Acapulco (part 1)

How exciting! Captain Ikiadis invited us to the bridge at daybreak to watch our arrival in Acapulco!

We stayed up all night (in case we slept in) and arrived on the bridge at about 4.30am. Everyone was busy so we had to keep out of their way, but the Captain had arranged coffee (so strong and bitter that it was almost standing to attention in its little cup!) and a tray of salami and crackers.

Of course, the bridge is in total darkness at night and unless you know where everything is (which we didn’t) you can fumble around and trip over things, so trying to balance a coffee cup and a plate of crackers and stay out of people’s way was more than a little challenging!

We could see twinkling lights in the distance, but the sky and sea were still pitch black and we couldn’t make out any features or landmarks. Captain Ikiadis explained that soon we’d be coming into a horseshoe-shaped bay.

Well, over the next hour, it all became just too beautiful to describe. But I’ll try. Now we know why he invited us to see it.

Imagine the hazy outline of a row of cliffs partly encircling you, vaguely silhouetted against a dark sky, rising from a deep-blue velvet sea and speckled all over with fairy lights. Within minutes, the sky began to lighten. It changed from black to dark blue, then gradually to pale orange then burnt orange.

Wherever you looked, you saw a different colour or a different shade. Golden rays spread across sky as the sun began to peep over the horizon. Everything glowed with muted colour.

The scene unfolding before us was so glorious that it literally took my breath away! It was difficult to define the horizon, because sea and sky became the same rich blue and merged into each other.

The sun slowly rose above the hills, drenching everything in golden light. Then it was dawn and the sky began to grow lighter.

The fairy lights covering the hills started blinking out, like they knew there was no point trying to compete with nature’s technicolour display. Gulls swooped overhead to announce the beginning of a new day.

When it was over, we almost had to shake ourselves back to the present. It was as though Mother Nature had put on a grand performance for our eyes only, and we were in total awe.

How fortunate we were to arrive just before daybreak! Neville Fenn recalls “sailing into Acapulco Bay about half an hour after midnight” and Tim Roche arrived at around 10pm. Both went ashore immediately and stayed there all night. Tim agreed that even from the shore, “Acapulco in the early hours of the morning was indeed a wonderful sight!”   

Acapulco Bay (Baihia de Acapulco) is not very deep so we had to anchor about a mile from shore and passengers are taken in by launch. The launches were positioned alongside  the ship and officers assisted us as we stepped from the ship into the craft as it bobbed about in the waves.

Judith Martin thought it was “great fun getting on and off in the bay” and crew member Linda Harrison agreed that “the trip ashore by life boat added to the experience.”

Neville Fenn points out that he has since seen … “recent photos with the over-size cruise ships of today tied up” (close to shore) so assumes a lot of work must have been done since then.

Anxious to go ashore — even late at night  — Neville Fenn and Tim Roche (on separate trips) grabbed the first available launch and headed into town.

Once ashore, Tim Roche’s remembers … “we had a huge hamburger  (for $1) up in the mountains somewhere” He remembers the cafe being “a bit dodgy with chickens, etc wandering through,” but adds that … “the burger was good and we had no after effects.” 

Later, Tim boarded a launch and returned to the ship in time for breakfast. “Oh how enjoyable that was,” he recalls. “Like coming home ….great feeling!

We loved visiting our ports … but oh my, we loved being on our ship even more!

Having arrived about 6am, Chris, Denise and I boarded the launch at around 8am and by then the temperature was already hitting 80 degrees farenheit (about 27 celcius).

It took about 10 minutes to reach shore, and we were delivered right into the township. Mexicans with big droopy moustaches and wearing colourful ponchos all gathered around trying to sell us stringed puppets or sombreros.

Tim Roche recalls “several locals hanging off the dock trying to sell us things even before we could disembark.”

                  Of course, I had to buy a sombrero! Who didnt?

Acapulco was the first truly foreign port for many of us, and it totally captured our imagination.

Sharyn Arthur agrees …  “It was everything. the narrow streets, the language, the buildings.”

But there was another side to Acapulco, and it was one that not all of us even noticed.

Sharyn had also arrived late at night and thought Acapulco looked … “so glamorous from the ship“, but she didn’t go ashore until after daybreak. She recalls …”others who had taken the 2am launch into town returned saying there were rats running in the streets,” adding … “I lost a bit of enthusiasm at that news.”  Tim Roche also noticed the “rats running around.”

