Wednesday 11 December 2019

Norman Monsen

Norman Monsen was born on 10th September 1911, in North Shields in Tyneside England. Norman's Norwegian parents had come to UK, where his father worked as a shipping agent for Scandinavian ships sailing in and out of the River Tyne. Norman was educated at the local schools until he was 14, leaving in 1926, the year of the general strike. Due to the Great War and change in the shipping industry, his father's business had just about become defunct. The family situation became difficult and Norman had to start looking for work. While he was doing this, there was a visit from a man who had been to Australia and had had some success. He spoke about opportunities in Australia, and also about the Dreadnought Scheme for the migration of boys to Australia.

The lectures that Norman Monsen heard, were enough to stimulate an interest in migration among a number the local boys. The first boy to become very keen was Norman's brother, Moritz. But it soon became clear that several other boys were interested, as well. The five of them began to take the steps to join the Scheme. Norman was able to get references from organisations like the Scouts, and also was provided a reference by his local Vicar.
(Dreadnought Association Archives)

The wording of this reference was to inspire those later documenting the Dreadnought Scheme (Sherington, Gill) and Monsen’s own memoirs, “One of the Likely Lads”.
On 18th August 1926, the five boys travelled by overnight train to London where they joined the SS Benalla at Tilbury docks. The boys travelling together were Moritz and Norman Monsen, Bill and Albert Eddleston, and Herbie Gray. On the ship they were joined by ‘Tom’ Wall, another boy from Shields. While these boys stuck together during the journey, they readily joined with others, in the organised shipboard activities. Norman had his 15th birthday one day before reaching Cape Town. From here they spent the next three weeks feeling cooped up, as they crossed the Indian Ocean. After stopping in Fremantle and Melbourne (where Bill Eddleston disembarked for a job in Victoria), the ship entered Sydney Heads, ending the long voyage on 15 October 1926.

They docked at No.9 Wharf Walsh Bay, where the boys were marshalled together and marched the short distance, to the Department of Labour and Industry offices in George Street North. Here they learnt of their destinations – Moritz was assigned to a farmer (and Tick Officer) at Mumulgum, west of Casino on the Far North Coast of NSW, Herb Gray to a farmer at Yeoval in the state’s Central West, and ‘Tom’ Wall to training at Wollongbar Experiment Farm also on the Far North Coast. Norman Monsen and Albert Eddleston were to go for training at Grafton Experiment Farm on the state’s North Coast.

Norman thought that the training was scanty and scrappy…… a smattering of knowledge and very little practical experience, and about as much as could be expected in the space of 3 months. However, on 21 January 1927 he was sent to Macksville by train, to meet Tom Boorer, a farmer from Argents Hill near Bowraville. Tom, his wife and daughter then took Norman Monsen by car to their property, called Bendinni. As he settled into his first job in Australia, he was struck by his transformation, in just five months, from a town disposition to a country disposition…a transformation that I have not for one moment regretted.

Norman was treated like one of the family, even having his own room in the house. The Boorers were church-going Presbyterians, and this proved to be a significant influence on his future. After three years on their farm, he needed a change and took a break in Sydney. He did not enjoy it and resolved to return to farming.

The job that followed was on a wheat farm at Mirrool, in south west NSW, but the accommodation was a shock for him. It was a partitioned off part of the stables, between the chaff room and the feed stalls. The mattress was two layers of bags of oats! Monsen stayed to the end of the harvest, moving on to a Griffith dairy farm, where he had a tent. Other jobs followed and, in 1931, he was working in the Gloucester area, where he was to spend the next seven years.

Gloucester was a turning point for Norman Monsen, for while he was dealing with rabbits, coping with the effects of serous drought, working with the local slaughterman, or training new farmhands, a new opportunity was developing. His link with the local Presbyterian Church grew, so that when the minister moved on and the parish could not afford a replacement, Norman was called on to conduct services regularly. He felt called to the ministry, but the church authorities in Sydney pointed out to him that his education level was not sufficient. However, a local farmer’s sister-in-law was an accomplished scholar and teacher, and with her help, Monsen was eventually able to begin the formal student training in 1937.

Almost immediately, he was sent to the Waverly parish in Sydney for some work experience. It was here that he met Alison Gibson, a nursing sister at a nearby Methodist hospital. Student Minister appointments then followed at Nimbin in NSW northern rivers area and Canley Vale in Sydney, before Norman Monsen enlisted in the army on 12 July 1940. His army service included artillery training, gunnery officer and being stationed in western Australia, ready for the expected Japanese attack. Lieutenant Monsen was released to continue further study and ministry, after three years and three months military service. Meanwhile, Norman and Alison were married on 22 March 1941.

Following ordination Norman Monsen continued in parish ministry (Clunes, Inverell, Epping) until 1961, when he was appointed as Home Mission Superintendent for NSW. This was to be his day job until  retirement in 1978, but his administrative and leadership skills meant that had other roles as well. He was a trustee for both NSW and National church properties, Member and then Convenor of the Presbyterian Inland Mission Board, and in 1974-75, was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in NSW. In September 1981, he was chosen to be Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, the Very Reverend Norman Monsen serving from 1982 to 1985.
(Dreadnought Association Photo)

In retirement, he was active in the Dreadnought Association and spoke of the Scheme with affection, even though he recognised that the scheme did not have the glow shown in its prospectus. After a long and effective life serving his Lord, Norman Monsen passed away on 6 February 1995, aged 83 years.

At the end of his 1987 memoirs, he wrote ….. I still like to think of myself as one of the ‘Likely Lads’ who migrated to Australia, with his heart full of promise, with Australia full of opportunity.