This is Miguel’s story in his own words
I am Miguel Samanes. I was born in Pamplona, capital of Navarra, Spain, on 14 February 1950. Navarra is in northern Spain and part of the Basque country. Spain was then ruled by Franco under a Fascist regime that many Basques resented although where I lived the land was flat good farming country that attracted people from all over Spain so there was less fighting than in the mountains where life was harder and the people were all Basque. Although I was born in Pamplona, my family lived in a small village outside the city. When I was 4 years old, my mother died in child birth. My oldest sister who was 16 at the time, looked after all 4 of her siblings. Two and a half years later, my father was killed in an accident. He and his friend were driving a cart loaded with wood when he was hit by a vehicle. The other driver claimed they had no lights although they did have oil lamps so my family got no compensation from his death. My father did have quite a bit of land and had some savings, so my sister was able to keep us all together with hard work.
In those days, people lived in the village but went out to their blocks of land to work. As a boy, my job was to look after the animals. I had to feed the chickens, calves, rabbits, horses and pigs. That meant carting water for them from the channel which was 4 or 5 hundred metres from the house. Until I was 12 years old there was no running water in our village. I went to the village school but at 12 years of age, all boys had to join the military cadets who met after school. This included marching and singing and pledging allegiance to the regime. Everyone in our village sang. As a young boy I won singing competitions. Singing has always been part of my life. In my village everyone sang. When you are working in the fields, you sing. It makes the horses work better. But in the cadets, the singing was terrible. I did not agree with the regime and found it hard to do my chores as well as spend the time they demanded in marching and learning to be a soldier of the regime so I left. Because I did not want to participate in the cadets, I was not permitted to continue at school.
When I left school, I started working in the fields with my brother-in-law. He was very bossy and working under him was tough so I started work on a building site and became a builder. One of my sisters had married and emigrated to Australia with her husband. When I was 17 years old, my older brother got married and decided to follow her. He asked me if I wanted to come with him. Although I was already a foreman, I could not see much future for me I Spain. My oldest sister had 5 children and was pregnant with her sixth. Although we had more land than others, it was not enough to give everyone a reasonable life, so I thought I would go to Australia, work hard for 5 or 6 years and then come back, buy an apartment and return to work as a builder.
When we received our papers, we boarded the plane in Madrid in December 1967. We flew from Madrid to Rome, Rome to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Bombay, Bombay to Singapore. In Singapore there was something wrong with the plane so we went to the hotel and had the most beautiful meal. We were coming, from Spain in December where it was freezing cold, with thermal underwear, jumpers, jackets, big coats. When we arrived in Bombay they warned us about the heat. It was 10 o’clock in the morning – it was terrible! I took everything off except the shirt but it had the thermal shirt underneath. We had to walk to the airport from the plane and it was so hot! From Singapore we flew to Darwin. When we got there, as the plane was coming down, I could see this fog on the runway. I said to myself ‘but how can it be hot with all this fog?’ It was 10 o’clock in the morning and there was all this fog. In Spain, fog means cold – we had never seen fog from heat! It was steam from the rain hitting the runway. I took everything off. I remember pulling my thermal shirt off and putting the shirt back on.
As soon as they opened the plane, two big fellows came in, dressed in white with shorts and socks up to their knees, walking with two cans of aerogard – spraying. We all thought – ‘what do they think we got fleas or nits or something – they’re spraying us’. It didn’t smell too bad. Then we got out of the plane and found out why – because there were millions of flies! Flies everywhere, flying around us like a big black cloud. We got into the airport – it was just a shed – and we went inside and could have showers and everything – it was beautiful. There was an Italian serving at the bar who could speak a few words of Spanish. My brother, my sister-in-law and myself ordered 2 beers and a lemonade and he puts the lemonade in front of me and two huge jugs of beer for the others. And I said, no, no, I want the beer. He said – ‘you can’t have beer’. I asked, ‘why not?’. ‘You’re too young.’ I said ‘what, I can have a beer whenever I want.’ He said, ‘I put it in front of her but if you pinch it that’s your business’. In Spain you do not have to be 21 to drink but I have never seen a drunk in Spain.
