RS4812_Tent_City

My parents were displaced persons after the end of the second world war. They migrated to Australia in 1948 and were sent to the Bathurst Migrant Camp. From there my father was assigned to work for the Water Board for a period of two years under the terms of his indenture. He was based at Regents Park in a tent city.

In 2011 he wrote a biography of his life and made reference to his time with the Water Board in 1948 and 1949. In October 1948 he also wrote to his brother in law, who had also migrated to Australia post the war but he was based in Perth.

Written by Hillar Ling.

Below are extracts from his book and a translation of the letter he wrote:

Extract from Daniel Ling’s book, “Every Day with Jesus, pages 113-115; Circa October 1948

I still had to wait for a few days before the announcement came informing me  that I was destined for Regents Park, together with about ten to fifteen Estonians, including some who had arrived on the preceding ship.  So back in the car, back over the Blue Mountains, then the bridge at the foot of the mountains and still some twenty miles from the city.  This was the city outskirts, then sparsely populated, whilst today you would struggle to find a spare plot of land. In the intervening sixty years many have chosen to make their homes here.

In RegentsPark there was a “tent city” that would house us as we began working for the Sydney Water Board. It was a pleasant place near the train station from where we would journey to and from work, and on weekends we would visit our wives. Each tent was shared by two men, and inside it was a clean bed, small table and a cupboard. The laundry rooms and kitchens were located nearby. The Water Board also provided cutlery and crockery which we paid for via a pay deduction. Incidentally, we were paid an additional allowance rather than a deduction as we lived in a camp. As the reader would realise, Australia was a unique land and they generously helped the emigrants settle in.

The camp had its own store for our basic needs. We would buy meat, bread and milk after work on the way back to camp. Everything was very well organized. The next day came a visit from the Water Board officials and those responsible for the set-up and camp running. They were interested in everything: who we were, where we came from and whether we liked Australia. They questioned us also as to why we could not get back to our homeland after the war. It seemed that they were either quite familiar with our situation or just wanted to check for themselves what they already knew.

The next day a new guest came who introduced himself as our supervisor. Our work place was walking distance away. All were issued shovels and picks and shown a section that was about 3 to 4 pick handles in length. We had to open the ground for storm water pipes. Back in Estonia during the years of our Republic, those that left the islands to work on the main land were referred to as ditch diggers. That’s what we all were, whether formerly a farm worker, a school boy, school teacher, or whatever. My tent partner was Villi Pettai. He was a chemist in Estonia, the physical demands were a bit much for him. Nobody was harassed, all doing as much as they were able. We were all paid the same day rate and, no one measured how much each person dug.

Villi and I remained friends after our time in the ditches ended. He later told me, repeatedly over and over again what a good friend I was as I helped him finish his section of the ditch.  That I do not remember and cannot really believe it as there was no need to do so. No one asked us to work harder or faster and there was no question of a wage deduction. I was not the greatest of friends with either the shovel or the pick. The work was tedious, but I pressed on as it made the time towards evening pass faster. Although it seems strange, using machines for ditch digging was forbidden. The unemployment from the 1930’s depression was still fresh in people’s minds. There was only one machine called the Barber Green and it was operated by a Scottish emigrant.

We counted the days of our indenture. There was plenty of work to be had and you could choose whatever you wanted or was suitable. At weekends I visited Leili. Thus the days passed. We started thinking about starting our own home, possibly a chicken farm but for this we would need land outside of  town.

I had become friends with the Barber Green operator. He helped me read the many pages of newspaper advertisements to find land at Plumpton, about 30 miles from the city centre. This became our home for over 50 years. Like many of our own life plans, the chicken farm remained only a plan, unfilled if you exclude the ten chickens we kept for their eggs. The land cost 230 pounds, quite affordable at the time; I was being paid 20 pounds per fortnight and Leili 3 pounds each week, from which tax of 2 shillings and 6 pence. It did not take long to save the money to buy the land. Our living costs were not high and we were extremely frugal in our spending. In the evenings after work I went to see the nearby half-finished houses as there were many under construction. I was trying to learn by watching and asking, everything from the foundations to the internal fit-out. The initial need was for bricks. These were very difficult to obtain, the demand was high with only a few brickworks. I found a place that made cement blocks as there was no other option.

 

Translation of letter by Daniel Ling to his brother in law Ülo Simson 16 October 1948

Dear Ülo,

I wrote to you last Sunday and now again with a small question without having received an answer to my first letter. The purpose of my writing is that I thought about you coming over here and work with my employer. At one time you wrote that over there you have a miserly wage. I am not asking you to come but will do whatever I can to help you settle in if you do. There are no conditions. I will try to give you a picture of life here so you can decide for yourself. We live in a camp in two man tents. Everyone has to do their own cooking and laundry. We eat in a barracks with 25 men. Each man has their own cooking utensils and cupboard but we share the table and benches. There is hot and cold water for washing up. Electricity is used for cooking and heating water, you only need to press a button and the how water flows. There are separate laundry and washrooms. A bus brings us home every night, the hot water is available. You can buy food at the camp canteen or also from town. Regents park railway station is about 5 minutes where there are also food shops. Regents Park is a Sydney suburb. As for work there is a group of 42 men, we are the first to stay at the camp. We have varying work tasks involving water supply. There are more men joining us next week. My group installs sewerage pipes, mainly digging ditches up to 2 metres deep. At the beginning work was quite strenuous as it had been a long time since I had any physical activity but I am getting used to it now. There is no set quota of how much you need to do. You make sure you don’t over exert yourself and work one section at a time. In a day we manage 3 *0.8* 1.2 cubic metres. Our work day goes something like this. We wake up at 5.00, get washed, dress and eat before departing camp at 6.30.

There is a 1 – 1.5km distance to the bus stop. At 6.59 we get picked up and 5 minutes later we are at work which starts at 7.20. 9-9.10 is breakfast, 12-12.30 lunch And a little break at 14-14.10. Work finishes at 15.40 then the trip back gets us to camp at 16.25. Then start preparing dinner which takes 1-1.5 hours. Normally I bring my breakfast and lunch with me, milk, sausage and bread but you can buy these as a lunch shop is about 100 metres away and a bread van goes past every day at 10.45. Now wages. Our group gets paid 9 pounds and 6 pence a week. Base pay is 7 pounds, 7 shillings and 6 pence plus 5 shillings week travel money from which 2 shillings and 6 pence is left over. Then 1 pound 8 shillings as we have to live in camp tents. Now you are more or less familiar with the routine. I forgot to mention that from the 9 pounds and 6 pence you have to pay tax which for a married man is 12 shillings and 3 pence which leaves 8-8-3.  What tax is for a single man I do not know but youth are paid the same wage. There are a pair of Australians, one 18 the other 20 years old, they mentioned that they get paid the same. Work it out for yourself. One day the engineer came to work and we had an opportunity to talk to him. There are 3 Estonians here, we asked about moving to Penrith as there are 40-50 Estonians there. He thought that more Estonians may join us. He asked whether we had any friends that might want to join us. So if you are in agreement write to me immediately and I will try to get things moving. We would share a 2 man tent and preparing dinner together would be much more enjoyable. The boss would organise things from this end so all you need to do is arrive at the station where you would be met. Only you know how things stand. Write at once what you are thinking and planning. You know how you feel there and how your life is. I think it would be better here, a big city. The trip to town from Regents Park to the city centre at the end of the week costs only 1 shilling and 10 pence. I will finish now. I wish you well and await your reply.

Category: 125th Anniversary

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