Not even among native races in Australia and South Africa have I seen so low a standard of hygiene, wolfing of food and general behaviour, as among the Greeks, Italians and other Southern Europeans on the ship. It is impossible to say that many of the immigrants were civilised. In many respects they were like animals. Living with them was to see pig-sty habits.
I am an Australian and went to South Africa in 1936, where I married. In 1941, I attempted to return to Australia with my wife and son and daughter, but no passages were available. From then on I kept trying without success until I got bookings on the Misr. Had I known what the trip would be like, I would never have sailed, for not even the pleasure of getting back to my own country compensates for what my family and I experienced.
My berth was in the hold of the ship below water level with Some 300 other men. Bunks were in tiers of four. Majority of the Southern Europeans never bothered about making their beds. They slept in their day clothes. Their method of using the lavatories could not be described in any newspaper. British people on board’ could only conclude they had never seen water closets before. Canvas screens hanging in front of the WC’s were used as sanitary paper. The stench was unbearable.
Meal times were an utter misery to the decent people on the ship, for then the immigrants were revoltingly objectionable.
Immediately the gong sounded they would begin shouting and screaming and fighting to get to the tables, quickly. Their table manners were filthy. Their simple aim was to eat as much as possible as fast as possible, using their hands and wholly ignoring knives and forks. When such- things as salads – were served in large communal bowls, they would grab with both hands and stuff their catch straight into their mouth. They would continue to cram food into their mouths until their cheeks were distended and they were hardly able to chew. They slobbered disgustingly.
Bread Thrown Everywhere.
Meat courses were eaten in the same fashion, gravy flying every where. A popular practice of the Greeks-Italians was to suck a piece of bread and then dip it into the sugar bowl. When the crust on the bread was hard and they did not wish to eat it, they would throw it over their shoulders. It would not have been so bad had they quietly dropped the crusts to the floor.” At least other passengers would not have been hit.
Food on the Misr was at times so unpalatable that even these savages did not like it. Their method of showing their displeasure was to pick up, say, a plate of custard and smash it face downward on the table.
Stark Naked Women
On one occasion I saw six Italians and Greeks walk up to a steward and tip their plates of custard on his feet in protest At the end of each meal the dining-room would be a sickening mess — the tables and floors being littered with food a British passengers tried to remonstrate with the immigrants, but it was useless, as not one of them I met could speak any English. The trip was more dreadful for my wife, daughter (aged 11) and son (aged eight) than for me. They were together in a crowded women’s dormitory. Immigrant women were devoid of any, modesty. Native women are complete prudes compared with them. The door to the women’s wash room was near the entrance to the hold where the men were accommodated. It was seldom ever closed, and any man passing was treated to the sight of stark naked women washing them selves. The women would grin and smile at any male passer-by. Women’s lavatories were as disgusting as the men’s.
Australians on the ship all decided that the authorities in Australia could have no idea of the type of people who were coming out, and assured one another that immediately the ship reached Fremantle the immigrants would be turned back as undesirable. Instead, at Fremantle, the immigrants were welcomed. Mr. Calwell, the Minister for Immigration, has stated that these Southern Europeans will soon come up to our standard. I say they never will. Most of them are over 30 and have their customs ingrained. My brother-in-law, a South African ex-serviceman, is anxious to come to Australia. He wrote to the migration authorities some time ago requesting permission to come here, and was told that only migrants from Great Britain were being allowed in. There, may be some slight hope of re-training the children who came out on the ship. At present their idea of a lavatory is any open space, and their table manners are just as debased as those of their parents.
Further Reading about the Voyage of the Misr, 1947
The Egyptian ship SS Misr arrived in Melbourne in April 1947 with 624 men, women and children on board. One of the first postwar migrant ships to dock in Australia carrying many non-British migrants, its arrival was met with unprecedented controversy, both for the terrible conditions on board and for the reported “animal-like” behaviour of the passengers. The arrival of SS Misr was a national news story, exposing the deep-seated fears of Australians at the time, threatened by the settlement of so many Jewish refugees and migrants from southern Europe. To help allay public fears and uphold the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, the Immigration Department was adamant that no more than 25% of those on board would be Jewish, and that as many berths as possible be allocated to British subjects. [Author: National Archives]