From Darwin we flew to Sydney. We arrived at night. They were asking ’who is going to Queensland, who is going to Victoria’. We all got a different coloured button on our shirt – the button for Queensland was red or something like that. As we got out they picked us up in Taxi’s and took us to sleep somewhere.
The next morning, they put these little silver cups on the table. I had no idea what we had to do with them. I wondered if we were going to get some liqueur! Then they took out these eggs. My sister-in-law said you had to tap the egg at the top and then you eat the egg from inside the shell, I had never seen anything like that before. And there was this stuff with orange skins in it and they put it on the toast. I’d never seen marmalade before either. After breakfast they took us back to the airport. We flew like the postman – from Sydney to Brisbane, Brisbane to Bundaberg, Bundaberg to Rockhampton, Rockhampton to Mackay, Mackay to Townsville. In Townsville we were waiting at the airport and this tall skinny man came out in a white uniform with shorts and those long socks. He had a huge black beard and his arms and legs were really hairy, my sister-in-law said to me – ‘that looks like Fidel Castro. I wonder what he is going to do’. When we got to the plane, there was Fidel welcoming us aboard! So, I said to my sister-in-law ‘Fidel Castro is going to fly us to Cairns’. We were in small planes and from the air it looked like there were these abandoned cars all along the route. It must have been farms! I had never seen towns like that. Most of them with red roofs.
We arrived in Cairns at 3.30 in the afternoon on the 16 December 1967. It was so hot! It has just stopped raining. My brother-in-law had an old Zepher. It had a few holes in the floor and he had put some Masonite over them. My brother was big and rough and he put his foot through the Masonite. We pulled it back over the holes in the car but all the way up the range as we hit potholes the water would go ‘Schooffff, schoofff‘ through the holes and all over us! I remember my brother saying – ‘this car looks fine on the outside, but it belongs in a wrecking yard!’
We got to Mareeba on the way to Mutchilba. Back then the main street of Mareeba was two lines of bitumen with gravel in the middle. We stopped in front of as butcher and my brother-in-law went in to get some meat. While we were waiting, this young fellow came with an old ute. He screeched into the middle parking area and got out of the car. It was about 4.30 in the afternoon, hot as it was, with no shoes. He walked across the hot like he had hard feet like an elephant – his toes were spread out like a duck, like he had never worn shoes in his life, broken pants, broken singlet. And I said to myself ‘where does this one come from?’. He goes into the butcher’s pulls out a big cheque book and gets 1 big box of meat that he takes out to the car and the butcher follows him with another. My brother, sister-in-law and I just stared at him with our mouths open. We thought he was a gypsy. My brother-in-law said he was a big tobacco farmer come to get the meat for the week. We thought it was strange. In Spain if you saw someone dressed like that it would be a poor gypsy.
We got to the farm in Mutchilba. And the farmer showed me where I was to sleep. In the grading shed with the smell of tobacco. He brought out something like a camp bed with mesh to hold a mattress stuffed with something like straw. My sister had packed beautiful linen sheets for me but they did not stop the straw sticking into me. I didn’t sleep the first night. The next day the farmers’ uncle who also slept there, brought out a blanket and wrapped it around the mattress. He said, ‘Michielli, this is how you sleep’. And from then on, I slept.
The first morning he woke us up at 2.45am in the morning to empty a barn. I felt as if I had just gone to sleep. He handed us a cup of coffee. In Spain we did not drink the coffee you have here – it is malt and chicory. I found out that I could not tolerate it. It hit my stomach and came straight back up. I have never been able to drink coffee since then.
That first morning the heat had just been turned off in the barn, 160 degrees, and as the youngest I had to climb up the racks to the top to hand down the sticks of tobacco. It was boiling hot. The work was hard and it was hot. But I got used to it. I was young and strong, and although I was younger than the other men I was soon earning the same because I worked as hard as them and then I got $5 a week more because I was better than them!. $75 a week – full board.
I could not get over how much cheaper it was to live in Australia. The petrol was one quarter of the price in Spain. Olive oil, the same oil, was half the price. I remember we used to buy rump steak at 37 cents a pound. I had never had rump steak like that in Spain. I remember my brother bought a big package of T-bone steak. I couldn’t imagine we could eat it all. My sister-in-law put a grill plate on the stove and we cooked it like that. It was grass fed beef. It was so good. I remember my brother saying ‘I am never going to leave this country. I love this meat’.
