Greg
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March 1957
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Groogle

In March 1957 my father's contract with the Malayan colonial government was drawing to a close (as, indeed, was British colonial presence). One of the terms of the contract was that the family could be repatriated; for the British, that meant England, though of course they would also have returned us to Australia, which was much cheaper. We had never been to Europe before, and the idea of a free one-way passage for the whole family was attractive. My parents decided to take up the offer, and then continue back to Australia by way of the USA.

I was eight years at the time, and though my father did try to get me to keep a diary, I can't recall writing more than a single entry. I have a fairly good recollection of parts of the trip, though, and along with other evidence, I'm reconstructing what I can recall. One issue I have was with the starting date: I have based all this on the fact that my mother was in Ax-les-Thermes on her 33rd birthday, but I also had some lingering recollection that we left Kota Bharu on my father's birthday, 29 March. That doesn't add up, and so I'm aligning with the more certain date in Ax-les-Thermes.

I started writing this recollection 50 years after the event; clearly there will be inaccuracies.


Monday, 25 March 1957 Kota Bharu
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My parents were busy with something today, so my sister Bev and I went across the road to the water works to take a look around for the last time. It occurred to me that we had never paid much attention to the water towers, and since there was a ladder on one of them, decided to climb up and take a look. That wasn't made any easier by the fact that the ladder finished half way up, and I had to walk across a girder to get to the second part of the ladder. Bev was scared and didn't follow. While I was climbing up that part, somebody came along and started shouting at us to come down, but I wanted to see what was at the top. It was water, of course, and not covered (“Look, Bev, there's a swimming pool here!”).

It's really rather strange that these ladders didn't line up. I suspect they weren't intended to be used, and nobody noticed the error until the structure was complete. In retrospect, it was a very dangerous action; the towers were rectangular, about 15 metres on a side, and about 20 metres high, so the girder I walked across would have been 10 metres off the ground.

My father was there when we got home, and after giving me a good lecture, also gave me the “strap”, my first-ever corporal punishment. This involved taking off his belt and smacking me on the open palms of the hand with it. I did agree that the punishment was justified.

In the afternoon, moved to the rest house. We had been there often for social events, but it was funny spending the night there.


Tuesday, 26 March 1957 Kota Bharu –> Singapore
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Off to Singapore today on the first leg of the journey. I'm pretty sure that we went by train, which would have taken all day, and that we stayed at the (Railway) Station Hotel, in the station itself. It appeared enormous, and there were book shops where I persuaded my parents to buy me a Rand McNally world atlas, which soon started to fall apart.


Wednesday, 27 March 1957 Singapore —> Bangkok
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Off today from Paya Lebar airport by plane (with BOAC in an Argonaut, I think, like most of the planes we took on the way to Europe) to Bangkok, flying directly over Kota Bharu, which we were able to see from the plane. Spent the night with some friends of my mother's, with a name like “Bukamon”, though I'm not sure how it's spelt. We knew their son Pithya (again, uncertain of the spelling) and had a pleasant afternoon.


Thursday, 28 March 1957 Bangkok
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Today was spent sight-seeing in Bangkok, notably a large temple complex.


Friday, 29 March 1957 Bangkok –> Calcutta –> Karachi
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Saturday, 30 March 1957 Karachi
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On via Calcutta to Karachi, where we found we had a free stopover: the plane had some mechanical problem, and we had to wait for a replacement to be sent out, presumably from England.


Sunday, 31 March 1957 Karachi
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Did some sight-seeing today. I've never seen a place as dry as this; in Malaya it's really moist and humid, but here it's dry and dusty, and people use horses and donkeys to pull carts.

My father decided it was time for me to start keeping a diary, a little pocket thing with two pages to a week. He told me to write, “Never in my life have I seen such poverty”. It took me a while to understand both the syntax and the meaning of the word “poverty”.

In the evening, another word that I didn't know: saw an advertisement for a film called “The silver chalice”, apparently about the life of Christ.

Pakistan must have changed. I can't imagine a film like that having much success in 21st century Pakistan

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