Keith was a Linotype Operator (Print Room) on the Australis in 1969 and worked alongside a Greek printer, so unlike the rest of the English speaking crew, he bunked below decks with the Greek crew (and the cockroaches)!! He recalls the death of a young man in Melbourne, passengers and crew suffering from gastric problems in Acapulco, olive throwing fights in the crew mess room and one of the largest Greek officers on board crying his eyes out at the thought of an injection.
Written below is his story in his own words.
At the latter end of 1968 I had reached the end of my apprenticeship at “The Evening Sentinel” newspaper, here in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Not wanting to spend the rest of my working life in one place, I decided to leave and see a little of the world before any life-long commitments came my way. A chance spotting of a small single column advert in the “Daily Mail”, for a Linotype operator to work on board one of the Chandris ships was too good a chance to miss.
Sadly, I was too late; the position had already been filled. They promised to keep my details on file and contact me if and when another vacancy came up.
On January 16th, 1969, a letter arrived from Chandris (England) Ltd., 5, St Helen’s Place, Bishopsgate, London EC3. It was an invitation to go to London and “discuss the matter further”. From the crew manager Mr. William Borg.
I think the meeting went well, because on February 5th, I received a telegram: “PLEASE RING W BORG 01 588 2279 AS REQUIRE YOU JOIN SHIP IN ROTTERDAM 11 FEB –
So, with my £6.00 London to Rotterdam ticket in my hand, I left England for the first time, on board M.S. Koningin Juliana (Holland) to join the S.S. Australis in Rotterdam. I had one suitcase filled with enough winter clothes to keep me warm for six months in the North Pole.CHANDRIS
On the way to the docks, I remember seeing a Duch lady cleaning the outside of her house and she was wearing clogs.
Suddenly, there she was, “The Australis”. She was the biggest thing I had ever seen close up in my entire life. Apart from wanting a little paint here and there and being sprinkled with snow on her upper structure, I was very impressed. Then with an almighty bang, I came down to earth. I was shown to my cabin on B-deck. It was one I was to share with the Greek printer (Denis Maroudaz) and later in the voyage with a few cockroaches.
Sailing from Rotterdam, we went north to pick up the German passengers in Bremerhaven, then through the North Sea to Southampton. During this time I had my first taste of seasickness, I just wanted to lie down and die! I must be honest and say that in Southampton, I was thinking of my home and comfortable bed.
In her berth, next to the “Australis”, was the new Queen Elizabeth liner, back from sea trials and suffering from engine troubles.
Life in the Print Shop was a bit like going back in time. For me, coming from a modern news paper composing room to working in a tiny metal box, that kept moving, was a little depressing. If I turned around to look at the port-hole, there was the sky and suddenly it was gone to be replaced by the sea. Sky, sea, sky, sea – boy, was I sick!
Gibraltar was three days away and complete with its narrow streets, Barbary Apes, Governor’s residence and the cable-car trip to the top of “the Rock”; it all helped to kick-start my round-the-world adventure.
The voyage continued down the west side of Africa to Cape Town, arriving at the docks I remember how calm the sea was. The closer we got to port we could see the clouds covering Table Mountain slowly lifting, to give that world famous view.
What contrasts.... beggars with leprosy, segregation of white and black, then the trip to the tabletop. Wow, what a fantastic feeling to be in South Africa.
One day, whilst crossing the Indian Ocean, I got into conversation with the Catholic priest, whose life-long interest was the various burial customs of the world. During this very interesting and long talk, I was badly sun burned.
Australia was the next port of call. Here I had to call the Linotype engineer from Perth. He was rather taken aback by the age of my Model One Linotype and he kindly took me by car to his office to collect the required parts. We drove through an area populated by Aborigines who looked very poor.
A visit to King’s Park, where I saw the memorials to dead Australian soldiers, on all the trees. A giant Karri log was on display (106 feet long, 8 feet thick and weighing in at over 110 tons).
“Just around the corner” and across the Great Australian Bight, we arrived at Port Phillip, in Melbourne.
The date was March 12th, 1969.
The Captain, his officers and crew, said they would like to take the opportunity to wish all passengers, finally disembarking at Melbourne a HAPPY LANDING and GOOD LUCK.
For one young man from Liverpool, this would be his last day alive.
