Berkeley Hostel, 1959

My wife Brenda and I, together with our 14 month old twin boys, Ian and Peter, departed Tilbury, Essex in England on 6 June 1959 onboard the SS Orontes and arrived in Sydney on 16 July 1959.

On one income we did not seem to be able to save a deposit for a house in the UK.  January 1959 was very cold and when we saw the advertisement in the paper about migration to Australia and after reading every book in the library about that country, it seemed a good idea.  Some of my work mates had gone to Canada and wrote glowing reports, Brenda thought it too cold.  Brenda’s sister and mother had already gone to Australia which was handy but not the main reason why we decided to come to Australia.  We ended up in NSW.

Things were not quite the same for us as most of the other migrants on the hostel as I had a job to come to.  Since we were coming to Australia I decided to look for a job beforehand.  I was a chemist and so applied to B.H.P for a job and got one at Australian Iron and Steel in Port Kembla.  Shortly after the offer of a job they said that if I was prepared to stay with them for two years, they would pay both Brenda and me ten pounds fare and also my salary from the time the ship sailed.  Who wouldn’t accept that!  So we’re slightly more than ten pound poms!

Brenda had said we might see Kangaroos in the street in Australia and I said, “I doubt it”, but when we came ashore in Fremantle there actually was one in the street!  We were amazed when we saw how cheap the meat was when we looked in a butcher shop window.  Even before the ship docked we could smell the eucalyptus.

Sydney Harbour was beautiful and the bridge impressive, but no Opera House then.

The train to Wollongong after was rather boring as we passed the Sydney suburbs along the rail line, but coming out of the tunnel at Stanwell Park and seeing all the beaches to the south was memorable in spite of the steelworks in the distance.

We lived in Berkeley Hostel from mid-July to early November 1959.  As the short term accommodation it was intended to be it was adequate, a roof over our heads to come to.  In spite of this there were some long term residents who button-holed you when you arrived and told you about spiders as big as dinner plates, lightning that chased you around the room, fleas in the picture theatres, accidents in the steelworks etc.

The meals provided were adequate although it depended on who was cooking, scrambled egg for instance could be all runny or could be cut with a knife.  One cook, a Dutchman, was excellent however.

It could be a bit noisy at meal times and we chose to sit at the far end of the dining hall as it was a bit quieter.  We were advised not to sit there as the Germans sat there.  We continued to sit there; the kids didn’t run riot there.

We left the hostel after about four months and we moved to very small garage flat at the top end of Hill Street in Mount St. Thomas.  We purchased a block of land in Kiama Downs for 525 pounds and moved there in 1961, just before we had our son Stephen.  We later had another son, James and a daughter.  Two of our sons still live in the Illawarra and our other two children living in North Nowra and Canberra.

Kiama was a good place for the kids to grow up but in the mid 80s, we could see how things were changing and so we moved away to live in Cootamundra.

In the short time in Berkeley we made quite a few friends some of whom we kept in contact with when we left.

John & Brenda Theobald
November 2019