Monday 13 November 2017

Arthur Ernest ('Snowball') Brawn

(The Rev. Arthur Brawn was a key player in the modern recognition of the Dreadnought Scheme. On the same ship as Ernest Thornton, he describes his trip and early years here.)

My decision to migrate to Australia, was not a hasty one. In 1922, my father opened a shop of his own in Tottenham. We lived on the premises. We were open all day Saturdays, and our half-holiday was Thursday. I started going to Australia House in the Strand on Thursday afternoon, seeing films of life in Australia and their displays and, of course, reading the propaganda. On Christmas Eve 1923, we had opened the shop at 9 am and I served my last customer at 11.45 pm. I remember going outside and saying to a friend nearby, ‘I’ve had enough. This is my last Christmas Eve in a shop……. I think I’ll go to Australia.’ My parents and I began to look at schemes of immigration, and the Dreadnought Scheme was selected.

We left Tilbury on 26 April, 1924. There were sixty of us, all eighteen years of age or younger, with fifteen the youngest. I had my eighteenth birthday four days later, on the SS Demosthenes of the Aberdeen line. After leaving Tilbury, I was asked to help in the bakehouse. During the voyage, I learned to ‘punch the dough’ and toss pancakes, to roll them when they were served with jam, and squeeze lemons on them when they were ‘lemon pancakes’. I ate with the bakers, and I had plenty of cakes too, and was able to take cakes back to the cabin for the boys. At the end of the journey I received the handsome amount of two pounds for my services. I had enjoyed the experience and the food.

Our first sight of Australia was Albany, Western Australia, but we were unable to go ashore. The roughest part of our journey was across the Great Australian Bight. Ropes were stretched across the decks for us to hang on to as we went from one part of the ship to the other.

We arrived in Sydney, and on 13 June were met on the ship by the immigration people. Photographs were taken by newspaper men, and then up to the Garrison Church Hall at The Rocks where ladies, from the Empire Service Club, gave us morning tea and welcomed us to New South Wales. They told us about the club rooms in George Street North, and invited us to use them before going back to the ship for the night. Most of us spent the evening at the Club, where there were writing facilities, and a piano where we did a lot of community singing that night. The next morning, we took the train to Mulgrave en route to Scheyville Farm.

Life at the farm was interesting. One week at the dairy we were taught the rudiments of milking, including getting the cows in with the help of lanterns in the dark. Another week, I remember was spent on fencing; a week on ploughing, single furrow and double furrow; a week on sheep when we were taught how to kill and dress a sheep. I had a week on kitchen duties, too. I remember peeling potatoes, loads of them—there were sixty boys in all during our time.

Then came a job in the country. I was rostered to a Wilsons Creek farm at Mullumbimby, and another boy, Dave Jolley, was to come with me to a farm at Coopers Creek.

We had to travel by ship to Byron Bay. We enjoyed the sea trip and then went by train to Mullumbimby. When nobody met us, we had to find the cream carrier in town, and in the afternoon sat on empty cream cans in the back of his wagon, which was drawn by four horses.

When we got to the top of Lavertys Gap, the driver stopped and unloaded the empty cream cans. He said to me, ‘This is where you get off,’ and unloaded my baggage, telling me that the house was over the creek, it could not be seen from the road, ‘They’ll come and get your bags. Pretty rough if they don’t!’

I set off down the track, and came to the creek, wondering how I was to get across, when a wild-looking man, beard, flannel shirt and trousers, an old hat, and smoking a pipe, appeared at the other side, and with a broad Scottish accent, called for me to use the stepping stones and come across.

This was my introduction to the McKeans. Stuart, who met me, was farming at Dorroughby. I was to be at Wilsons Creek until I had improved in my milking skills, and then I was to go across to Dorroughby. I had a very happy time with them. Given a room in the house, I was treated like one of the family. In the orchard were fruit trees that I hadn’t seen before, mandarins, loquats, and grape vines. In due course, I was taken across to the farm at Boomerang Creek, Dorroughby.

Stuart, a very strong Scotsman, worked hard long hours, so did I. I had a room in the house, food was good and plentiful, and did my own washing. While with McKeans, I bought a horse for eight pounds.

Long working hours always finished up in the dark, and as we were at the end of his run, the cream carrier came to us first in the morning, so we had to be finished milking and separating before he came. We felled and burnt off about twenty acres of standing scrub along Boomerang Creek, and planted maize. My hands got used to the shape of the rounded brush-hook handle, and then the different-shaped axe handle. Milking prevented me from getting a really hard skin, so I had some shocking blisters.

Sundays was a free day (between milking) and, in the morning I went to Dorroughby Methodist Church, and in the afternoon in summer would swim in the creek below the house. Later on, there were trips up into the scrub.

Rev. W Willey and his wife were very kind to me. He started a training class for local preachers and invited me. This became a turning point in my life. My first service was at Rosebank on a Sunday night, 19 April 1926. I was shaky at the thought of me, a young farm labourer, having the temerity to stand up in front of these farmers, their wives and families and preach to them!

When the McKeans left their farm in September 1925, I moved to Easts near Dunoon, at thirty shillings a week. Spring 1926 was very dry, and by October the district was in the grip of a severe drought. One day, Mr East told me that he could no longer afford to pay me wages ‘until the rain comes’. As I had not had a holiday since coming to Australia, I said, if I could leave my horse on the farm, I would take a holiday until the drought broke.

I decided to find a job, continue my studies and offer for the ministry. Later in 1927, I was appointed Circuit Assistant in the Lismore Methodist Church and stayed until I entered Leigh College at Enfield in February 1928.


After completing three years in college, Arthur Brawn was sent to Milton on the NSW South Coast, but shortly after, he went as a missionary to the Nakanai District, New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

He returned to Lismore to marry Jean Hewitson. Together they spent another three years (1932-35) in New Britain. They served the church in the Coffs Harbour, Alstonville, Gosford Circuits and four areas in Sydney, before retiring in 1973.

In 1974, Rev.Arthur Brawn helped form the Dreadnought Association, gathering the scattered numbers of those boy migrants for a yearly reunion. He served as secretary of the Association from 1974 to 1978 and as president from 1979 to 1991. He passed away in 1993, and many Dreadnought Boys came to his memorial service.