Fascinated by the refusal of Aussie servicemen to salute, Clifford Osborne decided to emigrate to Australia after the war. By a stroke of luck, he and his young bride came to Wonthaggi, writes CAROLYN LANDON. Welcome to WonthaggiJuly 19, 2014
CLIFFORD Osborne, from Nottingham, was a radio direction finder in the Royal Air Force during World War Two. While the war raged, he worked alongside Aussies stationed near his camp, and he learned to admire them immensely. He said they were most irreverent; they never saluted anybody, not even a major general. “Why should I?” they’d say. “He’s no better than I am!”
Clifford didn’t know how they could get away with it. He was especially fascinated by the skills they used to make undercover stills. He decided that when he was de-mobbed, he would emigrate and become an Australian.
He went back to Nottingham, got work, met Jean Osborne and wanted to marry her. However, he hadn’t forgotten his dream of going to Australia. Clifford’s idea was to secure the engagement and then take off for Australia to set things up before he brought Jean down under.
Jean’s mother gave Clifford a word of advice: “Jean has been spoiled since the day she was born. Her father and brothers didn’t know that she was the naughty girl that she was. Clifford, you can ask her to marry you, but don’t go to Australia without her because there are plenty of fellows waiting to step in when you leave.”
In Wonthaggi, George and Esther Hand became surrogate parents to the young English couple.
Back in 1948-49, an Englishman didn’t have to have a job to emigrate, but he needed a sponsor and a home to go to. A Mrs Esther Hand, from Wonthaggi, had come to Nottingham to visit her family after being separated for a great many years by the war. She let it be known that she was willing to be a sponsor. When she met Clifford and Jean Osborne, she immediately took them under her wing.
After the emigration papers were lodged and Mrs Hand had gone home, Clifford and Jean married. As Jean tells it, “Because I knew nothing about contraception – no one did in those days – I got pregnant. I wrote to Mrs Hand that we were now married and I was pregnant, but still no papers. Mrs Hand wrote back immediately and said to write to Australia House and tell them I was pregnant and they would get us on a boat as soon as they could. Well, within a few weeks we were on our way to Australia!”
Mrs Hand and her husband George were there at the wharves to greet Jean and Clifford as they disembarked. They helped the young couple through customs. When they put the bags on the bench for the customs officer to check, he looked up and said, “Hello Mr Hand, how are you? What brings you here?” When he learned that Clifford and Jean were the Hands’ friends, he waved them through with a wink and a smile. “Oh, okay, off you go!” Jean couldn’t believe it, but Clifford was immediately reminded of his RAF days and knew he had made the right choice.
They took the long road home to show the English couple the sights, so they didn’t approach Wonthaggi until dusk. As they drove through Dalyston, George told them this was the last town before Wonthaggi. Jean was aghast. “Is this what they call a town?” she thought. It only had one pub and one shop. They couldn’t see how Dalyston could be called a town. In fact, its size only proved to the young couple what they had already begun to think on the slow drive out from the wharf: that Australia was entirely empty. What must Wonthaggi be like?
George Hand stopped the car at 21 Korumburra Road and guided everyone into the house. Their daughter had been left at home to get a beautiful tea ready for everyone. Finally, Clifford and Jean were shown their room, a beautiful bedroom with a double bed! They stayed for almost four months before they found a tiny house to move into not long before their son, Tony, was born. Mrs Hand became like a mother to Jean and George a father to Clifford.
Clifford had come to Australia with the offer of a job at Essendon Airport using the skills he had acquired in the air force. He had no idea how far it was from Wonthaggi until he got on the train and six hours later found his way to the airport. When he got there, he found there was no accommodation for a wife and soon-to-arrive child. The only living quarters were single men’s hostels. He remembered the warning his mother-in-law had given him about leaving Jean behind and rejected the job offer.
Back in Wonthaggi, he thought he’d have to go down the mine. He went to have a look to see if he could stomach it since he knew what his father and brothers lived through. Compared to the mines in Northern England, he found the conditions in the State Coal Mine primitive and shocking. “They’re like worms crawling around on their knees to get coal,” he told Jean.
It seemed everyone was looking out for this young couple. Mr Kiernan, who had the shop on Ludbrook’s Corner, heard about Clifford’s plight, understood the young man had a good head for numbers and offered him a job. Before long, Clifford got the small furniture business going and in March 1949, just before Tony was born, Mr Kiernan offered to sell the business to him. Clifford knew he could make a go of it, but he had no money to buy it.
