The day finally came to embark for a new adventure in Australia. I was booked to travel “Cabin Class” on the Orient Line S.S. Orion. My thanks to Reuben Goosens’ website http://www.ssmaritime.com/orion.htm for the following pictures and history of the ship that was to be my home for the next ten days.
Quote “RMS Orion (later SS Orion) is still considered to be one of the most famous ships on the Australian immigrant run, as she introduced a new standard in ocean travel. Orion was the first British liner with air conditioning in all her public rooms. Built by Vickers-Armstrong in Barrow, Furness, England she was launched on December 7, 1934 and completed in August 1935.
However her launch stands apart in British maritime history, for an event, no British ship had ever experienced. RMS Orion was launched by remote control via a wireless all the way from Brisbane Australia. The Duke of Gloucester, whilst he was “Downunder”, officiated and pressed a button that transmitted a radio signal to Barrow where the launching took place….Due to this launch, she immediately has a special affiliation with Australia.
When built, Orion was the largest Orient liner….she was originally built as a two class ship – 708 Cabin Class, 700 Tourist Class. By 1961, she was converted to a one class line – 1,691 one class (Tourist). Orion was the first Orient liner to be painted in that much loved Orient Liner livery with a corn coloured hull. She paved the way for all Orient / P&O liners that succeeded her. Her interiors had an extensive use of chromium and bakelite, which set her apart from all previous Orient liners. The reason for the use of these surfaces was that these materials offered resistance to the effects of sea air. Her decor was certainly original for the time". This was the floating palace of the time that I was privileged to be a “Cabin Class” passenger bound for Australia.
The crates that Dad had made containing a Camphor Wood Chest and other assorted items was packed and sent to the Port of Colombo for loading on to the Orient Line S.S.Orion as storage. With my cabin trunk and suitcase safely loaded into Dad’s Hillman Station Wagon, I said good bye to the neighbours and with the rest of the family made my way to the Harbour. After the usual Customs checks and the stamping of Passports, etc we climbed on to a launch that took us to the ship that was anchored in the Middle Harbour.
"My" Cabin Class Cabin
When we climbed the gangplank onto the ship, we were greeted by the Purser and welcomed to the “Cabin Class” deck of the “Orion”. The family was taken to see my cabin and they all marvelled at the views that I was to enjoy on my journey to Melbourne. My cabin trunk had arrived and every thing was in place for the next 10 days on board ship.
We adjourned to the “Cabin Class Lounge” and had a few drinks and chatted away until it was time for the non-travellers to leave the ship. It was a heart-wrenching time when we said our goodbyes and little did I know that this was the last time that I would see my Grand-father A.P.Rowlands alive. I waved Dad, Mum, Muriel, Marie, Percy and Grand-father goodbye as the launch took them back to the jetty. I was comforted in knowing that the family would be joining me in Melbourne within the year.
Cabin Class Lounge Room
After I lost sight of the launch, I went to my cabin and unpacked my cabin trunk and put the clothes that I would wear during the journey into the wardrobes in the cabin.
After the ship sailed, I was then invited to join the Captain and the crew in the “Cabin Class Ball Room” for formal welcome on board. I found that I was one of the youngest persons who were travelling First Class.
Cabin Class Ball Room
I wore my Thomian Blazer and tie and proudly presented for the Captain’s Welcome. I was introduced to some of my fellow-passengers who boarded in England. The conversation was mainly about the recent visit of my fellow passengers to see the sights of Colombo such as the Parliament House, the Zoo, the Museum, etc. I gave them some information about my background, St Thomas’ College and the Crest on my blazer and the fact that I was migrating to Australia.
I found that the change in the Australian Government’s policy on migration had not been adequately explained to its citizens and the people of the Britain, as some of them could not come to grips with the fact that there would be migrants from Ceylon to Australia.
Dining Room Feature
I had to explain in great detail how my parents had to develop a “Genealogy” that was acceptable to Mr Roden Cutler, the Australian High Commissioner to prove that we were of European descent and it was only on the approval of the Australian Government that we were allowed to migrate.
