ROTTERDAM

Dear Diary, it’s 4am and I’m sitting in the Smoking Room. I’ve just come inside from walking around the deck for an hour or more. Every night for the rest of my life, before I close my eyes to sleep, I want to remember how it felt to stand alone on the deck in the darkest hours before dawn as my ship slowly nosed its way down a river towards Rotterdam.

I never want to forget leaning on the railing at the back of the ship, watching our wake, wanting to believe that it reaches all the way back to Australia like a watery umbilical cord, keeping me safe and connected.

I can feel the ship’s familiar tremble. It saddens me to think I might never again feel that gentle vibration. My hair is being whipped about by the icy wind. Tears sting my eyes. Is that because of the chilly air, or because I’m so nervous? Probably both.

I take a deep breath, trying to settle the fluttering in my chest. My stomach is turning somersaults. All is silent except for the familiar swish and splash below as we glide effortlessly through the dark water. Stars wink their encouragement and the moon’s reflection shimmers on the dark sea. From the back of the ship, I can’t separate sky from sea. I turn to look behind me and see the fuzzy lights of Rotterdam on the horizon. I think I prefer the view from the stern!

Am I ready for this? I shiver, pull my coat tighter around me, then slowly make my way to the bow to watch our progress. One of those lights belongs to the house where Peter lives. All the other lights in all the other houses are where all the other Dutch families are preparing to greet a new day. They’re unaware and unconcerned that for two people, this day will be different from any other.

I’m questioning my sanity again.

I have a sudden urge to run and hide.

Is my life about to be forever changed?

I remind myself that whatever happens next, it will be as it is meant to be.

The night before we arrived in Rotterdam, I spent an hour or more just wandering around the ship aimlessly. I missed my friends, I missed our routines, our conversations and private jokes. We’d spent a lifetime together in just a few weeks and now they were getting settled in England, without me.

The passengers I encountered now were strangers. They offered no smiles of recognition, merely glancing at me with blank expressions as they passed by. For most of them, this was their first night on board and the labyrinth of cabins, the sooty smoke pouring from the ship’s funnel, dinner gongs and other idiosyncrasies that made our ship special were still unknown to them. Would the Australis cast her spell on them, as she had for us? Perhaps not. Many were embarking on a journey to a new land and a new life. It was likely the destination was more their focus than the voyage.

When I finished saying goodbye (yet again) to every nook and cranny, I returned to my cabin, hopeful I’d sleep well and awaken refreshed. I should have been exhausted. I’d spent the day running excitedly around Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street, embracing the chaotic delights of London for the first time, then another 90 minutes on the boat train, listening as an elderly gentleman seated opposite pointed out historic sites on the way. Yesterday, I’d spent the day finding my sea legs in Southampton, then sleeping on two lounge chairs pushed together at a Chelsea apartment. The night before that, I’d sat up most of the night in the Smoking Room with my friends, reminiscing, promising, planning, all of us reluctant to waste our last few hours together in sleep.

Even so, sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned, then tossed some more. My eyes refused to close, staring through darkness at the underside of the empty upper bunk. At around 3am, I gave up, got up, wrapped my rabbit-fur coat over my pjamas, stepped into my fluffy slippers and headed up to the deck. A few early risers or nervous new passengers passed me in the corridor and I’m sure I made a comical sight.  I didn’t care. I knew it would be freezing outside. I shuffled through the doors and walked to the rail.

I could just make out a distant glow of blurred lights on the horizon. They looked to be at least an hour away. I stood shivering at the stern for a long time, questioning my sanity.

We docked at about 6.30am. As we slid closer and closer towards the wharf, I was disappointed to see that the eye-level balcony was totally devoid of humanity. I cheered a little when I noticed a few people gathered on the dock below. I leant over the rail and studied them carefully. Then one caught a rope and a second ran to help. They were merely dock workers.

Where was Peter? He had assured me he’d be there as we docked. “Believe me,” he had written 2 months earlier, “I am so looking forward to November 19th, I think I better take a carton of cigarettes with me that morning because I’ll probably eat them.”

How many times had I imagined this day? I’d be standing on the deck, bathed in glorious sunshine as we sailed into Rotterdam and were greeted by a cheering crowd. Of course, it hadn’t occurred to me that November was not Holland’s sunniest month, nor was I aware that daylight didn’t seem to happen in Holland at all. I had imagined how Peter would find me in the crowd as we glided in to tie up, and he’d smile and wave enthusiastically. Of course, I’d recognize him immediately too. I’d wave back excitedly, then rush down the gangplank (in a most ladylike way, of course) and throw myself into his waiting arms. We’d walk off, hand-in-hand, towards a glorious sunset. So much for dreams!

