Olwen King (third from right, centre row) at Saturday’s book launching for They Passed This Way in Alstonville with several descendants of the Dreadnought Boys.
Olwen King (third from right, centre row) at Saturday’s book launching for They Passed This Way in Alstonville with several descendants of the Dreadnought Boys. Mel McMillan

New local book records story of Dreadnought boys

IN 1924, at just 16 years of age, Walter Roberts boarded a steamship in London bound for Australia.

He was one of 7500 boys who came to Australia between 1910 and 1940 as part of the country's first immigration scheme. They came to be known as the Dreadnought Boys.

Mr Roberts' journey led him to Wardell, where he lived until his death this year at the age of 100.

On Saturday at the Alstonville RSLA Hall, Mr Roberts' daughter, Olwen King, launched a book, They Passed This Way, about the contribution the Dreadnought Boys made to Australia.

Mrs King, who worked on the book with a team of volunteers for 10 years, said she felt compelled to tell the boys' story.

“It's a segment of Australia's history that isn't well known,” she said.

The Dreadnought immigration scheme came about in 1912 when, fearing Australia might be attacked by German submarines, a group of patriotic Australians decided to raise money to buy a Dreadnought-class battleship to protect the country. The public appeal raised 100,000. However, it was not enough to buy a battleship. So instead the money was used to build the Jervis Bay naval base and fund the immigration scheme.

The Australian Government advertised through Scout groups, schools, universities and newspapers throughout the British Isles for boys to come to Australia to be trained in agriculture. After arriving in Australia, they underwent three to six months of training at Scheyville, near Sydney.

“They were trained in how to milk a cow and prune fruit trees and other agricultural skills,” Mrs King said.

The boys were then sent to farms all over Australia. Many came to work in Northern NSW.

Mrs King said they came to Australia because it was the land of opportunity.

“They came with so little and contributed so much,” she said.

They Passed This Way will be on sale at the Book Worm in Alstonville, Noah's Ark and The Little Bookshop in Lismore, or by phoning Olwen King on 6628 0522. The book costs $35.



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