David back from a land down under

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FORMER Lurgan man David McCallister has noticed tremendous changes around the town since he was last here.

David, formerly from Queen Street, emigrated to Australia 43 years ago and this week was his first time back since 1981 (when he only stayed three days of a planned month long visit).

The 68-year-old has quite a tale to tell having served in the Merchant Navy travelling the world, working in the building trade and as a plain clothes security guard for cash transfer vans.

But his real passion is for writing - a latent talent he only discovered with the death of his wife Christina in 2004. The couple had been together for 35 years. They had no children.

Before joining the Merchant Navy in the mid-60s David had worked at a number of businesses around the town including Grattans, Boxmore in Dollingstown and Hobbs’ Butchers on the corner of High Street and Union Street.

Joining the Merchant Navy David toured the world but was to receive sad news in 1968 while in Fiji. He got a call to his ship telling him to come home. He arrived two days before his mother passed away.

With few ties left in Lurgan, David went back to sea and decided to emigrate to Australia, having been in contact with a cousin living in Melbourne.

He applied for Australian citizenship as he embarked on another journey with the Merchant Navy which he hoped could take him to Melbourne.

As things turned out he only got as far as Adelaide as a dock strike in Melbourne meant the ship could not sail there.

Once the red tape was dealt with emigration stamped his papers and David was an Australian but not one of the ‘£10 pommes’, David explained:

“In those days people emigrating from Britain were called ‘£10 pommes’ because that’s how much it cost to emigrate but I got there for free.”

Of his days at sea he said: “I travelled all over the world, we’d leave from Southampton and go to South Africa, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver and back round again. “

As for a girl in every port, David chuckled: “Not so much a girl in every port, I tried my best but it wasn’t possible.”

Taking to life on Australia’s shores David went into the building trade and worked his way up from an apprentice to foreman carpenter in about three years.

He then went into security eventually working in plain clothes tailing cash in transit vans.

It was his job to protect the crews and the money they were carrying and would routinely be armed with a pistol and a shotgun.

Sometimes he would arrive at the bank before the van just to ensure there was no ambush waiting on them.

With his life, and that of others, depending on his gun skills David took up pistol shooting and actually entered the Australian Nationals, where he was placed 90th in a field of 300.

During this time he met his wife and soulmate, Christina, who was born in Cyprus of Greek Cypriot parents. They moved to London when she was three and she was brought up there.

When she passed away in 2004 David was devastated.

In 2006, as a bolt from the blue, David started writing: “I just started, before that I could hardly write a postcard. Now I write poetry, song lyrics and lots of other things.

“Loneliness is a terrible thing but solitude can be inspirational. When you spend most of your life with someone and lose them it can devastate you. I think loneliness and depression inspired me to write. The first couple of poems I wrote were in Christina’s memory.”

Of his home town David said; “I think the town has achieved a lot. It’s gone ahead in leaps and bounds, When I left there was very little here, it’s changed for the better.”

David also recalled a brief visit in 1981, but he only stayed three days because of the violence - he had been due to spend a month.

Of the changes since then he remarked: “The attitude of the people is great, no more of this political trouble.

“I’ve heard it said that if the Irish worked as well at home together as they do overseas this would be the greatest country in the world.”