British child migrant tells of life in care

AUTHOR'S TALK: Author John Bicknell will speak about his memoir at the Goulburn Regional Library on August 16. Photos: supplied
AUTHOR'S TALK: Author John Bicknell will speak about his memoir at the Goulburn Regional Library on August 16. Photos: supplied

“Welcome to sunny Australia, you Pommie bastards.”

This was John Bicknell’s welcome to Australia and although the visit in the pelting rain of Melbourne was short-lived, his story about migrating to Australia as a child “volunteer” was not.

After the 1123 hours of sea travel, he would re-board the ship for the final leg of the journey to Sydney. 

Twelve Years in ‘Care’ is Bicknell’s autobiography as a British child migrant and a journey of his survival through the many challenges he faced.

The author will be at the Goulburn Mulwaree Library on Thursday August 16 at 12.30pm to talk about his book and his experiences.

He encourages anyone interested in WWI, WWII, The Great Depression or immigration to Australia to come along.

He also hopes that students with an interest for history may attend.

Bicknell’s book is not a “poor me” story, rather an inspiring, humorous and uplifting read about overcoming adversity.

Bicknell’s story began in Britain in 1939, when he was born into a circumstance that landed him, and two of his brothers, in the care of Dr Bernardo’s Homes, then shipped to Australia as British child migrants. 

Throughout his autobiography, Bicknell recounts experiences  of child migrants during that period of Australian history and although the truths are grim, he manages to place a spin of enlightening humour on them.

The authors message for young people is to “Look after each other, be helpful and don’t bully”, based on his experiences growing up in “care”. 

He has been a mentor for students in high schools for 15 years with the Plan-It Youth Mentoring Program.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Bicknell said.

Having learnt at Campbelltown TAFE and experienced similar situations and feelings to the ones high school students are experiencing now, he writes that he finds within himself “a great wealth of knowledge that could help young students...”

Bicknell also encourages young people to “study well, make something of yourselves and become good tax-paying members of Australian society, because my wife and I, we’re pensioners, so we’d love that!”

Bicknell is donating $2 for every copy sold to Cancer Assistance.

He says his aim is to get his story and that of other British child migrants out there, before that time in history is forgotten.

He is unlikely to make a profit from the book sales; more important to him is sharing his story.

The book, which is full of local history, was nominated for three national writers competitions in 2017: The Adelaide Writer’s Festival, The Victorian Premiers Writers Competition and the NSW Waverley Library NIB National Writers Competition.