Judith Martin didn’t appreciate the “bugs falling from the trees along the waterfront after nightfall,” and although Robert Goldberg “felt perfectly safe” during daylight hours, he wasn’t impressed by the huge spiders in and about the market stalls!” According to him, they were “worse than the species back home.

I was blissfully unaware of all that. No rats or spiders sent me scurrying off in terror, no bugs fell on my head. It was impossible, however, not to notice the poverty, which was made all the more obvious by the stretch of luxury hotels (known by the locals as Millionaire’s Paradise) straddling the bay beside the bustling Mexican township.

Judith Martin had “never seen such poverty and wealth.” She commented that …”there did not seem to be anything in the middle, (separating) beautiful hotels and shacks/hovels.

Tim Roche recalls the mind-boggling contrast: “Standing on the main drag and in front of me were the big hotels oozing wealth …if I turned around there were people sleeping on cars and in the gutter and rats running around ! A very surreal experience!”

Neville Fenn “wandered around the streets and alleyways during his night ashore … dodging stray dogs and cats and several homeless people sleeping in the doorways.” 

Perhaps I was in too much of a hurry to see the famed cliff divers to notice rats and spiders, though. Paul (the Australis’ piano player) took us into town where we rented a little striped mini-moke. It only cost $16 for 24 hours and as there were 7 of us, it worked out at just over $2 each! Wow! We had a quick look around town, then Paul drove us out to La Quebreda.

I was really excited about seeing the divers, and who wouldn’t after watching Elvis (well, someone who looked a lot like him from a distance!) do his death-defying leap in living technicolour in Fun In Acapulco? Of course, I wasn’t alone. Most boomers had seen the movie, and The La Quebreda divers were number 1 on the “to see” list for every visitor to Acapulco. 

Neville Fenn confesses he even closed his eyes for a few seconds so he could … “picture the diver as Elvis Presley in Fun in Acapulco.”

The main viewing platform is from the cliff opposite, while the El Mirador hotel straddles both cliffs and provides a perfect view from its balcony — the very balcony Elvis wiggled his way across to the beat of a Mexican combo only a few years earlier.

Steve Mullis spent the day at the hotel, “watching the cliff divers and drinking ice cold beer.”

The dive is 135 feet from cliff-top to water. They dive at over 50 mph into about 16 ft of water in a narrow channel and have to time it precisely so they enter the water at just the right moment to can catch an incoming wave, otherwise the water won’t be deep enough!

Divers start training at the age of 5. Incredibly, there has never been a professional fatality, and they’ve been doing it since the 1930’s.

We watched two amazingly graceful dives, half an hour apart. In between the displays, young boys (mostly children) swim around to remove anything that might injure the diver. It’s a long way down, and even little scraps of paper or a leaf could cause an injury.

The Mirador Hotel, Acapulco

By this time the temperature had climbed to over 100 degrees farenheit (about 38 celcius) and we all voted to head for the cool shade of the surrounding hills and forests. So did many other Chandris fb members, and a few of them saw an even seedier side of glorious Acapulco.

Cllick here for the next blog

Many thanks to Chandris facebook members Neville Fenn, Tim Roche, Judith Martin, Sharyn Arthur, Robert Goldberg and Steve Mullis for their wonderful contributions.

Disneyland

October 30, 1969

Ten straight days at sea! Bliss! I wonder what’s happening in the real world. We have no idea. We used to read the news bulletin on the wall near the purser’s office every day , but now none of us care what’s happening in the world. This is our world and the rest doesn’t exist any more. Or if it does, it’s isn’t real.

San Francisco?

As we approached Los Angeles on a misty morning at 7am we wondered if we’d made a wrong turn on the way because there were hills around and a big bridge we thought was the Golden Gate in San Francisco.

We had 5 hours to explore Los Angeles (or at least, what we thought was Los Angeles!) before joining our tour to Disneyland, so we climbed into a taxi and confidently said “to the city, please”.

It only took a few minutes to get there, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Where were all the tall buildings, the bustling traffic? Wasn’t this supposed to be the glamorous Los Angeles, center of the movie world? It looked like a little country town!

The famous Los Angeles ???

We changed our money and had a lot of trouble trying to figure out the coins. A 10 cent piece is twice the size of a 25 cent piece! We did some shopping at a chemist (called a drug store here) and just handed the money over and said “take whatever it costs please!”