Later, I just said that I was a “Colombo Plan” student on my way to Melbourne to study medicine at the Melbourne University. It was night by the time that the Captain’s Welcome finished and it was with sad memories that I saw the lights of Ceylon disappear in the distance.
I went to bed that night with a heavy heart. I woke next morning as the sun shone through the windows of my cabin and after a quick wash and dress went down to the Dining Room for breakfast. It was funny to be welcomed by a Steward with a “Good morning Sir” as I walked down the passage.
Cabin Class Dining Room Entrance Doors
I tried reading in the Lounge Room but this was not my “cup of tea”. The meals were of enormous quantity with a varied menu and morning and afternoon tea with ice cream and cake were very tasty.
After a couple of days I was getting bored with “First Class” and decided it was time to meet some of the other people who had boarded the ship in Colombo. I met some young men at the Colombo Harbour who I knew were travelling in “Tourist Class”.
Cabin Class Dining Room
I asked by cabin steward whether there was a way to get to the tourist class level of the ship and he showed me the way. Tourist class passengers were not allowed into first class, but there was no restriction the other way.
I introduced myself to Harris Anthonisz, an old Wesley College boy and the names of the others I cannot recall. Being in the company of other “Burghers” from Ceylon and young men and women from Australia and England, made my voyage much more enjoyable.
Tourist Class Cabin
We made friends with a group of young Australians returning to Australia from England. At night we would assemble on the top deck at the stern of the ship and the singing of songs such as “Waltzing Watilda” and “Once a Jolly Swagman” and others, made me feel happy that I was going to Australia.
The English passengers would have a party in one of their cabins every night and getting an invitation to one of them was an experience. The beer flowed freely and inhibitions were lost as the night grew older. A good time was had by all.
During the day we talked, ate and drank and whiled away the time. I felt very proud of myself walking up and down the grand stairs to and from my cabin. It really was an experience that I would never repeat and soaking in the atmosphere was very enjoyable. Time flew quickly and the next thing we knew was that we would be docking in Freemantle Port, Western Australia.
Harris Anthonisz disembarked at Freemantle and my Mum’s Cousin Yvonne and her husband Pat McCarthy who had migrated to Perth picked me up from the ship. I had my passport stamped and passed through Customs. Stairs to Ball Room
Time flew quickly and the next thing we knew was that we would be docking in Freemantle Port, Western Australia.
Harris Anthonisz disembarked at Freemantle and my Mum’s Cousin Yvonne and her husband Pat McCarthy who had migrated to Perth picked me up from the ship. I had my passport stamped and passed through Customs. The ship was scheduled to leave for Melbourne that same evening and it was good to be in the company of relatives for the day. Pat and Yvonne had an FJ Holden and the drive from Freemantle to their house in Mount Lawley in Perth was very exiting. The first thing that I noticed was the lack of people walking beside the road and this was a big difference to Ceylon. I sat in the passenger seat and enjoyed the scenery. We had a scrumptious lunch and I said goodbye to the family and Pat drove me around the sights of Perth before we returned to the Port of Freemantle.
I cannot recall too much of the rest of the journey between Perth and Melbourne, but one thing that I clearly remember, is that the crossing of the Australian Bight was very rough. My visits to my friends in tourist class became less frequent as many of them were suffering from sea sickness.
Sitting at a table in the Cabin Class Dining Room facing the window was not a pleasant experience as the horizon would appear and disappear at monotonous regularity. I am not sure whether the “Orion” was fitted with stabilisers, as she lurched from wave to wave. The ship was scheduled to leave for Melbourne that same evening and it was good to be in the company of relatives for the day.
On 23rd December 1960, we reached the Heads to Port Phillip Bay and docked at the Princes Pier, Port of Melbourne that afternoon. My Uncle Percy Kalenberg and his wife Bertha (Mum’s) sister and their children Peter, Pamela and Jim welcomed me to Melbourne.
We cleared Customs and picked up my cabin trunk and other baggage and drove to the home of the Karlenbergs at 40 Young Street, Albert Park.
SS Orion at sea
THE NEXT STORY OF THIS TRILOGY IS MY LIFE IN AUSTRALIA.