‘We are sailing: Cruising in the ’50s and ’60s between England and Australia’

Feb 23, 2021
A photograph of the SS Oriana as it docked in Sydney, Australia in 1955. Source: Getty Images

While I was crafting one afternoon, a shadow of a memory appeared in my thinking. Once I was a young Baby Boomer, who stood at Station Pier in Port Melbourne, Australia. Excitedly, my sisters and I held onto a clutch of streamers, as a great liner ship sailed away. The band played, ‘We’ll meet again!’, as our streamers became taut, then snapped. It was very sentimental.

The liner left Station Pier, taking my young uncle to sail the seas to Southhampton in England. There he was to study a post-graduate degree at London University, while living in ‘Kangaroo Valley’, in bedsitter land in Earls Court. He told us later he pined for our lovely Australian sunshine, and to eat a sizzling lamb chop with decent fluffy mashed potatoes. Maybe his landlady was not much of a cook.

This was in the days before international long-haul flights between England and Australia, courtesy of Qantas or BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). The liners between Australia and England, and return, sailed through the Suez Canal, before or after navigating the woeful weather around the coast of Africa.

I cannot remember if my uncle sailed away on the good ship, SS Orion, or the SS Orcades III. It is like a shadow of a thought. I do recall that he sailed back to Station Pier with his new Australian bride on the SS Oriana, also operated by the famous Orient Line.

This was so long ago, when Station Pier was a central hub for international migration. My future husband lobbed into Station Pier in the 1950s, from Italy, on the SS Fairsky. In later years, he would often revisit Port Melbourne, to seek his own shadows of childhood.

Meanwhile, back to my uncle on the Oriana. I do not recall if his trip was on the maiden voyage of this beauty of the sea. We had a very interesting tour of the great liner. Apparently, some part of their trip had been through incredibly bad weather. So both first and tourist class passengers had been restricted to their cabins, no one was allowed on deck. At some stage, every item of glassware and crockery was smashed, due to the horrendous waves.

Yet the SS Oriana, with all her capable, handsome young ship’s officers sailed back in one piece. We were overjoyed to see my uncle again, while we welcomed our new Aunty. Flags waved, crowds cheered, Station Pier was abuzz.

Time passed, the SS Oriana and the other liners became cruise ships, run by P&O shipping line. The days of migration at Station Pier are like shadows of memories, of the era of the liners.

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Did you ever sail through the Suez Canal, or on a cruise ship?

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