Tuesday 21 May 2024

Bill Miller

William John Ernest Miller was born on 11 May 1908 at Catford, London to Ernest and May Miller. Soon after this the family moved to South Croydon in Surrey, where his father worked in the footwear industry.

In the years that followed World War I, conditions were tough and prospects seemed limited for many young people. Then Bill saw

                                            ‘Boys Wanted for Australia, Apply Within’

As Bill later wrote: “This is the advertisement that changed my whole life around. In 1924, at the age of sixteen, I applied to come to Australia and, with the approval of my parents, everything was arranged through the Dreadnought Scheme”.

SS Demosthenes

Bill travelled from London to Tilbury Docks and boarded the SS Demosthenes, which took about six weeks to reach Sydney on 19 March 1925. Bill arrived in Sydney with another 60 boys connected with the scheme, and, with 36 of them, was transported by train and road to Scheyville Training Farm. Here they stayed for the next three months to learn Australian farming methods. Following this farm training, Bill was sent to work on a farm at Dyraaba (21 km north west of Casino) in northern NSW.

During the next eight and a half years, Bill finished his time at Dyraaba and moved on, working on a number of farms in the Casino district. Then, after his marriage to Lorna Oliver on 20 January 1934, he commenced share-farming at Hogarth Range (west of Casino) and later at Ellangowan (south of Casino). The couple went on to have six children.

By 1938, Bill had a growing family and needed a more reliable income than his farmwork was providing so he applied for work with, and was accepted by, the NSW Department of Railways. His decision was well-timed. Drought conditions which had begun occurring in 1937, worsened in 1938 into what became known as the World War 2 Drought. Bill was initially based in Casino for several years before being transferred to Murwillumbah, where he remained until he retired from the Railways in 1970.

A reserved, reliable man of modest expectations, Bill Miller passed away in 2001, aged 93. His parents and sister had predeceased him, and wife Lorna passed away in 2002.

Among the thousands of boys who emigrated with the Dreadnought Scheme, there was a great variety of reasons for doing so. Difficult family relationships and family breakdown were part of the story for many of them. But there were also many who left home, with the approval and assistance of parents who wanted a better future for their son. In Bill Miller’s case, there was always a strong family connection, with his parents and sister Margaret coming as “Ten Pound Poms”, to join him in Murwillumbah in 1948.

Ironically, they each paid the same fare as Bill did, 23 years earlier.

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