Some time during the night, he had been in an argument with a group of German male passengers about the Second World War. He had been beaten-up and pushed over the side. The next morning, on the way to breakfast, the British girl crew members asked me if I had seen the body in the water? Looking over the starboard side, I was faced with the sad sight of a male body, looking almost as if he was sleeping. With most of his body under water, his head was on one side, resting on his arm. For most of the day, the radio kept reporting the matter in its news breaks and later in the day, several German passengers were taken off the ship to help in the enquiry. What the results of the talks were, I never found out.
Also, while the ship was in Melbourne, there was a tram strike taking place. It was strange not seeing those famous green trams out on the streets.
On the night we departed from Melbourne there was talk of a stowaway being found on board. For me, I will never forget that night because of the memorable sight, directly above my head. Why I had not seen this on my approach to Australia or even in Freemantle, I will never know.
I was standing with a group of passengers at the stern of the ship, when I lifted my head to look at the stars. There were millions of them, it was part of the “Milky Way”.
Saturday, March 15th, 1969, 5am, the ship was at the Pilot Station, Sydney, and just “around the corner” from Melbourne. We had crossed the Great Australian Bight, which lived up to its reputation of not being the smoothest water in the world.
With the decks full of passengers, we entered Botany Bay and slowly sailed past the small island prison, past the empty structure of the Sydney Opera House (still under construction) and into a berth next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
A taxi ride over the bridge, a slow walk back, climbing into one of the four support towers to see a very old display of the bridge’s history and then a hydro-foil boat trip to Manley Beach.
From Sydney it was only three days to Auckland. Haere Mai (welcome) was the heading in “Seascape” to all the passengers disembarking.
Now, this is a part of my adventure that I did not expect to happen. I almost lost my heart to a New Zealand girl I met and got to know during the trip from Auckland to Miami. Long after the trip was over, we wrote to each other but time and distance was the victor and the correspondence ended.
Another three days took us to the beautiful island of Viti Levu (the port of SUVA in FIJI. Whilst buying a souvenir I got into conversation with the Fijian stallholder whose brother worked at the Fijian Times Newspaper. When he heard that I had worked on a newspaper in England, he wanted to buy me a drink – and another, and another. I can promise you, that the Seascape was produced that night, but how? I will never know.
Whilst in Fiji I worked an eight day week. By crossing the International Date Line Friday, March 21st, 1969 was followed by Friday, March 21st, 1969... no extra pay!
A beautiful crossing of the Pacific Ocean took us to Acapulco in Mexico. Whilst here, a lot of the passengers suffered from stomach problems due to having ice cream and drinks. I too, suffered this problem and whilst having treatment I honestly saw one of the Greek Officers crying whilst an attempt was made to give him an injection.
One other thing I vividly remember about our stay in Acapulco, was whilst waiting to watch the young men dive 150 feet into the sea, there was an English girl crew member, who lived in London and who was leaving the ship in Southampton.
She wanted more than anything to see the divers, it would be her last chance. Suddenly, a member of the hotel staff came to us and began asking for one dollar from us all to give to the divers. Whilst she was messing in her handbag to find the dollar, the young men dived off the cliff, all at the same time and she missed the event. She cried and said things to the hotel porter that I will not repeat here.
April 3rd, 1969 saw us enter Balboa. Many visual memories including a visit to a beautiful church in Balboa that had many stalls outside selling religious items and the noise of people talking and walking around inside the church was most unusual. A market-like atmosphere.
The next day the upper decks of the “Australis” were packed with passengers taking pictures as we sailed through the world famous Panama Canal. Denis, the ship’s printer, had bought a new and expensive camera in Sydney and asked if I would take a few pictures as the ship passed through the Canal. Whilst hanging out of the porthole, to include the ship in the picture, I saw an alligator in the water directly below me.
Whilst sailing up to Fort Lauderdale, we passed Cuba in the distance and for many hours we saw an electric storm that was seen both during day-light hours and late into the night.
As the ship sailed to her berth, we passed a few multi-storied blocks of apartments and the occupants flashed their lights on and off as a form of welcome. Not far from the “Australis” was the Q.E.1
Mail from home made me want the Atlantic crossing to be very quick.
The Atlantic was cold and very grey looking. A sad ending to a very beautiful and memorable trip. On Southampton station, I gave away, to a station porter, my large block of coral, purchased in Fiji. I could not carry it, along with all my “extras” that I had purchased on my trip.
God bless the “Australis” and all who sailed on her.
KEITH WEAVER (Linotype Operator – Print Room)
Voyage 18 North and Southbound
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