Tag Archives: Olive Steel

A Life in a Year – 26th January, Australia Day and Ten Pound Poms

Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26th January and the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland.  I mention this because I have family living in Australia who will probably be joining in the celebrations today.

Created as part of the “Populate or Perish“, the assisted passage policy was designed to substantially 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 adult migrants were charged only £10 for the fare and children were allowed to travel for free.  The Government promised employment, housing and prospects for an improved lifestyle.

Assisted migrants were obliged to remain in Australia for two years after arrival, or alternatively refund the cost of their assisted passage. If they chose to travel back to Britain, the cost of the journey was at least £120, a large sum in those days and one that most could not afford.

The primary source of immigration to Australia in the 1960’s was from Europe, and in particular Great Britain. The reason was World War II. The people were looking to get away from the depressing economic situation back home and Australia was everything that Europe was not.  In the 1950s and 60s, there was the rise to undreamed-of affluence.  During the 1950s, Australia enjoyed the most even income distribution of any western industrialized nation and the 1960s were the really affluent years.

More than 2 million migrants arrived between 1945 and 1965, and Australia’s population increased from 7 to 11 million.  These “New Australians” were much of the workforce behind many of the intense development of Australia in the 1950s and 60s, providing manual labour in steelworks, mines, factories and on the roads.

D4 Brian Steel and Pat Travena

Brian and Pat Steel

It was the promise of a new life that took my Uncle Brian and his family to the new world of Australia in the mid 1960s.  After a string of jobs following National service in the Royal Navy he was by then a bus driver with London Transport and for him the transformation of British society and the arrival of many immigrants from the Commonwealth convinced him that England was a spent force with few prospects for him and his family and he was seduced by the offer of the assisted passage.  Before he left he came to stay with us one last time at our house in Hillmorton near Rugby and then he and his wife Pat and his son Glen were gone for good.  During this visit I recall conversations with my parents explaining how Australia was the land of milk and honey and how the pavements were made of gold and for a short while mum and dad actually considered it themselves but luckily dad didn’t have an  adventurous bone in his body so we were certain never to follow them.

After six weeks at sea they arrived in Adelaide and started a new life in the sunshine of South Australia and shortly after that they had a second son called Gavin and this is a cousin that I have never met because I have a family on the other side of the World who, let’s face it, I may never ever see.

My grandparents visited Australia a few times, once for six months and my parents went to visit but dad didn’t especially like it so didn’t ever want to go back.  Brian and Pat have been home only once, in 2003, but they don’t regard it as home anymore so have no plans to ever come back again.

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

“It was not only in Farol that brusque changes were taking place…they were happening at a breakneck pace all over Spain…. Roads, the radio, the telephone and now the arrival of tourists… were putting an end to the Spain of old.  And for those who wanted to see it as it had been, there was not a moment to be lost.”                                                                                                                                           Norman Lewis ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

If Pedro Zaragoza Orts is remembered for the Beni-York skyscraper he is even more famous for the so called ‘War of the Bikini’.  In the later years of the 1950s the icon of holiday liberty was the saucy two piece swimsuit but in staunchly religious Spain, still held in the firm two-handed grip of church and state, this scanty garment was seen as a threat to the very basis of Catholic society.   According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion.  Plenty of fallout and very hot!

And it certainly had this effect in Spain and although occasionally allowable on the sandy beaches, it had to be covered up in all other areas; on the promenades and in the plazas and in the shops and the bars and cafés for fear of causing any offence.  In one famous incident, a British tourist, sitting in a bar opposite a beach wearing only a bikini, was told by a Guardia Civil officer that she wasn’t allowed to wear it there.  After an argument she hit him, and her strike for social justice cost her a hefty fine of forty thousand pesetas.  Zaragoza needed tourists and tourists wanted the bikini and with more northern European tourists arriving each year in search of an all over suntan the Mayor knew that the banning of the two piece swimsuit simply couldn’t be sustained or allowed to threaten his ambitious plans.

Zaragoza took a gamble and signed a municipal order which permitted the wearing of the bikini in public areas and in this single act he effectively jump started the Spanish tourist industry.  Zaragoza said: “People had to feel free to be able to wear what they wanted, within reason, if it helped them to enjoy themselves as they would come back and tell their friends about the place.”  In deeply religious Catholic Spain not everyone was so understanding or welcoming of the bikini however and in retaliation the Archbishop of Valencia began the excommunication process against him.

Excommunication was a serious matter in 1959 and his political supporters began to abandon him so one day he got up early and drove for nine hours on a little Vespa scooter to Madrid to lobby Franco himself.  The Generalissimo was suitably impressed with his determination and gave him his support, Zaragoza returned to Benidorm and the Church backed down and the approval of the bikini became a defining moment in the history of modern Spain ultimately changing the course of Spanish tourism and causing a social revolution in an austere country groaning under the yoke of the National Catholic regime.  Zaragoza went on to become Franco’s Director of Tourism and a Parliamentary Deputy.

Not many people would have described Franco as a liberalising social reformer and perhaps he just liked to look at ladies breasts but not long after this lots of women on holiday in Benidorm dispensed with the bikini bra altogether and brazenly sunbathed topless and Benidorm postcards had pictures of naked ladies on them to prove it.

One thing I am certain of is that this wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference to my Nan because I am not sure that she ever possessed a swimming costume, never mind a two-piece!  She was a bit old-fashioned and the human body in the naked form was only permitted behind closed doors with the curtains closed and preferably after dark.  If she ever went in the sea I imagine it would have been in one of those Victorian one piece bathing costumes of the previous century.  Grandad too wasn’t one for showing bits of his body normally kept under his bus conductor’s dark blue uniform and didn’t even concede to a pair of shorts, preferring instead to wear his colonial style slacks even during the day.  When he came home his impressive suntan stopped at the line of his open neck shirt and his rolled up sleeves.

For people who had never been abroad before Benidorm must have been an exciting place in the early 1960s.  Palm fringed boulevards, Sangria by the jug full and, unrestrained by optics, generous measures of whiskey and gin, rum and vodka.  Eating outside at a pavement café and ordering drinks and not paying for them until leaving and scattering unfamiliar coins on the table as a tip for the waiter.  There was permanent sunshine, a delightful warm sea and unfamiliar food, although actually I seem to doubt that they would be introduced to traditional Spanish food on these holidays because to be fair anything remotely ethnic may have come as shock because like most English people they weren’t really ready for tortilla and gazpacho, tapas or paella.  They certainly didn’t return home to experiment with any new Iberian gastronomic ideas and I suspect they probably kept as close as they could to food they were familiar with.

Benidorm is a fascinating place, often unfairly maligned or sneered at but my grandparents liked it and I have been there myself in 1977 for a fortnight’s holiday and then again on a day trip in 2008 just out of curiosity.  It has grown into a mature and unique high rise resort with blue flag beaches and an ambition to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status and I hope it achieves it.  You can read about those trips at:

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm – The Surprise

Thanks to http://www.realbenidorm.net/ for the use of the postcard image


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