Adelaide Migrants, making tracks – and Life on the Streets!
Friday 6th March 2020. How do you feel about trams? Personally, I find them a little boring. As a boy, I was enchanted by the aura of the steam engine – a powerful, breathing beast of a thing that constantly needed feeding with coal, and yet could pull coach-loads of us hundreds of miles across the country at will. No wonder I grew up with a vivid imagination! But steam died out in the 1960’s and was eventually replaced by electric trains with as much appeal as a cardboard box, gliding on rails with no more effort than a quiet hum. The tram is a close cousin, and therefore I look at these modern buses-on-tracks with something akin to resentment. Those that now inhabit the streets of Manchester, Blackpool, Edinburgh and many other cities across Europe all seem to have been cloned. As do the ones that now operate between Glenelg and the City of Adelaide.
We boarded one of these look-alikes at Moseley Square after puzzling out the automated ticket machine with a Canadian couple and their daughter. We’d met the former yesterday, doing the same as us by trying to plan ahead. For a reasonable sum of $10.60 each, we could travel all day on the network, to include the northern stretch to Port Adelaide, which was our intention. Trams ran every fifteen minutes, and the journey into the CBD (Central Business District) took about half an hour. We passed through suburban Adelaide, noting the proliferation of bungalows in so many different styles. Here was another difference to the UK: no building estates that we could see. Residential housing had sprung up over the years as a result of individual plots being purchased, and then built upon to a particular specification. Land was cheap (there’s plenty of it in Australia). In my parents’ time it had been a shortage of labour and materials that slowed the boom in housing.
Today I wanted to look at the areas Mollie and Eric Veale had encountered when they first arrived in the country on 4th November 1949. They had spent their first few nights at the Elder Park Migrant Hostel, and we alighted from our tram a few hundred yards from the original site, just off North Terrace. Where the hostel once was, the Festival buildings now stand, Adelaide being very big on festivals.
The City is built in two halves, north and south of the River Torrens, and is surrounded by parklands. Our journey had taken us out of low-lying residences, through a pastoral landscape about half a mile wide, into the towering city district of concrete, brick and glass several storeys high. The buildings were a fascinating mix of old and new, with wide streets in a grid formation. It is not huge, but airy and graceful, and we had a very short walk past Parliament House, round the corner where the Festival Centre was being revamped, and into Elder Park itself.
The Rotunda is the centrepiece of the park. Donated by philanthropist and Scottish businessman Sir Thomas Elder, it was built in Glasgow in 1881 and shipped over the following year. Sir Tom was also known for having introduced camels to Australia. (Yes, really!) So, in 1949, my parents and sister were drawn to this same spot. It was, after all, on their doorstep at the time, and my Dad took several photos in the park.
On the left (above) is a view of the river taken by my father, with a similar view as it is today, taken from the Rotunda. In 1949 there were still several English oaks and elms along the paths, but these have all but disappeared after modern re-landscaping. One remains here (below), but the area still remains attractive to the eye.
I had a prior appointment at 11 am, where the curator of the Migration Museum, Corinne Ball, would show us round their exhibits. I was donating a copy of my book, which she had already partly read with interest as she was a migrant from Essex herself. She and her husband Duncan had come out on a working holiday in the nineteen nineties – and just stayed. Their personal experience was vastly different to that of so many earlier migrants (including my family), as the museum is intended to display.
You don’t have to walk far in Adelaide to be entertained. From February into March is Festival time, and every two years they hold a “Fringe” arts theme. It’s more “low-key” than Edinburgh, and we had no previous experience of how such an event might transform this city, but there were plenty of people out enjoying the pleasant weather, and it took less than ten minutes from leaving the museum to reach the pedestrian precinct of Rundle Mall (formerly Rundle Street). Here were families with young children enjoying a huge temporary doll’s house, and along the length were various forms of street entertainment, including this guy, a Canadian professional with a great style of humour, who kept plenty of us amused for around thirty minutes.
A couple of cold beers in the warm sunshine later, we were ready for the next part of our day. We retraced our steps up King William Street and back on to North Terrace to the splendid edifice that is Adelaide’s railway station. Externally at least, it looks much the same as it would have done to Mollie and Eric when they caught the train for the next leg of their journey. But inside? Probably not. We had to negotiate electronic barriers with our ‘all-day’ tickets and find the train service out of the CBD to Port Adelaide.
When my parents arrived by boat after a six-week voyage, the port was where they would have disembarked before taking a relatively short bus ride to the Migrant Hostel. The train (one of those boring electric affairs) dropped us off after a twenty-minute journey at a small platform, where we had to descend about a hundred steps to reach a major road, then trek another half mile before we spotted what would evidently have been (and still is) a major landmark.
While researching A Kangaroo In My Sideboard I had encountered a gap in time between the date of arrival in Port Adelaide, and their subsequent onward journey. What had kept the Veale family at the hostel for four days when Mollie had referred in her letters to Hurtle meeting them off the boat? A guy called Malcolm Thompson working at the National Railway Museum (in Port Adelaide) supplied part of the answer. The train service to Hurtle’s place at Keith only ran on certain days of the week. Today there is no rail connection at all. Malcolm had checked old records from 1949 for me, and it was this information, together with the logical deduction that anything in the hold would have taken longer to be offloaded than the passengers, that provided the solution: they had no choice.
So, I wanted to call at the Museum and leave a copy of AKIMS for Malcolm by way of thanks. Alas, I’d missed him, but we still had a lovely chat with another friendly Aussie before heading off to enjoy some finger-licking morsels.
The day ended by reversing our steps, up those to reach the platform, back by train to the CBD, and then the tram to Glenelg. By this time, we were showing no ill-effects from fast food, so we rewarded ourselves with a slow ice cream from one of the Jetty Road gelaterias.
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