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From Byker to Botany Bay, 1950

A long line of up-and-down terrace flats

Adjunct outside lavvy and cobblestone back lane

Runs cheek by jowl steep down to the foggy Tyne,

Its industrial tripod of coal, iron and ships on the wane

Class-encrusted, on the slips, dusty in time;

This is England, lend-leased victor with drainpipe rats.

For a canny lad stopping Mendelssohn cadenza fingerings

Armstrong Whitworth naval yard gates at dawn

Easy beats gannin’ doon pit or tickling foundry furnace;

Turning a dockyard lathe in a dark winter morn

To face, ream, knurl, groove, tap with chuck and brace

Tight-curl swarf off shorn in milky silver rings.

The Pentecostal father prophesied from the heart

When his son downed tools for RAF gunnery school:

A standing prick has no conscience, more so in drink;

No tattoos, it gives the poliss a head start, fool;

Don’t soil your own nest, get away if you must stink;

And steer clear of huckles playing the backdoor tart.

Geordie lasses joined the Wrens to free a man for the fleet

A Pitman shorthand typist, she worked on convoy freight,

Mam was a good-time hinny and gave Da his first twirl

He was chapel folk, laced up tight and Methodist straight

So desire quick unfurled made a bairn, a lovely girl;

At the dance a flight sergeant swept the lass off her feet.

Win and Jim plunge big-time, ten pound Poms on the Empire Brent

(Courtesy of the Bob Menzies assisted passage scheme)

Into strine vowels, easy-open faces and homesick sighs.

Roll past Sydney Heads’ sandstone ramparts of rusty cream

Beneath a sky of lapis lazuli, squint-eye light and summer flies

Ending the southerly flight from Byker, all savings spent.

Partners with Len and Mary, two Micks from West Cork

Peeling fifty pounds of muddy spuds per diem real fast,

At closing time drain fryers and hose out the shop

Next day gut, scale and fillet but leave gill-spike flathead to last

Then crawl upstairs late at night and into bed to drop

And forget orders wrapped in butcher paper with no time to talk.

Fish on Fridays was the dreaded big-money night,

Six o’clock swillers spill from swung-open doors of the pub

Into a dazed slugfest crazy on overtime and beer,

Jam-packed punters shout and push in sweaty hubbub

Later on thinning lines at counter mean the weekend is near;

Sunday Sabbath was kept by a fading consensus of fright.

Back home Clement Attlee’s nationalising a welfare state

Here the immigrant way is long hours grafting a new reality:

Dawn trips to market in a Chevrolet Deluxe sans rego or door

Pulling a pile of quids on the edge of legality,

Dodging inspectors with last night’s catch on the floor

Australia brings these Pommies in through a small business gate.

by James Orrock

James is the son of immigrants who left an impoverished and war-weary England after WW2 for a better life in Australia. He was born in Sydney and has lived there for most of his adult life. He has, however, travelled in several countries and regions in East Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong SAR and PRC).

James has bicycled and walked in many parts of Australia (Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria, Northern Territory, New South Wales and South Australia). His poetry has appeared in Eureka Street, Ekstasis, Quadrant, Studio and Wavelength Magazine.

English Australian immigrant job fish n' chips


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