Saturday, 6th September 1986
Australian immigration did not present me with any difficult questions. I whizzed straight through and received a stamp that said “Permitted to Enter Australia”. I decided to play it safe and declare a Lei from Hawaii to customs. I went through the red channel and explained what it was. The woman just laughed and waived me through.
I already knew that I was heading to Kings Cross which was just outside Sydney city centre. It played a dual role as the city’s red light district and its backpacker hostel area. I had been given the address of a hostel; Young Cross Country Traveller’s Rest, and I decided that I would try that first. I knew there were plenty of other choices nearby if they were full.
I quickly found the airport bus I needed to get to Kings Cross. It was driven by an Indian guy and it seemed that he was in a big hurry to get back to the airport again. He drove very fast and dropped us at the corner of Hughes Street. After more than a month of driving on the right it seemed strange to see the traffic driving on the left again.
I found the Young Cross Country Traveller’s Rest quite easily. There was a wayside chapel on one side and a brothel on the other. I went in. The warden was an old friendly bloke. “Ah, yet another Pom” he said with a big smile. He told me there were 8 rooms with 4 beds in each. 3 had spare beds.
He gave me a choice of rooms by listing the nationalities of the people I could share with. I told him it didn’t really matter, but he insisted on going through the list. To humour him I chose to be the 4th member in a US, Canadian and Hungarian combo in a room situated on the 2nd floor.
The room was fine. It was a little small but the bunk beds were nice and large. I got the upper bunk in one of them. The only person in the room was George, who was about 35 and from Budapest. He told me he had been living in the hostel for 5 years. He also told me about the other two in the room. The Canadian, Steve, was on a working holiday visa and working at a hotel as a dishwasher. The American was leaving on Monday.
I dropped my stuff and headed for the common room on the 3rd floor. I met a couple of New Zealanders; Mike and Skoa. It was 2pm and they were awaiting the start of the Australian-New Zealand rugby game on the TV and they invited me to stay and watch it. I told them I needed a bit of fresh air and opted to have a walk around Kings Cross instead.
I walked around past live show venues, prostitutes and touts. I found a supermarket and bought some groceries and, unable to resist, I went into a bakery and got my first real Austrailan meat Pie with tomato sauce on the top.
Eventually I went back to the hostel to find the Australia had beaten the New Zealanders. Mike and Skoa didn’t seem too upset and suggested we all go to the cinema that evening.
I went for a lie down at 5pm, the jet lag was starting to catch up with me, and fell asleep. I was woken just before 8pm by Mike banging hard on the side of the bed.
We set off out into a Kings Cross that was now dark. We went past the strange thistle-shaped El Alamein fountain, through the neon lit streets passing the touts and tarts and finally to the “State Rail” train station at the end of the street. We got a ticket for a dollar and descended the steps to the platform just below.
The place stank of carbon and it was quite a sickly smell. The train came in and it was a stainless steel double decker. We got a seat upstairs and we rattled off. We got out a couple of stations later at Town Hall and had a quick walk to the cinema.
We played the amusements outside the cinema for about 10 minutes and then bought our tickets and went in. The film was Arnold Swarzenigger in “Raw Deal” and it brought memories of Chicago back. It was quite good. We went back on the train and got back at to Kings Cross station at 1130pm.
I had just a T shirt on and it was getting very cold. We walked back towards the hostel through a sea of tarts, touts and now buskers playing drums. We got a Lebanese takeaway and ate it in the hostel common room.
I met my other two room mates. I chatted briefly with them, but I couldn’t stay awake past 12 and fell fast asleep.
Sunday, 7th September 1986
I woke up early at 7am and went to the common room. They had the US open tennis on and I watched a bit of it. I sat on the sofa and started to doze off again, I didn’t wake up again until about 11am. Jet lag.
I then decided to do a bit of exploring. I retraced my steps to the station and jumped on the train again. It wasn’t a deep underground system like London. The train actually emerged into the daylight soon after it left Kings Cross only to plunge back into a tunnel again before it reached Sydney centre. I took it one stop further than the previous night and got off at the main central railway station.
I had a look around the station and then nearby I found a cafe and had my second meat pie together with a coffee. I walked down George Street and had a look around the shopping arcades. I bought a map of Sydney in a bookshop and continued walking towards “The Rocks”. Sydney was about as lively on a Sunday as London I thought. There were plenty of people out for walks but it was not overly crowded.