From almost day one, Jean and Clifford had formed a very good friendship with Frank and Doreen Mollison. The two young couples saw each other regularly. Clifford told Frank about his dilemma. Without telling Clifford, Frank asked his father, who ran a building company, if he had any money to lend Cliff. “He really could make a go of it, Dad.”
The old man said ‘no’ but if Cliff was such a good risk maybe Frank could invest himself. He needed £1000. One night the Mollisons asked the Osbornes to tea. During the meal, Frank took £1000 out of his pocket and divided it into two piles of £500 on the table. He pointed to one pile and said to Clifford, “That money is yours and this money is mine. Together we’re going to buy that shop.” He had mortgaged his house to help his friend.
With Clifford’s head for figures, they did well, Cliff running the shop and Frank doing the deliveries on the weekend.
“In the meantime,” Jean remembers, “we joined everything: Cliff in the RSL and I in the Anglican Church Auxiliary with Mrs Hand. Lots more.”
In June, only four months after they had come to Wonthaggi, Jean gave birth to Tony. Mrs Hand went to see Jean in hospital and brought her a “nice salmon salad” for her tea. Jean was surprised. Mrs Hand said, “They’ll feed you at midday, but nothing at night. It’s all organised: the ladies at the Auxiliary will make sure one of us visits you every day and brings you your tea.”
“Oh, that’s lovely,” said Jean. In 1949 lying in after giving birth lasted at least 10 days. Ten meals they would be bringing her!
Mrs Hand had something else with her. She knew the Osbornes had no pram to push the baby in. So she said to her friends, “This young girl doesn’t need any bits and bobs you might be knitting or a rattle you might be buying. She needs a pram, so put your money in this envelope and we’ll give it to her.” Mrs Hand gave Jean the envelope with enough money in it to buy a lovely pram. Jean was overwhelmed at the generosity.
Jean says, “When I came out of hospital, Mrs Hand was on my doorstep first thing. She said, ‘I’m not visiting; I’ve come to bath the baby. You have a shower, I’ll dress him and have him ready for you.’ She sat me down, handed Tony to me and went into the laundry, washed the nappies and hung them out. She did that for the first month I was home.
“Goodness! What a place Wonthaggi turned out to be. We had never been so welcome or treated with such kindness in our lives. We would stay here forever.”
Looks like Clifford had made a good decision when he chose to come to Australia; and Jean was smart to marry him. But, the luckiest thing they did was come to Wonthaggi.
CLIFFORD Osborne, from Nottingham, made a good decision when he chose to emigrate from England to Australia in late 1948; and Jean, also from Nottingham, was smart to marry him. But the luckiest thing they did was come to Wonthaggi. Jean wasn’t so sure at first because when she walked down the street the morning after she and Clifford arrived she thought it was like a wild-west town she’d seen in the American movies.
“There were these great gutters,” she remembers, “and all along the road were horse troughs for the farmers’ horses with rails to hitch them up to, and none of the roads were sealed.”
But very quickly, she found that there were so many English and Scottish people here and that wherever she went people would always chat with her, that she immediately felt comfortable. Besides, she and Clifford had Mr and Mrs Hand, their sponsors, to watch over them.
Soon she and Clifford, with their new friends, the Mollisons, were running a successful furniture shop and Jean gave birth to their first child, Tony. The Hands had a son, Eddie, who was one year older than little Tony and if they made something for Eddie, they also made one for Tony. Both little boys got wooden barrows at the same time and Mrs Hand knitted Fair Isle jumpers for both of them out of wool remnants. They considered the new immigrants part and parcel of their family.
They found the generosity of Wonthaggi people was unbounded – at least nothing like they had ever experienced from neighbours in England. “People accepted us right from the beginning,” says Jean. “We didn’t have to do anything to be accepted. People seemed to think, ‘Well, they’re here; we can’t send them back; they’re part of us.”
Lorraine OsborneShe remembers that when they first arrived in Wonthaggi, there was no refrigeration. People had Coolgardie safes or ice boxes to keep things cool, and it wasn’t so effective. So people grew fresh produce in their gardens and shared everything.
“I had a gentleman knock on the door one day,” remembers Jean. “He said, ‘Hello, Missus, your boss (he meant Clifford) said you liked rabbits.’ I said, ‘Yes, we do.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I got a couple here.’ With that he handed me two rabbits and started to apologise for not having them skinned. I told him it was all right. ‘I know how to skin a rabbit!’”
There were a couple of boys in the neighbourhood who liked to fish and go deer shooting. They regularly brought over part of their catch and if it was deer meat they would have it properly butchered and then divvy it out amongst the neighbours with a kind of raffle. One day a neighbour yelled over the fence, “Jean, do you like mutton birds?”
