

The four suitcases stood in the middle of the living room.

After the 32-hour globe-hopping flight, we all needed sleep. We each had our dreams. Mum’s dream was for a bright future for her children. Dad dreamed of the opportunity to start his own business. My brother’s dreams were for adventure and excitement in their new country. As for me, like most girls my age, I dreamed of having a boyfriend. A sun-bronzed, beach blonde Aussie surfer would do just nicely.

The four suitcases would wait, standing in anticipation, in the middle of the living room while we dreamed our dreams. Tomorrow, our new life would begin.

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7 months ago

Your journey sounds a fair bit like ours when we migrated from Scotland in 1965. We also had to fly due to unrest in the Suez. The flight was a disaster with one of the prop engines going on fire, adding to our stops. Like you I was a young teen, at 13 it was a very hard transition to Elizabeth from the safety of home. We all grew and blossomed. I hope you were able to see your precious grandparents again. 😊 I enjoyed your story thank you.

Lesley Willott
Lesley Willott
7 months ago

Thank you for your reply. I went back to see my grandparents when I was 20 to fulfil a promise of having my 21st with them. My dear nanna came to Australia for my wedding and three more times, the last one well into her 80’s.

Lindsey-Jane Doley
7 months ago

Hi Leslie, what an excellent story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You’re such a good writer. I’ve just moved house, but only 3 streets away. Mind you, we had 32 years of accumulated stuff to sort. I can only begin to imagine what an overseas move would be like. So glad I haven’t had to do that.