The Rocks is where Sydney began. It is the place the first white settlers landed. I had a long look at the information centre and then a trip round Pier 1; a very touristy part full of fish and chip restaurants and gift shops.
I knew I needed a mug for coffee at the hostel so I got one from one of the tat shops. It had a picture of the harbour bridge on it. I walked all the way up to the bridge itself and watched the electric trains roar across it.
I walked back via Circular quay where all the ferry boats left for various parts of Sydney, and then carried on round to the famous Opera House.
I got a can of Castlemaine beer and listened to a live band who were playing on the forecourt of the Opera House. Finally I walked back through the Botanical Gardens and had another look at the downtown before walking back along William Street to Kings Cross. William Street was a bit sleazy with lots of car dealerships but I found a good radio station 3M on the radio and watched the sunset as I walked back down it to the hostel.
I got back to the hostel at 6pm and sat in the common room all night with some British lads; Jez and Victor.
Jez was from Nottingham. He was only 18 and he was working as a hotel porter at the Sheraton. He was a nice guy and very enthusiastic about everything. Basically he had left school in the UK, got a visa and come straight out to Sydney. His only experience of working anywhere was in Australia.
Victor was my age and he was originally from Devon. He was working as a waiter at the Ramada hotel nearby. He had come to Australia via India and he raved about India to me. He had been in the hostel for 3 weeks. He was looking for a flat but he told me that he was finding it quite difficult to find one.
We talked about all manner of subjects from shark fishing to British politics as we half watched the James Bond film, Moonraker, playing on the TV in the background.
I went back to my room at 11pm. The American was already asleep and Canadian Steve was obviously still out dish washing.
Monday, 8th September 1986
I woke up early and went into the Kings Cross branch of the CES (Commonwealth Employment Service) to sign on the dole. I filled out their application form and when I was finished they told me to take it to another office in the centre of the city. I had a meat pie near the station first and then I paid my dollar fare and got on the train to Martin Place. I had a quick look in the job centre there but there didn’t really seem to be anything suitable.
I walked around trying to find Drakes Employment Agency. I found the main Drakes office half way up a tall building on George Street, but they directed me to the Drakes Overload Agency on York Street. In the book “Work your way around the world” it said that the Drakes Overload in Sydney was run by an enthusiastic Welshmen, David Davies.
And so it was. David greeted me warmly and introduced me to his Australian colleague; Tim. Tim, I was surprised to learn, had lived in Fleetwood and had played professional cricket in Lancashire. He knew exactly where St Anne’s was and explained it to David. David suggested that I come back on Wednesday to sign on their books formally and then they would see if they could help me.
I went and handed my forms in at the CES office. The people in there were very pleasant and wished me luck with my job hunting. I had a walk around town and stopped off in Woolworth’s to buy a dish, a plate and some cutlery for 8 dollars. I also got some coat hangers for 2 dollars. I then joined the commuters on the train back to Kings Cross at 5pm.
I made spaghetti Bolognese for my dinner and tried out my new kitchenware. After dinner I talked to a couple from Grimsby; Paul and Sue. They told me that they had just missed the seven o clock bus that evening up to the top of Queensland and had decided to buy a car in order to make the trip instead. It sounded a bit drastic and I didn’t fully understand why they couldn’t just get another bus. I didn’t really believe they would buy a car either.
I talked to Victor for a bit and he told me that several people were talking about renting a house via an agency they had seen in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday. He asked whether I would be interested. I told him that I would be very interested and, as I had nothing on, I agreed to go with him to the agency the next day.
Before bed I talked to George about my trip to Budapest in 1984, his life old back in Hungary and his new life in Australia. We talked a bit about politics too. He was a nice guy. he had a bit of a strong accent but he was a lot calmer and more mature than the rest of the residents at the Traveller’s Rest.
Tuesday, 9th September 1986
I woke up at 8am and had a breakfast of bran flakes, coffee, orange juice and toast. I talked to George again this time all about his work in the Radio Factory. I expressed my concerns to him about whether I would find work, but he dismissed my fears and assured me that I would.
