There aren't many people in the world who can tell you what it was like to be amongst the first group of British migrants to be transported to Australia by air. Afterall, there were only 24 passengers on Qantas Empire Airways flight EM522 104 that arrived in Australia on 5 January, 1959. But Raymond Terrace Activity Centre client, Jim Heggie, and his late wife, Christina, were part of this historic event.
The flight took three very long days, taking off in London and stopping in Frankfurt, Rome, Athens, Cairo, Karachi, Calcutta and Bangkok before landing in Darwin and then Sydney. Jim describes the journey as “very laborious”, which is no doubt putting it mildly.
When asked why he wanted to migrate to Australia, where neither he nor his wife had any family or friends, Jim laughed and said it was “too cold” in the UK. With just 40kg of possessions between them and no previous experience of flying, you can only imagine the way the Heggie’s felt on the long journey to the other side of the world.
Of course, while the goal may have been escaping the cold, they got more than they bargained for when they stepped off the plane in Darwin (the last stop before their final destination of Sydney) and felt the famous Australian humidity for the first time.
Jim explains: “When we left London it was 36 degrees Fahrenheit (a frosty two degrees Celsius) and when we arrived in Darwin it was 33 degrees Celsius!”
After a short stint in Brisbane, Jim and his wife moved to Sydney where Jim got a job at Kelvinator as a fitter. They had a son and a daughter, both of whom still live in Sydney. Jim helped build power boards for Qantas’ fleet of 747s and aviation hangars. He also worked for Hornsby Council for 19 years as a mechanical fitter, then Acting Supervisor for the Parks and Gardens.
His last job is one that he is very proud of – a maintenance role at the Opera Centre in Elizabeth Street in Sydney. The Opera Centre is where they make all the props and costumes for Opera Australia performances. Jim worked there for nine happy years before retirement.
The Opera Centre is a hub for the hundreds of creative people who work for Opera Australia, including the very famous principals of the many productions. It includes three studios that host rehearsals for productions, which often put Jim in the same building as some very famous people.
“I maintained the whole building and built the library there. I also met Tommy Tycho, the famous pianist and conductor and Dame Joan Sutherland.” said Jim.
Perhaps the most exciting moment throughout his years at the Opera Centre was in 2000, when Opera Australia held a tribute for the recently retired Artistic Director, Moffat Oxenbould. Jim, along with everyone involved with Opera Australia, was included in a photograph for the tribute booklet that was produced for the occasion.
These days, the lovely Jim from Kirkcaldy, Scotland brings his great sense of humour and snooker skills to the Raymond Terrace Activity Centre every week. When asked what he likes best about the Centre, he cites “the food” as cooking is not his thing.
Activity Centre Team Leader, Kate Callan, loves Jim’s visits and their rapport is apparent when you see them together.
“Jim’s been coming here for almost seven years and has been an integral member of our group. He’s a real scallywag who has a wicked sense of humour and loves to make people laugh!
“He’s also a very kind gentleman who will assist in any way possible. He loves a game of pool and a sneaky lolly here and there, even though he’s diabetic. I call him ‘Russell’ as he quietly slides into my office while I’m working and all I hear is a rustle, rustle, rustle from my lolly bowl!”
At 85 years young, Jim’s positive attitude and dedication to having fun, is infectious. But if you take him on in a game of pool be warned, he’s in it to win it!
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