I returned to the deck after breakfast to find that daylight really did happen in Holland, after all. Not only that, the balcony was now packed with that cheering crowd I’d so often imagined. I scanned their faces. Still no Peter.  Had he changed his mind? What would I do if he didn’t arrive?

The queuing process began. By the time the passport inspection, document checking, permit stamping and other official paperwork was completed, it was almost 10am. I was finally allowed to disembark.

I gathered up my hand luggage, then turned to say a last, sad and silent farewell. Oh how I wished I could have stayed on my beloved ship. That first step was almost agonizing, but I pulled myself together and waddled off. And yes. I do mean waddled! One hand clutched my bulging handbag, the other a heavy overnight bag. My camera bag was slung over my shoulder and a bulky travelling wardrobe draped over an arm. I made at least ten stops on the way to blow into my palms and readjust my hold on everything.

What an elegant entrance to Rotterdam! It held absolutely no resemblance to the arrival I’d experienced in my dreams!

I entered a big hall with shiny polished floors and benches stretching ahead of me. A large sign emblazoned with letters of the alphabet hung above each bench. Of course, XYZ was where I entered, C way down the furthest end where a crowd of people were waiting and waving.

My luggage became heavier with each step. The handles bit into my sweaty palms. The strap on my camera bag cut into my sun-burnt shoulder. The smooth soles of my boots kept sliding on the slippery floor. I had no doubt that at any moment I would go skidding in spectacular fashion across the hall or drop everything and collapse in an exhausted, gibbering heap in front of what seemed by now to be at least half the population of Rotterdam.

Amazingly, I made it in one piece! I was almost to the C bench when I saw someone in a dark coat waving frantically at me from behind a wire gate. A photograph came to life. Yes, I’d have known him anywhere. I walked slowly towards him and he stepped through the gate to meet me.

We stood face to face, just smiling. Then I said “hello Peter” and he said “hello, Sandy” and we smiled some more. They were not really earth-shattering words, but it was all we could manage for now. We had waited six years for this moment.

Peter collected my 4 suitcases and placed them and my hand luggage on a trolley and we pushed it to his car. On our way, we passed a cafe with floor-to-ceiling windows. Andy and a group of other waiters from our dining room rushed to the window and began knocking on it, waving and beckoning me to come in.

I hadn’t been able to find Andy, Marci, Ianis or Victor the previous night and was sad that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. How I would have loved to run over and hug them all, but I noticed Peter’s frown. While I saw a group of sweet people who had shared my journey and became my friends, Peter saw a rabble of amorous Greek waiters and – I later learnt – had formed a few ungracious assumptions.

I waved, beamed an apologetic smile at them and shook my head. I was no longer a fun-loving passenger on my glorious Australis. The voyage was over. My new life was about to begin.   

But oh, please, couldn’t I just go around one more time before I have to face life in cold grey Rotterdam?

SOUTHAMPTON / LONDON

“Land, land! I can see England!” Denise said excitedly as she ran into the Soho cabin. We’d joined the boys for a drink before dinner, but Denise couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes, running back and forth between cabin and deck to peer excitedly into the darkening twilight .

George’s English wasn’t good enough to understand what was going on, so we explained through Tony that she was born in England but that her parents had taken her to Australia 5 years ago and she’d been homesick for England ever since. Tony translated for George, who smiled, nodded and said “aaahhhh, nay, endaxi.”

I felt very international because I then translated that for her: “Denise, George says “Aaaahh, yes, ok.” which made everyone laugh except Denise, who was already on her way outside again.

Chris and I followed her out. All we could see was a black blob in the distance vaguely silhouetted against the night sky, but there was no doubting it. Land’s End. George came out too. He took Denise’s hands in his and they laughed and danced around, jumping up and down like a couple of hyperactive children. I wished I’d had my camera. It was so sweet, because George must have seen the coast of England many times. I think he just wanted to make it more exciting for Denise.

George, Denise, Nick, Chris, Tony

The three of us then made our way to the Smoking Room and stayed up most of the night talking ourselves silly, re-living all the good times we’d had over the past 6 weeks, wondering how we’d cope living back in the real world again. They’ve both promised to come to Rotterdam to visit me soon. I’ll miss them the most, of course. We did everything and went everywhere together, we “girls who never sleep” as Captain Ikiadis had dubbed us.