At 10:30 I set off with Victor to search for the estate agency for the house. We walked into town taking the scenic route along the quayside and past the Opera House. We couldn’t find the agency at 15 Pitt Street, so we decided to recheck in a copy of Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald. The library of New South Wales didn’t have one but we finally found a copy in the library of Sydney. It was actually 51 Pitt street.
After enjoying another meat pie in the Centrepoint Centre, we found the agency on the 4th floor of number 51. We filled out an application form but when we saw the type of questions they were asking we realised we wouldn’t get anywhere. They wanted 3 credit referees, employment history and the like. We put the application in anyway to see how badly we would fail.
On the way back I called in at the CES templine clerical agency and the Westaff agency and I put my name on their books for possible clerical work.
We walked back along William Street.
Back at the hostel we listened to George playing the recorder and then spoke to two new arrivals; a girl from Holland and a girl from England.
Victor suggested we go to Hare Krisna for free food later in the evening. He had done it a few times he told me and had enjoyed it. He popped out for some shopping and I went up to the roof and lay up there sunbathing for a couple of hours. I stripped off and tried my best to start to get a tan.
At 6pm Victor and I headed out to Hare Krishna. We were accompanied by Greg. Greg, who had long hair and dressed like a hippy, was from Colorado. He was bored with life in the USA, so he had come to Australia to do construction work. He wanted to immigrate to Australia he told us. We joined a queue of other hostel residents and bona fide vagrants outside the Hare Krisna kitchen.
The Hare people were perfectly pleasant. They gave us leaflets about their aims as they handed us bread and a plastic plate filled with vegetable curry and rice. We sat down inside and had a listen to their meeting. It wasn’t a bad atmosphere at all, there was lots of incense and oriental music playing. After we had eaten we got up and returned to the hostel. We couldn’t complain; it was tasty free food with no questions asked.
We went back to the hostel and had a chat with two Irish lads from Rosslare. Then we went outside so that Paul and Sue could show off the car they had bought from a garage that afternoon. So, they had actually bought a car! It was a large red Ford Falcon. It was very spacious and comfortable if a little old. We wondered if it was reliable enough to travel a long distance in, but they assured it would make it to Queensland. We wished them a pleasant trip. They would be gone by the next day.
After a little more chatting and bit more TV, I went to bed at 11pm.
Wednesday, 10th September
I woke up early and had a quick breakfast of bran flakes. I scoured the Sydney Morning Herald for jobs but I quickly realised there were not a lot of jobs in there to be had. I walked down to Kings Cross and boarded a train at about 9am heading into Sydney with the last of the morning commuters. I got off at Martin Place and walked down York Street and back into the Drake Office. David Davies immediately recognised me and addressed me as “Mr St Anne’s on Sea”
His Australian assistant, Bronwyn, then interviewed me, She asked me all about my experience in the UK and I told her pretty truthfully but emphasising more the warehousing part of all the little retail jobs I had done in London.
It was all very friendly and at the end of it she handed me a piece of paper with an address on it and said “There you are Mr. St Anne’s-on-Sea, a chance to prove yourself” I took the paper and she continued “It is general production line work at Buttercup buns bakery, they make the buns for McDonalds”, and then she smiled and added, “it is the night shift and it starts at 10:30pm tonight.”
I was surprised, happy and, thinking about the night shift bit, disappointed all at once.
“I’ll take it”, I said. “It is just what I wanted”.
With time on my hands and a sudden confidence that I could actually earn money in Australia after all, I called in at the STA office on the way back. I decided to postpone the return ticket I was holding for London on Thai via Bangkok for the end of October. I now asked for the date to be left open. They telexed London and told me that it would be valid for any time in the next twelve months as long as I made another reservation well in advance.
I left the agency and walked back to Sydney station. I got myself a meat pie (I was already an addict by now) and then headed back on the train once more to Kings Cross. I found my mood had changed a bit now. I was pleased I had found work and was feeling confident.
I got back to the hostel at about 2pm. There was no one around, so I sat in the TV lounge and watched the Australian version of the Price is Right on the TV. I was worried about being able to stay up all night so I went for a lie down on the bed. I couldn’t really sleep though.
At 8pm, just as everyone had arrived back from their various places of work, I got up and headed out once more to Kings Cross station and off to start my new career as a bun maker.