A cruise on the Australis by Victor Willms.
Vic was one of the many thousands of Aussies who did the 'big trip' on the wonderful ship Australis. He left on 22 January 1976 with a mate and paid the $600 youth fare, Vic ended up in a four berth cabin with private facilities and shared with 2 West Australians. They all got on so well they decided to travel together across Europe for 6 months. Their cabin was just above the water line, very hot, noisy, close to the engines, and with a porthole that leaked when any waves hit it. Their cabin was also the place for a few parties - including the infamous tequila party after Acapulo where it was West Aussies vs the Victorians - drinking tequilas the traditional way with the Queensland girls acting as referees.
On board was the first time that Vic watched two sunrises in a row without going to sleep, where he climbed the crow's nest in the middle of the night, and where he raided the bakery at 4 in the morning and did all the things that young people get up to. The ship was a wonderful way to meet Aussies from all states and also Kiwi's. For all of them to begin an adventure that is every young Aussie's dream - to travel the world. Vic clearly remembers the onboard activities such as the captain's cocktail party, entertainment shows most nights, three sittings for all meals, the "Crossing the Line" ceremony on the equator, the many ports that were visited on the trip, and the storm in the Bay of Biscay..... it seems such a shame that the trips ended in 1977, and so many people missed out on what they would have thoroughly enjoyed.
Many thanks to Vic for these sentiments -Ken.
A cruise on the Australis - by Vic Willms - Melbourne, Australia.
Like so many young Aussies I too had the opportunity to take the 'big trip' to Europe after I had finished my studies. I was 23 and the intent was to spend 4 or 5 months travelling and maybe working overseas - it did not go to plan. The trip lasted fourteen months, I ended up going around the world, and I had the trip of my life.
The idea of flying to England did not appeal whereas a five week holiday/party on a ship visiting numerous ports and crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans sounded great.
The Chandris line brought many emigrants from London to Australia and to help fill the ship on the return journey, offered a A$ 600 "Youth fare" for young people to travel to Europe. This was the cheapest fare available and meant that the travellers did not get a choice of the type of cabin except that they were either all male or all female.
I boarded the Australis in Melbourne during the Australian summer on 22 January 1976 with a friend, and ended up in a four-berth cabin with private facilities, and shared the cabin with 2 West Australians.
The cabin was just above the water line, near the engines, very hot, very noisy, and with a porthole that leaked when any waves hit it. The ship took two days to get to Sydney and by then passengers started getting upset stomachs. It seemed half the ship had to see the doctor, and as the food was very good, I suspect the tap water was the problem, but after a few days we all got over it.
We got into the daily routine of reading the news-sheet, putting our watches forward and having our meals in the third sitting. The first sitting was reserved for families with young children, the second for the senior passengers and the final sitting was for those in their late teens and twenties.
We also got into the routine of enjoying the nights with various forms of entertainment such as bands, movies, cabarets, various dressing up parties and of course the captains cocktail party. Days were normally spent resting due to the late nights. Occasionally we watched two sunrises in a row without going to sleep, climbed the crow's nest in the middle of the night (which was pretty rusty too) or raided the bakery at 4 in the morning. Basically we did all the things that young people get up to.
Two days out of Sydney the Australis stopped at 4.00 am to pick up a woman from a yacht who had appendicitis and needed urgent treatment. We docked at Auckland in New Zealand the following day where a lot of us swayed on land due to our lack of 'sea-legs'.
The waiters made a habit of providing a cake to any dinner table at which someone was celebrating their birthday so we looked forward to the next day as a girl on our table was turning 20. Anticipation turned to disappointment, as she was so sick she stayed in her cabin that night but then luck was on our side - we crossed the International Date Line and she turned 20 - again. It got even better because on that same night the ship had its delicious 'welcome aboard' dinner.
Another three days and we arrived in Tahiti, hired a car and drove around the beautiful tropical island. Thereafter it was the equator and a ceremony hosted by 'King Neptune'.
