June Springett
Watching at the coverage of the new QE2 reminded me of my first cruise from Southampton to Australia which lasted for six weeks and all for the princely sum of ten pounds. click for Mark Tolson article
When I arrived at Southampton in 1957 via the boat train from London and saw this huge liner I couldn't believe the size of it, but there it was and being all on my own I made my way with hundreds of other passengers to board the SS New Australia, and my adventure began.
I eventually found my cabin and believe me it was nothing like one would expect to find on the Cruise Ships of today. I was one of six females in a cabin which measured about 10ft by 12ft and had three bunk beds, also thankfully a porthole, but otherwise was quite devoid of any comfort. No carpet on the floor, one small wardrobe, no sink, no toilet or bathroom. The bathrooms were down the corridor as were the toilets.
My cabin mates were a married lady with her 10 year old daughter, two other ladies who were married, myself and another single girl. We soon got to know each other and thankfully we all got on well together, however the husbands were separated from their wives and the men on board were all housed on the ships lower decks (you can imagine how they hated being separated from their spouses especially knowing it was for six whole weeks.)
Our first port of call was Dakar on the coast of Africa, but we were not allowed off the ship for some reason, so it was with great sighs of relief when we reached our second port of call which was Durban in South Africa. We were allowed to disembark here for a day I think and then it was back onboard for two weeks of the roughest weather the crew could ever remember in the Indian Ocean on the way to Perth in Western Australia.
There were about 2000 passengers on board this migrant ship and the weather was so rough that seasickness overtook nearly everyone (except me). Some mornings I was the only person to go to the dining room for breakfast, my single cabin mate was so ill she stayed in her bunk for the whole of the six weeks I think.
By the 3rd week at sea the married couples were getting rather restless which was pointed out to me and the other single girls one day when the married ladies asked us if we would mind spending the day on deck and not coming back to the cabin . . .Gradually the penny dropped and we obliged.(not without a good laugh from us all ). Can you imagine that happening on a Cruise ship today?
The conditions on board this ship were very poor unlike some of the P&O liners, which also did the Australia, run with Emigrants. This ship had been a Troopship during the war hence the lack of decent facilities, for instance, there was no fresh water for baths, it was salt water, so the crew issued us with special soap, but that didn't help much and one might just as well have jumped in to the sea for all the benefits a bath did. The food too was very poor and as most of the passengers were quite young we were always hungry.
One night when we were all in the cabin chatting prior to sleeping the lady in the bunk below me ( a real broad Scot from, a place called Tillacoutry) asked me to pull out her trunk from under her bunk and have a look inside. I couldn't believe my eyes when lifting the top found it was full of Shortbread ( all homemade) which she had packed for her family in Australia . Did we all have a midnight feast that night.
Being an old Troopship and no real amenities we were all becoming very bored although the crew did their best to entertain us themselves. I think we had the odd Bingo night but of course there were no paid entertainers. There was a swimming pool on one of the lower decks and before the weather had got too rough I went to explore and decided to have a swim. I hadn't been in the pool very long when suddenly myself and a couple of other Bravehearts realised that the supposed Deep End of the pool had suddenly become the shallow end (worse than that the water had all disappeared) and suddenly reappeared like a tidal wave. We soon got out of there and back on deck where the crew explained that the pool was now off limits owing to the heavy seas and it didn't reopen for the rest of the journey.
I was at no time feeling scared of the heavy weather and the crew of course were always reassuring, but I must have been braver than some because I often used to walk to the stern of the ship and look up literally, at the waves. Huge waves which towered over us but never crashed onto the deck . The crew did arrange for a dance to be held one evening and for some reason it was to be on deck ( cannot remember if it was because there was no actual Dance floor below decks) but anyway we all got ready for the dance and it was the best thing the crew could have done to get us all together because of the rough weather we were all thrown together anyway, dancing didn't come into it, and in fact it was called off in the end being somewhat dangerous for all concerned.
It was such a relief when we eventually berthed in Fremantle, and at least we had a couple of days to go ashore and try to walk normally again, the Bars in Fremantle did a roaring trade from what I can remember. Then in was time to leave for our final destination Melbourne. Not quite so rough once we had rounded the South West of Australia and into the Great Australian Bight. It was in the Bight that I caught my first sight of Albatross, they were following in the wake of the Ship just skimming the waves, and they stayed with us for several days.
We were so exited when the ship entered port Phillip Bay and up into Port Melbourne, ( in those days Port Melbourne was nothing like it is today, just one dockside and nothing to see for miles, certainly no skyscrapers just sand and scrub) , and so began a new life for so many people and the last thing the crew told us was, that the ship had just completed its last journey, it was heading next for the scrapyard.
June Springett 2004 More about the ship by Mark Tolson
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