They left the ship early next morning a to face queues for customs and passport stamps and work permits. Goodness knows when we’ll see each other again, but I hope it’s soon. I didn’t have too much time to feel sad though, because Sue, my friend from back home, arrived soon afterwards. She’d been in London for 3 months and took two days off work to collect me and provide my first sight of London, which would include an overnight stay at her flat in Chelsea. 

We wandered (and I stumbled with sea-legs) around Southampton for a while and checked on times for the boat train. There was one due at 8.30pm, so after lunch in town (burger and coffee with real milk, of course!) we returned to the ship and I gave her a guided tour, then took her to the dining room for dinner on the ship. There were very few passengers on board so waiters didn’t care where we sat or who they served. Then we boarded the train and arrived at Victoria station, London at 10pm.

 I thought I was finally in London. And I was! But from the platform at Victoria station we had to go down an escalator and take another train to Charing Cross, station, then we changed to another train for Chelsea station, and after an hour of travelling, we were STILL in the centre of London and I hadn’t even poked my head above ground yet!

I quickly learnt the first lesson in using the London underground: you must, must, MUST stay on the right side of the escalator, because the moment you put your heavy bag down beside you, even at 11pm, people will be alerted in their homes and restaurants and shops and they will come from all over London for the sole purpose of running up the left side and kicking your bag or falling over it and yelling at you for putting it there!

You must must MUST stay on the right side!

We arrived at Sue’s place at about 11.30pm. She shares a bed-sit in Chelsea, just off King’s Road, and after sitting up most of the previous night, I slept very soundly on two lounge-chairs pushed together, even though they did initially feel like they were swaying back and forth on the waves

We headed off at about 8 next morning and made our way into town, wherever that is. In London, it’s everywhere! You can walk along a quiet tree-lined street on a cold foggy morning (which we did) and enjoy total silence, but then you turn a corner (which we did) and instantly you’re in a bustling, noisy city.

Sue asked me what I wanted to see before I had to return to the ship because we didn’t have much time.

I didn’t hestiate. “Carnaby Street.”

She wasn’t even sure how to get there, so she looked it up in her A-Z and we took a train to Piccadilly Circus. Wow! It was huge! Streets going off in every direction, big neon signs, cars, red double-decker buses, black cabs, theatres, people and more people and even more people!

We eventually found Carnaby Street and what a surprise it was! I was expecting a big, wide, long street full of fashionable dress shops, but it wasn’t much bigger than a laneway with lots of little shops on both sides. Windows displayed all the latest mod fashions, and even at 10am there were crowds of people there.

I heard a man advertising a concert over a microphone and looked up to see people stepping out of the way because an open-backed truck was slowly making its way down the narrow street, and there were our old BeeGees seated on the back, waving to the crowd! People were cheering and waving back and I was almost bursting with pride to know they’d become so popular since leaving Australia!

Suddenly, Sue looked at her watch and gasped. It was 12.20. I had to catch the 12.45 train from Victoria station to be back on board by 3pm or I’d miss the boat, literally.

It was a mad dash but we made it with minutes to spare. I hardly had a chance to give Sue a quick hug and thank her for a wonderful two days before jumping on the train and waving goodbye as we chugged out of the station.

I decided that London was way too big and busy, and was as much as I’d loved my quick tour, I was secretly relieved to be leaving.

I knew I’d never be able to find my way around the place even if I was there for a hundred years!

Home again. But only for one more night!

ATLANTIC

November 13, 1969: We left Miami 24 hours ago and already it’s cold and windy outside. We have a week ahead of nothing but ocean. Then it’s all over. There’ll be no more sun-baking, no more exotic ports, no more yummy bread rolls, no more getting excited when the mail is sorted and soon – worst of all – no more Australis!

We all knew it had to end eventually. We just don’t want it to.

November 14: There’s such a strange atmosphere on board. It’s like the voyage ended the day after we left Miami. Everyone seems gloomy and introspective. Hardly anyone goes to the dance or the cabaret any more. Over the past week we’ve had a Dutch Beer Garden night, a Carnaby Street concert and an English Pub show, but no-one really got too enthusiastic. They were just minor distractions.

Passengers are busy packing up and getting their warm clothes out of the hold. I’ve been doing the same, and what a job! Trying to find my suitcase to get my arrival clothes out wasn’t fun. I had to climb over mountains of luggage and when I found the right one, drag it to where I could get it open.