Then we decided to buy some postcards, and it was only then we discovered we weren’t even in LA at all, but in San Pedro! No, the ship didn’t get lost, this was just the port town. We knew Disneyland was 30 miles from where we docked, but hadn’t figured out that Disneyland is IN Los Angeles. And we weren’t.

We have our sea legs now, but as we wandered around San Pedro we discovered we’d lost our ground-legs after 10 straight days at sea. The footpath kept coming up to meet us every few steps and we kept tripping over our own feet. We had to keep grabbing each other by the arm or shoulder to stop from falling. Of course, that would make us all start giggling. I’m have no doubt people thought we were drunk!

Main Street, Disneyland

At midday we boarded the bus for Disneyland, and after an hour traveling through suburban LA, we disembarked in a big car park.

But where was the fairy-tale castle we’d assumed was the entrance?

We walked through a turnstile and suddenly, there we were, in Main Street Disneyland! A street runs off it directly down to Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which is the entrance to Fantasyland.

Chris and Denise … Where is everyone?

First stop was the little cafe in the square where all the waitresses were dressed in early century clothing. Apparently it was meant to represent New Orleans.

No problem getting served, it was almost empty.

We had 10 tickets for our choice out of about 50 rides, so we looked them over as we waited for lunch, trying to decide which ones we’d take. We opted for the train ride first because it traveled all over Disneyland and would help us decide what else to see. The station was constructed to look historical, as did the train.

Carole Lombard starring here!

The trip lasted about 20 minutes and took us around the whole complex, showing us places we might have missed. After arriving back, we took a walk along Main Street and walked past a theater where Carole Lombard was appearing.

Everything there is so realistic! It was just as we’d imagined. But it’s so big that you’d need a week to see everything.

We were really in a jungle!

We began with Adventureland and did the Jungle Cruise. You wouldn’t know you were in an amusement park with people swarming all over it, because it really felt like you were deep in a jungle. We were in an open boat with about 20 other people, and as we cruised along, elephants trumpeted from the bank, snorting rhinos suddenly appeared, and alligators reared up out of the water beside the boat. (They warn you to keep your hands inside the boat at all times, of course!) There were giraffes, zebras, monkeys, you name it, even a few fierce-looking head hunters threatened us from the river banks!

Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups

Then we rode the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Cups – which may not have been such a good idea after a big lunch – and did the ride down Matterhorn where we jumped into bobsleds and went screaming down and around and around the mountain, getting faster all the time.

In Fantasy Land we visited Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Story Book Land, then traveled through It’s as Small World (and couldn’t stop singing the damn theme song for hours afterwards! Most annoying!)

“Hey, you down there!”

Next, Tomorrowland where we rode in a rocket ship. That was an interesting experience! Each one was designed for 2 people, one sitting in front of the other and both straddling a board down the center.

Chris and Denise went together and I was in another spaceship alone. I put my bag and parcels on the floor in front of me, and as we were spinning around, all the other rocket ships were way down below. I was spinning high up above everyone, almost vertical. I couldn’t figure out why I was the only one up there and getting higher all the time.

I finally realized that my parcels were pushing me backwards and I was trying to hold onto the steering wheel from so far back that I was pulling it towards me. When you pull on it, you GO up! The girls were laughing because I was yelling “hey you down there, why am I up here? How do I get down? Come up and join me!”

Denise and I … regretfully, time to go.

Soon it was almost time to go. After 4 hours we still hadn’t used all our tickets. We bought Mickey Mouse dolls, and after we’d stuffed ourselves with chocolate fudge pie and lollipops and all sorts of sweet and sticky stuff and been whirled about and thrown upside down and spun around, we regretfully staggered to the bus and arrived back in San Pedro at about 6pm.

SUVA, FIJI

Ocober 21, 1969

Copra!!!! I can still recall the sickly-sweet odour 50 years later. It was overpowering. It wrapped itself around us as we neared port and remained embedded in our nostrils for hours after we left Fiji.

Lynne Thirley remembers that smell. “I have never forgotten it,” she wrote.

Then there was the soggy heat! Even at 6am, the air felt thick. It was hard to breathe, and simply walking along the deck made us sweaty.

Sabel Saville describes it beautifully: “I was there March 1969! Phew, the humidity was overwhelming. Felt like trying to walk through treacle.

Graham Hellewell agrees: “in the humid summer season you could grab a handful of air and squeeze the sweat out of it…!”