“I didn’t hear the mutton part of his question, having never heard of such birds before, but I thought anything that flies I can cook, so I said, ‘Yes.’ Well, I put this bird on to roast and put fat with it, as you do. While it was cooking, I thought the smell was very strong, but I was used to eating game birds in England.
“Eventually, I opened up the window it was so strong and then I opened the oven to have a look at the bird. To my shock the fat was almost coming over the top of the pan. I took it out of the oven and, stepping over a child, I rushed it outside so I could pour the fat off. I didn’t know you have to cook a mutton bird in a skittle with water on the bottom to steam it off.
“In the end it was delicious. Although, what a mess it made of the kitchen!” Jeans admits that, yes, she still likes mutton bird, but no one brings them to her anymore.
She was amazed the first time their good friend, Frank Mollison, came to take Clifford out mushrooming. She didn’t understand why he had four buckets with him. “I didn’t believe they could ever find enough mushrooms to fill all those buckets.” But they did. Clifford brought a brimming bucket of ‘mushies’ home for Jean to cook, Frank kept a bucket, and the two fellows went around offering the rest to whoever wanted them. They were soon gone. In this way Clifford began to participate in the generosity that existed in his new home. Jean was so impressed.
“Sharing like that was something I never knew in England,” she says.
Jean and Clifford prospered in their new home. They moved the furniture business from Ludbrook’s corner to shops further up on Graham Street owned by Mr Hartley, who had run a tailoring business there for years, but was now retired. Mr Hartley had not had good luck renting his shops after he closed his business and was reluctant to get burned by yet another tenant, when Clifford came along. Coincidentally, Jean and her little boy, Tony, met Mrs Hartley at a church gathering and Mrs Hartley was so smitten with little Tony, a bright and smiling child, that she told her husband to give this young English couple a chance to expand their business. So he wouldn’t jeopardise his pension, Mr Hartley offered to rent the shop to Clifford for £5 a week – excellent terms in Clifford’s mind. A deal was done.
Eventually, Clifford and Jean bought the property from Mr Hartley, who never regretted renting to them. In fact he was so taken by them that the offered to sell the couple the shops for an amount minus the accumulation of the £5 rent he had been charging them all these years. It was a deal made in heaven by a generous man. Jean worked in the business with her husband while her mother looked after Tony and then, later, Lorraine when she came along.
Jean says, “When I wrote to Mum in 1952 to tell her how happy we were in Australia, especially Wonthaggi, she decided to come out to join us. I reckon she really came out because she didn’t believe what I was telling her. Anyway, after she arrived – and never left - that’s when I went to work with Clifford in the shop.”
Jean was a trained dressmaker and furrier. She had done a four-year apprenticeship in England. In fact, before Clifford got work, Jean had kept them going by making clothes to order for people in the town. She says, “I knew how to make beautiful ball gowns and mink furs. I knew how to cut skins, extend them and shape them. There was demand for the gowns, but no one could afford the mink. In the shop with Clifford, I made curtains, and they sold well.” Before the Osbornes embarked for Australia way back in 1948, their sponsors, Mr and Mrs Hand, wrote to them about what to bring with them:
“My Dear Friends,” they wrote, “if you’ve got a bicycle and a sewing machine, bring them because they are very expensive here. A bicycle will cost you £20! Also bring linen & blankets, as they are also very dear. Nothing is rationed here except tea, butter and petrol.”
Of course, Jean already had the sewing machine packed, with a separate motor to go with it. Lucky thing she brought it. Eventually, Clifford began sponsoring members of his own family to come out from England. He started a fish and chip shop for his brother to come out and run, but he couldn’t get his wife to leave England so Clifford’s sister came out with her husband, Bert Palmer, to take it over.
Bert is well remembered in Wonthaggi. That shop was next to the Workmen’s Club and at closing time the fellows would roll out of there and into Bert’s to get big parcels of hake or flake and plenty of chips. Jean’s daughter, Lorraine Dowson, says, “Mum’s and Dad’s prosperity was infectious. The fact that they came here and people showed them kindness and shared their lives with them made Mum and Dad decide to share in turn. I think that’s why Dad wanted to be on the council and then he became mayor because he felt Wonthaggi gave everything to them. Here people rally round and look after each other and help each other.
“At the very end, Dad said, ‘I had a good life and Wonthaggi has been wonderful to us’.”
This essay was first published in The Plod, the newsletter of the Wonthaggi Historical Society.