Set in Scotland in the early 1900s, the book progresses through two world wars and leads to a life in Australia.
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Far Across The Sea
FAR ACROSS THE SEA is a family saga that begins in Scotland in 1913, progresses through two world wars and leads to a life in Ipswich, Australia for a young man who takes up the offer of assisted passage to Australia as part of the Australian government’s ‘Populate or Perish’ campaign after the second world war.
Life in the mining villages of Scotland was rather bleak. One of the characters in the book joins the army in WWI to get away from the mines, only to find himself digging underground in France. Years after WWII had finished, food and clothing were still being rationed in Scotland, few people could afford to buy their own home and unemployment was high. When Australia put out the call for young men and families to populate its shores, with the lure of high employment and sunshine instead of rain and snow, many people took up the call.
The book is based on fact and provides a snapshot of the lives of people in Scotland in the early 1900s and the new hope that Australia offered in the 1950s.
Chapter 24 (1935)
The dour, long face of the school teacher, Mr Murdoch, was red with anger. He peered over the top of his rimless glasses, as the veins in his neck bulged out of the starched collar of his shirt.
“McMurdo!” he shouted as he walked quickly from the front of the classroom, a text book under his left arm and a switch of cane in his right hand. “What do you think you’re doing?” he enquired as he stood beside Willie’s desk.
“I’m no’ doin’ anything, Mr Murdoch,” said Willie angelically with a flip of the long, blond fringe that fell across his forehead.
“Show me your hands,” demanded Murdoch. As Willie slowly uncurled his hands Mr Murdoch could see that they were covered in ink. Then he looked at the girl called Jenny, seated at the desk in front of Willie. He opened his mouth to speak but words would not come. He gasped as he saw that the ends of Jenny’s pigtails had been dipped in ink and that the ink had stained her dress.
“Stand to, McMurdo,” Mr Murdoch shouted. Willie rose from his seat with his hands in his pockets. “Hold out your hands,” commanded Murdoch. Willie slowly took one hand from his pocket. “Both of them.” Willie took the other hand from his pocket. As Mr Murdoch raised the cane above his head, Willie quickly spat on both of his hands as all the boys did in a vain attempt to avoid the sting of the cane. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! The noise echoed across the classroom as the little girls gasped and the boys looked on in horror. After four good whacks with the cane, Mr Murdoch regained his composure. “Now sit down, and in future you will listen to what I am saying when I am teaching you about Britain’s greatest ever poet and playwright, and not get up to any of your foolishness.”
Willie sat down, holding back tears but smiling to his friends in the class. He was angry and wanted to strike back at Murdoch, but there wasn’t much physically that a nine-year-old could do against an adult. So Willie thought that he would torment Mr Murdoch with the only weapon at his disposal – his sharp tongue.
“Mr Murdoch,” Willie called to the teacher who was now standing at the head of the class. “Why are ye teaching us in English, when ye should be teaching us in Scots?” he asked cheekily. Murdoch began to turn red again. Willie continued. “Are we no’ in Scotland, and not England, so why do we no’ speak in oor ain language? Why are we learning aboot Willie Shakespeare when we have oor ain Rabbie Burns, the greatest poet of all, who hails from right here in Ayrshire?”
“McMurdo!” shouted Mr Murdoch. “To the principal’s office – now!” Willie started for the door, swallowing a smile. Hands in his pockets, he walked calmly past Mr Murdoch – then winked. Mr Murdoch threw up his hands in exasperation. “That boy will either be a saint or a sinner”, he said. “A saint or a sinner.”