“Life was great back then,” remembers Mr. Austin nostalgically. “My first memory is of playing maypole and playing baseball on the same spot where the baseball field now is.”
Little Austin received little basic education on Utila and as a teenager he was sent to a high school run by Jamaicans in San Francisco ‘Frisco,’ Colón. The mainland school had an island flair as it employed teachers from Roatan and Bonacca. Mr. Austin graduated with a diploma and soon was offered a job at the United Fruit Company.
He was there for four years, graduated with a degree and was soon working as a “timekeeper” for United Fruit Company in La Lima, Cortés. His boss was the infamous Walter Turnbull, of the United Fruit Company. Mr. Austin decided to increase the pay rate of the workers from 19 to 20 Lempiras, he said Turnbull was furious. “He shouted: “Boys you cannot do that,” says Mr. Austin.
He lasted two years until the general strikes of 1954. The civil disorder began when President Juan Manuel Gálvez proposed a national eight hour workday and extra pay for work on holidays. The workers labor strike first began in Tela in April of 1954 then spread to the docks of Puerto Cortés. The protests eventually halted 25,000 of the company’s workers in Honduras and 15,000 workers from Standard Fruit. After 69 days the strike was resolved with increased pay and recognition of labor unions.
Mr. Austin eventually married Jane Bodden, an Utilan, but was hardly home. The absentee marriage never really worked, and Mrs. Jane moved to Miami.
He landed a passage on a boat heading to the US from Tela. Mr. Austin started working on “five hatcher ship” running passengers and cargo between Florida and Brazil, Buenos Aires and Tierra del Fuego. “I had 22 birthdays in Tierra del Fuego,” says Mr. Austin. He worked on the ship as AB (able seaman) sailor until 1976.
In 1959 his ship was docked in Havana harbor when the Cuban Revolution broke out. Castros “Barberos” were entering Havana and Mr. Austin found himself in a middle of a shootout. “There were bullets flying everywhere,” remembers Mr. Austin. “We hid under the bed of the hotel than sneak out back to the ship.” To give him a better chance at reaching safety Mr. Austin dressed up in woman’s shawl.
I am most proud of my children.
When he finally returned to Honduras, he found work at a cattle farm in Limoncito, Colón. After two years he arrived with 62 heads of cattle on Utila. He married and ended up having nine children.
“The bible says honor your father and your mother,” says Mr. Austin pensively. He has a wrinkled, white skin and deeply set-in eyes. “I am most proud of my children,” says Mr. Austin. “I have nothing to regret.”