Jane Harris: “My mother taught Greek migrants English on their journey to Australia”

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Jane Elizabeth Harris (nee Still) was 10 years old when her family decided to emigrate to Sydney from London, in November 1962. 

Almost six decades later, she reminisces parts of the six-week voyage aboard the English immigrant ship ‘Orion’ and remembers how her mother was tirelessly volunteering her time to teach English to Greeks who were migrating to Australia in search for a better life. 

A story of love and migration

“Mum, Despina Kakitsis, was born and raised in Athens and during the war met dad, Donald Still, who was in the British Airforce. After the war, Dad returned to Greece and asked for her hand in marriage. They lived in Kent, England where my sister, Irene and I were born,” Jane Harris, 69, tells The Greek Herald.

“My mum did not like the cold weather and when advertisements came on TV about Australia, she convinced my father that we should go. At the time, Australia wanted females and tradespeople and as dad was an electric welder and they had two daughters, we had priority to travel.

PHOTO (L): Jane’s mother, Despina sunning herself on the deck, PHOTO (R): Jane on the left and a friend she met on the ship on the right

“We were part of the Australian Assisted Passage Migration Scheme -we were Ten Pound Poms. If we left the country earlier than two years, we would have to refund the cost for the passage,” says Mrs Harris.

The Migration Scheme, created in 1945 was intended to increase the population of Australia and to supply workers for the country’s booming industries. 

In return for subsidising the cost of travelling to Australia the Government promised employment prospects, affordable housing and a generally more optimistic lifestyle.

From 1945 to 1972, over a million United Kingdom migrants travelled to their new Australian homeland.

The voyage to the land Down Under  

The Still family was very excited and grateful for the opportunity afforded to travel to the new promised land and despite some challenges, the journey was mostly enjoyable for them all.

“We had two cabins on Deck C. There were two sittings for meals, one for children and one for adults. As I was the only young child, Mum requested that I eat with them,” Mrs Harris remembers.

Nearly two weeks after they departed from Tilbury Docks in London, the Still family stopped in the port of Pireaus in Athens and met with Despina’s family in Palaio Faliro.

The family in Athens Jane and her family said goodbye to, Photo Supplied

“We had some rough seas but overall, the sailing was smooth. We had school on the ship and we played lots of games like quoits and shuttlecock. There was also a swimming pool and it was like a holiday. Our parents met lots of other people.

“At our stop in Colombo we ate pineapples and coconuts. We saw the sights and a snake charmer. Next stop was Fremantle after a very long and rough journey. One of the first things we saw was kangaroos in a pen at the port-obviously put there for our benefit. It was very hot and dry”.

Next stop was Adelaide and then Melbourne, where Mrs Harris says that many Greeks disembarked.

“We made friends with George and Irene and mum kept in touch with them for many years,” she says

The immigration ship ‘Orion’ and a Ten Pound Pom ad 

The arrival in Sydney and a legacy that lives on

Next stop was Sydney, where the Stills finally arrived almost a week before the Christmas of 1962. 

“Mum’s first cousins, Katina and Fanis Pavlidis were there to meet us and took us home to their place in Petersham where we stayed for three months until our parents bought a house,” says Mrs Harris, talking about her Greek mother’s impact to the Greek passengers of one of Orion’s final immigration journeys before it decommissioned in 1963.

“Mum volunteered to teach English, daytime for children and night time for adults. We are very proud of her achievements. She was a mover and shaker anyway in her life. 

“She wanted us to have a better life and we are so pleased that we came here,” Mrs Harris says.

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