Our new series asks our reporters to consider whereabouts they call home – was it the place they grew up, the town they first moved to or perhaps where they are settled now?
Here, Brian Turner shares his memories of growing up in Australia and eventually finding his way to Manchester.
Immigration statistics show that over 300,000 individuals leave Britain each year to start their lives afresh in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America; with estimates showing that up to 4.7 million Britain’s now live abroad. There are some people that boomerang back and forth, not being sure of where their best lives lay. I was one of those people, having tried out living abroad before realising that I belonged back in Manchester, while benefitting from my experiences and being able to live the life I had been craving.
My mother was the last of six sisters to emigrate to Australia when my family packed our bags to leave a terraced house in West Didsbury, sailing on the SS Oriana via the Suez Canal. We spent Christmas 1962 in the middle of the infamous big freeze whereas Christmas 1963 found us enjoying Christmas at our aunt and uncle’s grape farm with the temperature over 30 degrees celsius.
We settled in Swan Hill, Victoria a small town in the centre of a farming community. English immigrants had the reputation of not appreciating the £10 fares subsided by Australian taxes and being dubbed whinging poms. My new school mates were amazed to hear I had never seen the Queen nor the Beatles, as they had travelled 214 miles to Melbourne to see both. As an immature thirteen-year-old, I found it difficult having my accent made fun of, being called pom or chum and bullied for being different.
I enjoyed the weather, eating exotic fruits off the trees and vines in our garden, fishing and shooting but never felt I fit in.
The Vietnam war brought about conscription for twenty-year-olds. Callup was decided by a lottery and, if your birthday date ball came up, army training for six months followed by eighteen months active service.
At the age of nineteen, I had the incentive to return to England, and in 1970 sailed back via the Panama Canal on the SS Fairstar. My father took me aside in preparation and, after several years bigging up England, explained that I shouldn’t expect too much!
In Lisbon, I received a letter from my aunt listing the many paternal aunts and uncles who were unable to put me up ending with an uncle prepared to put me up in his house in Chorltonville. Manchester looked dull and jaded compared to the newness of the Australian towns and cities. The city was in the middle of a period of regeneration, old housing stock progressively demolished and replaced with tower blocks. I was pleased to experience my first white Christmas Day for years, the downside being the lack of sunshine.
I worked at Samuels Jewellers, then cost accounting, before training as a general nurse at Withington Hospital. I met my wife to be there, Christine from Mayo, also in training. Life was difficult on student nurse wages and we couldn’t see ourselves being able to afford to buy a house or run a car.
My parents moved to Adelaide, a place I had liked when we visited as a family. We decided to emigrate there seeking a better quality of life. The record-breaking summer of 1976 was replaced by a miserable wet spring. We immediately found work at Royal Adelaide Hospital as qualified registered general nurses.
Christine found satisfaction working on an oncology ward while I trained as a psychiatric nurse. The quality of life we craved was delivered in full. We rented a modern townhouse, ate healthily and well, and enjoyed the warm climate.
My parents, sister and three brothers were on my doorstep but Christine was missing her family back in Ireland and England. The realisation that we couldn’t easily and affordably travel back to visit Christine’s family resulted in our making the decision to return to Manchester. Our bank balance swelled as we saved to realise our dream but back in England.
On the day we arrived back in Manchester, Margaret Thatcher was voted into power for the first time. We bought a new car and set about purchasing and furnishing our first home in Stockport.
Christine took up a staff nurse post on an oncology ward at Withington Hospital, myself in psychiatry. Christine went into midwifery training at Stepping Hill Hospital, where she spent a long and satisfying career as a midwife.
My career took off with the highlight being a senior clinic nurse post at Manchester Royal Infirmary, the lowlight being made redundant from this position. We retired in Stockport and our daughter, a specialist children’s physiotherapist, lives close by. My time is spent enjoying our toddler granddaughters, following Manchester City, playing walking football and tracing my family history – a story in itself.
We feel settled back in Manchester, while fully appreciating what our experiences abroad have brought us. Our daughter has benefitted from the opportunity to sample life in Australia visiting my family, and experience life on a small Irish farm with Christine’s family.
Years later, I was to discover my number didn’t come up for conscription and a letter, found amongst my deceased father’s papers, showed my parents had successfully applied for sponsorship to emigrate to Australia in 1949 – I could have been born an Aussie!
Share your story with us by emailing [email protected]