I packed all the souvenirs I’ve been collecting along the way – menus, Seascapes, news-sheets, matchboxes, postcards and 2 decks of playing cards. When I get settled I’ll put them into a scrap book so I never forget a single moment … as if I ever would!

I had to find space for all my dolls, too. I’ve bought one in most of the ports. There’s also a grass skirt. Why am I keeping a grass skirt? I can’t even imagine why and when I’d ever wear it again.

I also packed 8 rolls of film. I can’t wait to get them developed, but they’ll cost a fortune so I’ll probably just get one roll done a week. I didn’t label them so each will be a surprise. But how in heaven’s name do I pack my Acapulco sombrero? I may have to wear it! That should attract some attention, arriving in Rotterdam in winter wearing a rabbit-fur coat and a Mexican sombrero!! I’ll probably make the front page of the Rotterdam Daily News!

November 15: It’s getting colder every day and the sea is very rough. Not many sit out on the deck any more, or if they do it’s only the hearty ones and most stay on the promenade where they’re protected.

Not me. I love walking around the deck in a stiff salty gale. Sometimes it takes half an hour to fight my way up one side from bow to stern, then I turn a corner and literally get blown all the way back, my feet barely touching the deck!

What a joy it is to stand near the bow, clinging for dear life to the railing as we dive headlong into the churning troughs, each time emerging triumphantly and pointing skyward on the crest of the next wave, then plunging again and again as ship and ocean seem to merge into one continuous wave.

You can keep your roller-coaster rides! Even Disneyland. Give me life on the ocean any day!

I love sitting in my smoking room. It has big windows on both sides and on one side the window is full of ocean, on the other, only sky. Then the ocean levels out on both sides, then it reverses. But if I don’t see it, I don’t even feel it.

As I walk along a narrow corridor, I know I’m walking on a slant because my feet are on one side of the corridor and my head is on the other, but that feels perfectly normal, and just as normal when the slants switch!

It’s only when I’m in the bunk at night I’m aware of it. because I don’t see it! Last night while I was trying to sleep, the old girl would start rolling over and keep going, and going, while I clung to the side of my bunk. When I was convinced she couldn’t roll any further without collapsing on her side, and I knew without doubt that there was no hope for us and it was time to grab the life jackets and try to remember where our lifeboat station was, she’d stop, shudder, then start slowly rolling the other way.

When we’re dancing in the ballroom, we all find ourselves clustered on one side of the dance floor with the other half empty, then a minute or two later we all involuntarily dance back again. That feels normal too, but walking around in San Pedro after 10 days at sea didn’t feel normal at all.

Yesterday they put ropes up everywhere so we could hold onto something while moving around and we were advised not to go outside. It was really hard for the poor waiters to serve meals because the ship was lurching and rolling at the same time. Drawers of cutlery kept sliding out and crashing to the floor. They dampened all the tablecloths to keep the dishes on the table, but the food refused to co-operate and kept sliding around. My soup kept slopping out of its dish and I had a few good laughs chasing my peas around the plate.

Only about half the passengers came to dinner last night, and even some of those were looking green around the gills. A few tried to get up to leave in a hurry, but then the ship would lurch or roll suddenly and toss them back into their chairs. They’d struggle up again and weave their way through the tables with hand over mouth. Even some of the waiters looked like they wished they were anywhere but here.

When I was watching the ocean this morning, I realized there’s a difference between the Pacific and the Atlantic. They’re even different colours! The Pacific was blue and mostly calm. It might sound silly, but Pacific waves seemed more gentle and relaxing. The Atlantic is mostly grey and choppy, like it seems angry and impatient! I wonder if that’s the reason for the difference between places like California and New York.

November 16: We arrive in Southampton in two days, then it’s Rotterdam and oh how I’m going to miss my floating home. How does one adjust to normal life back on land? There’s so much I’m going to miss.

I’ll miss the pineapple juice Dalos brings to our cabin every morning. Somehow, I don’t think that will be on a Dutch breakfast table!

I’ll miss coffee and apple slices in the smoking room, stolen bread rolls with cheese at 2am on the mezzanine, being beckoned to meals by the dinner gong, hearing the xylophone and knowing there’s about to be an announcement. (“Prossokee, prossokee, parakalo”)

I think I’ll even miss evaporated milk in my tea and having my t-shirts stained with black soot from the funnel.

