A Gawler love affair for a 'ten pound migrant'

Dave Ferguson relives his 10 pound migrant days.

Dave Ferguson came from Scotland as a "ten pound migrant" in 1972 following an assistance program conceived in the late 1940s by the Federal Labor government aimed at encouraging migration from Europe.

By 1968, 658,236 British people had immigrated to Australia, together with 468,255 Europeans.

In September 1952 the Willaston migrant hostel was closed. It had opened in January of 1942. On January 8, 1956, Gawler was bolstered by 332 migrants when 68 English families arrived in the town.

"I was born in Glasgow at the Southern General Hospital on August 19, 1942," Dave said. "I had two brothers, Jack and Tom, and a sister, Mary. My father, John Rennie Ferguson, was a First World War cavalry man. He enlisted at the start of the war and went right through unscathed to war's end.

"One of his most vivid memories was of the battle of Neuve Chapelle in France, which was typical of the savagery of this war with its tragic loss of life. Another lasting memory comes from when he spent 56 days in the stockade for hitting a sergeant.

"Dad had fallen asleep on guard duty within sight of German lines after continuous sleepless days and nights during intense bombardments. When a tap came at his shoulder he hit out, collecting the sergeant with his rifle. It was a reflex action, but he paid the price."

The stockade was pretty tough, Dave explained, remembering his father's stories of rolling and smoking cigarettes made from horse hair and toilet paper. "Discipline was tough and cruel," Dave said. "Even their own officers lashed their own soldiers to cart wheels as a form of punishment."

During the war Dave's mother, Elizabeth, worked in Liverpool and in Edinburgh as a waitress.

"My father met my mother after the First World War in Glasgow. These were tough times. Instead of being treated like the heroes they were, they came home to be greeted by mass unemployment. Dad didn't find secure employment for a further two and half years.

"Eventually he got a job as a fitter and turner at G. & J. Weir. They were a large engineering works, providing engine parts for ships etc. He worked there for 30 odd years, until he retired.

"I grew up in happy circumstances, but we were quite low on the social economic ladder, if you know what I mean."

Before Dave left Scotland he had 12 years experience with the RAF as a radio technician.

"I went to Hong Kong in 1963 for two and half years, then spent some time at air force bases in the UK before going to Cyprus in 1967. I was stationed at RAF Akrotiri, the largest base outside the UK. My last overseas posting was when I was seconded to the navy at HMS Juffair at Bahrain, Persian Gulf, for 12 months.

"This shore base was called 'The Stone Frigate.' I got the nickname Biggles. This was a desolate sort of place, so to liven things up we established a bar, a pub called the 'Chip Inn.' Mostly British beer. Our sports evenings with navy blokes consisted of card, darts and dominos. What a laugh."

When Dave migrated to Australia he landed in Sydney, full of hopes for better things. He lived and worked in Sydney for around three years before eventually finding his way to Gawler with the help of a Czech truck driver.

"He dropped me off at the Old Spot Hotel, where I met up again with the Gillett family, who I first encountered aboard a Russian ship, Shota Rustavelli, some years back."

Dave soon got jobs picking grapes, labouring and as a chicken catcher. Eventually he got a permanent job with Australia Post and worked for 14 years at the Adelaide Mail Centre.

"I had purchased a run-down cottage in my present location in King Street," Dave said. "Over many years and a lot of money later, I'm pleased to say it has been restored to something of its former glory.

"Notably the historic Eagle Foundry is almost directly opposite our house, which was built in 1868. It was first used as a private school called Hemingby."

After Dave left the post office, he went into early retirement with his wife, Judy.

"We have a wonderful life together," Dave declared. "We keep busy with Judy's arts interests, council work, travelling, and entertaining guests and visitors to the town from overseas.

"I still visit my relatives and friends in the UK, but I always call Australia, and particularly Gawler, home."

© The Bunyip

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Updated: 19 July, 2002

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