Balgownie Hostel, 1952

William (Binks) McGill was my Uncle, whom I never met, as he sailed to Australia a few weeks before I was born.  From Australian Immigration Records I have found that William Gartley McGill (born 23 February 1916 in Scotland), Annie Boyd McGill (nee Adair) (born 31 March 1927 in Scotland) and Yvonne McGill (born 19 July 1951 in Scotland) embarked on the Ship Chitral in London on 14 May 1952 and arrived in Australia 13 June 1952 on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme.

This following is a transcript of his Binks’s first letter when he was living at Balgownie Hostel, Fairy Meadow, Australia, to another of my uncles, Hugh McGill in Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland, and was sent by airmail in July 1952 a couple of months after they left London to sail for Australia.  Fortunately, Hugh’s daughter Jean, my cousin, has held onto this letter for 65 years.

When they left Scotland they did not expect to see it or any of their family again and this proved to be the case.  They lost touch with the family back home and when my father, the last of William’s brothers and sisters, died in 2002 he had no idea what had become of his older brother.

I only found out in recent years and thanks to the internet, that William McGill died after 25 years in Australia in Wingham New South Wales.  According to his death certificate, his wife had predeceased him but that his daughter Yvonne had survived.

For some context to this letter, rationing did not end in the UK until 4 July 1954, two years after they had emigrated.

Charles McGill
October 2019

The following is a transcript of that 1952 letter courtesy of Charles McGill, nephew of William Gartley (Binks) McGill.

“Dear Hugh,

You will be thinking our boat went down since it’s about 3 months since I left, however at last we are half settled.

Well Hugh, the boat journey is a great one in every way but you need a lot of money and as you know we had very little but we managed in a sort of way but with about £50 it would be the best holiday anyone could wish for.  The food is marvellous; breakfast 4 courses lunch 4 course plain tea at 3.30 then dinner at 7p.m. 5 course and believe me it was a dinner.  Steak, chicken, roast lamb, duck, turkey everything money couldn’t buy at home, fruit everyday.

Well we landed in Melbourne on 18th of June had a 7 hour train journey to the reception centre at Bonegilla in Victoria, we were supposed to be there for 5 days but we were held 2 weeks due to rain.  Then we travelled 22 hours by train to this camp its 50 miles from Sydney, but a lovely place, very comfortable 2 bedrooms 3 single beds and a cot for Yvonne, all brand new and soft as feathers, plenty warm blankets.  We have a sideboard, 3 chrome chairs, 2 easy chairs, 1 table, bath for baby, bedpan, pail, shovel, brush, mop, 1 big carpet, 3 small ones, nice big stove, 2 wardrobes, 3 set of drawers, everything you need.

The food here is good, an odd day it’s nothing to rave about but all in, it’s alright.

Well I started work (what a laugh) money for old rock.  The pit I’m in is the day wage system for everybody – experienced men Grade 1, unexperienced Grade 2.  I’m a head yin.  Grade 1.  My wage is 35 shillings a fortnight.  We’re paid every 2 weeks.  If you work 10 full days you’re paid 11 as bonus.  There’s very little overtime, union limits it to 1 shift per week, no more or less.  I was unlucky I’ve been off a week with a bruised rib so I get £7 compensation so I’ll get by.  That’s as much we got on oncost at home for working.  The cost of living is not dear as the shirts, shoes are even cheaper than at home.  I got a lovely pair of brown shoes off my first pay, real good ones. £2.19.6, good sport shirts that will wash and iron lovely 15 shillings.  Dress shirts, two collars 25 shillings any colour.

Well Hugh, 7 minutes takes us to the beach from here it’s lovely the silver sand stretches for miles and a slow gradient into the water.

Wollongong is our nearest town and in the bus about 6 miles, a lovely shopping centre, pictures, dancing, and all sort of amusement, the goods are cheap in comparison to wages, furniture cheaper than at home.

This is sunny Australia and it’s raining again now and has been for the last 48 hours non-stop and when it rains it rains!  Never seen nothing like it.  It’s ten times worse than I ever seen it at home, but not very cold although it’s their winter.

Yvonne was 1 year old last Sunday and she’s thriving like a wee mushroom considering her age and the journey she’s been a wee marvel she was the youngest baby on the boat, and even coming through the Red Sea it was red hot – we had to sleep on deck she was great just had a touch dysentery for 5 days caused by water on the boat it was horrible to drink.

Well write soon Hugh – I’ll write you more news next time.

Your loving brother


P.S. Hope you are all well as it leaves us at present.

Cheerio just now.

Tell all I’m asking for them”