We’d booked a tour to a model village and were scheduled to leave at 9, so had some breakfast and returned to deck to find it was no longer hot and dry. Now it was cold and  raining — heavy, deafening, torrential rain.

Denise, me, Judy … drenched one side!

 

Denise, Chris, Judy and I climbed aboard our lovely air-conditioned bus (translation: it had no glass in the windows). Denise and I both had window seats, so one side of us got drenched.

 

The rickety, rattling old broken down bus took off with a lurch and a squeal and went flying along narrow, unmade Fijian roads at 70 miles an hour on any particular side of the road but usually straight down the middle.

Neville Fenn remembers travelling in a Fijian bus, but his wasn’t in quite the same hurry: “On one trip to Fiji,” he writes, “a group of us caught the local “air-conditioned bus” from Lautoka to Nadi.We were told it was only a short trip straight down the highway. Except we caught the wrong bus and went up through the hills picking up and dropping off passengers, animals, chickens and fruit and vegetables along the way. It was an enjoyable trip but took us a lot longer and we had to get a taxi back to the ship in Lautoka.

Once at the model village, all us girls noticed one handsome young fellow in a grass skirt, so when it was time to leave, Denise and I took the opportunity to stand beside him for a photo. “Wait till I send this photo home,” I told the others, “so Mum can see this gorgeous hunk I’m bringing home with me!”

He can put his grass skirt under my bed any day!

Dear, sweet, naive young Denise said, very seriously: “Well he can put his grass skirt under MY bed any day!” It wasn’t something we ever expected to hear from her and we could barely stop laughing.

It was a fun tour, but crew member Kevin Coppell’s visit in the late 70’s was memorable for another not-so-fun reason. As printer on the Australis, his skills were essential, but his freedom to continue his work was put in jeopardy when he was whisked off to Police headquarters.

In Kevin’s own words:  “I was going to the main reef for beautiful dive, but when customs checked my dive bag, unfortunately I had 3 bullets used with my shark protection. Police allege I was trying to bring munitions into Fiji. I was being held until the Captain’s secretary arrived and let the Police know the ship could not leave port until the printer was returned to the ship.”

 Kevin has never returned to Fiji, and who can blame him? Nor has he been known to have anything to do with weapons since that day.

Lynne Thirley’s visit was memoriable because she saw Raymond Burr, the actor who played Ironside and Perry Mason. Lynne writes: “I remember all the passengers from the Australis in the Travel Lodge lounge getting autographs from him. I thought poor chap, but when they all left I then got mine.”

On returning to Suva, Denise and I decided to do some bargaining in the market, but not quite in the innovative way passenger Tim Roche chose to do so in 1977. He also got caught in one of Suva’s notorious sudden downpours and was running back to the ship to get out of the pelting rain.

As Tim recalls:  “a man was running after me selling a wooden head and two wooden spears for five dollars. 

“No!” I said, because I was getting drenched.

“Ok, ok” he yelled, frantically trying to keep up. “Two dollar then!”

He certainly drove a hard bargain! “I still have them today,” says Tim, “and I laugh every time I look at them.” 

You can see the ship looming above you wherever you are

The ship ties up right next to the marketplace and you can see it looming above you wherever you are. Denise and I were still shopping when we heard the ship’s familiar horn blast. We looked up and saw all the passengers lined up on deck. They were waving!

Panic! We thought we could run straight through the market and clamour back on board, but the pier was blocked off by a high wire fence. We were laden down with our purchases and no matter which direction we ran, we just kept coming to a dead end.

We finally found a way through — right up near the front of the ship. There was only one gang plank still in place. Of course, it was way down near the back of the ship!

You have no idea how long the Australis is until you have to run the full length of it! We were exhausted, but we could see that the remaining gangplank being removed so we just had to keep running, our parcels flying out around us.

The passengers on the decks were applauding and cheering us on. How embarrassing!

From Now Is The Hour to William Tell Overture

A Fijian band played on the dock as ships arrived and departed. Passenger David Thomas remembers them playing Glen Miller’s In The Mood.  Not for us! They were playing the farewell song, Now Is the Hour, and for once we weren’t “in the mood” to cry as we normally did when we heard that song.

Fortunately the band master caught sight of us. They stopped playing immediately, then broke into the William Tell Overture, which apparently alerted the dock workers to replace the gangplank.

