The migrants’ long voyages to Australia improved considerably over the years, as the primitive post war converted troop ships were superseded by more modern purpose built passenger liners. In the 1940’s troop ships were rapidly fitted out to meet the urgent need for transportation. Men and women were often segregated and slept in overcrowded holds; they were given basic and often inadequate food. Heat, seasickness and lack of activities to alleviate boredom were problematic. Such close human contact for weeks on end did, however, have the advantage that many people made lasting friendships on the journey.
As mass migration continued, shipping companies vying for the profitable passenger trade, built more modern liners with better facilities including cabins, air conditioning, cinemas and swimming pools. Sports, dances and other leisure activities were organised for adults and children. Souvenir shops were opened; they were popular and generated welcome revenue.
The most common route from Britain and Europe was through the Suez Canal except during its closures in 1956-57 and again from 1967-75 when ships again used the old route down the West coast of Africa and round the Cape of Good Hope. By the 60s many ships were taking advantage of increased tourism and returning to Europe via the Panama Canal.
Stops were necessary on the journey for refuelling and taking on supplies of fresh food and water. It was then that the passengers got their first opportunities to disembark for a short while into new, exotic lands. They could enjoy experiences they had only perhaps dreamt of, buy souvenirs from local traders or maybe even ride on a camel. Stopovers were made at Port Said, Port Aden, now Yemen, Mumbai in India or Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.
Some of the older ships are The Fairsea, a huge converted troopship that made 81 round trips; The Orcades, the first purpose built passenger vessel and the Johan Van Oldenbarneveldt, the largest ship ever built in Holland. The Castel Felice, The Southern Cross, The Patris, The Australis the Galileo Galilei and others will evoke memories too. No doubt you have your own tales of the ship that brought you to ‘Australia fair’. And if you want to contact any fellow passengers you have lost touch with you can do so by consulting the Passenger Lists. An excellent book by Peter Plowman called, ‘Australian Migrant Ships’ is also a treasure trove of information.
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