Ambler - Ten Pound Tourists

The journey took six weeks. We sailed from Tilbury, London on the morning of May 28th 1958, aboard the Oronsay.  You can see the ticket and the passenger list in the Passenger List for Incoming Passengers in the Australian shipping records. 

Oronsay was a passenger liner carrying both paying passengers and immigrants to Australia.  We were housed in six berth cabins that were meant to take 4 people.  2 extra bunks had been added to squash as many people in as possible.   Mum and I were in a cabin with four other women, my Dad and Teddy were next door with the husbands and fathers of these.  The cabins were on H Deck, below the waterline.  At sea, all I could see from my porthole was water swirling around like the laundromat machines, but in port I could see the ships cables and the pylons below the dock.  In one or two ports we docked with the other side to the land and I was able to look out and see the boats plying the harbour.  Most of the journey was hot and uncomfortable though, as we did not have air-conditioning, just blowers the could be turned on the bunks to give cooler air.

I was 12 by now, and considered an adult by the shipping line.  That being so, I was invited to the Captain's Cocktail Party on the first night out and permitted to participate in all of the activities on board.  Teddy, on the other hand was 7 and had to attend school on board.

We stopped first in Gibralter and made the mandatory trip up the Rock.  Next port of call was Naples and a day trip to the ruins of Pompeii was organised.  My love of history made this day terrific and memorable.  At Navarino Bay, Greece, we picked up passengers, who came out to the ship in tenders, but didn't go into Port. 

At Port Said, Egypt, we were not permitted off the ship.  The area was a tinder box and the troubles that caused the Suez Canal to be closed for many years were about to begin.  But we didn't miss out on shopping.  All around the ship were little rowing boats full of locals wanting to sell souvenirs.  They threw up ropes, on the end of which were cane baskets.  They held up their wares and shouted their praises.  When you saw something you liked you haggled over price.  When an agreement was reached, they sent the goods up in the basket and you sent down the money.  It was noisy and it was fun! The "Gully Gully Man" came aboard and put on a show for the children.  He had a red fez and produced chickens out of nowhere.

The trip through the Suez Canal was slow and fascinating.  I remember high sandy banks on either side of the ship and seeing the sails of Arab dhows on the other side, I suspect they must have been on the Nile, as it was at the top end of the Canal.  We were delayed in the lakes, waiting for a large convoy to pass through.  It was June and very hot.  Men slept on mattresses on deck on one side of the ship, and women on the other.  As we passed through Suez, Ted collapsed with heat exhaustion and spent 48 hours in the ships infirmary.  At the end of the Canal was Aden.  Again it was a 'hot spot' and men only were allowed ashore.  Dad went off but soon returned.  The sight of armed soldiers patrolling the street made him a bit nervous.

We sailed on across the Indian ocean to Sri Lanka - then called Ceylon - making port at Colombo. Once more we were not permitted ashore because of local unrest, but again the boats surrounded the ship and we were treated to the fun of haggling for souvenirs.  I bought a set of 6 carved elephants, each one a little smaller than the others.

The next leg was the longest between ports.  It was on this leg that we crossed the Equator with the usual festivities and frivolities, men shaved with a sword and thrown in the swimming pool, special dinners and dances.  There were special nights each week, a racing carnival, with horses drawn along the track by winding a chord on a reel.  My horse was 'Holy Smoke' by Bishop out of Temper.  There was a fancy dress night, which I won by dressing in the classified section of the newspaper and saying to the Judges "Ssh - I'm classified information" and we were treated to a concert put on by the passengers. I sang, Mary's Boychild.  The trip was long but never tedious, except for poor Mum who was always a poor sailor and just could not appreciate the magnificent meals we were served. She was just too queasy most of the time.

Our first Australian landfall was Perth, for just one day.  Adelaide was next, across the Great Australian Bight and again a tour of the city in just one day.  In Melbourne we were two nights in port, so we spent the night with my Mum's cousin in Preston, outside Melbourne.  Funny, even though on land, I could still feel the boat moving all night.

Two days later we arrived in Sydney.  It was early morning, just on sunrise, as we stood on deck watching as the ship sailed through the heads, down the harbour and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The city was, and still is, unbelievably beautiful seen from the water.  In 1958 there were no high rise buildings, no smog, no noise.  We slid down that magnificent waterway and under the bridge to dock at Pyrmont in silence.  There are no words to describe the feeling that morning, excitement, trepidation, sadness and memories, awe, a flood of emotion.  Then it was a flurry of activity, immigration authorities to see, bags to collect and a family I had never met waiting to meet us dock side.

A new life had begun.

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