I couldn’t believe my luck.
There we were, at Julie and Tony’s wedding anniversary party in their home, Barwon Heads. I was introduced to Julie’s parents Bert and Tess, and their English accent came through loud and clear. When I asked the question ‘how long have you lived in Australia?’ Tess told me they came in 1969. I was hooked! My interest in Australia’s growth, especially from the European influence, was sparked again through this fortunate meeting with this extraordinary couple.
Tess and Bert and their three children Roger, Julie and Ian came to Australia on Wednesday 28th August in 1969 as Ten Pound POMs .
Now this couple think they are ordinary, and unremarkable. As with most married folks reaching their 60th wedding anniversary celebration they have a story to tell, which in itself is an extraordinary thing. And as I sat wide-eyed, intrigued and enthralled by Cockney sounding tales of their life’s journey before and after they met, I quickly reached the conclusion that their story was in no way run of the mill.
Both from England, Tess is from Dunstable, and Bert was born in Luton. As a midwife I find this quote from Bert interesting:
‘Aunt Nellie’s husband had a brother who was married to a woman that practised midwifery. Her name was May Irons and I’m not sure if she had had any proper training as a midwife. In any case it was she who delivered me in their house at number 8 Kenneth Road in the suburb of Round Green, Luton, in the county of Bedfordshire’.
Bert Virgo was born in 1924. He had a fascinating early life which I will write about another time, then he met and fell in love with young Tess and went on to marry her. When Bert was offered a job with Ford motor cars in Geelong Australia, and an immigration package, he jumped at the chance but Tess took a little more convincing. With three young children it would be hard, with no close family and friends to rely on. But as with others who were offered a new start in the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian Government paid for the Virgo’s flight and their belongings to be brought across the sea. They were given accommodation and transport until a time when they could afford to sort their own, and Bert’s salary increased substantially.
The young family, pictured here, flew to Sydney and then on to Essedon (then airport for Melbourne) on this Boeing 707-338C. It took 24 hours all in all, but they look surprisingly refreshed! Can’t get over your shirt and tie Bert!What an adventure it must have been. At the airport they were met by two of Tess’s aunts who had emigrated previously (pictured) and Bill Howard, a representative from Ford. Bill had never travelled far and clearly didn’t understand the concept of flying from UK to Australia, as he took them on a pleasure tour of Geelong, dined in a small restaurant, then took Tess shopping! The tears Tess shed at this stage were probably from extreme exhaustion, although she said the strangeness of the environment didn’t help.
What were Bert and Tess’ first impressions of Geelong, and this new, far away country? ‘Dodge City by the sea’ said Bert. ‘I could almost imagine hitchin’ posts being there to tie a horse on. It was quaint. Geelong only had one roundabout, and one set of traffic lights’. I have to agree Bert, even today some of the towns I have passed through in Australia remind me of scenes from the Wild West.
Bert and Tess found their new world quite different from their home in England. Shortly after arriving Bert woke at 2am to the sound of a horse going up street. He woke Tess, and they looked out of the window into the faintly lit street below. It was the milk man!
But the family loved the beaches and the sunshine, and settled well into schools and a new life. Their children and grandchildren are Australian and are very proud of it.
Bert is 88 years young and recalled the fine detail of his tales as though it were yesterday. And Tess with her bound volumes of rich, intricate family history that I didn’t have time to read. It would take me months, and how I would relish looking in more detail if I lived nearer.
Thank you Tess and Bert, you both have so much to offer the young. Your wisdom, experience and historical stories remind us how and why this great country is flourishing.
I will be writing more about you. You really are an extraordinary couple.