I know I’ll miss being rocked to sleep when I’m tired, choosing not to sleep when I’m not tired, and not being ruled by the tick-tock of anyone else’s clock. Time doesn’t seem to have any meaning here and it’s going to be so hard to adjust to routines and clock-watching.

November 17, 1969: Tomorrow, Old Blighty.

I’m so excited about seeing London, but also sad to think that the people we’ve met and have become our family, will soon be heading off in different directions. I’ll especially miss Chris and Denise, but who knows where life will lead us all.

Everyone’s exchanging addresses, passengers and crew alike, and telling each other we’ll stay in touch, but we all know they’re mostly just words and they’ll lose addresses or look at them in a month’s time and say “who the hell was she again?”

I swear the Atlantic has a gloomy influence.

Maybe we WILL meet up again one day. I’d love to think so.

Note: I confess, some of the photos above are not my own. I “borrowed” them to illustrate the text. The photos of the ballroom and smoking room are from the Chandris brochure, and a big thank you to whoever took those wonderful shots of the promenade deck and the rough Atlantic sea. They bring back so many memories for me, and – I have no doubt – also for everyone reading this.

MIAMI

November 11, 1969: We docked in Port Everglades at 1.30am. What a crazy time to arrive anywhere!

Didn’t get to bed until 4am, got a few hours sleep but was awake again at 9am. However am I going to adjust in the real world?

We were originally supposed to dock in the afternoon, then it was going to be early evening but by dinner time we still weren’t there and were told it would be 1am. (Either someone kept moving Miami, or we were lost!) As 1am was only about 4 hours away, we decided to stay up and go ashore immediately so we could make the most of the time we had. I think we may have been slightly delirious due to lack of sleep, because after all, where were we going to go and what would we do at 1am in an unfamiliar city?

Fortunately it was announced shortly before docking that passengers couldn’t disembark until 6am, so we had to hang around for yet another 5 hours. No point sleeping! After all, we had to stay up and watch our arrival.

By the time we descended the gangplank we’d been awake for almost 22 hours, and after only 5 hours of sleep and an entire day of sight-seeing still ahead!

Once ashore we learnt that the car Nick hired wouldn’t be available until 8am, so he suggested we go and have a wander around Port Everglades (Miami is 30 miles away!) and come back at 8. Which we did.

The 3 of us piled into a blue Chevrolet Impala with Nick and George. Nick drove us into Miami – about half an hour away – and I confess that I wasn’t all that impressed with the city. There were palm trees lining big wide streets, and vast stretches of nothing. It felt more like a holiday resort than a city. A bit like Surfer’s Paradise! Even Miami Beach wasn’t particularly impressive. Or are we just becoming blase travellers?

Miami Beach

We had to be back by midday because that’s when the boys start work. I have no idea why they work in the engine room when the ship’s in port! We dropped them off just before midday and as Nick had paid for the car all day, Chris decided she’d drive us back into Miami.

Bill, John, me, Andy, Denise, Fred

Waiters Andy and John stopped to say hello and asked if they could come with us, and before we had even left the car park Fred and Bill from our dinner table flagged us down and asked to come too. So now we were 7. Luckily it was another one of those big yank tanks! We didn’t get as far as Miami this time because we got lost about halfway there and just kept driving around in circles. We decided that it wasn’t worth the effort anyway so stopped at Burger King.

I suspect we stumbled onto a 1950’s movie set! It had booths with high backed seats and juke boxes. Teenagers were gazing at each other over milk shakes with 2 straws. Bowls of ice cream and sodas were being slid along a shiny-topped counter, and the juke box was playing Beach Boys’ music or rock’n’roll.

We had a delicious (but huge) hamburger. They’re just known as ‘burgers’ here, but this one was a real whopper! Then it was time to head back as we were due to leave at 5pm and had to be on board by 4.

On our way back, a young guy in a car tooted his horn and pulled up beside us. He called out that he was in the navy and stationed on a submarine, and he invited us to come and have a tour. Americans are such an amazingly friendly bunch and seem to love meeting people from other countries. It would have been fascinating to visit the sub, but sadly we didn’t have time. Imagine being in a submarine and having our ship sail off above us!

We made it back in time but nearly fell asleep in our soup at dinner. When we were able to think clearly again, we calculated that we’d been awake for 35 hours after only 5 hours sleep! (And we let Chris drive? No wonder we got lost!)

I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to adjust to normal time in the real world!

Farewell Port Everglades

Next, 7 days of the Atlantic crossing, then England. I’m going to be so sad when the time comes to leave my lovely old tub!

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. 

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.