I was prompted to write this article by the inclusion of a photograph of the ship ‘Australis’ in part 121 of Adelaide Goater’s Journal- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford, published on this site by her Grandson, Rick Goater, on 12th. April 2020 … Thank you Rick!
s.s. ‘Australis’ berthed at Southampton in 1973 in her new grey/white livery
Above photo by Les Fisher, via Flickr, from his album ‘Old family photos – A collection of memories’
Most other photos used are from Chandris Lines ‘Official’ brochures, unless otherwise stated. A couple are my own.
My love affair with this beautiful lady lasted just 3 weeks, from Wednesday 9th. March 1966 until Friday 1st. April 1966, only to be
re-kindled in October 2000 when I started writing my life’s memories, but that, my friends, is another story …
‘Affairs of the Heart’
Like most ‘Affairs of the Heart’, it all started rather innocently with a couple of trips to London, firstly to Australia House and then to Western Australia House, both, at that time at least, in the Strand, my wife and I having decided to try to emigrate to Australia. After the interview, came the obligatory medicals, and then we were advised by mail that we had been successful, and our departure details would follow shortly.
They duly arrived, advising us that we would be travelling by sea (some migrants went by air) from Southampton in r.h.m.s. ‘Australis’ and travel passes were provided for us (2 adults and 4 kids under 12) from Waterloo Station, even though we only lived 6 miles from the docks.
Although I used to regularly check the shipping movements in the Echo, I was not aware of the ‘Australis’, so did not know what to expect, but as migrants and ‘£10 POMS’ to boot, certainly nothing fancy we thought.
Armed with a month’s supply of ‘Kwells’, due to my previous experiences with boats not being too good, at about 5.30p.m. on Wednesday 4th. March, we disembarked from our special boat train, right alongside the berth in which lay our transport to a new life in Oz.
We were faced with this sleek, all-white, large, graceful ’Lady of the Sea’. (In 1968 this colour scheme was changed to a light grey hull and white upper-works, the only member of the Chandris fleet to be so liveried).
2 days into the voyage, we were allowed to go into the depths of the ship to the baggage hold to get items of clothing etc., that we would require on the voyage, whereupon we, literally, stumbled across piles of cartons containing beautiful colour brochures of the s.s. ‘America’.
It turned out, of course, our ‘Australis’ had, in fact, been the s.s. ‘America’ in a former life, sister ship to the s.s. ‘United States’, which is still to this day, the current holder of the Blue Riband for the fastest North Atlantic crossing, between New York and Southampton. As well as cruising, on occasions, s.s. ‘America’ had itself plied the North Atlantic route, before being sold to Okeania S.A., a subsidiary of the Greek Line, Chandris, on 5th. November 1964.
Photo: s.s. ‘America’ from a United States Lines Brochure
Apart from the obvious colour change, and the not so obvious addition of a new communications mast on the aft funnel, it can be said little had changed when comparing the two photos above.
However, below decks was a different story …
ss Australis had undergone a major refit in Greece at Chandris’s Piraeus (the port for Athens) yards, in order to provide an all one-class configuration for a total of 2,300 passengers. She had been vitually rebuilt and modified throughout, although her ss America personality was, in the main, kept intact, and the original 1940 furnishings had been re-created.
Included in the changes were the extension of the aft Promenade decks to accommodate extra cabin spaces, an external swimming pool upon the reworked stern Lido deck, and the installation of the somewhat essential air conditioning throughout all decks.
On completion during mid-1965, Australis was the largest one-class liner in the world. Her original America capacity of 1046 berths had been more than doubled.
Being a family of 6, we had been allocated cabin 171, a larger outside cabin, with two opening portholes, on the starboard side of the Upper Deck, in between the two funnels, immediately below the glass enclosed Promenade Deck … tastefully decorated, very comfortable, and totally adequate for our needs, particularly as the space basically would only be used for ablutions and sleeping, daylight hours being largely spent in the dining room and other on-board locations.
We left Southampton sometime during the night, due to tides, to wake on Thursday morning somewhere in the English Channel … where
exactly I am not sure, as there were no sign posts in evidence!
(Obviously late putting them out – you can’t get the staff, you know).
Breakfast was a new experience foodwise (as indeed were all meals), because, being on a Greek ship, the food was basically Greek, and, with the odd exception, quite lovely … a liking for black olives was gained (it was olives, and nearly always black, with everything) … the stewards also of course, were Greek, and those serving our table of 9 people for all meals, were all nice, happy and willing to make mealtime a good experience … language was a problem on a few occasions, but always overcome.
The children (except babes in arms) ate in their own luxurious dining room located on the other side of the lift and stairwell, also on ‘A’ Deck. Their meals started 15 minutes before the adults, thus giving time for those who needed it to be settled by their parents.
Between meals on the first day at sea, time was basically spent exploring all the facilities of this magnificent ‘floating hotel’, which, for the next three weeks, indeed it was.
As can be seen from the above diagram (hopefully), facilities were plenty, catering for practically all tastes, whims and fancies and
everything within walking distance.
Table tennis became a favourite with us and our 10yrs and 11months old eldest son, Martyn, proved to be a worthy opponent for me. Mainly, 3 of them played amongst themselves, allowing Di and I time to wander with Miranda.
Martyn 10 yrs and Timothy 7 yrs playing – Martyn at the far end, and Timothy Valerie 9 yrs, sort of umpiring at the table – Miranda 3yrs, keeping an eye on the umpire.
We had by this time found ourselves in the Mediterranean, having past Finistére, Spain (with a beautiful sun-drenched view of Malaga), North Africa and Italy, well on our way to our first stop, the home-port of the ‘Australis’, namely Piraeus, in Greece, and the port for Athens.
So far, all good, and I am pleased to say, NO Kwells !!!