We jogged up it, puffing and panting, then collapsed in a heap on the deck with our parcels sprawled everywhere.

We started to giggle, and by the time the Australis pulled out of Suva, and too exhausted to stand, we were rolling about the deck in hysterics.

It had the potential to be a very UN- funny experience, but our laughter was due more to relief than humour. However, another couple of passengers who butted heads with crew member Linda Harrison found no reason to giggle about their experience.

Here is Linda’s story ….

There was compulsory lifeboat drill for all passengers. As Information Officer, I was working in collaboration with the Safety officer who contacted me with the names and cabin numbers of passengers who had failed to show up at their lifeboat stations for the drill.

Passengers would not realise that all life jackets were numbered, and each cabin allocated to a particular lifeboat, so we knew within minutes of the passengers assembling who were missing.

 l went to the cabins to gee them up and came across a cabin of cheeky Aussie Larrikins who told me to “stay. Cool.”

We’d had the same scenario with them in Auckland at lifeboat drill. l pointed out to them that I hoped they would be just as cool in a real emergency since they would’ve been the only people onboard who didn’t know what to do.

As we were coming alongside in Suva, cabin stewards arrived at their cabin accompanied by the Safety Officer and proceeded to pack the cases of those cheeky larrikins and escort them off the ship.

There weren’t so cocky now. “You can’t do this!” they pleaded.

Well, maybe she couldn’t, but the captain certainly could and our Linda was only following orders.

They were still yelling, standing on the dock as the ship sailed away

Linda recalls them still yelling as they stood on the dock watching the ship sail away, left to either fly home or on to their destination at their own expense.

Many thanks to Chandris facebook members Linda Harrison, Lynne Thirley, Kevin Coppell, Sabel Saville, Neville Fenn, Tim Roche, Graham Hellewell and David Thomas for their wonderful contributions to this blog. 

BOOKS by Chandris Facebook members

WOW! Look at what Chandris facebook members have done!

Have YOU written a book about your journey? If not, why not? Time to get started so future generations will know what intrepid pioneers we once were!

Following are descriptions of the Chandris members’ books currently available (as paperbacks and e-books) through Amazon. You can click on each cover below for a “free preview” or “buy on Amazon” or contact the member on facebook to order a personally signed copy. You can even click on “share” to let your friends know about it. Come on, support your facebook friends … buy one … or buy them ALL.

SHHHHH, DON’T TELL MY MOTHER by Jennifer Wert/Bowler. With a wish, a dream, and lady luck on her side, a naive 20-year old realized the world was hers to explore. Setting sail on the SS Australis in October 1974 — first as a passenger, then later joining the Chandris Crew family — Jenny shares her hilarious adventures and misadventures recovered from precious memories stored in letters she wrote home. Climb aboard for a trip of a lifetime! You don’t tell your mother everything, so it’s necessary to read between the lines.

YESTERDAY : A BABY BOOMER’S RITE OF PASSAGE by Sandy Coghlan: Fifty years after her travels, Sandy opened a musty box containing reams of fading letters and her battered old diary. She vividly recalled her anxiety at boarding a ship alone at 21, re-lived her fun-filled cruise to Europe on the Australis, remembered the heart-break of partings and the courage needed at finding herself alone and penniless, recalled the joys (and sometimes, the horrors) of living in swinging London and laughed through every moment of her hilarious romp through Europe. Also includes chapters on shipboard life and ports of call.

TEN POUND POM AND BEYOND by Rob Humphreys: In 1970 Rob sailed as a Ten Pound Pom from Southampton to Sydney, Australia. He was 27, single with no ties. This book covers his voyage (on the Australis), his stay in Australia – work, travel and play and travels beyond. Realizing halfway around the world was not that far, and with so much more to see, he returned to the UK, then went to work in Germany, Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Rob also includes his experiences of traveling in the USA, Canada and Mexico, mainly on Greyhound buses. An enjoyable read.

POM’S ODYSSEY by John C. Holman: A wartime tragedy sparks John’s dream of moving to Australia: a dream that turns into a reality when at 18 he becomes a participant in the largest planned migration of the 20th century. With little money and a questionable education, he steps ashore from the SS Australis onto Terra Australis and soon finds the mythical place of his imagination is far-removed from the reality. Pom’s Odyssey is dramatic, funny, and whimsically entertaining, proving that if one takes the road less traveled, surprise is a constant companion and the reward at the end of that road will be the journey itself.

