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‘It was really hard saying goodbye to them’ - Three best friends say goodbye after being torn apart in 1973

PUBLISHED: 13:02 13 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:27 14 January 2019

Peter Russell, Ian Belsam and John Clarke (Pictured left to right) had the quintessential Australian holiday in 1972, but two never came back. Picture: Contributed by John Clarke

Peter Russell, Ian Belsam and John Clarke (Pictured left to right) had the quintessential Australian holiday in 1972, but two never came back. Picture: Contributed by John Clarke

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It was a once in a lifetime adventure that solidified their friendship - but, at the same time, tore them apart.

John Clarke: “Although it proved to be a fantastic experience, and most exciting time of my life, which I would never have missed, it did mean that I virtually lost the company of my two best friends.” Picture: Contributed by John ClarkeJohn Clarke: “Although it proved to be a fantastic experience, and most exciting time of my life, which I would never have missed, it did mean that I virtually lost the company of my two best friends.” Picture: Contributed by John Clarke

In the early 1970s, Ian Belsham, from Lowestoft, Peter Russell and John Clarke, from Beccles, quit their jobs and cashed in their pensions to set sail for an adventure in Australia.

By March 27, 1972, they had hopped aboard the HMS Ellinis from Southampton, taking advantage of the government’s assisted package scheme to populate the country, often dubbed the Ten Pound Poms.

Over the next 18 months, the trio worked, travelled and made memories together - but as Mr Clarke packed his bags for a return to England when the trip came to an end, Mr Belsham and Mr Russell met their wives and settled into the Australian lifestyle, where they remain today.

The trio have met up over the years since, but Mr Clarke, now 71 and having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, was determined to bring his life-long friends back together for what he feared might be the last time.

All three slept on the beach using a net and three broom sticks to ward off sand flies. Picture: Contributed by John Clarke.All three slept on the beach using a net and three broom sticks to ward off sand flies. Picture: Contributed by John Clarke.

He said: “Due to poor health and the advancement of years, it was becoming obvious to me that if we did not get together in 2018 we probably never would again.”

The reunion, in Australia, was a chance to reflect on their journey, which, just one month in, saw them burn through their money and in desperate need of a job.

It took four months of uncertainty, starvation and near homelessness for them to land a position at Cliffs Rube River Iron Association - a mine in Wichham, Western Australia.

After eight months in the dusty plains of outback Australia and with enough money to continue their travels, the men hung up their hard hats, bought a van and began travelling the northern tip.

John Clarke: “Due to poor health and the advancement of years, it was becoming obvious to me that if we did not get together in 2018 - we probably never would again”. Contributed by John ClarkeJohn Clarke: “Due to poor health and the advancement of years, it was becoming obvious to me that if we did not get together in 2018 - we probably never would again”. Contributed by John Clarke

During this time, all three slept on the beach using a net and three broom sticks to ward off sandflies, Ian faced dehydration so severe his urine crystallised and they were roughed up by local revellers in Brisbane, Queensland.

Mr Clarke said: “Although it proved to be a fantastic experience, and most exciting time of my life, which I would never have missed, it did mean that I virtually lost the company of my two best friends.

“It was really hard saying goodbye to them.”

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