Vangel Cvetkovski's adventure on the SS Australis.
Vangel Cvetkovski was twelve when he left Yugoslavia with his family, five of them altogether. This is the story of his journey told in his own words.
We left Skopje, in the Republic of Macedonia on the 12 April, 1969, then travelled by train to Dubrovnik via Belgrade and Sarajevo. Our family stayed in a hotel in Dubrovnik for about a week, the very first time we had been in a plush hotel. Those were tense moments, as we had left our home and people dear to us behind, to start a new life on the other side of the world. The ship arrived just off Dubrovnik on 24/25 April. I think the crew used 2-3 smaller boats to ferry the passengers to the ship. For a 12 year old, it was an experience of a lifetime. The ship was awesome; the biggest ship I had ever seen up to that time.
The ship made a brief stop-over along the coast of Sicily, for more passengers, and the next stop was Cape Town, South Africa. Crossing the equator was strange, the humidity was something I remember and of course the King Neptune ceremony. Cape Town was memorable because we arrived at night, the lights only a tiny speck in the distance, but getting bigger as the ship got nearer.
The journey to Australia was a great adventure. The ship was huge and as a child there was lots to do. It was easy to get absorbed in all the activities and events. The pools, gymnasium, table tennis, the music room, play room, bingo etc ! Then there were the emergency drills, the fancy dress parties and the cocktail parties, for which sadly my parents considered me too young to attend. They have some photographs of those moments, including some taken with the ship's captain.
The crew were great. I remember there was a Macedonian man who craved beans, a traditional Macedonian dish. After about 3 days of harassing the staff in the dining room, someone managed to get some beans for him. He was over the moon. We thought he was mad, because the menu was so varied and rich, we couldn't understand why he would want beans, which was occasionally served as an entrée.
I wear a scar on my forehead from the trip. During one playful morning, chasing a boy in the playroom on the top deck, I slipped on the stairs and hit my forehead on the edge of the step, cutting the skin and bleeding profusely. Fortunately one of the attending nurses put a handkerchief on the gash, took me in her bosom and walked me to the first aid room, where the ship's Doctor stitched up the wound. I think he used 5 stitches. To my parent's horror, who had not seen me since morning, I emerged for dinner, all bandaged up. All I can say is, I wore the bandage with pride. I must have been a terror, I recall having a water pistol and squirting all and sundry with it, and being chased by some of the crew who were keen to confiscate it because of the complaints they were getting from the other children. I think one man caught up with me and took it away. And that was that.
As the ship approached Freemantle, several Government officials boarded the ship, to get everyone organised before arrival. I don't recall where the ship stopped to allow them to board though (They used to come onboard from the Pilot Station boat - Ken) We were shown films about Australia, which heightened our sense of anticipation. I recall at Freemantle, a Yugoslav man wanted some milk for his child. He didn't know the English word for it so he put his hands to his head, pointed his index fingers upwards and asked for "mooo". He got his milk eventually.
Our destination was Melbourne, but due to a strike on the wharf, the ship could not berth there, so we proceeded to Sydney, arriving there 24 May. We travelled right into Sydney Harbour, past the Opera House, the harbour Bridge, finally stopping at Circular Quay. It was spectacular !!
We arrived at around 8:00 in the morning, however we did not stay there long. By about 4:00 in the afternoon, approximately 40 or so families boarded the train heading for Melbourne. We were taken by bus to Sydney's Central Station and given some food packages. Unfortunately, the train was one of the old "Red Rattlers", meaning it had no heating. We were given hot water bottles which we used to keep our feet warm, unfortunately these did not keep the compartments warm.
The train stopped, most likely at Albury, which is about 3-4 hours out of Melbourne. It was early morning, and very dark. We were served breakfast in the dinning room, where I had my first ever cereal, Corn Flakes served with cold milk. Until that time I had never had cold milk, because in Macedonia we always boiled ours and drank it hot.
We arrived in Melbourne at around 7:00, on the 25th. of May. (Marshall Tito's birthday). I reminded myself that, had we stayed in Skopje, it would be a public holiday and the school would be arranging celebrations.
Instead a new adventure began.
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