ON THE SURFACE: My Thirty Year Career In Cruise Entertainment by Connie Dickmeyer (illustrated by Greg McDonald) Two young entertainers elude the mob and serendipitiously stumble upon a livelihood performing at sea. It was the 1970s, when Captains were kings and pretty dancers made them beg, when passengers read books in deck chairs facing the ocean spray, and when solid ships, unfazed by rough seas, turned disaster into romance.

POMMY BASTARD by John Livings (fiction) The year is 1973 and young Archie sets sail aboard the SS Kioni for a three month voyage around the world as a member of the on-board entertainment team. In no time he is wholeheartedly embracing life at sea, partaking of whirlwind visits to numerous port hostelries for liquid sustenance, the sampling of a myriad of illicit substances and making the most of all-too-willing female passengers’ attention.

WANDERINGS OF A TEN POUND POM by Bob Horsman is about an English emigrant to Australia, beginning in 1966 and spanning 11 years. It revolves around his work in Australia and his travels to over 32 countries, including a journey on the Ellinis. There are funny moments, adventurous ones, and some more than a little embarrassing. Some are serious, some light-hearted. An entertaining read, for the bus or the train, over a coffee or at bedtime. Bob Horsman found the writing of those times was almost as enjoyable for him as living them. It is his hope that the reading of these anecdotes will do the same for you.

Swinging Sixties travel

I was there.

It is estimated that in the late 60’s and early 70’s, around two million Australian baby boomers boarded a ship or jumped on an aeroplane and headed off to Europe.

At least one person out of every seven who lived in this country at that time found innovative ways to bare their upper arm and proudly reveal their status symbol vaccination scar.

If you were born after 1980, you might think that’s not such a big deal. Today, more than half our population of 25 million owns a passport, and jetting off to distant shores is what most people do when they need a break.

Believe me, in the 1960’s, it WAS a big deal.

If Peter Allen had written “I Still Call Australia Home” three decades earlier, it would have been “I Still Call England Home.”

 Our parents and grandparents and those before them were proud British subjects who called England home, even though few had ever been there and most never would.

Heck, most Australians had never even been outside their own state!

Those who could afford to visit ‘home’ needed to be intrepid travellers indeed. The first Qantas flight from Australia to the UK in 1935 took 12 days and included 43 stopovers.

Shortly after the end of World War 2, modern aircraft cut the journey to a mere four days with just six stopovers, only two of those requiring overnight stays.

This hippity-hop to England became known appropriately as the Kangaroo Route.

Propeller-driven and noisy, these state-of-the-art (for their time) aeroplanes had non-pressurized cabins which prevented them flying high enough to avoid inclement weather. Delays were frequent, turbulence common, and air sickness bags absolutely essential.

Of course, if you really wanted to ‘visit home’, there was always sea travel, but ships in the late 40’s and the 50’s had little in common with modern day passenger liners. Most were troop ships hastily converted to carry the first wave of migrants to Australia from war-torn Europe.

The trip between continents was long and arduous. Passenger comforts were not a priority. Food was plain and often inadequate. Triple-tiered bunks were built into every available space — including the hold — and bathrooms were communal. There was certainly no entertainment to keep passengers amused.

Faced with the choice of clinging to a paper bag for 4 days or turning green for 6 weeks, most opted for the less painful Kangaroo Route.

Then, everything changed. To understand why, we need to go back to the end of world war 2.

At that time, Australia’s population was a mere 7 million, which was a pitifully small number for such a large and isolated country. Not only did this create a critical labour shortage for emerging industries, but the threat of Japanese invasion during the war had revealed our vulnerability. We desperately needed more manpower to defend ourselves in the event of another war.

The Aussie government formulated a plan. Invite migrants from war-torn Europe and the UK to settle here, give them a choice between air or ship travel and provide them with temporary (albeit basic) accommodation on arrival. As long as they stayed for a minimum of 2 years. it would only cost them ten pounds, or the European equivalent of that amount.

Between 1945 and 1982, over 4 million people took advantage of this opportunity to start a new life.

Flushed with this scheme’s initial success, our first immigration minister, Arthur Calwell, reminded Australians that we must “populate or perish.” Families were encouraged to produce more children and Aussies performed their patriotic duty more enthusiastically than any other country, resulting in a baby boom of massive proportions. The arrival of these ‘baby boomers’ over the next two decades (1945 to 1965) increased the population by around five million.