It was 10.00 pm on the 7th of February when we sailed into Acapulco harbour, and as the Australis was too large to dock, it dropped anchor about a mile out. We couldn't wait to explore the sights so at 1.00 a.m. the ship's lifeboats were used to ferry passengers to the city. It was 3.30 am when I walked with two friends around the streets and up to an old Spanish fort. In the darkness, we were walking between its high walls and a very steep descent when we noticed a large local following us, carrying a large item, which got us worried. We walked more quickly until stopped by high shrubs in front of us. With walls to one side, a steep descent on another and a large stranger approaching from behind, we pushed into the shrubs only to be confronted by an army sentry who turned to us and unslung his rifle. Although he looked as scared as we felt, we got the message and hurriedly fumbled our way down the descent. We caught a final glimpse of the stranger and it appeared he was carrying a torch - he was probably a guard with no intent to harm us.
It was time to return to the ship to rest but later that morning we returned and viewed the sights of the city including the famous cliff divers. We bought some souvenirs and also a few bottles of tequila - a bad mistake.
Another two days and the Australis was squeezing into the locks of the Panama Canal where we docked at both ends to visit Balboa and Christobel. Then into the Caribbean and a visit to Curacoa in the Netherlands Antilles. That night the four in our cabin were talking with two girls from Queensland when we realized we had not yet tasted our tequila. Austin from West Australia suggested a West Australians verses Victorians tequila challenge with the girls volunteering to be the referees - of course we accepted. A quick excursion to the dining room to obtain some salt and lot of lemon wedges to ensure the proper technique - a lick of salt, a shot of tequila and a bite of lemon wedge - and the party started….
It would have been a good idea if we were not very competitive, but alas, we learn from our mistakes. Of the four involved, three got sick, three got threatened with the brig, three did not remember what happened and it took three days to recover. We all vowed never to do it again. (To this day I've never again had tequila.)
On Sunday the 15 February the Australis docked in San Juan on the island of Puerto Rico which gave us another port to explore. Everything seemed closed to business so eight of us thought we would wander up to another old Spanish fort overlooking the city. It was 5.00 pm when we got there and it too was closed, so as we were wandering off I banged loudly on the huge locked doors and turned to go. Then, the hairs on the backs of our necks stood on end as we heard from within the rattling of chains, keys being inserted in locks, and the doors creaking as they slowly opened. We watched as a head peered around the door and said "Si?". It was the caretaker who spoke no English and as we spoke no Spanish, a lot of hand gestures ensued which ended up with him giving us a personally guided tour of the fort. The tour lasted till 9.00 pm and there were no lights except for his torch making for an eerie experience until we got up to the battlements which gave us a wonderful view of the city. The caretaker was a lovely old chap and we rewarded him for his hospitality.
After the aptly named Pacific Ocean and then the Caribbean, we were now in the rough Atlantic Ocean. The ship's newsletter told us that we were not going to visit any port in Spain due to a severe storm in the Bay of Biscay. The ship sailed around the storm but the seas were still so rough that ropes were put up in all of the corridors and foyers for passengers to hold on to. It was then that we had our 'farewell' dinner that was the most extravagant of the trip. Streamers, hats, special tablecloths, great food and a real party atmosphere - unfortunately the most memorable thing was the 'entertainment' that was not planned. The night was so rough that chairs and passengers slid every which way; food, cutlery and china flew off the tables; and one poor waiter dropped a huge tray of flaming ice-cream.
The next night we had the "Hellenic" farewell cabaret at which most were a little somber as the trip was coming to an end and there was only one more port of call - Cherbourg in France.
The Australis docked at Southampton on Tuesday 24 February 1976 and the cruise was over. It was however a great start to my trip around the world and it seems such a shame that the cruises ended in 1977 and so many people missed out on an experience they would have thoroughly enjoyed.
The above story was courtesy of ex-passenger Victor Willms.
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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