After I finished the tobacco season I did a season cane cutting in Tully then back to Dimbulah. After that I travelled to Griffith to pick onions and fruit and even grew tobacco in Inglewood and Texas in southern Queensland to help out my brother and brother-in-law whose wives were ill. In Griffith we made $20 a morning picking onions and then $14 dollars an afternoon picking oranges. In those days the average wage was $40 a week so we made good money. I did that, travelling up and down the east coast doing seasonal work. When I decided to stay in Inglewood for w time to help my brother I had a short period of no work waiting for the season to start. Someone suggested I go to the Employment service as they may have some short-term work for me. When I got there this man passed me a form to fill out. I could not speak English and certainly couldn’t read or write it. I asked the man for help and he said ‘fill it out yourself you dago bastard”. I threw the paper back at him and told him that I was not after a hand-out, I was after work. And if he spoke to me like that again I would jump the counter and we would talk seriously then. I have never been back to any office like that
In about 1970 when I was 20, I was called up for National Service. They asked me if I was prepared to go to Vietnam. I told them that if Australia was in trouble with Vietnam, then I would go. But I did not want to go to Vietnam and kill someone or be killed when it was not to save the country I was in. I did not want to sell myself for a piece of lead. My poor language kept me out of Vietnam but I was registered as an axillary for call up if required. This remained until Whitlam abolished conscription. My plan was still to return to Spain, but if I returned I would be called up for national service. I could defer that until I was 28 so I went to the Spanish Embassy and did that.
Soon after I met Teresa Acha. Teresa came to Australia from Spain with her family when she was 6 in 1962 on one of the last ships bringing immigrants to Australia. Her family were also from the Basque country but from higher up in the Pyrenees where land was not good for farming and life was much harder. When I was 24 I made up my mind that I would stay in Australia. I did not want to go back then because I would have to spend time in the Spanish Army. I had money in the bank but it needed to be invested to grow so I committed myself to Australia and Mareeba. I bought property and built a house for us and Teresa and I were married on 5 June 1976.
After my marriage I began to build full-time. Initially I built for other Spaniards before I became well known as a builder. I built for 15 years but when my first son was born, I wanted him to grow up on the land as I had. At that time Teressa was working in a bank in Dimbulah, so I bought this farm. Teresa stayed home to look after the farm and the children. I worked as a builder, working the farm on the week-ends. Eventually it became clear that not working the farm full-time was costing money so I stopped building and worked the farm full-time, Teresa at my side.
When I was 29, I took my family back to Spain. As well visiting my family, I had to finalise my fathers’ inheritance. In Spain, land is divided evenly so I ended up with 80% of the family house and some land. Eventually we sold the house and built a smaller house on our land. My oldest sister lives in that house and we always go there when we go to Spain.
All 4 of my son’s love going to Spain. One of them even managed to run with the bulls in Pamplona like I did when I was young. The trick is to stay in a group and stay as far away from the bulls as you can – because they are fast!! We remain very close to Spain, but we are Australian. Three of our children are now married and settled here. I got attached to Mareeba. I have joined some choirs here and look forward to living here and having my family visit here and visiting them in Spain. At one stage we considered going back to Spain but this is the place for children and families – for the future.
Janet Greenwood Operations Manager
Janet commenced work with the Mareeba Heritage Centre in July 2016. She had the vision to create this project and was instrumental in acquiring funds and putting the right people in place to bring this project together. Janet is passionate about community engagement and development.
Mick Hay Announcer (Mareeba 4AM & Innisfail 4KZ)
Mick has worked casually in radio for 30 years at a number of stations including 4LM, 4GC and 4KZ whilst also working for Telstra. He joined the 4AM team taking over the Breaky Show full time in July 2014. Mick enjoys living in tropical North Queensland after growing up in Innisfail and staying in areas like Thursday Island, Normanton, Mount Isa, Cairns and Mossman. In his spare time, Mick likes to go camping, do a bit of fishing and he enjoys the great outdoors.
Angela Musumeci Volunteer Project Officer
Angela was born in Mareeba but like most young people left to pursue a career in Corrections and then Community Services. On retirement, she returned to her home town and is happy to be contributing to progression and preservation.
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