By the early to mid 1960’s, Australia’s economy was booming. For the first time, people had money to spend.

Shipping lines began to realize that filling their ships with paying passengers for the return journey to Europe would make the migrant trade even more profitable, so they began improving on-board facilities, turning dormitories into comfortable cabins with private facilities, adding air conditioning, cinemas, swimming pools and more attractive menus.

They also offered competitive return fares, and the airlines quickly followed their example.

The shipping lines were also astute enough to recognize that their most lucrative market would be found within the 18 to 25 age group.

How right they were! The first wave of Aussie boomers were now wage-earning adults with money burning holes in their pockets.

These were the generation born to parents who had struggled through the great depression and at least one world war, if not two. They had not dared to step out of line, but it was a line their children chose to reject.

It is estimated that between 1965 and 1977, around forty percent of baby boomers born or raised in Australia set off to see the world. They absorbed whatever Europe had to offer, then returned to share that knowledge with all who cared to listen.

As a result, Australia was dragged — kicking and screaming — from an isolated colony of Mother England into a vibrant and thriving cosmopolitan nation.

The baby boomer exodus flared for one brief and shining decade, then flickered out. It had served its purpose. Flights to Europe had become faster, more comfortable and less expensive. Future generations would think nothing of travelling to Rome, London or Paris for a three week vacation.

By 1977, it was mostly all over.

There will never be another time like it.

I was there.

My intention for this blog is to include brief extracts from my book, YESTERDAY : A Baby Boomer’s Rite of Passage, in the hope that it might stimulate others’ memories of those halycon days. If you’d like to contribute some of your own recollections, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Your memories will be as exciting to me and other readers as I’m hoping mine will be to you.

Note: If you travelled on a Chandris line ship (Australis, Britanis, Ellenis, Patris) you may also consider joining the Chandris facebook page, with over 3,000 happy and nostalgic ex passengers and crew.

Across the Universe

October 14, 1969

The waiting room at Melbourne’s Station Pier was buzzing with excited passengers and tearful families when we arrived at about 5pm. Mum, Keith, Suzanne, Ray and Judy used their visitor passes immediately and climbed the gangplank, while I stood in a queue for half an hour before I was allowed to join them.

Mum and I went to find my cabin and were greeted by a note on the door: “all of us are in the fwd passenger lounge.” It was signed “the boys & girls”.

I had no idea who “the boys & girls” were. I’d only been allocated 5 passes from Chandris and I’d given them all out. I dumped my hand luggage and we negotiated the seemingly endless corridors and stairs to the lounge to find that most of the staff from my office were there.

David had ‘borrowed’ one of my passes and made multiple (and very credible) copies at work, so I had 15 people to party with!

L-R: Mum, me, and a few work colleagues

At 7pm the announcement came over the loud speaker. “Everyone going ashore must leave now.” Help! We all had hugs, said our goodbyes, and then had more hugs. Mum was crying. I had a few tears welling up too, but I had to stay strong for her.

I stood on deck and watched them walk down the gangplank.

I had never felt so alone in my life.

People down below threw streamers. Passengers leaning on the rails tried to catch them and threw streamers back. Auld Lang Syne played over the loud speaker. Everyone waved and called to each other. It was all just as I had imagined.

Except … we weren’t moving!

By 8pm, a few well-wishers began departing. Then a few more. Suzanne gave me a wave and left. Mum, Keith, Ray and Judy stayed.

By 9pm, most of the crowd had disappeared. My loyal four remained.

Not quite the way I’d dreamed it would be –
my 4 (centre group) waving at 10pm

I knew Mum wouldn’t be able to stand for much longer. Not long after 10pm, she blew me a kiss and I pretended to catch it. Ray put his arm around her shoulders as they walked to the car, turning occasionally to give me another wave.

I knew she was crying.

I was crying too. But I couldn’t let her see that.

Dear Diary, Tuesday, 14 October 1969

I’m on my way! Today is the first day on board the Australis, and I can hardly believe it’s happening!

A quick peek to starboard (or is it portside?) reveals there’s nothing but water for a long, long way. A frightening but exciting thought.

It’s now 3am and I’m sitting up in my narrow little bunk-bed.

An hour ago, I was standing alone on deck as this big beautiful ship sliced through the ocean,
taking me further and further away from everything safe and familiar, closer and closer to who knows where and what, or for how long?

Oh God!

How did it come to this?