Delhi expat Lorraine Young tells Alys Francis why she is truly at home and at peace in India, the land of her forefathers
From the outside Lorraine Young is like any other Delhi expat. She’s tackling business ventures, getting creative with Indian fusion cooking and being delighted, shocked, and at times frustrated by the city.
But unlike other expats, when Lorraine moved to this sprawling metropolis from Australia three years ago, she was in fact returning to her roots.
In 1952, Lorraine was born in India; like her father and his father before him. In fact, her familial ties to the subcontinent stretch right back to early colonial days in the late 1800s.
After India gained Independence in 1947 many people of British origin packed up and left India. But not much is known about what became of them.
The Indian Sun sat down with Lorraine to find out.
Her story begins with George Baldry, her father’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, who grew up in Windsor Castle. The rambunctious lad was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps towork in the Queen’s Royal Guard. But he had other ideas.
“At that time there were these armies going out to India because the British were looking at taking it over in the late 1800s and he wanted to join one of the Queen’s Guards to go,” Lorraine explained.
George’s guardians (his parents died while he was a child) refused to give him permission. So he ran away to India at the age of 17. He was found working in the army in Madras and was promptly sent back to England. But he was so unhappy upon returning to Windsor Castle that his guardians relented and let go back to India as an officer.
“He married a British woman and had kids and the family just continued living in India since then.”
George was killed in the battle over Fort St George in Chennai. Today, his grave can be seen in Chennai’s St Mary’s Cathedral—a black marble statute of him sitting astride a horse marks his resting spot.
In the early colonial days, British officers took their wives to the UK to have their babies so they could be nationalised in the United Kingdom. But this was an expensive exercise and babies began being born in India—neither Indian nor British, these children became known as Eurasian. Lorraine’s mother was one of them.
“Independence came to India in 1947 and my parents, they thought they had lived in India for their whole lives that they would continue living in India. They had no idea what it was like in the United Kingdom… it wasn’t part of their lives.”
Things started getting really difficult when her father’s father had his own business, and he was finding a lot of anti-racism towards the British back in those days.
The family eventually decided it would be best to leave the country. Lorraine recalls arriving in London when she was six years old with her mother and younger sister, in the thick of a freezing October—her father travelled ahead to try and find accommodation.
After enjoying a high standard of living in India, the family arrived in their new home with no assets.
“Unless you went through the black market way of taking money out of the country it was not easy to take out any money… or any of the stuff they owned, a lot of it got repossessed by the Indian government at the time. My parents arrived in the UK virtually penniless.”
Lorraine’s parents struggled to rebuild their lives. They worked long hours in low paying jobs, starting at the crack of dawn. Lorraine had to grow up quickly, caring for her little sister, feeding her breakfast and taking her to school, before going to class herself. “It took about 10 years for my mother and father to actually get to a middle class standard of living.”
Life slowly got better. Lorraine’s mother got a good job as an auditor for British Petroleum while her father scored a role at Dulux Paints, prompting him to study to become an industrial chemist.
Never happy in England herself with its endless rainy days, Lorraine found her new home while walking to work in London soon after finishing high school. Her office was in Patton Garden, and to get there she walked along the Strand and past the Australian High Commission—out the front were plastered posters advertising for migrants to move Down Under, complete with pictures of gorgeous blonde surfers and sunny beaches. Lorraine was sold. She paid the requisite 10 pounds and moved to Melbourne in 1972 when she was 19.
Essendon Airport had opened the year before and, following a stint as a fashion buyer for Myer, Lorraine embarked on what would become an illustrious career in hospitality by lying about her experience to get a job as a cocktail waitress in the international lounge. She was caught out on her first night, promptly fired and re-hired as a bar helper—which saw her clearing dirty ashtrays and tables.
From there, Lorraine went on to work for some of Australia’s biggest hotels. She kept travellers fed and smiling at Hamilton island, Sofitel, Accor and Ramada; organised major concerts at Perth Oval and Kings Park in Western Australia with stars John Farnham, Tom Jones, Blondie, Elvis Costello, the Beach Boys and Norah Jones; and ran controversial yet undeniably successful rave dance parties at a Perth racetrack, shocking the elite who saw it as their conservative stomping ground.
Lorraine even hosted and fed Pope John Paul II in Papua New Guinea after being headhunted by an ambitious restaurant owner who wanted nothing more than for the Pope to eat at her venue on his three-day visit. Lorraine was enticed by a handsome salary and given one instruction: “Get the Pope contract.”
How did she pull it off? By tracking down the local Catholic priests in PNG taking part in the visit, becoming a regular at their church, befriending them, and finally inviting them to the restaurant. After a decadent meal with plenty of flowing wine and faultless service, Lorraine asked if they thought that it just might be a good choice for the Pope’s visit. They heartily agreed.
When Lorraine met and fed Pope John Paul II she laid out a sumptuous feast. “We had truffles brought in and things like that, but then of course he only wanted something really simple, just steamed fish and vegetables.”
Lorraine and her husband Peter decided to move to India after Lorraine’s younger sister, who was “always so vibrant, so beautiful and full of life,” died of motor neuron disease. It was an emotional decision to live life to the fullest and get to know the India her family called home for so many generations. “That’s basically what brought me back. I said to Pete, ‘You know, I’ve heard so much about India’… and life goes by quickly, I don’t want to have regrets.”
Since moving to Delhi in 2012, Lorraine has founded a hospitality training business Young Hospitech, become a committee member of the Australia New Zealand India Business Association, and become known for organising eye-catching functions, including the Australian High Commission’s prestigious annual Melbourne Cup celebration. While she intends to retire with her husband in Australia—for now her sights are set on the opportunities in India.