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!
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.
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.
How did it come to this?