Alan Monroe's Story Of His Journey On The Australis

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I joined the S. S. Australis in Southampton for voyage number 27 Southbound in February 1971. My cabin was home for six guys, all around the same age as myself, all except one was emigrating. It was cold on deck on that overcast February day. I found my way to the lounge bar up in the bow and sat down next to a Swedish girl. I saw quite a lot of her during the voyage. Darkness took over from the day and the weather started to turn bad, but dinnertime arrived and I found my seat in the dining room. It was at a table for four people. Opposite me was David Rowe. He was thirty years old and was returning to Australia after an extended working holiday in London. His wife had died suddenly the year before leaving him with young son who was living with his grandparents in Melbourne. Next to him was Anna, who was good looking, she had been on holiday for six months and was returning to her father's grazing property in Gippsland. John sat beside me. Our Greek waiter served us very well through the whole voyage and the food was excellent. After dinner we all returned to the lounge and chatted until after midnight. The cabin was too hot to sleep comfortably, but the excitement made me tired and we all slept though the night. I was awakened a couple of times by the movement of the ship as it changed direction. As the wind increased, so did the size of the waves.

I got dressed in time for breakfast and entered the dining room to find it almost empty. I wondered if I had come at the wrong time, but no, it appeared that a lot of people did not feel like eating. The tablecloths had been dampened to stop the plates sliding off the table as the ship rolled one way then the other. Emanual, the waiter, took my order for bacon and eggs and he was not game to look at it as he placed it in front of me. David was the only other person at our table. Once breakfast was finished we went up to the lounge to have a look at the sea. There was a storm warning for the Bay of Biscay, through which we were passing. The crew had chained all the furniture to the floor to stop it moving, and there were hand ropes attached to all passages to assist walking. We sat in the lounge watching the sea. There were four old ladies sitting on a settee in one corner of the lounge quieting sipping their drinks. The ship hit a very large wave and the settee broke its moorings and carried the ladies right across the lounge, collecting a man buying a drink at the bar. Luckily no one was injured and everyone saw the funny side of it. Dave and I took a walk up on deck and discovered the majority of passengers sitting on chairs wondering why they had decided to come by ship. No wonder the dining room had been quiet. That evening we had passed through the storm and the ship settled down for the remainder of the voyage.

We arrived in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands late because we had slowed down during the storm. We only had time to walk around the town and find a shop to buy thongs and some beach clothes. I took the chance to post a card to my new employer in Australia providing them with my date of arrival and apologizing for the lack of contact, but explaining the mail strike that had been in force in the UK for almost two months. We looked at a few cafes to see if we wanted to enter for something to eat, but we felt that we might not get back to the ship in one piece, judging by the clientele. The taxi ride back to the wharf was in a battered Mercedes with more rattles than you can imagine. He eventually found the right wharf and then commenced the usual bargaining for the price of the fare. There was no such thing as a meter. We had agreed the price before we started, but the time it had taken to find the right wharf was enough for him to start an argument. We give him the money for our agreed price and all got out of the cab. We could still hear his shouting as we climbed the gangplank into the ship. We were back on board with only a few minutes to spare. The weather was warming up and more time was now spent on deck working on our tans.

The Captain had the Welcome-Aboard cocktail party the night after we left Las Palmas, the first of many. There was always some reason for a party. The Captain was called back to the bridge and soon after the ship stopped. We had stopped to assist a freighter that had caught fire with loss of some crew. The rest of the crew had taken to the lifeboats. Up on deck the flames were visible. It was rather weird standing there in luxury while only a couple of miles away people were fighting for their lives. We were approaching the Equator some five hundred miles off the African coast and the entertainers asked for volunteers to enact the King Neptune ritual. Some of the group that we had formed joined in on it. As luck would have it, it was raining as we crossed the Equator, although still warm, and the ceremony took place. It was dangerous being close to the pool as most people ended up in it. One night we had the most brilliant electrical storm with lightening flashing all around us. I was standing next to two Swedes and one of them suggested he go down to the cabin to get us something to drink. I don't know what it was, but boy did I have a hangover the next morning. A few evenings later the lights of Capetown were sighted and we docked just before midnight but remained on the ship until the next morning.

After breakfast a group of us left for a tour of the city. Being Sunday very few shops were open and we found our way to the National Museum and spent a couple of hours wandering through it. Soon it was time to return to the ship for the longest leg to Freemantle in Western Australia. During the whole time we had been in Capetown the cloud had never raisen above Tabletop Mountain. A few hours after leaving we rounded the Cape of Good Hope and we entered the Indian Ocean as dusk fell. We were now in the Trade wind belt and the waves increased in size and the weather worsened, to the extent that we stayed below decks for most of the next week. At one stage I woke up in the middle of the night for some reason. I took me a while to realize that the engine had stopped after a large bang from its internals. We drifted for a couple of hours before the engine started again and we were underway. There is very little to say about the trip across the Indian Ocean, and little that stands out in my mind, although I was never bored and the time passed quickly. Everybody got into the rhythm of life on board and the days merged together.

We entered Freemantle harbour early on a Tuesday morning soon after dawn. It was a beautiful day and the warmest we had seen since leaving Capetown. Because of immigration requirements it took some time before we were able to leave for a visit to Perth. One of our friends left the ship here and we joined him in a taxi, firstly to his lodgings and then on into the city. We walked around the city for a while and David suggested that we should have a counter lunch. This was my introduction to pubs in Australia and the first steak I had ever eaten at such a price. We played a few games of pool and finally caught the train back with ten minutes to spare before the ship left for Melbourne. Leaving the harbour was not without its drama as the ship hit the wharf while turning, after a line had been missed by a tug. Another tug pulled the ship along past the walls of the outer harbour and once clear the pilot left the ship and we were on our way to Melbourne.

This section of the trip was all within Australian waters so drinks were now more expensive and Australian currency was used. It took four days for us to arrive in Melbourne, entering Port Philip Bay at dawn on Sunday 5th March 1971 and moving slowly up the bay we docked shortly after nine o'clock. This in many ways was a sad moment as it signified the end of the trip and the end of a four-week holiday. I now had to face the rigours of earning a living and facing a complete change of environment. It would have been very easy to stay on board and travel back to England.

Many thanks to Alan Monroe for his contribution to the site

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Welcome all visitors to the S.S. Australis Website, which has now been online since 1998!

I will continue to update the site if I receive a new story, or if you have interesting photos taken on the ship during your voyage on either the southbound, northbound, or on one of the South Pacific cruises. We used to do those trips several times a year from Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland (New Zealand).

I am deeply moved by the interest and wonderful contributions from the numerous passengers and crew over many years.

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Warm Regards


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