Child Migrants, memories

The Argonaut

by Graham Budd (guest author) on 16 February, 2011

Graham Budd arrived in Australia from England in 1939 and was sent to Northcote Farm School in Victoria. Here he recalls winning a national competition run by ABC Radio’s The Argonauts, and how his joy was tempered by the remarks of a cruel cottage mother.

I arrived in Australia in the Jervis Bay on 6/1/39 along with 28 boys and girls bound for Northcote farm school Bacchus Marsh Victoria. I was 11 years and 5 months old and not at all happy, although excited as I looked on the venture as an exciting experience. I was bitter at leaving my grandfather, my young half brother aged 3 years and still mourned the loss of my stepfather who had died March 1938. He was a TPI [totally and permanently incapacitated] from World War I, ex-Coldstream Guards. I was very much attached to him.

The 161 children of Northcote were scattered in about 8/9 cottages each with a cottage ‘mother’. These ‘mothers’ came in various grades of intelligence and attitudes. Looking back as an adult I realise some were close to being insane, which gave rise to the following:

In December the ABC Argonauts children’s session on the wireless launched a competition for the best original Christmas card. Our cottage were all avid listeners as their session coincided with our evening meal so we had time to listen to it. Our ‘mother’ got some of us to enter the competition, she paid for the postage stamps, and in due course I was amazed to be told I had won. An Australia-wide competition, that was quite something. The home gave me the prize, a fountain pen and pencil set, but as they opened all our mail in and out, they did not give me the letter that must have come with it. All I got was the opened box. The incident caused quite a lot of comment around the place. These ‘mothers’ carried on a sort of private war among themselves, a ‘m boys are better than yours’ attitude which gave rise to the following:

A few days later I was walking past one of the cottages when the ‘mother’ who was standing on the verandah stopped me and said, “Oh Budd, I suppose that it doesn’t matter how clever you are, the Australian government isn’t going to spend any money on you. When you finish 8th grade they won’t send the likes of you to high school. You are going to have to work for a living whether you like it or not”.

Of course the statement was true, but the tone of voice and her general manner have stayed with me all my life. I have often wondered whatever possessed her to employ such a person in such a job. I was lucky that my own ‘cottage mother’ was different. Although she could not alter the general thrust of the place, her treatment of us under her care was excellent. I stayed in contact with her until she died, aged 84 – an association that lasted 36 years. She was in fact the only person apart from my grandfather and the ex-soldier stepfather who gave a damn about me as a person until I married at age 23. It was a lonely life.

The Xmas card incidentally was a hand-drawn picture of a warship with guns blazing and a submarine no 1939 obviously sinking but another no 1940 just coming to the surface. The warship was of course named The Argonaut – very appropriate for the time.

Graham Budd

You can hear segments from ABC’s radio show The Argonauts below: