Raw Ceylonese Students on a Learning Curve to New Zealand in the 1960s

Ranjith de Silva, writing from Canada … with PIX ‘imported’ by Thuppahi

I need to get this off my chest. It was on March 6th 1961 (yes 60 years ago) that 11 young more or less school leavers took off from Katunayake airport, as I recall this is how it was then, the facility adjoining the Ceylon Air Force base camp. It was a trip to New Zealand, few of us had heard of the landmass, but hardly knew much more than the name. In fact, a few relatives/friends felt we were going to Switzerland!! Yes, both landmasses had …. “land” …. at the end!! There were 11 of us, and as fate dictated 3 were to get to Palmerston North to be at Massey, 2 to Wellington to join Victoria Uni and 6 to Christchurch to join Uni of Canterbury.

It was a Commonwealth Scholarship that took us to these destinations and as Lee Kwan Yue describes in his… Prime Ministers Story …in that era you took off on a flight in full attire ( we were in suits and the lone female in a saree) but we did not have a whole lot of others to see us off, except the family members. The flight took us to Singapore, our first experience of foreign land, where we  were to stay the night at Ocean Park Hotel  ( my room  414 .)  arranged by the airline ie B.O.A.C (better on a camel as they said then).

In this hotel we saw perhaps the best Cha Cha we ever saw in our life performed by a young Singaporean couple, It was a treat. In that era most Chinese ladies wore the choengsam, quite an attraction to us young ones!!!!

Next day left for  Sydney, where  we stayed at the Astor Bond Hotel (Room no 304) . The hotel was close to Bondi beach, whose reputation or lack of it, we did pick up from BOAC staff in Colombo!!!!.  We did visit the beach but pure and simple as immature youngsters  to observe  only. During this era on international travel, even on economy class travel, you are collected at the airport and taken to the hotel and given a room, and you could order food off the menu, without restrictions, only the hard stuff was off the normal order. menu. At this hotel in the dining room we did order whatever items we wished for our dinner,  in case of most of us the main meal was  what was termed “chicken in the basket” .. needless to say none of us knew wat it was, but what the heck we did order it and got it.  Yes, it was a full small chicken in a small cane basket!!!!!  My recollection is that no one completed the full meal!!!!  Quite an experience!!!! Finally, on 9th we landed in windy Wellington. It was quite a journey and we all can reflect back on our good fortune and how life turned out in later years/decades .U

Just to place the journey in perspective, of the 3 that ended in Massey sadly only one is alive today, one left us very early, the second recently one year or so ago, while the third is domiciled  in N.Z having returned there with his N.Z spouse. Of the two who went to Wellington, i. e. Dora and myself, we both are alive and kicking, in case of Dora ( who did  Math, Physics, and etc and taught in N.Z, S L, Hkg and finally in OH Canada) is very much physically challenged, having to use a walker  and facing severe mobility issues.  She continues to live thanks to good medical care, while yours truly consider it a happy day when he can wake up around 5.30 am and make his cup of coffee. Of the six who went to Christchurch to the best of my knowledge three are not with us, one may be in UK, but this had not been duly confirmed, there are two in S. L. one in Australia.  The latter married a New Zealander and first got back to Sri Lanka, later moved to N.Z, but subsequently moved to Oz, I am told he is in Sydney, but once more this is to be confirmed.









As can be noted, N.Z did make a valuable contribution in educating us and  all of us did out duty to the land of our birth by working either all our working life in the country or most of us did work for a large part of our working life in the country. While a few worked all their working life in S, L., others did part of the pay back in S. L.  and no one took off without an effort to work in the land of his/her birth. Thus, it was a helpful education and I feel as individuals we all benefited very much from this experience. On my part I feel a deep sense of gratitude towards the people of N.Z and its External Affairs Dept who gave us this fine opportunity.

MY humble homage and respect to them all the time.  So goes life in old age …………. Cheers

R de S ….. in British Columbia. Canada 

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